Yael Bartana’s Melting Pot

THE DAILY PIC: The Israeli artist reveals the absurdities of nationhood.


THE DAILY PIC: This still–of a Somali Finn in traditional Finnish dress, fishing on a frozen lake–is from the latest work by Yael Bartana, the Israeli video artist. It just opened at Petzel Gallery in New York. (Click on my image to watch a clip.) True Finn, as the piece is called, presents footage of eight Finns, from backgrounds that include Quebec, Japan and Estonia, whom Bartana brought together for a week at an isolated lodge to discuss the nature of Finishness. (Bartana has intercut their talk with old movie footage of indubitably Finnish natural and historical scenes.) The discussions are worth taking in, but for how little they help in defining a Finn rather than for any light they shed on the issue. Mostly the piece underlines the shocking incoherence of all ideas of nationhood, which despite its confusions is one of the most powerful fictions humans have ever come up with. As fictions go, religion has the virtue of at least telling a vaguely coherent (if incorrect, IMHO) story about the world; nationality barely maps onto the world at all, as Bartana’s video helps make clear. There can’t be a “true” Finnishness, because all nationalities are built on powerful lies. Stick a Somali in old-fashioned costume and he’s as good a Finn as anyone, and as bad. (Images courtesy  the artist, Petzel Gallery, New York, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, and Sommer Contemporary, Tel Aviv)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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