Standpoint, 45 Coronet Street, London N1

Idit Elia Nathan: Footnotes Playing Dead


16 January – 14 February 2015

Review by Becky Shaw

‘Footnotes Playing Dead’ presents works using games, where viewers are invited to “play with” and explore for themselves aspects of the Israel-Palestine occupation.

Unexpectedly, I find the play on offer rather unplayful. This is not solely because of the tension caused by juxtaposing play with fear and conflict. Rather than the ludic, flowing, energetic play I associate with idealised childhood, these are more contained forms. The games used (cross-stitch, colouring-in, memory games, Monopoly etc.) feel like games that adults play, or last resort games when the weather keeps children inside. These games are constrained, depressive, repetitive and frustrating: games to kill time. As a result, the exhibition does far more than revolve around a juxtaposition of play and violent occupation: it creates physical experience that embodies conflict.

Home-made photographic playing cards offer three versions of a matching pairs memory game. The first one is a set of pleasant black and white international towns with newsagent stalls, 1960s cars and vaguely familiar streets. It takes minutes of playing before I realise that the images are of checkpoints to limit movement. No longer a labyrinthine, fluid, urban playground, the streets are broken into fragments and full stops. The cards in the next game, ‘Aerial Bombs’ feel impossible to match as the images of destroyed homes and cities across the world all look so similar. A third memory game shows refugees: thousands walking, all looking the same. Playing the memory games works as a Brechtian strategy, drawing attention to our processes of attenuation and detachment. At the same time though I think about Susan Sontag, in ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’, challenging the orthodoxy that viewing trauma makes us better people or leads to action.

‘Hegemonopoly/ Machsomopoly’ invites us to play a version of Monopoly in one of the most contested terrains in the world: real political divisions enforced and represented through ID cards. The film ‘Seven walks in a Holy City’ provides a context for this deadly game, showing obstructions to movement in Jerusalem. Next to it is ‘Mining the Archive’. Two lists: one of all the home moves made by Nathan’s family, and the other listing all the conflicts experienced, are housed in light-boxes. The lists are obscured by roughly applied black paint. The lists use a font I associate with cool, static, ‘conceptual art’, in comparison with the scratchy, irritated black paint of ‘expressive’ modernism. This work offers no games but its simple clash of types of languages, histories and distance, adds a material insistence to the exhibition.

In ‘Painting the City Golden’ a cross-stitch template of an increasingly significant Zionist heritage site, The Tower of David, is projected on the wall and the viewer is invited to colour it in. Like in the Monopoly game, you can only go where the colour-code allows you. I am the first to try it and I am both delighted to get a go with the pens, and also paralysed with the fear of doing it wrong, or going over the lines.

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