Shimon Attie and his Metro.PAL.IS

(This article was featured in our print issue, which was published on Nov. 10, 2012.)

On October 12 the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art hosted New-York based artist Shimon Attie for a talk and lunch to discuss his newest work, a video installation project called MetroPAL.IS. Two dozen students, faculty and Evanston residents crowded into the library of the museum to watch the viewing copy of MetroPAL.IS and to get the artist’s perspective on the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

This image is from the Alrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut where MetroPAL.IS premiered.

Inspired by similarities in Israel and Palestine’s respective Declarations of Independence, Attie created his own declaration by weaving together the two documents into a lyrical symphony. This experiment inspired two bodies of work: a large 8 channel video installation, some 2-D works on paper, and one 3-D sculpture quite unlike anything Attie has shown before.

Attie explained that he was amazed by how similar many sections of the Israeli and Palestinian documents were: in his new declaration approximately a quarter of the words were Israeli, a quarter Palestinian and half identical to both. However, Attie wanted to ground the piece in New York.

“I live in New York, I don’t live in the Middle East. Things look different in New York,” said Attie.

As a result, for his video installation, Attie chose 12 Israeli New Yorkers and 12 Palestinian New Yorkers to perform lines from the new hybrid declaration. Attie chose two Hipsters, two Drag Queens, two MTA subway employees, two falafel cooks, two tourists, two pregnant women, two party girls, two jersey girls, etc. to project on his life-size, 30-inch plasma screens.

As pictured above, the screens are set in a circular formation around the gallery with the viewers standing in the center of the room, giving one the sense of being in a Roman amphitheater.

“Like you’re in the bottom of the Roman Senate- both a witness and in the crosshairs of it,” said Attie.

Likewise, the actors on the screens freeze into Grecian statuesque poses upon the completion of their lines, a look quite at odds with their undeniably urban clothes and demeanor. It was important to Attie that all of the actors had natural accents as well. Whether those accents were Palestinian, Iranian or New York regional accents in order to undermine stereotypes.

But this is not a “Kumbaya” piece.

“When everyone speaks at the same time those words are identical in both documents,” explained Attie. “But I left in some of the difference. Particularly, some expressions of Palestinian resistance to reflect the complexity of the tension.”

One criticism, voiced by student Brendan Yukins, was that through the use of these tropes the New Yorkers became funny characters and took the viewer away from the political language. “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said Yukins.

Attie explained that he wanted to make the piece expressive. “With a moment of pathos, a moment of deadpan and a moment of humor I tried to make the piece like a multilayer sandwich.” The piece has not yet been seen in Israel and Attie stated that he does not know if it will be seen. He simply stated, “I’m working on it.” Attie will be spending several upcoming months in Israel.

The piece on the left, Splitting Image, is a lenticular photograph. These photographs are sometimes referred to as “flicker pictures.”

Attie’s corresponding exhibition, People, Land, State, is a combination of sculpture, works on paper and video pieces and was shown at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York from May 31 – July 28, 2012.

Shimon Attie’s video installation piece The Neighbor Next Door (1995), which consists of a series of videos depicting archival footage from World War II projected onto Amsterdam sidewalks, is currently playing in the Alsdorf Gallery of the Block Museum located at 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, Illinois.

The State of the Art: Insight into the Conservation of Prints and Drawings

By: Janice Janeczko

Art Institute of Chicago, Photo: Jane Janeczko

Art Institute of Chicago, Photo: Jane Janeczko

Harriet Stratis, the Head of Paper Conservation and Senior Conservator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, gave a lecture in the art library of the Block Museum on May 30, 2012 to discuss “The State of the Art: Insight into the Conservation of Prints and Drawings.” Stratis recently helped the Block Museum restore a Mary Cassatt drawing for its permanent collection. This talk covered restoration procedures, common ailments in collections, and some of the specific projects at both the Art Institute and the Block Museum.

Stratis’ department at the Art Institute comprises of seven conservators and restorers who collaborate to heal works that have been damaged, some by time and some by negligence. The Prints and Drawing Conservation department at the Art Institute has pieces dating back to the early 13th century to present day. It is common for conservators to specialize in certain works. For example, one member of the team specializes in Asian works of art on paper, of which the department has over 60,000 items. In addition, the department hosts approximately 100,000 works of Western art. Due to the large volume of pieces, the work never truly ends and instead is ranked in order of importance by the pieces that are set to go on loan or head to exhibition.

To give some perspective on the struggles that conservators face in trying to restore a work, Stratis outlined some of the most common issues that appear in art works. These issues include staining from light exposure, mat burn from acidic matting materials, discoloration from various tapes and glue, undulations in the paper from moisture, tears, creases, deformations, darkened white heightening, foxing, mold damage, and insect damage. A majority of these problems can be fixed with bleach, water treatments, and carefully controlled exposure to intense daylight. In the case of light discolorations on paper, the conservators try to wash the paper in order to repair damage, either by immersing or wetting the paper on a blotter to wick the coloring out of the paper with a focus on pH to remove discoloration. In the worst-case scenario, the paper undergoes a light bleaching process to try to even out the tones and create continuity.

One of the more creative ways in which conservators reintroduce moisture to damaged works is by blotting the piece with Gortex, which is most commonly used in athletic clothing to wick moisture away from the body. Conservators use this material inversely to delicately reintroduce water. One audience member remarked, “How did anyone come up with that idea? It’s so clever.” Stratis replied simply, “We’re always looking for new ideas.”

The most important element of conservation, according to Stratis, is structural integrity so the work can safely be handled and displayed. Occasionally, the tears and flaws in the paper can affect the art itself. In cases such as this, restorers are sometimes brought in to re-add certain lines and colors. It is important to make the work look finished, but there is always an ethical line when making estimations about certain works, however, according to Stratis it is important to be conservative but not dogmatic.

Restoration in the United States tends to embrace whiter and flatter, however, in certain works such as a Rembrandt whiter and flatter is not ideal. Good conservation should look flawless, effortless, and natural.

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