Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Green Line

Up until today I had not heard of artist Francis Alÿs, who apparently was trained as an engineer and architect, but, for the past 20 years has lived in Mexico producing paintings, films, sculptures, and his particular brand of performance art, or, rather, performance walks – which I'll say are extremely cool.

For example, his latest project, which comes together in an installation for David Zwirner in Manhattan (his first solo gallery show in a decade, we are told by the New York Times), chronicles a 15-mile walk he took through Jerusalem with nothing other than a map and some leaky cans of green paint. His intention, following along a detailed indication of the “Green Line” according to the armistice after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, was to trace the Green Line’s actual geography today with a bag full of paint cans dribbling a broken, confused, and somewhat inaccessible outline of where it should technically be observed.
In a film Julien Devaux made of the walk, he is seen hiking down streets, through yards and parks, past military checkpoints and over rocky abandoned terrain, all relatively with ease and without much notice or harassment, surprisingly enough.

The article goes on to describe his work as “an art of symbolic gesture, a kind of acted-out metaphor, produced by a body or bodies in motion.” His own body-in-motion generated inscription of the Green Line calls attention, in a beautifully subversive way, to the actual line of concrete barriers, security walls, and network of checkpoints that in all essence completely violates the geography of the original agreed-upon border line.

I love the idea, and can’t believe it had not already been done: painting the actual delineation of the Green Line for all to observe, while also, in some obtuse way, tracing the insidious discrepancy of the present halved geography of matrix-dissected removal of Palestinian access to the ancient city. And I would say, his project needs to be extended beyond just the 15-mile stroll through Jerusalem. Why not devote a massive coordination to painting in the Green Line to its completion through out the entire Occupied Territories? Locals could take the torch and finish this themselves.

While “The Green Line, as Mr. Alÿs reinscribes it” (according to the NYT), is radically fluid: the next rainstorm, some traffic, a crowd of passing feet would, and surely did, obliterate it", I must admit, this is one instance where I could care less about the ephemeral and fleeting quality of the performance art nature of the piece.
In fact, I wish this line could remain in tact permanently.
To go with it, I wish there were a series of street signs or some other project that would build upon this one, guiding folks along the actual path of the Green Line as it was intended. It maybe be cheesy, but you put on some headphones, unfold a specialized map and take an audio tour of the contested territories, and learn specifically about the history of the conflict, the making of the apartheid wall for all its own flexibility and shifty strategic routing and re-routing, listen to personal accounts of localized struggles along the way, epic survival stories of violence, of homes split down the middle, farms axed by the wall -- a walk of shame tour -- all the while, comparing the current hard nosed outline of the occupation with all its lack of correspondence to the desingations of the Green Line's earlier border consensus.

Needless to say, if I were in New York City I would check this out. In addition to the film, included in the show is apparently a number of archival peices on the original Green Line (maps and documents), as well as interviews with “contemporary Israeli, Palestinian and European pundits” that form, I guess, a kind of catalogue. Oh, and apparently some fabricated piecemeal guns he fancied out of scraps and found materials.

“Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political, and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic” at the David Zwirner gallery.


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