Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir
Alvin Balkind Gallery
For their first solo exhibition in Canada, the CAG presents Beyond Guilt — The Trilogy (2003–2005) a collaborative video series by Israeli artists Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir. Its currency rests in its daring and mischievous blend of sex and politics and its jumbling of subject and author.
The trilogy begins with Beyond Guilt #1 shot in the bathrooms of night clubs in Tel Aviv where the artists record themselves negotiating sexual encounters. They are the instigators off camera, but we also see them pictured, at times agreeing to hand over the filming completely. Sela and Amir seem open to, and comfortable with, performing any of the sexual propositions presented to them, frequently upping the ante. They are provocateurs as well as ready and willing participants.
The work while potentially titillating, turns at a point, where sexual evocations give way to other social and political topics. In Beyond Guilt #2, through an online chat room, the artists invited men to a hotel room where discussions of sexual preferences lead to talk of experiences in the army and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The men appear relaxed in speech and pose; some are naked or partially clothed and while the conversation always starts with sex, it repeatedly turns to military concerns. One visitor, while holding metal handcuffs relates his position as sergeant as being perfectly suited to his sexually dominant role play. But even under these charged circumstances what is remarkable is the overall tone of ordinariness.
This mundane quality runs through the series, but is most evident in the final video for which they invited a sex worker to a hotel room, gave her their camera and asked her to document their meeting. The piece is intimate as the three women develop an understanding of each other outside of the expected financial transaction. It ends with all three lying on a bed looking listlessly into the camera or at each other.
Beyond Guilt — The Trilogy is at times difficult to watch. The artists create risky scenarios by negotiating sex in public places and inviting strangers into their hotel room. Yet, Sela and Amir have managed to anaesthetize situations that are out of the ordinary, filled with unknowns and potential risk. They capture a banality within the sensation of these sexual encounters, neutering much of the provocation. The conflation of sex and war isn’t what one would expect — a depiction of spectacle and drama. It is of the everyday and seems to represent a possible tactic for coping with life in Tel Aviv. In a nation continually at war, surrounded by violence, this seems most viable.