Yael Bartana shot her first videos at the turn of the millennium, and has since built a body of work that shifts between a documentary approach and the fictional construction of historical events and even political utopias. Her work reflects her fascination with ceremonies and social ritual and their role in building communities and individuals.
The video installation Tashlikh (Cast Off) takes its title from the tashlikh ritual, held to mark the Jewish New Year. It involves throwing small bits of bread or other objects into a stream, symbolically casting off the sins of the past year and preparing for the year to come. The video is a sort of invitation to a collective tashlikh ceremony, or at least a record of such an event.
Objects are filmed in slow motion against a black background, falling at different rates, singly or in groups, with a hypnotic soundtrack of wind or waves, a roaring aeroplane, a blasting siren, a voice counting down, interspersed with moments of silence. A life jacket, photographs, letters, newspapers, a prayer shawl, uniforms, a rifle, yellow stars, flags, crockery – the objects are both part of the private sphere and touching upon a broader context. Each represents an episode of collective trauma, from the Armenian genocide to the Eritrean civil war, the Holocaust and the Nakba. Yet the victims are not alone in telling their stories: their persecutors also share in the tashlikh. The objects are the tangible trace of a history, of all these histories, as well as the protagonists of a fictional moment staged by the artist. In this sense, Tashlikh (Cast Off) is part of Bartana’s overarching exploration of the construction of individual identities and collective memory.
Itamar Gov, « Reevaluating Historical Narratives as a Means of Liberation », in Yael Bartana. Pre-Enactments, cat. exp. Bombay, Gallery MMB – Gœthe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, 2017, n. p.
Nicole Schweizer (éd.), Yael Bartana, Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Zurich, JRP Ringier, 2017.