Digging through time: psychogeographies of occupation




Simblist, Noah Leon

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This dissertation is about the relationship between contemporary art and politics in the case of Israel-Palestine and Lebanon. Specifically, I look at the ways that artists have dealt with the history of this region and its impact on the present, using four moments as the subject of the following chapters: ancient Palestine, the Holocaust, The nakba, and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The historiographical impulse has a particular resonance for artists making work about the Middle East, a political space where competing historical narratives are the basis for disagreements about sovereignty. I focus on works by Avi Mograbi, Gilad Efrat, Ayreen Anastas, Amir Yatziv, Yael Bartana, Omer Fast, Khaled Hourani, Dor Guez, Campus in Camps, and Akram Zaatari. A number of patterns emerge when we look at how these artists approach history. One is the tendency for artists to act like historians. As a subset of this tendency is the archival impulse, wherein artists use found photographs, film or documents to intervene in normative representations of history. Another is for artists to act like archaeologists, digging up repressed histories. Another is to commemorate a traumatic event in a way that rejects traditional forms of memorialization such as monuments. At the core of each chapter are examples of artistic practices that use conversation as a medium. I analyze these conversations about history as a dialogical practice and argue that this methodology offers a uniquely productive opportunity to work through the ideologies embedded within the psychogeographies of Israel-Palestine and Lebanon. Within these conversations and other aesthetic structures, I argue that these artists emphasize the all too common challenge in producing new forms of civic imagination – the tendency to address historical trauma though repetition compulsion and melancholia. They react to this challenge by engaging collective memory, producing counter-memories and, in some cases, produce counterpublics.



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