The ICA presents the first UK ‘institutional’ solo exhibition of Dor Guez, an artist of Christian Palestinian and Jewish Tunisian descent, living in Jaffa. The artist’s practice questions contemporary art’s role in narrating unwritten histories. Entitled ‘The Painter’ this new installation is the first of five from a new body of work, ‘The Sick Man of Europe’. Guez’s new work reflects on the military history and current political climate of the Middle East through the creative practices of individual soldiers from the region.
Two video works explore the aftermath of war on the individual psyche. The artist presents the story of a painter-turned-soldier, a Jewish Tunisian who immigrated to Israel, who’s name is eerily similar to that of the artist. ‘D Guez’ tells his story to a psychiatrist, of the horrors of war, the fears of death and torture. The artist has become a soldier, and his story is being told by another artist through his own work. The parallel is quite effecting. There is a sadness to the tale, a sense of regret in the tone of our protagonist. Letters home to his parents express his loneliness and fears, trapped in a world without creation – he ‘even misses his paintings’.
The works highlight the mental horror of war, psychic wounds that eat away at an individual post conflict. It’s these aspects that young Israeli artist Guez explores in his short film chronicling the life of ‘D Guez’ – a Tunisian Jewish painter that was conscripted to fight for Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 – and has since undergone treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Robbed of his ability and not desire to study art. A lost and frustrated soul, a lost painter.
In the adjoining room are archival materials, ‘scanograms’, books, photos, maps and paintings: the two elements of D Guez’s life merge, proof of the entangling of two disparate activities. Creation and destruction mingle, enclosed in a collection of vitrines, testament to a lost journey, a wrong road.
Later on, the main film describes the painter’s secret affair with his future wife, a Christian Palestinian, who suffers the painters post-traumatic stress, guilt, and frustrations, it may be a good thing that ‘The Painter’ is only the first instalment of a multi-part project, collectively entitled ‘The Sick Man of Europe’ – which is a term used to describe the crumbling Ottoman Empire, from which the present-day Middle East was shaped.
The first instalment of this oeuvre of work is a little more slight than the viewer might expect, but the work is an interesting cross between documentary, and something of a more semi-biographical nature. There is the expected narration by the soldier Guez, as he journeys through his painful memories – at odds with his desire to be someone that he left behind – but there are also elements that shift away from documentation. Instead the artist begins to document documentation itself, presenting photocopy machines copying Guez’s records. The viewer sees cut-away faces of soldiers, perhaps erased from official records, or perhaps from the painter’s memory through psychiatric counselling.
The artist also employs scanograms of the painter’s work; a medical imaging process that reveals the cracks and flakes in the paint’s surface, the metaphorical wounds of the soldier. In doing so, soldier Guez’s work is transformed, studied by the process of imaging, a signifier of D Guez’s own evaluation in psychiatric hospital, and a lost identity steadily collapsing over time.
The segments and sections of painting take on the identity of a worn psyche, of memory imbued, studied and erased. The paintings are the body of the painter, cracked and lost to a moment on the road, to a different location and identity. As the first selection of narratives from Dor Guez’s new oeuvre – unlike Guez the painter/soldier’s lot in life – this future may be promising.
Dor Guez: The Sick Man of Europe – ICA London – 12 April 2015
Words: Paul Black Photo: courtesy of ICA © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved