Dies ist die ungekürzte Fassung des Interviews mit der israelischen Künstlerin Yael Bartana, welches im März 2012 im KUNST-Magazin (S. 12–15) erschien.
Anlässlich der Ende April beginnenden 7. Berlin Biennale wird die israelische Künstlerin Yael Bartana im Rahmen des Festivalprogramms einen Kongress über ihre Aktion, die fiktive “Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland” (Bewegung jüdischer Wiedergeburt in Israel), anführen. Bereits für die vergangene Venedig-Biennale bespielte sie den polnischen Pavillon mit einer Filmtrilogie über dieses Projekt, in der sie sich für die Wiederansiedelung der jüdischen Flüchtlinge und ihrer Nachfahren im polnischen Staatsgebiet einsetzt. In der Vergangenheit trat Bartana immer wieder mit symbolträchtigen Video-Arbeiten über die Lage Israels in Erscheinung und stellte u.a. auf der documenta 12, im MoMA PS1, sowie im Tate Modern London und Liverpool aus. Unser Autor Matthias Planitzer traf sie zum Gespräch über Visionen und Hoffnungen für das jüdische Volk und den Symbolgehalt ihrer Bewegung.
Miss Bartana, your ongoing project “Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland” (JRMiP) is a symbol for the complex history and today’s aftermath of the diaspora, both in Israel and Poland. What is your personal interest of this unique approach to such a difficult topic?
The whole project started in 2006 after visiting Poland, trying to imagine a possible revival of the Jewish community in this country. As an Israeli I have different relationships to Jewish identity. I tried to imagine the possibilities of reconciliation with the past and allowing to overcome the drama of Poland, Israel and the Jews. It was the idea to somehow think of a historical change, of something that will be written on the pages of history. Despite the atrocities, despite what happened: Is it actually possible to fill in the void? What strikes me most is this void, the absence, the non-existing community. I wasn’t that much interested in the action itself but more in the symbolic level of rethinking history and maybe finding a new language to discuss the Holocaust, the Second World War and later on ’68. I wanted to reflect upon the relationship between the diaspora and the homeland, the notions of the Jewish exile. I wanted to somehow undermine the Zionist dreams of the Jews in Israel. It’s a project that is quite political in a sense that it is trying to challenge the reality in the Middle East and in Europe.
The movement will be subject to a specially held congress at the upcoming Berlin Biennale curated by the polish artist Artur Żmijewski. With the symposium being held on German ground, one might wonder what motivated you to launch the “Jewish Renaissance Movement” in Poland and why not in Germany or Russia instead. What were decisive factors for your choice?
For Israelis, Poland is somewhat the worst place in the world. It’s the country were most of the major atrocities happened. This is where children go every year for the March of the Living and to visit the concentration camps. The largest Polish diaspora actually lives in Israel. This is why the relationship with Israel is very interesting in terms that there is much Polish culture in Israel. Furthermore, the reason why I started in Poland, simply was that I was invited to come and work there. Another personal level is, that my great-grandparents are from Poland.
How were the reactions to your project both in Poland, in Israel and even internationally?
There were many different reactions. It’s not so black and white with anger and excitement. I think the project triggers the people’s imagination to think about the possibilities. Some people read it as a continuation of the Zionist movement, because I use many Zionist elements. But it’s a strategy: In order to undermine it, I use the same tools, reverse and flip it. There is something very seducing to the idea of living together in Poland. I think this feeling of pioneering attracts the people. But of course, there were also many people who were against the idea and I show that in the films.
I think there are a lot of young people who don’t see much of a future in Israel, who want to be able to travel and take a European passport. It’s also a matter of generation; the older generation cannot accept the idea of returning to Poland. But obviously and as shown by the choice for the Venice Biennale, this idea is well accepted in Poland.
One of the most striking qualities of the JRMiP is its non-governmental origin, being a movement powered by those that are actually to be involved by it. Thus it is fuelled with an admirable energy – at least in the imagination of those who hear about it. Being a quasi-fictitious organization, how far is the project from actually making way for the demand of re-settling Jews to their former homeland? Is it still a mere symbol for today’s situation of the Jews and their ancestors that fled Poland and other countries?
The movement is imaginary at the moment. Now we need the people to establish it. This is why we have the congress. A movement cannot be maintained by one person. There is a process turning it from an art project into something that can function. When I look around me, I see these revolutionary and political movements and for me it is interesting to relate to that. I don’t want to be in this Polish-Israeli bubble, the idea is more universal. I give only an example. I think this is the reason why people can relate to it. It is just about to spread the message. I want to break a status quo.
Do you know how many people since then have followed your call?
There were some, but I don’t know a number. But I get more and more E‑Mails from artists who want to do projects in Poland. It has become quite popular and this is a nice development, as I think. When the people are curious and interested, I think that’s an achievement.
What expectations and hopes do you have for the congress being held during the Berlin Biennale this summer?
It is my hope for the congress, to create a democratic situation, so that people can vote for what they want: What kind of changes do we want for ourselves? I want to hear about other people’s fantasies. I want us as a group of hundred people to discuss the kind of changes we want. It is not about practical solutions. There are many other organizations that try to deal with that, facing a lot of bureaucracy, law issues and politics. I think there are enough of them, but the movement is not such an organization I hope to establish.
In your project you indirectly criticize Israel’s settlement policies. How do you view current developments in Israel?
I am completely against the occupation and aggression towards the Palestinians. I am a leftist in that sense, but I don’t want to be a desperate one, you know? Through the JRMiP I also wanted to criticize Israel. One of the topics of the movement will be: What should happen in Israel so that it will be part of the Middle East? When I talk about racism, then it is also something I strongly experience in Israel.
Not only them, but also towards Iranian people. Israel’s current relationship to Iran is in Europe widely viewed with concern.
I think, in Israel we have to realize that we are in the Middle East. We have to learn Arabic; we have to start to integrate. We’re not a colony. Before the Zionist movement and the state of Israel was established, there were many other movements but we don’t know of them. We should be part of what it used to be in the 19th century, when Jews and Arabs lived together.
In contrast there is the Jewish situation in Europe. In an interview with Art it Magazine you said, that after the Second World War the Polish society became homogenous due to the missing Jews…
… but the Jews will move there. Something has to change in Poland first for those who want to move back.
What could that be?
An integration tax. Yiddish or Hebrew as a second formal language. If you want to accept the others, you have to give them something. We have to somehow influence that this changes. I am not naïve, I know there is a lot of anti-Semitism in Poland but I want to believe that this can change.