The first UK solo exhibition by Guy Ben-Ner in a public gallery, included a new commission: ‘Spies’.
Guy Ben-Ner was born in Israel in 1969 and currently lives in Tel Aviv. Since the early 90s, Ben-Ner has filmed a series of videos starring himself and his family, sometimes using the intimate spaces of their home as ad-hoc set or, conversely, in one well known work, using the display sets of Ikea as a setting for a domestic drama. More recent works move away from the use of his family, but often still focus on the ethical question of where to draw the line between art making and personal and professional relations. The videos wittily mix the home-made and a sophisticated range of literary and art historical references.
There was a new commission for this exhibition – ‘Spies’ – which relates to the bible story of the ‘twelve spies’ who were dispatched by Moses to scout the land of Israel, contrary to God’s instruction, which resulted in their condemnation to 40 years in the wilderness. Ironically an iconic image from this story is now used as part of the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Structurally simple, the film zooms out from this logo with a voiceover dialogue which interweaves quotes from Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame” and travel narratives such as Gulliver’s Travels, establishing a correlation between tourists and spies and evoking the disassociation of the traveller on returning home.
Also included in the exhibition were existing works including the piece “Drop the Monkey” (2009), in which Ben-Ner documents 25 trips between Tel Aviv and Berlin over the course of a year, living in one city with his girlfriend in another. Creating a performance as “live film,” the artist films and edits in-camera an ongoing phone conversation with himself as his life unfolds. Unlike a regular film, which is edited externally after all of the shooting is complete; Ben-Ner’s film never leaves the camera during a twelve-month period. The film always remains “live,” awaiting the next shot, which might take place in either Israel or Germany. Since the only editing is done entirely in-camera, the move from one shot to the next requires a real physical move: the camera traveling the full distance from Tel Aviv to Berlin and back as the dialogue progresses. Shot in Hebrew, and dubbed in English, the film presents a conversation in rhyme, which discusses how art can be at the service of life and the repercussions of such a unified relationship.
A link to an interview with the artist is here and an event was staged at the Horse Hospital in London,chaired by Jeanine Griffin, at which Guy Ben-Ner and film-maker John Smith both showed films and spoke about their shared concerns.