For years, artist Emily Jacir has addressed the political and social plight of Palestine through an intense and intimate concentration on the everyday. Jacir’s ability to poeticize the quotidian as a way of telling the story of a people – her people – earned her the 2008 Hugo Boss Prize, which carries with it a $100,000 cash prize and a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. This exhibition, which runs through April 15, builds on her ongoing conceptual practice while continuing to bear witness to Palestinian culture. Part archive, part memorial, part performance, the exhibition is a concentrated work of art that presents an image of absence and of a life cut short.
For the Hugo Boss Prize exhibition, Jacir installed two separate but related works to fill the small 6-room exhibition space. The first, Material for a Film (2004-), is an ongoing project to collect and publish a memorial film for Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuaiter. In 1972, Zuaiter was assassinated by the Israeli Secret Service for his alleged association with the ’72 Munich Summer Olympic kidnapping and subsequent murder of eleven Israeli athletes. Over the course of several years, Jacir has constructed her own ongoing narrative of interviews, photographs and letters, piecing together Zuaiter’s life in both Palestine and Rome. Instead of talking about the politics of the event, she instead amassed research materials that include a handful of snapshots, private letters, and a documentation of Zuaiter’s thwarted aspiration, the translation of One Thousand and One Nights from Arabic to Italian. Fascinated by neither his guilt nor innocence, she presented the trivial everyday parts that captured his essence as an individual.
The second part of the exhibition, and perhaps its centerpiece, is the breathtakingly beautiful Material for a Film (Performance) (2006), a room filled of 1,000 blank white books, each pierced with a bullet hole. Jacir shot the bullets herself with a .22 caliber pistol, the same gun used to assassinate Zuaiter. The last book in the series – the 1001st – is missing. It was, of course, the copy of One Thousand and One Nights that Zuaiter had in his pocket on the night of his murder, which also was pierced in the spine by a bullet hole.
In the installation, the books are installed in a rigid grid formation, yet the seriality of the rows and columns engenders a poetic yet solemn contemplation. It is a memorial to that which has not been written, to many untold stories – not only Zuaiter’s unfinished book. This is the where the universality of Jacir’s art can be found: it is in our not flags or nation states, but the work that we set out to do that will one day serve as our memorial.
Contributed by Lauren Pearson.
Image credit: Material for a film (performance), 2006. 1000 blank books shot by the artist with a .22 caliber gun (material from 2006 performance), shelving, and 67 photographs. Courtesy the artist and Alexander and Bonin, New York. Installation view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2009