Standing naked on a Tel Aviv beach, Sigalit Landau spins a hula-hoop around her waist. But instead of plastic, the hoop is made of barbed wire — and lacerates Landau’s belly throughout the minute-long performance.
The mesmerizing video piece, “Barbed Hula” (2000), is one of six video works in a new retrospective of Landau’s work that opened at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts on February 6. Canada’s largest city marks the starting point for a show that will continue to Moscow, Johannesburg, Beer-Sheva, Rome, Gdansk, and Tronso, Norway.
‘Moving to Stand Still’ marks the first solo show in Canada for Landau, a bona fide art-world star who’s twice represented Israel in the Venice Biennale. “We don’t often show existing work, or do surveys of one artist’s work,” said Mona Filip, director and curator of the Koffler. “But Landau’s doing vital work that expresses critical thinking from an artist dealing with issues of her time. And she’s considered one of the most representative contemporary artists in Israel.”
The exhibition’s elliptical title, refers to “how movement can become a stillness,” said Filip, who worked for five years to bring a Landau retrospective to Toronto. “It’s about groundedness, a sense of belonging. It’s the idea of movement that in the end achieves a stillness of being in place, but there’s also wordplay around the notion of a standstill — a provocation, or coming to a confrontational position. That’s also part of a relationship that I think she’s taking about in terms of Israeli identity.”
For Landau herself, the title takes on a different meaning. “Video works which are loops and looped endlessly are a kind of an object — they are actually sculptures,” the 44-year-old artist told the Forward by e-mail from Tel Aviv. “They are constant.”
Despite the fact that her work’s been showcased in venues from the MoMA to the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid to the Maison Hermes in Tokyo, Landau told the Forward she’s uncertain about reactions to her video performances in Toronto.
“I hope the work will be received with a certain enthusiasm and with an attitude of openness towards my physical and mental world imprinted in the pieces and imprinted by my biography / history / topography upon my active subconscious,” she said. “I and not expecting it or taking this for granted — as I am experienced enough to try to avoid disappointments. I will attend the opening and will be able to answer and reveal some of the works background.”
Landau’s own web site describes her output as both confrontational and consoling. “She spreads salt crystals on open injuries, blends them in sugar, covers them in papier-mâché, immerses them in the Dead Sea. But their bloody presence is always here,” it proclaims. But the same page declares “Landau’s work is of a bridge maker.”
For Landau, there’s no contradiction. “Salt, though it chemically does never ever transform, can alter its usages,” she said. “The Bridge I am building between Israel and Jordan is neither innocent nor sweet. The salt, this disinfectant, healer, and preserver, is also a material with which agreements were sealed within the ancient world. Salt has a very diverse and thrilling role in the history of mankind in numerous eras and areas of the world.” In a notorious 2001 performance piece at New York’s Thread Waxing Space, she made copious amounts of cotton candy in a huge vat, clad only in a bikini, transparent coat and sunglasses.
“Salted Lake” (2007), one of the works in “Moving to Stand Still,” brings that ethos to life. The video piece “takes the viewer as witness as a pair of shoes encased in crystalized Dead Sea salt slowly melts the frozen surface of a lake in Poland, one of the most charged sites in the memory of Jewish trauma,” according to the curator’s notes.
Likewise, in “Day Done,” (2007), “the painting of a black circle around the window of a dilapidated house in south Tel Aviv creates an ambivalent illusion of a wound or target, referencing a custom meant to remember the biblical destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.”
The landscape of Israel itself becomes a character in much of her work, including Azkelon (2011) which “proposes interactive exchange through a children’s game of borders on the beach between Gaza, populated mostly by Palestinian refugees, and Ashkelon, established by Jewish immigrants from Arab countries.”
Israel, Landau says, represents “a small mysterious futuristic archaeological intellectual theological labyrinth, where blindness, intuition and tactility are more important than images and visibility. A Myth-stricken tiny endangered nest of a crazy east-west birds. Birds that need bridges to normality.”
But back to that barbed-wire hula hoop: Was it as painful as it looked, the Forward asked?
“I don’t remember,” the artist responded. “Like birth – one forgets.”