Friday, 8 June 2007

Dani Gal

The installation by Dani Gal is the realisation of The first Israeli Tv program.
The work has been specially produced for the exhibition.

Quoting Dani Gal: „The event that signified the beginning of the television era in Israel a year before the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the Palestinian areas, reflects the way people in Israel perceived themselves as a society and a culture at the time and how people understood the role of television.
On the 4th of January 1966 the Israeli postal service aired for the first time television in Israel. The purpose of the broadcast was to try the broadcasting devices and to make a reception quality check of picture and sound in different areas of the country. A special machine was built especially for the broadcast constructed from a simple overhead projector (the one used for school lectures) connected to a television broadcaster. A technician stood next to the projector and replaced newspaper photos of different people, sites and national events every 30 seconds followed by sounds and music. The program, that lasted 30 minutes, ended with of a photo of an Israeli army missile battery and was followed by the Tchaikovsky’s - 1812 Overture where real cannons played as instruments.
During the first few minutes of the show a fly flew, accidentally, between one of the photos and the projector and viewers could see it flying across the screen.
A voice of a reporter asked viewers to report on the quality of the broadcast by sending letters to the station giving them a mailing address. Many people responded but one of the viewers, a woman, wrote and asked for one of the photos in which, as she claimed, recognized her self and her daughter picking flowers. It was actually the photographer’s wife and daughter.
One of the fears that arose by the government regarding the broadcast television was how to prevent the risk of Israeli children being exposed to Arab television that used the same channels to broadcast it’s own shows.
The Israeli television archive holds no documentation of this show. All the information about the broadcast was found in newspaper articles written around the time of the broadcast and stories told of people who were involved in the production.“

Dani Gal realises the first Israeli TV program by rebuilding the broadcast machine, collecting the photos from the Israeli photo archive and from David Haris who was the photographer of the time and by tracking down the viewers letters.
As Gal states: „By reconstructing the event that signified the beginning of the television era in Israel I will try to revile the moment in which, to my opinion, reflects the way people in Israel perceived themselves as a society and a culture at the time and how people understood the role of television.“
Dani Gal’s artistic practice is highly linked with documentation and the methodology of writing history. His art production evolves around a detailed search on the topic and bringing together various aspects. The realisation of the 1st Isareli tv program is not broadly screening the making of a tv channel but also displaying the norms of constructing a nation. The imagery and the background music are part of the similar methodologies of Italien neo-realist era or the agit-probs from the founding of the former USSR. The photos that are genuinely selected from the archies, the text on the founding of Israel within a detailed interrogation of the occurences by Yuval Benziman, the newspaper clip that display the discomfort of neighbouring Arab countries and Dani Gal’s response with an Israeli belly dancer poster has a unique togetherness in the form of stating, analyzing and commenting on the state of a foundation of a nation. In this specific case the country where the artist himself comes from.

Installation detail

The text The Fly-effect by Yuval Benziman is available to be read in the installation of Dani Gal.

The Fly-Effect
By Yuval Benziman
The first test broadcast of the National Israeli television was allegedly only a technical matter: the Educational Television broadcasts were about to begin and the Ministry
of Post (who later became the Ministry of Communication) wished to examine the quality of its transmitters. Therefore, it was decided to air an experimental broadcast. The public was asked to open their television sets in order to try to receive the transmission. The spectators were asked to write personally to the Ministry of Post, regarding the quality of the received picture and sound. The trial broadcast had not been produced by the professionals in charge of the establishment of the Educational Television; and it had also not been produced with the broadcasting equipment available at that time. Instead, a few technicians and clerks, working in the Ministry of Post, initiated a half an hour- production, which included thirty-two still photographs, changed about every forty- five seconds by one of the technicians, accompanied by background music.
On the face of it, it might not be right to denote too much meaning to this televised event: even though substantial work was probably invested into it, it was made in an amateur manner. Thus, those responsible for it probably didn’t have the intention that the broadcast would carry a significant message to the people, they only wanted to inspect the broadcasting quality. The photographs were exclusively selected by two people and the music was selected by a few others. Hence, it might be by accident or not, but examining this pilot can teach a great deal, not only about the 1966’s Israeli society, but also about the current one of 2007.

The chosen photographs tell a fascinating story about Israel in 1966. Supposedly, a growing and strengthening, pluralistic, diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, establishes its hold on the Israeli land. The formal Israeli narrative always wished to tell about the Diaspora’s assembly, about welcoming the immigrants with open arms, about the socialist society who treated the Arab minority equally, (and as a place where the native Anglo-European Ashkenazi elite is not superior in relation to the Sephardi- oriental immigrants Jews). The photos were selected to tell this story, without neglecting any subgroup of the society: men and women, people from cities and rural areas, citizens and soldiers, immigrants and natives, people from different cultures and religions. In a continuance to this idea, the photos were taken from different areas of the country: Rosh- Pinah, Haifa, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Negev, Ein-Ovdat etc.

