July 3rd, 2002
Tate Britain Museums
By Sarah Kent
If it weren’t for the dire situation in the Middle East, I might be more sympathetic to Ori Gersht’s photographs and videos. Given that the Israelis make aggressive claims for a homeland yet deny Palestinians the same rights, Gershts poetic musings seem a wholly inadequate response. A self imposed exile, he returned to the area to record some of the contested territories. Three extremely beautiful shots of the desert were taken in Judea, which divides Israel from the WestBank.
‘Being There’ shows a stony wasteland that reaches to distant hills and bears no visible traces of human presence. While ‘Black Mountain’ is a volcanic cone sparsely covered with scrub, the biscuit-coloured terrain of ‘White Mountain’ is traversed by tire tracks. A single tree and a few scrubby bushes cling to life in a dry valley; this is territory to be crossed rather than inhabited. The wilderness into which Christ retreated for 40 days and nights, the area has a long history. Despite its harsh climate, it is not empty; the Bedouins still camp here (not for long, though, if the Israelis have their way). In the video ‘Dew’, condensation spots the lens and obscures the view; as it dries, Gersht pulls focus so that; for a few seconds, a Bedouin encampment is visible. ‘Neither Black nor White’ begins with winking lights patterning the darkness. Daybreak reveals a town dominated by a minaret but; as the heat intensifies, the rooftops disappear in a blue haze. Filmed from the Jewish quarter of Nazareth, this bird’s eye view of the Arab town of Iksal could convey the mutual distrust fuelling the dispute; instead, though, Gersht opts for poetic effects, such as thorn bushes blowing in the wind.