A High Degree of Certainty: AN EXHIBITION BY ELLA LITTWITZ AT THE CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART, TEL AVIV. CURATED BY SERGIO EDELZSTEIN

1 April - 31 July 2021
  • About the Exhibition, TEXT COURTESY OF CCA TEL AVIV

    The body of work comprising "A High Degree of Certainty" - Littwitz's solo exhibition at the Center - was developed during frequent research trips to the Jordan-Israel border, on the southern part of the Jordan River, located on the colliding rift of two tectonic plates. The main site of such trips was Qasr al-Yahud, which is believed to be where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan after 40 years of wandering. According to the Christian tradition, it is also the place where St. John baptized Jesus Christ. After the 1967 occupation, due to the many infiltrations and chases that took place in it, this area was closed by the military and consequently mined. Littwitz's interest in this specific stretch of land stems from its being a cross-path of religions, geography and politics - as well as of water, soil and sky. It is a landscape that defines itself in terms of mythologies and beliefs through momentous transitions. Her works echo the Biblical and modern narratives associated with this area, presenting us with diverse examples of transition, transfiguration and the formation of political constructs through acts of belief. By bronze casting ephemeral plants and lumps of soil, Littwitz comments on the improbability of fixing concepts and truisms both into natural phenomenon and cultural constructs; by removing symbolic objects associated with this locus, the artist highlights the specific cultural and political values these very object have gained, stressing the difference between a "concept" and the object that embodies it, thus questioning precisely the sovereignty of those same concepts.  In Littwitz's cosmos, the field of action is defined by the artistic objects that are presented to us as much as by the lack of their presence in their sites. Trail stones, tin triangles that indicated minefields, floaters that once marked the border between Jordan and Israel, barrels that delineated military firing ranges, and books that once had a place on people's bookshelves, are elements that trigger recollection of personal and collective memories. Through these memories, the artist reaches core concepts of belief and submission we have all internalized in order to inspect and question them. Once something is removed, there is a gap left; where there is a border or a fence, there is always the "other side"; where there is a marked path, there is also an unmarked and impassable road. The empty bookshelves, the unmarked paths and the removed borders and limits are in fact the alternative. Facts on the ground are useless, there is no degree of certainty, only systems of belief, as in art itself.

    About the Exhibition

    TEXT COURTESY OF CCA TEL AVIV

     

     

  • Works and descriptions

  • The Curse and the Blessing (or Region Bounded by Two Functions), Nabulsi soap bars and bricks made of mud from...

    The Curse and the Blessing (or Region Bounded by Two Functions)

    Nabulsi soap bars and bricks made of mud from Qasr al-Yahud, dimensions variable

    A pivotal moment in the history of the Jewish people, as narrated in the Bible, the crossing of the Jordan River at the site later named Qasr al-Yahud marked the start of the Israelites’ evolution from a nomadic tribe of exiled ex-slaves into a political entity, a “people.” An array of civic and religious ceremonies that had been dictated by Moses prior to the crossing were carried out by his successor, Joshua, and included mass circumcisions and the building of altars and memorials. One significant ritual involved the momentous division of the new nation into two groups: the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali climbed Mount Ebal, while the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin went up to Mount Gerizim. The priests and Levites stood in the valley in between, which became the site of the city of Nablus. As the Levites called out a series of blessings to the tribes on Mount Gerizim, and curses to the tribes on Mount Ebal, the tribe members answered “amen.” This juxtaposition is echoed in Littwitz’s installation, which consists of two towers facing and intertwining each other so as to create a shared, yet inaccessible, locked space between. One tower is made of typical Nabulsi olive oil soap bars, and the other is made of mud from Qasr al-Yahud. The shape of the towers reflects the traditional mode of drying the soap

  • A High Degree of Certainty, Two geofabrics immersed in the Jordan River at Qasr al-Yahud, one on the western side...

