Guli Silberstein Artist-filmmaker, moving-image researcher and video editor, London-based
'The Schizophrenic State Project’ - War, Media & Appropriation
Currently based in London, ‘The Schizophrenic State Project’ is an on-going project which started in 2000, at the MA in Media Studies program at The New School University in New York. It’s composed of a series of video works, which appropriate mass media footage of violence, war, and protest situations, in the context of my place of birth and growing up; Israel, Palestine and the region. The images are processed via digital means in diverse ways that re-contextualise the found footage, creating poetic videos that formulate media critique. The idea is to extract humanness in the images, highlighting the horror of violence suffered by real people, and at the same time emphasise video as a medium in which these images are delivered to us. It’s a long-term research, forming unique experiences in the shape of video works merging content and texture, dealing with aesthetics, technology and humanism. The work aims to encourage empathy, humanness and sensitivity to the tragedy of violence, that seem to disappear in a post-fact world of clashing truths and “fake news”. The Schizophrenic State Project covers 14 years of work, in which the following research questions came up:
How can creative processing of news footage of violence, suffering and confrontation, illuminate the cognitive effect of the consumption of these electronically transmitted images?
What are the realistic and surrealistic aspects of this experience? Do these images function as a mask or a revealer of the reality they document? Or maybe both? The works aim to capture this complexity.
In light of new digital tools and ways of distribution, how can these video works provoke new thought, discussion and awareness regarding the content of news media images, their nature and their impact?
- Project launch on Doc Alliance online portal: http://dafilms.com/event/269-guli_silberstein/, January 2017
- Ecstatic Truth, animated documentary symposium, Royal College of Art London, 27.5.17
- Journal of Media Practice and MeCCSA Practice Network Symposium, Bath Spa University, 8.6.17
- Research seminar, School of Creative Technologies, University of Portsmouth, 18.7.17
Schizophrenic State (2001-3, 5’25’’, USA/Israel) starts with two tragic images: an Israeli soldier being lynched in Ramallah, and a Palestinian boy, Muhammad AL-Dura, and his father being fired at in Gaza. The work continues with a string of images and sounds sourced both from found footage and recorded material. Using Gregory Bateson’s Cybernetics theory of the ‘double bind’, this violent situation in the work is re-considered as schizophrenic - two sides trapped in a cycle of violence. While the filmmaker, an Israeli living in New York City, is in a kind of schizophrenic state as well, watching these images from afar. The work addresses the nature of images – questioning are these images real? Are any images real?
In Beach (2006, 4’55’’, Israel) a flickering TV transmits still pictures of a happy family on a beach in Tel-Aviv, intertwined with glimpses of a distressed girl running 100 km away, on a bombed beach in Gaza. Gradually, the picture stream becomes faster, and the video of the girl becomes more apparent. The horror she’s facing is revealed. She dissolves in TV noise, and a news presenter appears, talking about the event, providing another layer of representation.
“Paradoxically, the observer is drawn to the blurred images, and the more they blur, the greater the sense of confusion and dread over what goes on between Tel Aviv and Gaza, between the flickering narrative and his tempestuous imagination. Silberstein’s cinematic language, the deliberate disorder injected into the development of the action, fills us with a growing sense of danger and dread”. (Raphie Etgar, curator)
In Re:Commandments (2007, 5’00’’, Israel) hardcore techno music, the 1955 Hollywood film ‘The Ten Commandments’, international TV news broadcasts of Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, and a video documentation of a belly dancer in the desert, become an apocalyptic Middle East horror rave party, addressing Middle East representations of in Western media, and the fetishisation of images of war and religion in mass media.
Excerpt (2008, 4’35’’, Israel) picks up one short clip from a flow of Internet video news: a family is hiding behind a wall in a neighbourhood in Beirut Lebanon, which turned into a warzone. The short compressed video is slowed down, enlarged, and receives a new soundscape. Additional dimensions are revealed in the scene, and a troubling contrast between imagery and content is created, leading to an unsettling affect: anxiety deconstructed into pixels.
”Slow motion comes as a factor of tension in Guli Silberstein’s Excerpt where a scene of joy falls into horror. A smiling child runs towards a close relative when an off screen event suddenly terrifies him. Guli Silberstein works on the very question of video as a filter of information in today’s era of Internet image consumption. Through its highly pixelated and colourful image, Excerpt is an immersion into stormy images and constant movement, terrifying because it’s coming from real life. Then a few seconds before the end, the image zooms out, switching scale from an immersive and quasi-haptic 4:3, to a distanced 16:9 in between black strips. Through this device Silberstein seems to question distance and frame, both notions resonating with Andre Bazin’s 50 years old analysis: “A close-up on a dead child is not similar to a dead child in an establishing frame, also different from a dead child in colour motion picture”. (Alexandrine Dhainaut, art critic)
In Disturbdance (2012, 3’25’’, UK) a young woman is blocking two armed soldiers from firing at protesters in a Palestinian village. The image, picked up from a TV news report found online, is digitally processed and slowed down, and the soundtrack is replaced with lyrical music. The scene is turned to a peculiar dance, almost romantic, highlighting the magical and rare human connection created in the heroic act, captured and transmitted by digital technology.
“The adaptation of a real life video clip in a war zone suggests strong connotative references to reality and to the artist. The manipulation of the original video clip certainly mystifies the tension of the event, transforming it into a beautified yet powerful piece of art.” (Ming Turner, curator)
And Cut Out (2014, 4'19'', UK) is based on a found YouTube video of a Palestinian girl resisting an Israeli soldier. In the work, she is roughly cut out from her surroundings by a computer algorithm struggling to contain her, and her enemies are erased from the frame. Radiant and raging, she is shouting and punching the empty space in front of her. The video-processing highlights the scene as image, both of a fight for freedom, and a media event:
“Guli Silberstein’s excellent Cut Out, meanwhile, took a YouTube-sourced video of a young girl involved in some form of direct action protest and isolated the subject using an algorithm that slowly revealed the full context of the clip. As the perspective widened, what looked initially like a film about the oppressive nature of media gradually became a film about the way media can liberate and protect people in dangerous situations.” (Alistair Harkness, journalist)