BY Sharon Ben-Joseph in Reviews | 03 MAR 04
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Issue 81


BY Sharon Ben-Joseph in Reviews | 03 MAR 04

The exhibition 'Territories: Islands, Camps and Other States of Utopia' had an ambitious aim: to examine the concept of space in its social and political implications. It did so through the participation of architects, artists and collective art and research groups. The land disputes between Israel and Palestine were the main focus - the exhibition provided a comprehensive analysis of Israeli architecture in the West Bank - but the show also looked at other cases of recently produced 'territories'. For example, the Berlin-based publishing group AnArchitektur developed a series of notebooks presenting different 'extra-territorial' spaces, such as Guantanemo Bay, and questioning the detention camp's significance in relation to issues of state sovereignty and human rights.

The exhibition opened with a video presentation documenting the controversy that developed in Israel after the publication of A Civilian Occupation: the Politics of Israeli Architecture (2002). Edited by the architects Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal, the book was commissioned and later censored by the Israeli Association of Architects. More recently it has grown into a series of installations comprising maps, photographs, video interviews and civil engineering plans for settlements that have existed for decades in the West Bank, along with archival film material - a scholarly tracing of the complex processes by which the civilian construction machinery was able to infiltrate a military occupied zone supposedly protected by the Geneva Convention and international law.

The Battle For The Hilltops (by the aforementioned team of architects, photography by Milutin Labudovic for Peace Now) comprises aerial photographs of Israeli settlements in the mountainous territory of the West Bank. Displayed as a series on the wall, the photographs clearly show the effects these isolated suburban enclaves and their connecting roads have on the surrounding Arab population, inhibiting and fragmenting Palestinian continuity and growth, separating villages from nearby plantations and interrupting freedom of movement in 'a matrix of control'. In a video clip two architects who are both female and Orthodox Jewish express their appreciation of the ecologically harmonious Arab constructions in the nearby village, while expressing regret for their community's demand for red thatched roofs. In another video a bulldozer begins methodically demolishing a street in the West Bank, turning it into a pile of impassable rubble and digging up the water pipes, which flood the area while passers-by move about in a state of silent devastation. In the credit the filmmaker is not named.

On the walls of the main hall of the museum were three panoramic images of the Samaria mountains. Terraced olive groves merge with the makeshift architecture of the Palestinian town of Bir Zeit and the unified suburban construction of two Israeli settlements. A diagonal cuts through the picture plane - a highway comprised of a bridge and a tunnel, designed to avoid contact with the landscape - and a local road winding through the contours of the mountain.

The Politics of Verticality (2002), a study by Weizman, explores architectural theories such as Bernard Cache's Earth Moves (1995) and Gilles Deleuze's The Fold (1992) in order to reflect on the military and ideological implications of the West Bank. A shift of perspective stratifies the map into overlapping surfaces of control, from subterranean water supplies to flight paths. 'Territories' was curated by Anselm Franke and his team, who dealt sensitively with the strategic placement of works, often subverting official propaganda and even public co-operation into an analytical criticism of state practices.