While it is commonly believed that nations have always existed, in fact they are a relatively modern phenomenon. Throughout human history communities have identified themselves not as part of a nation, but as belonging to a group, or more directly – to a certain family, tribe, or village. Unlike a family or a village, however, a nation is a concept that does not coincide with any unequivocal scientific definition. The attempt to define a nation via economy, language, or ethnic affiliation is impossible. What defines a nation is national affiliation. It seems that the definition of nationalism cannot find an external foothold, and is perceived as tautological (the state is the political manifestation of the ”us”, and is founded on nationalism, which implies the politicization of the ”us”).
Venue: Israeli Center for Digital Art Dates: 27.05 – 05.08.2006
Artists: Nurit Sharett, Erzen Shkololli, Efrat Shvili, Solmaz Shahbazi, Gulsun Karamustafa, Cao Fei, Anri Sala, Mark Napier, Khalid Hourani & Miri Segal, Yael Bartana, Bureau d’études – Léonore Bonaccini & Xavier Fourt, Köken Ergun, Yochai Avrahami.
Click here for exhibition catalogue
National belonging transforms elements such as language or ethnic belonging into constituents of a nation. In the modern context we see buds of nationalism (during the 18th century) in the intensification of the middle class, in capitalism, the dissemination of print media which created linguistic unification and a cooperative consciousness, in the disintegration of organic communities due to the market economy, in the religion crisis and the need for a substitute, in the weakening validity of the absolutist regime, etc. Scholars disagree on whether nationalism is a quintessentially modern phenomenon, as maintained by Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm, and others, who tie it with cultural, economic and conceptual changes in the modern world, or whether it is a direct continuation of the ethnic identities of the ancient world and Middle Ages, with called-for adaptations for the modern world.
In the late 20th century, in the wake of the globalization process, it momentarily appeared as though the era of nationalism had come to an end. The significance of nation-states decreased concurrent with a devaluation of the notion of nationalism. Its centrality was undermined by universalist perceptions of humanity, and by narrower concepts, such as ethnic group, religious group, etc. In fact, many scholars indicated the end of the era of nationalism and the birth of a new era – the post-national era.
Simultaneously with the post-national tendencies which were manifested, for example, in the strengthening of the European Union over national division, the late 20th century also saw conspicuous phenomena of renewed national prosperity. In Eastern Europe, in regions in the former USSR, national awakening occurred among various peoples. This happened in the Baltic countries, in the Muslim republics in the Caucasus, Ukraine, Moldova, etc. Yugoslavia is a conspicuous example of a federation that disintegrated into its constituent national elements. In Western Europe as well one may discern national awakening among minorities that demand independence, such as the Basques in Spain, the Welsh and Irish in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the Corsicans and Bretons in France, the Austrians in South Tyrol, etc, simultaneous with the claims of non-European peoples, such as the Palestinians, the Kurds, and the Tamils, for independence.
The video works selected for the current exhibition (most of them belonging to the pseudo- ocumentary genre) recount, from the artist’s subjective perspective, the stories of communities that have undergone ideological, national or religious revolutions in the 20th century, thus allowing us to regard the artist’s endeavor as one that offers a sphere of subjectivization, a realm of alternative narrative through the canonical narrative. The participating artists refer to symbols, rituals, linguistic changes, architecture and art, and the way in which the state strives to generate structures of national culture – a yearning for cultural hegemonization (identity, territory, language) and the blurring of boundaries between the state and society.
The artist, as an individual or as part of a group, can generate a unique narrative that exists concurrently with the main narrative told by the artistic establishment (while acknowledging that the latter tells the story of the state) or he can undermine it. The contemporary artist’s role is not to accompany, justify or praise the government, but rather to generate a critical approach to violence and terror, to the oppressive power and the official government, and to protect the individual’s sovereignty against the state’s oppression.