“Are we bound forever to remain suspended in the limbo of the endless issues of our identity’” This is one of the questions put to Theodor Herzl and Sigmund Freud during the performance accompanying the opening of Yael Bartana’s exhibition Wenn Ihr wollt, ist es kein Traum (If you will it, it is not a dream).
Here, Yael Bartana addresses the spirits of two pioneers, Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl who, in different approaches sought to bring redemption to the individual and to the collective - and whom she declares the spiritual gods of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), which she founded in 2007. The founder of modern psychoanalysis and the visionary of a state for Jews lived just a couple of houses away from each other on Berggasse in Vienna, yet their paths never crossed. Yael Bartana thus brings them together in her installation Wenn Ihr wollt, ist es kein Traum - a temple of Utopia - to create a moment of collective consciousness and awake the ghost of history to hopefully get some answers.
A fictional movement dealing with political imagination promoting social change is how Bartana describes the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), which received international recognition with the film trilogy ‘and Europe will be stunned (Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), 2007, Mur I Wieza (Wall and Tower), 2009, Zamach (Assassination), 2011) at the Venice Biennale in 2011 where Bartana was invited to represent Poland. The movement’s intent is clearly stated on their website, and highlights its utopian character: “3.3 million Jews can change the life of 40 million Poles. The founding wish of the JRMiP is to write new pages into a history that never quite took the course we wanted. We call for the return of 3.300.000 Jews to Poland to symbolize the possibility of our collective imagination - to right the wrongs history has imposed and to reclaim the promise of a utopian future that all citizens deserve.”
From the beginning of her work as an artist, Bartana has critically questioned the history and self-image of her homeland Israel, sometimes drawing heated reactions with her use of deliberately contradictory material and her charged visual idiom that borrows from political propaganda of all stripes, thus demanding from the spectators to question this language and its continuing allure in a new context. With Wenn Ihr wollt, ist es kein Traum she is turning to Europe, specifically to Austria, asking if a return to the crime scene will bring us the hoped-for redemption’
In May 2012, the first International Congress of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland took place in Berlin. As part of the Berlin Biennale, the following questions were discussed in front of an audience at the Hebbel-am-Ufer Theater (HAU1): How should the EU change in order to welcome the Other’ How should Poland change within a re-imagined EU’ How should Israel change to become part of the Middle East’ In an open call posted on the website of the JRMIP the movement had invited any person to propose a solution. Eventually artists, sociologists, historians, critics, writers, and political activists contributed as delegates, proposing possible answers, and together with active participants to vote on these, thereby framing an agenda for the aims and direction of the JRMiP in future.
The documentary film on the congress (110 min) is shown at the Secession for the first time in an environment that equally mirrors the setting in Berlin as it echoes the architectural layout of the Secession building, erected in 1898 as a “temple for art”. Positioning the JRMiP between Freud and Herzl in a detailed chart full of biographical references and associative links presented in a light box, a neon sign quoting the exhibition title, arrangements of memorabilia and collectibles presented in vitrines (one may refer to them as shrines), Yael Bartana’s installation Wenn Ihr wollt, ist es kein Traum is ultimately and essentially a museum of the JRMiP.
“Can we continue to live the dream’ Has our dream already transformed itself into a deadly illusion’ Is it still possible to write history that has not yet been written’ Answer immediately, or disappear from our memories for ever.” These are some of the final questions put to Herzl and Freud in the performance.