She mainly works in the medium of film, but occasionally also utilises photography, happenings, and sound installations. She is a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem (1992-1996). She also studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York (1999) and Rijksakademie van Beelden de Kunsten in Amsterdam (2000-2001). She has received numerous awards, including: The Anselm Kiefer Award (2003), Dorothea von Stetten Art Award (Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2005), The Gottesdiener Foundation Prize (Israel, 2007), Artes Mundi Prize (Cardiff National Museum, 2010). In 2008, she began working in Poland. Since 2010, she has been, together with Artur Żmijewski, the art editor of Krytyka Polityczna – a leftist socio-political publication.
In order to comprehend Yael Bartana's art, one first of all needs to realize that, regardless of whether her works are created in Israel, Poland, or in Western Europe, they are constantly rooted in her experience of growing up in a country of endless conflict, tension, and permanent fear, as well as Zionist tradition. Her 1996 move from Israel to Europe allowed her to perceive the social and political reality of her homeland from a distance – when she goes back there to shoot her films, she assumes the role of an anthropologist. Bartana's works offer a critical but also inherently poetic look at the relationship between an individual and society – at the end of the day, she cares about the universal character of her message.
The artist's early works were documentary films concerned with political and social issues in Israel and Palestine, as well as Israeli symbols, especially the rituals of socialization, on which the nation and national identity are based. Her three-minute film Profile (2000), created during her studies, presents female soldiers in a shooting range, cleaning weapons. The artist refers here to the times of her own military service.
The process of the militarization of Israel was also the subject of her film Trembling Time (2001). It presented cars stopping during a minute of silence for Yom HaZikaron. In the film, the artist extended this moment to almost seven minutes, thus emphasizing an emotional manipulation – if Israeli soldiers are still dying, why should the time of mourning be limited to sixty seconds?
YB Trembling Time excerpt from Yael Bartana on Vimeo.
Kings of the Hill (2003), made two years later, presents off-road cars practising driving up and down the sandy dunes and beaches north of Tel Aviv. Bartana compared this game of off-road vehicles to the myths lying at the foundation of the Israeli society – a specific type of machismo and militarization of norms and values, even though this time the ritual she was documenting was not backed by the state authorities, as in the cases of Profile and Trembling Time. The artist described this film as a metaphor for a self-destructive society.
YB Kings of the Hill excerpt from Yael Bartana on Vimeo.
The film Odds and Ends (2005) was similar in its character – Bartana focused on the ritual of shopping. The power of this four-minute video largely results from the artist's decision to shoot it from a bird's eye view. The movements of people she recorded to some extent resemble riots. This time, however, they are not related to the categories of class, gender, religion or culture – the participants' goal is to obtain products put on sale. Typical megastore Muzak blends with the noise of trading.
In 2004, Bartana realized the four-channel installation Low Relief (II). She shot her footage at two different demonstrations, and applied a digital effect transforming film image into a monochrome low-relief, with the intention of questioning the effectiveness of these actions. The demonstrators, Jews and Palestinians, were demanding the end of war.
YB Low Relief II excerpt from Yael Bartana on Vimeo.
Her two-channel video installation Wild Seeds (2005) shows eighteen-year-olds playing a game they made up. The idea is to imitate the evacuation of one of Palestinian settlements. Two teenagers are chosen to represent “the authorities” who are to break up the rest of the participants, grouped in a circle in a “protest” against the evacuation. The second projection features a translation of the conversations and cries of the players – as a result, the viewer's attention is split between text and image. Without the image, the text becomes hostile and could pass as a record of an authentic evacuation. Fiction and reality merge. The six-minute film was recorded in the Occupied Territories, however, the participants in this game are the young descendants of Zionists opposing the occupation of Palestine.
In A Declaration (2006) Bartana turned to the national symbols of Israel. The film begins with a view of a waving Israeli flag, stuck on a small rock in the sea, and a city – Jaffa – in the background. A young man rows towards the rock, carrying an olive tree sapling – symbolic of peace and hope (a bird sent from Noah's ark brings him back an olive branch, signifying the end of the Biblical flood) – in his boat. When he reaches the little isle, he substitutes the flag for the tree, and eventually enters a contemplative state. In this film, Bartana, played with the Zionist propaganda of the 1930s and 40s, which later later became an important point of reference in her works.
