• Dead Sea Antics

    Date posted: October 16, 2008 Author: jolanta
    Something arrests you when you enter Sigalit Landau’s Cycle Spun exhibit at MoMA and encounter a wall-sized projection of 500 floating watermelons. Connected by a cord and wound into a spiral, the globular fruits are drifting on the ultra-salty waters of the Dead Sea. Some of them have been split open, revealing their intensely red insides, while others have been left intact. Against the backdrop of the sterile aquatic environment where fish can’t breathe and ships can’t sail, the watermelons are luscious, inviting, almost sacrilegiously beautiful. Image

    Mai Wang on the Cycle Spun exhibit at MoMA

    Image
    Sigalit Landau, DeadSee (from Cycle Spun), 2007. Video (color, silent), 11:37 min. The Museum of Modern Art. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. Courtesy of the artist.

    Something arrests you when you enter Sigalit Landau’s Cycle Spun exhibit at MoMA and encounter a wall-sized projection of 500 floating watermelons. Connected by a cord and wound into a spiral, the globular fruits are drifting on the ultra-salty waters of the Dead Sea. Some of them have been split open, revealing their intensely red insides, while others have been left intact. Against the backdrop of the sterile aquatic environment where fish can’t breathe and ships can’t sail, the watermelons are luscious, inviting, almost sacrilegiously beautiful.                                    

    Like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, the 1,500-foot long “earthwork” of basalt rock and compacted dirt piled off the shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Landau’s DeadSee arose out of a fascination with the particulars of a local landscape: “I’m attracted to [the Dead Sea] because of the history around it,” the artist recalled in an interview with Leslie Camhi. “Also the buoyancy, what it allows me to do physically—it’s like being on the moon, more or less.” But unlike Smithson’s static monument, Landau’s video is marked by its temporality. On screen, the coil of watermelons is slowly unwinding, as if being pulled away by an invisible tugboat. One by one they disappear, revealing a blank slate of water that, for all appearances, could be pretty much anywhere. The medium of video, then, delivers Landau’s piece from the limitations of the site-specific.            

    Yet Landau’s art remains preoccupied with place (in this case, her native Israel), and it’s tempting to link the violent red of the split watermelons in DeadSee to the misshapen, exploded cherries of The Country, a 2002 exhibit of hers more explicitly political in theme. DeadSee also continues Landau’s affinity for starring in her own work—what the buoyant saline waters allowed her to do was to float, peacefully naked, alongside the spinning watermelons. It’s a gesture that departs from both the performative antics of 2000’s Somnabulin/Bauchaus, where Landau turned a former cement truck into an ice cream truck and handed out popsicles to passersby, and the sticky dialogue of her 2001 performance at the now-defunct Thread Waxing Space, where the artist spun a nest of cotton candy around herself and invited visitors to come inside and eat. Like the spiral of watermelons surrounding her, this time around Landau looks insular, self-contained, and oblivious of her audience.                    

    Elsewhere in the exhibit, Landau’s Barbed Hula is a torso shot of the artist hula-hooping with a circle of barbed wire.    Wince-inducing and simultaneously compelling, the video shows the wire grazing her skin, leaving red marks that are all the more disturbing given the placid waves of the sea in the background. Day Done is a video about the violence of erasure and its antidote, what exhibition curator Klaus Biesenbach calls the “remembrance of destruction.” It’s day, and Landau is painting a black circle on a window from inside a house, but once night falls, she is replaced by an anonymous man who covers her work in white paint. The whole thing is a tribute to an old Jewish custom in which a corner of a new house is left unfinished to remind those who live there of its fragility.                                            

    Yet for all the violence implied in the video trilogy, the exhibit ends on a grace note. For Barbed Salt Lamps, Landau built ethereal skeletons of barbed wire, dipping them in the Dead Sea before drying them in the sun. Suspended from the ceiling, the handmade chandeliers are encrusted with layers of salt. The result looks like something salvaged from the sea, scooped up from an impossible shipwreck. 

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