Caught on canvas: big screen artists

By Julia Weiner, August 8, 2008
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You are almost as likely to find a TV screen in an art gallery as a framed painting these days. Young video-artists Aura Satz and Yael Bartana are at the forefront of this new trend.


Film and video pieces are finding a huge following in the art world, with almost every gallery boasting its own big screen. Tate Modern in London has gone one further. It is currently featuring H BOX (so-called because it has been sponsored by the French luxury brand Hermès), a mobile screening room made of collapsible modules that can be transported between museums and galleries. One of the first of eight artists to be commissioned for H BOX is leading Israeli Yael Bartana.

Meanwhile, a couple of miles to the west in Knightsbridge David Gryn, (son of the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn) has expanded his successful Artprojx brand to a fixed gallery space. Up to now, Artprojx has led a nomadic existence, showing artists' films at various cinemas and museums. Gryn is currently highlighting a new film, Automamusic, by 33-year-old Jewish artist Aura Satz.

So just who are Satz and Bartana, the up-and-coming stars of the new video art scene?

Aura Satz

Background: Satz was born in 1974 in Barcelona. She says: "My father is Argentinian, my mother Australian. My parents met in Jerusalem, but I was born in Spain. My mum travelled a lot with me when I was young and I spent time in India, Indonesia, Australia, Israel and Spain. I did my undergraduate studies in Bologna and came to London in 1998."

Career so far: In 2001 she was selected for the prestigious UK-based New Contemporaries exhibition which showcase young talent and kickstarted the career of Damien Hirst. "It was an interesting experience as I started exploring magic and illusion in my work, a theme that has preoccupied me ever since. I showed [in London] at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2006 and performed at the Victoria & Albert Museum during last year's Surrealism exhibition." Satz gained her PhD from the Slade School of Art and now teaches at the London Consortium graduate school. "It is a good thing as I get to do a lot of reading and that informs my practice."

Work currently on show at artprojx: Inspired by a visit to the Museum of Music Automatons in Switzerland, Automamusic focuses on self-playing violins, accordions, drums, and pianolas, transposing them with scenes in which floating musical instruments are played by invisible hands. Satz was taught how to operate the instruments and has now started collecting them herself. "What I like is that they were meant to be played by everyone. I like the democracy of anyone being able to appropriate that musical skill," she says. Also on show are a series of drawings and photographs connected to the work. "The photographs were done with old obsolete photographic technology and are hand-printed. They have incredible depth to them."

What next: "I am involved in an automatic-instrument ensemble and we will be premiering in January. I am also aiming to work on a companion piece to this film which will be about the marks, grooves and perforations associated with music."

What they say: "Aura's film is simply breathtaking in its beauty," says David Gryn. "Every shot is immaculately composed. I think she is going to have a big career. It is very exciting to be working with her at this early stage."

Yael Bartana

Background: Bartana was born 1970 in Afula, Israel. "I studied in the photography department at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, but was first exposed to video art when studying in Toronto during my course. I made a conscious decision to become more involved in this area and took classes on my return to Israel. I left Israel in 1996 after graduation, first to study in New York and then in 2000 I settled in Amsterdam. I currently live and work in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam."

Career so far: Bartana's work has been widely exhibited and in the past two years she has had solo exhibitions in Italy and Canada and been represented in group exhibitions all over the world. She highlights her inclusion at last year's Documenta, an important exhibition of contemporary art that takes place every five years, as particularly important to her.

Most of her work explores aspects of Israeli society - one of her videos, Trembling Time, which shows how the country is brought to a standstill on Yom HaZikaron (Soldiers' Memorial Day); another, Wild Seeds, recently on show in Leeds, deals with the expulsion of settlers from Gaza.

Why is she so preoccupied with Israeli subjects? "My work explores the creation of identity in the State of
Israel. The distance I now have from the place I grew up in has created a difference in my views. I have a more critical point of view and question more. My work has been described as that of a disappointed lover." Accused by some of being an Israel hater, she responds: "I am very connected with the place and I think it is important I continue to make the work. I am not a political activist but I care. There is not enough political discussion in art."

Work currently on show: At H BOX, Bartana is showing a new video called Mary-Koszmary. It focuses on a young Polish politician giving a speech in a Warsaw stadium suggesting that the Jews lost to Poland in the Holocaust should be asked to return. Despite the setting, Bartana maintains: "This piece is very much related to Israel. My grandparents came to Israel from Poland in the 1920s and I wanted to explore my Polish background. My strongest emotion when I got there was ‘where are the Jews'." My questions are what would happen if 3,000,000 Jews left Israel for Poland? Do the Jews need their own space? It was very strongly received in Poland, but in Israel provoked a lot of emotional responses with people asking how dare I even suggest the possibility that Jews move out."

What next: "The video is the first part of a trilogy. I am currently developing concepts for the second. Then I will be having a solo show in New York.

What they say: "[The works] touch on whatever it is in Israel that draws me back to it, again and again," says Man Booker Prize-nominated novelist Linda Grant

H Box is at Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 until August 17. www.tate.org.uk. Automamausic is at Artprojx, 53 Beauchamp Place, London SW3, until August 15. www.artprojxspace.com

    Last updated: 3:29pm, September 10 2008