Through film footage, dance performances and a human rights movement, Yale audiences were able to see through the eyes of firsthand witnesses to an ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
Arkadi Zaides, an award-winning choreographer based in Israel, brought his most recent work to the Off-Broadway Theater last night with a live dance performance of “Archive.” The performance directly engages with video footage from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. Zaides culled this footage from the roughly 4,500 hours of film compiled through B’Tselem’s “camera project,” a movement that has provided cameras to civilians living in conflict-riddled areas such as those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“I saw very important testimony in those materials which I sensed holds a key, or a core, about the repercussions of an ongoing cycle of violence,” Zaides said.
In “Archive,” Zaides mimicked actions performed by people from the B’Tselem footage, which is projected on a wall behind him. Often, clips that are only a few seconds long are repeated for a few minutes, with Zaides posing, dancing and shouting to replicate the movement and behavior of the scenes shown on screen.
The video footage exclusively depicts Israeli settlers in the West Bank from the perspective of Palestinians, who recorded the footage. Zaides said he made a conscious choice to exclude non-Israelis from the footage, adding that this angle allowed him to reflect more profoundly on his own society.
“Capture Practice,” an installation that accompanies Zaides’s performance, incorporates much of the same footage, movements and themes of “Archive.” The installation is set up with two walls that serve as screens displaying two synchronized video loops. One wall shows Zaides in a closed, windowless studio. The other runs a series of clips from B’Tselem’s archives. Because the images on the two walls face one another, it appears to the viewer that Zaides is watching the footage on the wall across from him directly responding to it.
Margaret Olin, a Divinity School, Religious Studies and History of Art professor, met Zaides last year on a trip to Israel. She said Zaides’s representations of the behavior on screen allow the viewer to witness actions that they might have missed in just watching the footage itself, adding that his particular depiction of Israeli settlers provides a unique perspective on the West Bank conflict.
“People often depict the side that they’re in favor of as either victims or as heroes, and both sides in the Israeli-Palistinean conflict have done that,” Olin said. “By not even letting you for a moment think about looking at the people who are being thrown out of their homes, you’re really focusing on how it feels to be someone who is involved in these injustices.”
Dina Roginsky, a lecturer in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, pointed out that “Archive” and “Capture Practice” are both anomalies in modern Israeli performance art because most of these artists choose not to confront Israeli violence or the faults of the Israeli government.
In January, right-wing protesters in Tel Aviv attempted to prevent a performance of “Archive” from taking place in the city. Protesters also appeared at the show’s premiere in France last September.
Zaides said he is not trying to push forth a political agenda with his work, but is instead trying to make members of his society — and the international community — to examine the West Bank conflict more critically.
“It’s not that I’m saying that I am opposing, I’m questioning,” Zaides said. “The work strives to open questions, and not to give answers and give statements, but to make us really look and watch and observe what is happening to us.”
Keeping his own emotions at bay has been the greatest challenge to presenting the footage objectively and without personal commentary, Zaides added. He explained that because the original footage is fraught with raw emotion, he must constantly fight the urge to incorporate his own emotions into his performance.
Olin said she was captivated by the repetition of Zaides’ movements, of video clips and of sounds throughout “Archive.” Zaides said that repetition was an essential aspect of his work in general and was particularly appropriate in depicting the Israeli conflict, which he described as “repetitive and never-ending.”
“This is what art should be. I am very disturbed, in the way that I should be,” Roginsky said. “I am physically sweating, even though it is snowing outside.”