It has been known in the Israeli discourse for a while that a substantial discrepancy
exists between the official Israeli narrative, told by the state and its people, and
what happened in reality itself. Actually, in 1966 Israel (as well as in 2007) there
was no equality between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens; and the current equality
of opportunity between Ashkenazi and Sephardi- oriental Jews did not exist back then.
The Israeli society was not successful in actualizing its socialist values,
which led to today’s gap between rich and poor, one of the highest in the world.
The Kibbutz project did not survive. Naïveté and innocence transformed into
aggression and pugnacity.
The wish to hold the land became a desire for occupying and dominating.
Nonetheless, in 1966, the power of the dominating hegemony was expressed not
only by inculcating the Zionist narrative in innumerable ways, but also in displaying
it as a part of the representing images of Israel in this piloting Television show.
Even though the photos were chosen by only a small number of people, there is
no doubt that their selection carried out the Jewish-Zionist narrative’s introjection.
Their position as the representatives of this hegemony reflected the view of the general public.
The trial to give visual expression to the narrative, through photographs, enfolds not only the dominating narrative itself, but also its total opposite: the effort to represent the Jewish-Zionist story in 32 images uncovers its flaws, its failures, and the contrasting narrative, which hides inside. This visual utterance shows the problematic destructive potential, and thus, its upcoming collapse.

In parallel with the naïve, even childish appearance, which invites the spectator
to identify and worship, the photographs also tell the story of an overpowering,
conquering (even before 1967), militaristic and patronizing society.
The most interesting thing is how the photos succeeded to tell the two stories at the same time, showing how the two narratives coexist and integrate into each other. Apparently,
it is a story about an innocent, just society, going through a process of development, surrounded by hostile countries, which justifies its aggression and patronization
as imposed to reality.
The photo of Jerusalem is probably the clearest demonstration of this idea. What
is more innocent and justified than screening, in the first broadcast, a picture of
the capital city of Israel, which the Jewish people have longed for thousands of years?
This is undoubtedly the city that is mostly identified with Judaism and the Zionist dream. However, the chosen photo of Jerusalem is of the eastern part that in 1966
was by no means inside the borders of Israel. The bird’s eye view photograph
demonstrates the patronizing, arrogant, conquering Israeli stance, looking to hold the territories and the holy places not belonging to it at the time. Thus, the image, which was naturally expected by most of the spectators- and no Israeli broadcast could do
without it- demonstrates in itself the viewpoint of a public looking to expand their own borders.

As it seems, choosing a photograph of east-Jerusalem was not made only for the city’s holy position. It is a part of a more general trend of displaying the Israeli border zones, for asserting Israeli control on the ground, the sea, and the sky. Once again, the Israeli
narrative with the apparently innocent story of a nation searching for its path, building itself with its own “two hands”, establishing its hold in his own new land; thus,
at the same time becomes paranoid, craving power. The desire to show
the country’s borders, the domination over the fields, the sea and the sky,
is in a way typical for people in a time of national resurrection.
Nevertheless, the photos show how easily this line is crossed.
The pastoral landscape expresses the uncontrollable urge
to display precisely the border zones in order to demonstrate
the possession (Jerusalem from its eastern part,
the sea from the west, Rosh- Hanikra at the north, the Negev in the south)
and even the urge to sometimes look a bit beyond the border…

In direct relation to the tendency to overpower is the disproportionate
reference to the notion of the army. It prevails in marches, the helicopters in the sky
and the cannons on the ground. The background music selected for the broadcast
included, besides the song ha-ga-via (the cup) of the Israeli band Ge-sher Ha-yar-kon three, Leroy Anderson’s Trumpeter’s Lullaby and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Anderson’s piece, found in most musical arsenals of military orchestras, announces that even when “civilian” images are being displayed, they are still an integral part of the military march. The musical scrap of Tchaikovsky’s piece, written purposely to tell a story of a battle (Napoleon’s defeat), emphasizes this forcefully. Choosing to finish the broadcast in showing the missiles’ photo, accompanied by the sound of the cannons in Tchaikovsky’s piece, makes it clear. In case we have not noticed the militant images and sound overload, a direct statement about the dominance of the army in the Israeli society is blatantly brought to us in the end.

