On ‚Chronicle of a Place‘ by Tali Ben Nun

Chronicle of a Place, Jenny Brockmann  // January-February,  2014

Berlin based artist Jenny Brockmann will arrive in Tel Aviv during January for a month long stay as a guest of ArtPort – a center for young art that promotes art in the public space.

Tel Aviv-Jaffa is the third station in the framework of a research-based, time and site specific performance in which Brockmann has been engaged over the last year, preceded by two autonomous projects in Istanbul and New York. Naturally, each station summons a different narrative driven first and foremost by the corresponding concepts of time and place.

Brockmann sets off from an anthropological passion and curiosity that seek to look, blend into, and discover, and eventually translate the unmediated experience into texts, images, and drawings. For that purpose, Brockmann immerses herself in the new place, and using a system of activities that take place in the public space and delimited by time, she carefully unearths a poetic archeology of the place. A research of this kind, which assimilates itself in the public space, is perceived as a surgical action that endeavors to decode the place’s DNA. The action is accompanied by documentation/drawing that is transmitted in the first person and in real-time, and offers an external perspective that manifests an objective and reflective reaction. The multitude of emotional and visual reactions is accumulated into a „pile“ of raw materials and fragmentary documentation of the place, which their exhibition en masse at the end of the research may bring about a reformulation of the narrative that shapes the identity of a place.

In order to define the boundaries of her action in the public space, Brockmann delineates on a topographic map of Jaffa a real-fictitious route in the shape of a Fibonacci spiral. This is one of the most perfect and aesthetic shapes in nature, which can be found in shells and conches, pinecones, and sunflowers.

The route begins in the studio, where the artist is staying in Jaffa (on Ben Zvi Road), from which the 11 km-long spiral line meanders through the streets of Jaffa, crossing the old city and its surrounding neighborhoods. Fibonacci spiral plays a key part in understating Brockmann’s action, not only in its aesthetic sense, but also conceptually – the marking of the spiral line demarcates a range, a „place“ that has a starting point and an end point, departure and return. The zoom-in on a specified perimeter of operation, allows her to formulate the meaning of the term „place“ as a human, social, cultural, anthropological, and philosophical phenomenon.

At the heart of the anthropological experiment stands a consciousness that observes and absorbs the everyday existence – both concrete and abstract – of the place and in response pours out its impressions and experiences. Input and output. In and out. Faces, voices, language, memories etched in the place, faith, emotions, light, color, smells, temperature, architecture, and geography. The performance in the public space follows a structured methodology and pattern of activities, some of which are predetermined and others are coincidental and unpredictable.

Nine stations were marked in advance along the spiral route, in each the artist will stay for 3 hours, during which she will keep a journal, read, draw, talk to passersby, and gather findings, evidences, and different indexes that represent the nature of the place. Brockmann walks from one point to another like a portable laboratory of a scientific-cultural-sociological experiment. In order to achieve accurate findings, she is assisted by analogue and digital devices that measure objective environmental data, such as a distance-measuring device, test tubes, portable weather station, and a camera. The data she collects is translated into quick real-time drawings, maps, photographs, videos, and more. The devices represent the analytic and concrete information of the experiment, whereas the drawings, photographs, body gestures, and other activities that transpire as a result of a random encounter with a place, represent a subjective, emotional, and intuitive experience.

In 1991 the magazine „Alpayim“ published an essay by anthropologist and poet Zali Gurevitch and sociology and anthropology professor Gideon Aran, entitled About the Place – Israeli Anthropology. The two maintained that a Jewish cultural system has an inherent ambivalence towards the place. On the one hand, yearning for the Place, the impetus to arrive there and become a part of it. On the other hand, the realization of the aspiration leads to a state of discontent, which brings about a yearning to leave the Place. This contradictory yearning creates a circular, never ending, system.

The „spiral“ idea that drives Brockmann to act within the boundaries she had set herself, inside and out, in a sort of internal conflict between the subjective and the objective, is interesting. As someone who seeks to examine details in the history and culture of a place through a performative, conceptual, and laboratory-esque action, Brockmann attempts to give an expression to the silenced, the repressed, to touch the primal rather than what had underwent modern processing. She provides a presence to what is there and what is absent with her drawing and data gathering, and perhaps in this way reflects on and undermines the distinction between old and new, between past and present.

It is also interesting to look at Brockmann as a visitor for a moment, who herself experiences the cycle of arriving-departing-yearning, so characteristic of the immigrant Jew.
copyright Tali Ben Nun, January, 2014

The project has been supported by Goethe-Institut Tel Aviv