“Image Blockade” is a new body of work by Maayan Amir and Ruti Sela that focuses on the intersection between the visual, political, and legal. The works, made within the framework of the Exterritory project, explore the ties between sensory perception, insubordination, censorship, and advanced technology and their links to the control of images.
Initiated by Amir and Sela in 2009, Exterritory is an ongoing art project dedicated to encouraging the theoretical, practical, and interdisciplinary examination of “extraterritoriality,” i.e. being excluded or exempt from the standard system of law within a designated area. The project uses the notion of extraterritoriality to critique power structures and re-imagine practical, conceptual, and poetical possibilities. The works in “Image Blockade” move beyond the straightforward geographical and judicial notions of extraterritoriality as it pertains to people and spaces to consider how the concept may be extended to regimes of information, representation, and practices that may produce “extraterritorial images.” The works raise many questions such as: How is the sensory perception of those who are obliged to keep information confidential over time affected? What are the limits of transparency when it comes to activism and documentation? What happens when images that may incriminate their creators are withheld from public view through legal means and cannot be used as evidence? Together, the works here offer a riveting look at attempts to regulate images and what that might mean for shaping our worldviews today.
Curator: Chen Tamir
The Battle Over Images
On May 31, 2010, a flotilla of six boats carrying hundreds of people and humanitarian aid aimed at alleviating and protesting the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza was intercepted by the Israeli navy on the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The takeover operation began with an attempt to shut down all satellite connections to and from the flotilla, marking the beginning of a battle over images. On board the largest vessel, the Mavi Marmara, a violent confrontation resulted in the death of ten activists and many wounded, including soldiers. After taking control of the ships, the Israeli military confiscated hundreds of memory cards from cameras, mobile phones, hard discs, and videos, to control the media portrayal of the incident. As a result, the international investigations of the flotilla incident have taken place without much of the vital visual evidence that remains out of
bounds. As part of their research, the artists examined the various judicial investigations on the flotilla incident compiled by both Israeli and foreign bodies. The reports demonstrate that images were not only the major symbolic motivation for the confrontation, but that the fight over images shaped the battle onboard the Mavi Marmara and its aftermath. Selections of the reports are presented here with Hebrew texts taken from the report by the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of the 31 May 2010 (the Turkel Commission) and protocols from the Israeli Parliament meeting on 21 June 2012. These are presented alongside reports in English by the Turkish National Inquiry Committee and quotes from affidavits by the IHH (the Turkish NGO that was the main organizer of the flotilla) that were part of the indictment files submitted to the Istanbul Criminal Court when charges were pressed against senior IDF commanders (the latter now being tried in absentia in a trial ongoing since 2012). The reports demonstrate the centrality of controlling the creation of images and their circulation. The subsections on the wall correspond to four stages of the incident: the background and outset; the communications blackout; the physical confrontation; and the event’s aftermath.
2015, HD Video, 38:20 min.
Maayan Amir and Ruti Sela created the Exterritory project as a platform to investigate the potential of the extraterritorial sea space to circumvent the control of national sovereignty. In 2010, Amir and Sela invited a variety of participants to meet on extraterritorial waters to further explore the concept of extraterritoriality. A few days before they set sail, the 2010 Gaza flotilla was intercepted on international waters by the Israeli military. The conjunction in time and space of these two flotillas—both politically motivated, both placing image production at their center, both marked by the crucial role of extraterritoriality—led the artists to look further into the complex politics of extraterritorialities. A year later, in light of what happened and continuing their investigation of the subject, the artists joined the preparations for the next flotilla that was being organized by a Dutch NGO. Scenarios Preparations is comprised of footage filmed during preparations for the action that were held in different locations. Due to the sabotage of some of the boats as well as restrictions imposed by the countries from which the boats were to set sail, the flotilla was cancelled. The video depicts the anticipation of the event’s documentation and explores issues of activism,
censorship, image production, and the performativity of national identity.
This work was made with support from the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam.
The flotilla, known also as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, was conceived as a high-profile media event and was equipped with live broadcast infrastructure and reporters who were onboard the vessels. As soon as the violence erupted, and despite Israeli military attempts to block transmission, images of the confrontation began to reach viewers worldwide, including footage of one of the soldiers who climbed down a rope from a helicopter onto the deck of the ship. The images circulated widely in Turkey and beyond and consequently the soldier sued the military for damages. On April 11, 2014, Israel’s Channel 2 News ran a report on the lawsuit and frames from the news report are presented here that distill moments from the report. The centrality of the battle over images aboard the Mavi Marmara is echoed in how the soldier perceives the damage caused by the incident. Concentrating on these subtleties raises questions about the hierarchy between action and documentation, and the legal and theoretical issues surrounding the ownership of images.
Stills from Channel 2’s “Return to Marmara” by Guy Peleg; Footage by Tomer Ilan; Edited by Yaniv Shabtai
2012, HD Video, 00:20 min.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) technology enables the noninvasive manipulation of the brain by electromagnetically stimulating magnetic fields. Recent developments make possible the control of body movement. The work depicts a collective choreography created by the artists using the latest developments in TMS technology for a group of extras cast through a talent agency. The work raises questions about the development of technology that bypasses the privacy and autonomy of movement and the limits of individual agency.
2015, 2-channel HD Video, 38:30 min.
In September 2014, veterans of Israel’s elite army intelligence unit called “8200,” many of whom were still on active reserve duty, signed a letter publicly addressing the state’s political and military leaders and declaring their refusal to continue taking exploitative action against Palestinians in order to maintain military control of the Occupied Territories. Though they were refusing to continue their military service in order to instigate a policy change, the signatories were still committed to upholding national security and therefore adhered to censorship laws and did not reveal their identity. As a consequence, all media interviews with
them were performed with their faces obscured. “Image Blockade” documents an experiment the artists initiated in collaboration with neuroscientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The subjects of the experiment consisted of two groups: other veterans of the 8200 intelligence unit and a random control group. The participants had their brain activity scanned using MRI technology while watching clips from media interviews with the dissidents. These reports had been approved for broadcast by military censors, but since the dissidents’ faces had been darkened, the footage was easily manipulated by the artists, who inserted additional information into it. The added material was bout state use of intelligence that most likely would not have passed the military censor. The subjects of the experiment were asked to identify which clips had been altered and what would or would not have been censored. Each participant’s brain activity was measured while viewing the interviews to reveal how
such information is read differently by people who have undergone the military’s training in self-censorship. The distinction is visible when comparing the two groups’ brain activities, especially around sensory regions of the brain such as the visual and auditory cortices. Made in collaboration with scientists Hagar Goldberg, Meytal Wilf and the Rafi Malach Research Group, The Department of Neurobiology, the Weizmann Institute of Science. With thanks to Dr. Edna Furman-Haran, Nachum Stern, and Fanny Attar from the Human Brain Imaging Laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science and to Dr. Doron Friedman.
This work was made with support from the New Museum, New York, the
Ostrovsky Family Foundation, Artis, and the Israeli National Lottery Arts
The exhibition is financed by the City of Zagreb.
Work of GMK is supported by Zaklada Kultura nova.