YB A Declaration excerpt from Yael Bartana on Vimeo.
Summer Camp (2007), shown at Documenta XI in Kassel, also referenced old propaganda films exhorting Jews to settle in Palestine. Bartana's film documented the process of reconstruction of a Palestinian house during the fourth summer camp organized by the ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) – an organization introducing direct action, though non-violent, as as a protest tool. Alongside her own film, Bartana projected the Zionist propaganda film on which she based her own piece. The artist shows how the Zionist rhetoric of construction was used by the ICAHD as a form of protest against Israeli domination.
The Polish Trilogy
In 2006, Bartana made her first trip to Poland. One year later, she created the film Nightmares (2007), in collaboration with the Foksal Gallery Foundation. It was the first time she conceived a film plot, in dialogues with the local, Polish context. The film featured Sławomir Sierakowski, the editor-in-chief of Krytyka Polityczna. He played a young communist agitator, in a leather coat, red tie, and horn-rimmed spectacles. The leader delivers a passionate speech in the empty, destroyed 10th Anniversary Stadium (before the construction of the National Stadium commenced). His appeal is addressed to Jews who used to live in Poland – his intention is to convince them to return. Most of the three million Jews that he has in mind, however, died during the Second World War as victims of the Nazi death machine. Sierakowski says:
We are tired of only seeing faces similar to our own. Now we know that we cannot live alone. We need the Other, and we have no Other closer than yourselves. Come! We shall live together, be different but not hurt one another.
YB And Europe Will Be Stunned - Mary Koszmary excerpt from Yael Bartana on Vimeo.
At the end of the film, the activist is joined by a group of children in scout uniforms. Dorota Jarecka, a critic for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, noted that the film got “right to the core of the argument over Polish antisemitism, reawakened by Jan T. Gross's book [Fear]. The Israeli artist's Yael Bartana's point is not that the Poles should blame themselves once again, but that they learn how to talk about Polish-Jewish issues.”
In her next film, Jews react to Sierakowski's call and, following the first settlers to Palestine, raise a kibbutz in a square next to the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw's district of Muranów (the current location of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews).
Wall and Tower (2009) once again makes a reference to Zionist propaganda films, and documents the raising of a makeshift kibbutz, as well as the beginnings of its operation – e.g. classes exchanged in Polish and Hebrew. A typical kibbutz consisted precisely of a wall and a tower. This was the way Jewish settlers described their areas on Palestinian grounds in the 1930s. On the occasion of the production of this film, the fictional Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland was founded – its logo was made up of the symbols of the Polish eagle and the Jewish star. The movement's manifesto was written by Sebastian Cichocki.
YB And Europe Will Be Stunned - Mur i wieza excerpt from Yael Bartana on Vimeo.
The last film from Bartana's so-called Polish trilogy, And Europe Will Be Stunned, was Assassination. It is coverage of the fictional funeral of the Jewish Renaissance Movement's leader (again played by Sławomir Sierakowski), murdered by the opponents of the Jewish homecoming. Sebastian Cichocki, who curated the Polish Pavilion at the 54th Art Biennale in Venice, said:
His anguished death will act as the foundation for the movement. We were inspired by the events after Lech Kaczyński's death.
In June 2011, the entire series was presented at the Polish Pavillion at the 54th Art Biennale in Venice. The decision to select an Israeli artist to represent Poland at the event was perceived as a ground-breaking and political gesture. Dorota Jarecka wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza:
In the Western countries, such moves are not surprising anymore. Poland also had to open up. Our presence in the world is expanding and it has to, at some point, bring us to the effacing of strict divisions: us and them, familiar and strange, East and West.
