– Spring/Summer 2001

The Counterpointed Medium (and the Amorous Twin). On the Recent Works of Uri Tzaig

Sarit Shapira

Is contemporary art really art or something else entirely, and, if it is art, then what does that say about art's place in the world? These are some of the most frequent questions and criticisms raised against contemporary art. Such claims testify not only to the often tense relationship between the general audience and contemporary artistic practice, but they also emphasise that contemporary art is once again an 'ivory tower', a hermetic and esoteric enclave that persists despite the history of the twentieth century and the apparent shift from modernism to postmodernism. This persistence of a form of the avant-garde, albeit a debated and controversial one, is not just a theoretical issue within critical discourse but also an important subject matter for contemporary artworks themselves.

It might appear unnecessary, or even incorrect, to raise these questions in our current cultural era. After all, we have seen the transformation of the 'art-piece' into an art 'work' (Roland Barthes), its 'space' changed into a 'site' (Michel Foucault) that is in turn just another fragment of the 'expanded field' (Rosalind Krauss) of our postmodern global culture. Yet, in spite of art being swept up in the multi-media and inter-disciplinary waves of recent discourse, and even because many contemporary artworks look so similar to other cultural products, at some point it is crucial to try to discriminate the artistic medium from the rest of medialand and to find out what still gives art its raison d'être.

If we don't simply rehearse the Marxist position that furiously accuses art of being the product of cynical, commercial, bourgeois, capitalist and power interests, then we will discover that the most interesting and crucial artworks encode

  1. On the figures of witnessing and testimony, in the context of Israeli art and culture, see Sarit Shapira, Not to be looked at (Invisible site in Israel today) (exh. cat.), Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2000

  2. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, Boston: Beacon Press, 1986

  3. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, pp. 88-89, 393 and 510

  4. Aim Deual Luski, 'Not Playing the Game', in art press, 225, 1997

  5. The term 'site' is used here in the Foucauldian manner that defines it as a machine determined only by the temporary interrelation and interaction of its participants. See Michel Foucault, 'Of Other Spaces' in Diacritics, 1986

  6. Rosalind Krauss, 'The Grid', in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986, pp.9-22

  7. In one of Tzaig's recent performances at Fondation Cartier, Paris the polyphonic voice was taken back into the theatrical space. Two performers were put in a theatrical balcony, each of them commenting on diemoves of one ball while The Universal Square was projected on a large screen.

  8. On certain occasions, such as his performance in Saint-Nazaire, France in 1996, Tzaig introduced two balls into a game of one team. In other cases, such as in Derby, 1996 performed in Lod, Israel, he invited two referees to supervise two teams playing with two balls.

  9. The difference between idealisation and sublimation is discussed in Sigmund Freud, 'On Narcissism: An Introduction', in Andrew Morrison (ed.), Essential Papers on Narcissism, New York: New York University Press, 1986, pp.34-39

  10. Martin Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, Pfullingen: G. Neske, 1962

  11. Jacques Derrida, Différance, in Speech and Phenomena, Evaston: Northwestern University Press, 1973, p.130

  12. Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro, Zen Mind Beginners Mind, Trudi Dixon, 1988, p.7

  13. Circular and cyclic images as representations of mythical, ex-historical and unworldly time were broadly discussed in Mircea Eliade, The Myth of Eternal Return, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991

  14. A phonetic resemblance, similar to the one between Jericho and yareach (moon) was already practiced by Uri Tzaig some years ago in his video piece Desert (1996). The two-ball basketball game on the monitor was accompanied by a voice-over that poetically discussed the resemblance and possible co-relations between the Hebrew word for desert, 'midbar' and the Hebrew term for a thing (or what is discussed by Heiddeger as 'das Ding', that which anticipates the object), 'davar'.

  15. The parallel between a Narcissistic figure (as the term is used in psychoanalytic discourse) and the textural structures of contemporary reproductions and duplications is raised in Rosalind Krauss, 'Notes on the Index: Part 1, Part 2' in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, op. cit., pp.199-215

  16. Quotation given to author.

  17. J. Derrida, op. cit.