    A High Degree of Certainty

    Two geofabrics immersed in the Jordan River at Qasr al-Yahud, one on the western side (controlled by Israel) and the other on the Eastern side (controlled by Jordan),

    A geotextile is a permeable cloth-like material used to increase soil stability, provide erosion control, separate soil layers, and/or aid in drainage. At a site known as Qasr al-Yahud, the Jordan River is only a few meters wide, and for most of the year can almost be traversed on foot. Israeli and Jordanian soldiers who patrol the area spend most of their shifts just sitting idly, facing each other. One might argue that envisioning two distinct sides to this minimalistic waterway is an exercise in imagination. Littwitz’s symbolic act of submerging the textiles on either side of the border was as simple as it was transgressive; the work disrespects the idea of an un-crossable border. While the immersion obviously echoes the Christian rite of baptism that for millennia has been performed at this specific site, Littwitz’s performative double-dipping questions the sanctity of a human-made border in relation to a divine precept. Especially considering that, due to political and logistical reasons, the certified baptismal site was in 1967 moved from the side currently occupied by Israel to the Jordanian side.

  • This Line, Fragments of the Israel-Jordan border float line and extract from the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, dimensions variable

    This Line

    Fragments of the Israel-Jordan border float line and extract from the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, dimensions variable

    This series consists of two elements: fragments of the actual buoys that once marked the physical border between Israel and Jordan, and a paragraph from the Israel-Jordan peace treaty (in English, Hebrew, and Arabic) that says, “This line is the administrative boundary between Jordan and the territory which came under Israeli military government control in 1967. Any treatment of this line shall be without prejudice to the status of that territory.” The treaty strives to define a clear-cut line of separation despite the arbitrariness of nature, as the collision of two tectonic plates frequently alters the course of the Jordan River.

    This Line appropriates the frontier itself to call into question its state-sanctioned relevance.

  • Pillar of Salt, Books found on the streets and dedications torn from the same books, dimensions variable

    Pillar of Salt

    Books found on the streets and dedications torn from the same books, dimensions variable

    This work has two elements: a stack of books, piled from floor to ceiling, and an array of torn pages—from the very same books—that feature dedications. The books, collected by the artist from the street, belong to a specific genre of Israeli patriotic literature: biographies of generals and politicians, albums celebrating military victories, and founding texts by figures such as Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Shabtai Teveth, and Ezer Weizman. For many years, these books were given as presents at bar mitzvahs, military promotions, and other such commemorative events, and had an honorable place on Israelis’ bookshelves. They were often “enriched” by corny dedications, which are here isolated and highlighted. In piling the books, Littwitz followed the chronological order of the events they celebrate, but the pile’s top and bottom, like the capital and base of a column, have special importance. The “base” is a yizkor [ יזכור†, “remembrance” in Hebrew], a type of book commemorating a Jewish community destroyed during the Holocaust, and the “capital” is the Hebrew translation of Richard Laub and Olivier Boruchowitch’s 2010 book Israël, un avenir compromis [Israel, a Future in Doubt].

  • Facts on the Ground, 2018 - 2020

    Facts on the Ground

    2018 - 2020

    This work is part of a series of bronze casts of loess desert soil taken from the area surrounding the Israel-Jordan border. The soil’s cracks and splits are preserved in time by bronze casting. “Facts on the ground” is a diplomatic and geopolitical term for a situation in which reality differs from abstract analysis. In parlance connected to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the term has gained a singular meaning.

  • Semiology of the Underground, Drawing of an Arabidopsis thaliana on a minefield warning sign, 15.5 × 18 cm

    Semiology of the Underground

    Drawing of an Arabidopsis thaliana on a minefield warning sign, 15.5 × 18 cm

    The entire area surrounding the southern part of the Jordan River, also known as the Land of Pursuits, is a matrix of signs, symbols, borderlines, military fences, religious iconography, and agricultural indicators. One can even find the remains of the King Abdullah Bridge, which was partially destroyed during the 1967 Six-Day War to prevent Jordanian attacks on Israel. The work features a tin warning triangle of the type used to mark a minefield, taken from this area, which is indeed scattered with mines. On the sign, the artist has drawn fragments of a plant that is genetically engineered to detect mines in the ground: a modified version of Arabidopsis thaliana (also known as thale cress), which is sensitive to the nitrogen dioxide gas released by underground mines. The leaves change from green to red after three to five weeks of growth in the presence of this gas.

