The Sea is the Same Sea
"The work of memory collapses time" Walter Benjamin
In 2019 and 2022, Gil Mualem Doron attended artist residency programs in Umm Al-Fahm and Catalonia, Spain. Both sides of the Mediterranean, for him, are fraught with a history of displacement and resettlement. His parents were born in Iraq and Bulgaria: he came into the world in London, grew up in Israel, and today lives in Britain. His peregrinations are the results of wars and conflicts that although of ancient origin, have taken on lethal dimensions in the modern era under the baton of nation-states and advanced weapons.
For Gil Muallem Doron displacement in its psychological, human, and political senses has become the setting of an artistic quest in which visual language attempts to sense the absence that words miss. This unseen is neither abstract nor vague: instead, it is built cumulatively from strata of human fragments that lack a single way of connecting. Gil Muallem Doron lends a story substance by combining voices and tools, arranging them out of historical order or away from pure formalism, and including a documentary web of accounts of displacement and publications of human-rights organizations. In Umm al Fahm, he recorded and photographed the histories of residents who were banished from the lands of al-Lajjun village near Megiddo in 1948 becoming in effect present absentees.
In Spain, he cross-referenced video clips of built spaces and scenes of water in Gerona and other cities from which Jews and Muslims had been expelled, some becoming anusim (forced converts), Marranos (crypt o- Jews), or Moriscos (crypto -Muslims), living their past as the keepers of a present-absentee secret. Muallem Daron's family is linked to the secrets of this anusim. Matana, the original surname of his father from Iraq, alludes to the family's possible origin in Portugal. His maternal grandmother spoke Ladino a language that migrated to Bulgaria with the deportees from Spain. The personal social human, and psychological elements and the unseen and revealed political forces come together at the exhibition in the manner of the story and its contemporary mode of representation.
Fluctuations and transitions, frictions and cross-references, relocations and translocations give these works their composition and their position in the gallery space. Everything is out of place, unplaced, displaced. One may observe some of the works on one's smartphone in their entirety by scanning a QR code. Impromptu structures that look like a tent and walls hover in the air. Archive documentation from al-Lajjun is superimposed on the images of refugees from the village who now live in Umm al-Fahm: they clutch and present "blank pages" as a way of mentioning and resisting the wasteland myth. The absence of the place to which Gil Muallem Doron gives presence in his works challenges and reflects upon the sense of present time by arranging an encounter with a Jewish Arab fate from another era- roughly corresponding to the discovery of America at the onset of Western colonialism and to a present pursued by its spectres. The foreignness that these phantoms created is experienced in this non-place, bearing a muteness that the works imagine as a place of dialogue.
Contemporary art no longer offers one more repaired future reality; instead, it implants possible sensations. thoughts. and forms in existential moments of a palpable society. A possible metaphor writes Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, is tethered inseparably to the metaphor of redemption and also finds expression in its observation of the past. Benjamin relates to the past as a culture that has collapsed: he seeks a way to reassemble it by means of unfulfilled possibilities. For this purpose, the works act among the various strata of quotidian life, among facade, narrative, images, communities, ideas, and politics, and by means of practices that urge the viewers of art to participate in its preparation and presentation.
Benjamin's hopes of reorganization proved fruitless. In World War II. Benjamin fled for his life from the Germans who pursued him on account of his Jewishness. He managed to cross into Spain but took his life there in the belief that he would be extradited and not given asylum. He was interred in an unmarked provisional grave in a Catholic cemetery overlooking the Mediterranean, his bones scattered and their place unknown. Thus, he became a kind of Marrano in his death in Spain. "Passages," a monument created by the artist Dani Karavan in the memory of Benjamin and of refugees generally is inserted amid video clips of the scenes of water and built spaces from which all expellees from Spain were sent into exile.
The Mediterranean today is the same sea that connects the historical strands with the present - a sea that is at once a place of yearning and of loss, a sea where, on the border of Jaffa, Mualem Daron photographed an expectation of returning along with a Palestinian student. This non-place, like the sea, carries a historical trauma and present-day fears that become at the exhibition an under-structure of art that floats like a raft across an unsteady reality.
Artist: Gil Mualem Doron
Curators: Specter Winds / Ami Steinitz
UM El-Fahem Art Gallery
IMAGES FROM THE EXHIBITION
The Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery was founded in 1996, on the initiative of local residents and artists who wanted to bring quality contemporary art to the city and its population and to exhibit original Arab and Palestinian art.
Umm el-Fahem art Gallery
Umm el-Fahem 30010, Israel