Ben Ner’s work in Postmasters Gallery in NYC is a film called ‘Soundtrack’ (2013) that has the format of a Ken Loach- like neo-realist “family drama” but uses instead the soundtrack from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.
His strategy of intervention and ‘re-contextualisation’ reminds of the use of Shakespeare’s Richard II by Gus Van Sant in his legendary ‘My Own Private Idaho’. By taking things out of context, he magnifies and sometimes, monumentalises them. This brings about a sense of ‘uncanniness’ achieved through the type of semiotic displacement that was at the heart of Duchamp’s ready made and the Surrealist movement.
A couple of years ago, Ben Ner assembled “Foreign Names” (2012), in which he was shown visiting nearly 100 Aroma coffee shops (an Israeli chain). There, he left a fake name in English that would be called out at the counter when his beverage was ready, then edited all the videotaped segments to create an “ode” lamenting the disappearance of waiters. In his review for the New York Times, Martha Schwendener focuses on the allegorical aspects of this displacement. According to her ‘It’s a slightly confusing work, held together primarily by subtitles, but furthers his practice of hacking the apparatus of global capitalism in subtle, humorous ways.’
I think, however, that this focus on the allegory misses the point that Ben Ner’s work seem to make which is more about ‘art about art’. In other words, his work is interesting because he uses montage to successfully create allegory and that is a contradiction in terms. It should be born in mind that the technique of montage (understood as putting together incompatible things) links the Duchampian ready made and the Dadaist movement only to cancel meaning. The interesting about Ben Ner’s work is that he manages to revert this for although his work is mainly allegorical (for example, ‘the transience of meaning in late capitalism’), those allegories are put together like a puzzle which parts are by their own nature incompatible. In other words, he deconstructs the digital world (‘simultaneity’, ‘globalisation’, ‘accesibility’) as if it were composed of analogical parts (‘text’, ‘image’, ‘cinema’, ‘theater’, ‘Art’). He does this by taking a scene from Steven Spielberg’s 2005 movie “War of the Worlds” as a “ready-made” soundtrack and pairs it with footage shot in Mr. Ben Ner’s kitchen in Tel Aviv. The pathetic actuality of ‘middle class’ life replaces Mr. Spielberg’s over polished post-historical Armageddon. This juxtaposition of incompatible fragments reaches its climax when documentary filmmaker Avi Mograbi emerges from the refrigerator at one point, while video of recent Israeli conflicts appears on a nearby laptop screen.
The “War of the Worlds” ethos runs deeper, though. Like Tom Cruise’s character in that movie, Mr. Ben Ner’s children from his first marriage play a pivotal role in “Soundtrack,” billed alongside the cute baby from his second marriage. The artist’s family situation would be none of our business except that, like sitcom audiences, we’ve literally watched his kids grow up on screen. In that sense, “Soundtrack” might be an art analogue to “War of the Worlds” — as well as a sequel to “Stealing Beauty” — in which familial bliss is ruptured and plays itself out on embattled ground.
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