Photos of the army taking over the screen, together with photos of the country’s occupation, stems from, as it appears, the Israeli fear of the neighbouring Arab countries, seen as enemies. In the context of the test broadcast itself, and without judging the Israeli narrative according to it, Israel was always a peace-proponent country, which had to defend itself from the invasions and the attacks of the surrounding Arab countries. It is clear how the fear and the terror are another aspect of aggression: Egypt and Israel had the same broadcasting frequency; the Ministry of Post’s technicians were bothered with who will win the “frequency war”. Will the Egyptian’s broadcast overpower the Israeli’s, or will the Israeli spectators receive
a split picture, both of the Israeli and the Egyptian broadcasts?
The broadcast, as it was reported in the newspapers, proved the superiority of the Israeli frequency in relation to that of the Arab countries, promising that the Israeli citizens will not have to be exposed to the Arab programs. Israel had to prove its domination over the invisible frequencies in the air as well, wherever it was possible to win a battle- it had to be actualized. Surprisingly, according to the newspapers’ reports, there were more then 30,000 Television sets in Israel by 1966. What were those Television sets actually needed for, if the first formal Israeli broadcast was yet to come? It might be that the people who bought these sets were in fact interested in watching the Arab channels, and they were directing their antennas towards them. The Ministry of Post’s spokesman was even cited in one of the newspapers, explaining that part of the spectators reported about a low quality of receiving, were in fact because “many TV sets are currently tuned to receive the TV channels of Cairo and Lebanon”. Even this potential base for communication between people from both nations, and the opportunity of getting to know the “other’s” culture - though not intentionally but as a consequence of the absence of original Israeli television- was blocked. Although, the decision that both the Israeli and the Egyptian television would be broadcast on the same channel was of the “International Organization of Telecommunication” and not an Israeli one, the Israeli institution was quite enthusiastic about this battle and announced the Israeli victory. It was also stated
that during the hours there was no Israeli broadcasting, technical means would be employed to decrease the magnitude of the Arabic broadcast, in order to “assure that school children, will not be able to watch Arab television, before or after Israeli television”.

The need to denigrate the Arab television channels influenced
the journalistic coverage of the piloting broadcast. The press cooperated
with the authorities and showed an absolute disparagement of the Arab countries’ television contents. The Israeli journalists did not ask themselves why it was that so many people
owned television sets, if not to receive non-Israeli channels. In order to express
the gap between Am Ha-Se-Fer, (“the people of the book”) and the Arab countries,
one of the newspapers at the time claimed explicitly that the Television sets’
owners “will have to endure watching the belly dancing transmitted to them from
the various channels of the neighboring countries…” explaining that ”only when
the school lessons will be transmitted, and a teacher explaining the pupils a lesson
in geography or biology…” then “the jiggly belly dancer will disappear from the screen”. In this way, the conviction of the impossibility to create something in common is transmitted through the channels, and a categorical choice has to be made between what is Israeli and what is Arabic, needless to say that “We” are better then “Them”.

The first piloting broadcast’s spectators probably felt pride. The photos gave a visual expression to their lived narrative. The Israeli citizens were shown occupying the land. They were from multiple ethnic backgrounds. They welcomed immigration. They gave expression and voice to other religions as well. They were a part of a growing tribe. They were all over the country, strong and united, on the sea, on the ground, in the sky. Moreover, they had a strong army, which gave them a feeling of security. It is reasonable to assume that they had not realized how the same photos told the story of the society’s maladies and distorted the innocent pluralistic narrative. Only in retrospect, it is feasible to detect at the same photos, not only the dominant narrative but also, the seeds of its collapse: these photos are not belligerent in themselves, but hint of the beginning of militant and aggressive tendencies, and of
the patronizing relation to the “other”. The photos’ strength is at being on the verge, of telling the story of the hegemony but at the same time, enabling the understanding of the problematic aspects embedded in it.

The images and the stories behind them reflect the contradictions of the Zionist narrative: on the one hand, a small country, managed as a socialist kibbutz, characterized by mutual responsibility, where the citizens are requested to send letters reporting about the quality of the reception. On the other hand, the newspapers reported that one of the spectators asked for a copy of one of the photographs, claiming to be a picture of her with her daughter; another spectator wished to win fame by sending his son’s Bar-Mizvah pictures to be broadcasted all over the country.
The wish to examine the quality and the magnitude of the Israeli broadcast became
an act of invalidation of the enemy’s, and the triumph of the “frequencies’ war”.
On one side, representing a country that has to defend itself and keep holding over the land, and on the other, representing the wish to expand towards other territories, and the need to demonstrate its power and justification for its right for security, rendering it militant and overpowering.

According to the reports, a fly mistakenly entered the screen, and all the viewers could watch him “stealing” the show. Supposedly, it was a small human mistake, originating from amateur work that enabled the insurgent fly to get inside the frame. However, it might be seen as a symbolic event, in which the “butterfly- effect” transformed into a “fly- effect”: the fly’s flapping wings created a disruption that implies the beginning of quaking the Jewish-Israeli Zionist narrative.

The photographs of the first test broadcast froze life for us. It was created, precisely, on the verge of a change in the Israeli national consciousness, that was actualized after 1967’s war. The fly’s taking over the screen tells us about the shape of things to come, and if one wishes to see it, as a formative event in the history of questioning the Israeli narrative.

Dr. Yuval Benziman is a cultural researcher

Translation from Hebrew Yaarit Wald

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