  • If everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place., Two bullet-riddled boundary barrels, each 87 ×...

    If everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place.

    Two bullet-riddled boundary barrels, each 87 × ø 58 cm

    Typically, these barrels are used to mark the limits of military shooting ranges. They define territory and rules. Bullet-riddled, they barely hold themselves together, resembling lace more than steel. As the title suggests, the question “What is a place?” presents many difficulties; it is drawn from the longer phrase “If everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place, and so on ad infinitum” from the Paradox of Place, one of the several paradoxes attributed to Zeno by Aristotle.

  • The Sword in the Stone, Bronze cast of a Drimia maritima, 80 × 55 × 40 cm

    The Sword in the Stone

    Bronze cast of a Drimia maritima, 80 × 55 × 40 cm

    Drimia maritima (also known as sea squill) is a plant with deep roots and toxic leaves, making it hard to pull out of the ground. Its features connect it to the notion of “butts and bounds,” which defines the abuttals (from the French bout, “the end”) and boundaries of an estate. Usually consisting of descriptive features—trees, stone outcroppings, and so on—abuttals are used for identification in legal deeds and contracts. This practice is described in the Bible (Genesis 23:17). According to rabbinical tradition, Drimia maritima was used by Joshua to delineate the land of Canaan among the twelve tribes of Israel, following their crossing of the Jordan River after forty years of wandering in the desert.

  • Widow's Boundaries, Bronze casts of Dittrichia viscosa, dimensions variable

    Widow's Boundaries

    Bronze casts of Dittrichia viscosa, dimensions variable

    This work is one of the so-called bronzed weeds that Littwitz started to produce in 2014. Widow’s Boundaries are casts of Dittrichia viscosa (also known as false yellowhead, woody fleabane, sticky fleabane, and yellow fleabane), which belongs to the category of “pioneer plants” and whose biochemical composition prevents other plants from growing in its immediate surroundings. In Israel, it is often one of the first types of vegetation to take root on disturbed soil. The title continues the artist’s interest in biblical narratives connected to the land and their recontextualization by the Zionist movement. It is taken from the verse “The Lord tears down the house of the proud, but He protects the boundaries of the widow” (Proverbs 15:25), which was used as a blessing for each new settlement established in Israel. In this passage from the Book of Proverbs, the Jewish people, in exile, are compared to a widowed woman.

  • All at Sea, Two basalt stones from the Golan Heights and two compasses, dimensions variable

    All at Sea

    Two basalt stones from the Golan Heights and two compasses, dimensions variable

    This diptych consists of two compasses placed on top of two different basaltic stones taken from the Golan Heights. Due to a phenomenon called paleomagnetism, these stones lock in a record the Earth’s magnetic north as it was at the time of their formation, thousands of years ago. Nearby compasses are overpowered by their strong magnetic power and fail to point to today’s north. The title is a seafaring term for a state of confusion and chaos.

    In Littwitz’s world of perpetual questioning, even a  compass does not fulfill its function; true north is something to be ignored,  and a tool universally associated with wayfinding cannot be trusted.

  • The Path, Trail stones, dimensions variable

    The Path

    Trail stones, dimensions variable

    As an appropriation of natural objects (stones) that were manipulated for a purpose (painted to be trail markers), The Path embodies one of Littwitz’s primary interests, which is to map landscapes that are in continuous transformation thanks to geological, geopolitical, and/or cultural factors. As in Like a Shadow of a Great Rock in a Weary Land, 2017 (p. 38), this work triggers existential questions. It also, according to Littwitz, questions Michel Foucault’s notion of “heterotopia,” a term the French philosopher used to define places—like cemeteries, or Turkish baths—that are “worlds-within-worlds,” mirroring and yet distinguishing themselves from what is outside.

  • Ella Littwitz

    A High Degree of Certainty at CCA Tel Aviv. Curated by Sergio Edelsztein.