Yael Bartana’s Videos
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, March 2011, transl. Ania Micińska, April 2015
Selected solo exhibitions:
- Trembling Time, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen, Netherlands
- Variables X Y Z, Digital Art Lab, Holon, Israel
- Kings of the Hill, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York
- Blimp, Herzliya Museum for Contemporary Art, Herzliya, Israel
- Purim Spiel, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Kings of the Hill, Kerstin Engholm Galerie, Vienna, Austria
- You Could Be Lucky, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
- MIT, List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
- Trembling Time, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Canada
- Büro Friedrich, Berlin
- Wild Seeds, Museum St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland
- Sirens' Song, Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, Great Britain
- Amateur Anthropologist, Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany
- Kunstverein Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
- Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands
- The Power Plant, Toronto, Canada
- Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Nightmares, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw
- Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
- P.S.1, New York
- Engholm/Engelhorn Gallery, Vienna, Austria
- Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan, Italy
- Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, USA
- Jewish Museum, New York
- P.S.1, New York
- Wall and Tower, square in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, Warsaw
- The Kings of the Hill, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, Spain
- If You Want, We'll Travel to the Moon Together, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- And Europe Will Be Stunned, Modern Museum, Malmö, Sweden
Selected group exhibitions:
- Greater New York, P.S.1, New York
- In the Meantime, De Appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Neue Welt, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
- Rendez-Vous, Musée d'Art Contemporain de Lyon, Lyon, France
- Manifesta 4, European Biennial of Contemporary Art, F Frankfurt am Main, Germany
- Tele-Journeys, MIT List Visual Center, Cambridge, USA
- The 4th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea
- Territories, Witte De With, Rotterdam, Netherlands
- Territories, Wonderyears - New Reflections on Shoah and Nazism in Israel, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, KW, Berlin
- Sheffield Festival of Contemporary Art, Sheffield, Great Britain
- M_ARS-Art and War, Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria
- Onufri 2004 Prize: Chosen Places, National Gallery of Arts Tirania, Albania
- Time Zones: recent film and video, Tate Modern, London
- Surfacing, Ludwig Museum Budapest, Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, Hungary
- Wherever I Am, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, Great Britain
- Liverpool Biennial, Festival for Contemporary Art, Liverpool, Great Britain
- The 10 Commandments, Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden, Germany
- The Mediterraneans, Museum of Modern Art Rome, Italy
- Quicksand, De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam
- 9th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey
- V Internationales Kunstfestival Magdeburg, Art Depot, Magdeburg, Germany
- Prix de Rome.NL, Stichting de Appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- The Hebrews - 100 Years of Culture in Israel, The Israel Museum and Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin
- Dorothea von Stetten Kunstpreis, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn, Germany
- Irreducible, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, USA
- Demolition, Engholm/Engelhorn Gallery, Vienna
- 27th Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil
- Records and Habits. The Time Machine / Images of Space, Tapies Foundaion, Barcelona, Spain
- 7th Werkleitz Biennial, Halle, Germany
- Inside-out. Contemporary Artists from Israel, Museo de arte contemporanea de Vigo, Vigo, Spain
- Coding:Decoding, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Denmark
- The Art of Living: Contemporary Works from the Israel Museum, The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, USA
- Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany
- C.H.O.S.E.N., Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdańsk, Poland
- We Never Looked Better, Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv, Israel
- Another Territory, City Exhibition Center, Moscow, Russia
- Momentum, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, Florida, USA
- Stranded Positions, Ausstellungsraum Klingental, Basel, Switzerland
- Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video, ICA, Boston, USA
- Hugging & Wrestling, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, USA
- TICAB, Tirana International Contemporary Art Biennial - First Episode, Tirana, Albania
- Monument to transformation, transit, Prague, Czech Republic
- Places To Be. New York - Shanghai - Tel Aviv - Texas - Zagreb, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Promised Land, Gemak, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Netherlands
- Anabasis. Rituals of Homecoming,, Łódź
- Earth: Art of a Changing World, Royal Academy of Arts, London
- Contour, 4th Biennial of Moving Image, Mechelen, Belgium
- Architecture and Memory, British Film Institute, London
- Troubles au frontiers, Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris
- Pop Up!, Ludwig Forum Aachen, Aachen, Germany
- 3 x YES, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw
- Building Memory, Łódź Art Museum, Poland
- Artes Mundi, Cardiff, Great Britain
- Early Years, Kunstwerke, Berlin
- Fokus Łódź Biennale, Łódź
- ...on the Eastern Front, Ludwig Museum, Budapest