Palestinian artist Emily Jacir divides her time between Ramallah and New York, and makes outspoken and often controversial work addressing the troubles of the Palestinian people. She revisited this theme in a recent show, “dispatch,” which included a video, sculpture and photographs that greatly benefit from understatement and ambiguity.
The show’s most ambitious work, the approximately 51⁄2-minute black-and-white video Lydda Airport (2007-09), is named for a facility built in the 1930s in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. Taken over by Israel in 1948, the airport was renamed Ben Gurion International in 1973, honoring Israel’s founding prime minister. According to the press release, the video is partly composed from archival photographs of the terminal under construction, complete with scaffolding. We see several 1930s-era propeller planes taking off and landing and, intermittently, the airport from the point of view of an airborne passenger; the only sounds are those of the planes, whose images were digitally constructed. A woman (the artist) with abundant curly dark hair and large dark eyes stands alone on the tarmac, simply dressed in a blouse and skirt, nervously fingering a bouquet of flowers.
One plane, emblazoned Hannibal, refers to a British craft that in its day was the world’s largest passenger airplane; it disappeared in 1940 over the Gulf of Oman en route to Sharjah (now one of the United Arab Emirates). Press materials indicate that the video was also inspired by one Edmond Tamari, of Jaffa, who “received a communication” instructing him to go to Lydda Airport to await Amelia Earhart, who never arrived. Neither gallery nor artist would clarify this vague description; online searches reveal little about Tamari except that he’s married, incidentally or not, to a Palestinian flower painter. There is a precedent in Jacir’s practice for fictional touches: it was noted in the New York Times that the artist has claimed at least eight birthplaces. Between the airport torn from Palestinian hands, the missing British craft and the disappeared American aviatrix, the video’s references contribute to an uncharacteristically atmospheric investigation of loss—for Middle Easterners and Westerners alike. Its uncanny visual textures, partly attributable to the combination of still and moving images, yield plentiful esthetic appeal. In a separate room was a white urethane-and-epoxy model of the airport (2009, 13 by 30 by 60 inches); its ghostly appearance extended the theme of bereavement.
Upstairs was Stazione (2009), 10 digital C-prints picturing a proposed public work for the 2009 Venice Biennale. Jacir had planned to add to the signage at each of 24 vaporetto stops an Arabic-lettered translation of the station’s name, an acknowledgement of Arabic influences on Western culture and a reference to Venice’s historical role as a gateway between Europe and the East. After approving the project, Venetian authorities canceled it without explanation. Looking at the innocuous images, it was truly hard to see what caused the fuss. It’s a depressing irony when even a well-mannered attempt at visibility is denied.
Photo: View of Emily Jacir’s Lydda Airport, 2007-09, single-channel animation, approx. 51⁄2 minutes; at Alexander and Bonin.