The Roee Rosen exhibition Vile, Evil Veil at Iniva is visceral, sensual and disorientating. And it is direct. Playing with the power dynamics between the artist and the viewer is just another dimension in the layers of representation referring to dominant and subjective roles within politics, art and relationships. The viewer is drawn into hidden worlds, not only that of Hitler's lover Eva Braun, but into the psyches of two women who practice Bondage-Discipline-Sadomasochism. Through the experiences of these individuals, Rosen asks us to think about political issues of our time as a series of individualistic and personal interactions. He has been a critic of the Israeli government policies for many years, and he approaches the complexities and ethical issues inherent to these politics in a carefully unsettling way.
Politics, history, and perhaps even violence, gradually become subsumed into our consciousness. Although they continue to represent an idea or sensation, the initial jolt of horror or shock they may have created can lose its impact. Time heals, and although this allows us to survive, grieve and continue, it can also be dangerous. A dictator might become familiar in a historical context, and perceived as a caricature of the views they represent. This can begin to eclipse the subtleties of their politics. Rosen pulls us back from this strange accepting and levelling process and asks us to look again. Through an unfamiliar viewpoint, we confront individual histories more closely.
Rosen is a politically brave artist. He has stirred controversy over the years and his art has reached parliamentary debate. Live and Die as Eva Braun continues to be provocative, even five years after its initial exhibition in Israel. But it isn’t merely the direct reference to Hitler’s lover, or the explicit content within the 49 images that make up the piece, it is the leaps of consciousness he asks the viewer to take:
"How odd it is, really, that you do not expect to die. You always trusted his power to decide on deadly matters, it has been infallible – as if by casting death around, assigning it and sowing it so generously, he had created a bubble of health and immortality for you two."
There is a scenario in which Eva’s spirit returns to see a wax-work of her and Hitler in their final minutes. She sees history distilled and crystallised into something kitsch. Rosen wants us to bring individual identities and physical realities back into a more tender sense of reality. To understand the dynamics that led up to this point in history enables us to understand that power is subjective and vulnerable.
The drawings and texts are laid out in a format that echoes that of an institution or memorial museum. It is a sanitised and controlled environment. Similarly, the film Out starts with quiet and moderated interviews, which make the content more approachable. Each piece becomes gradually more uncomfortable and yet compelling.
To spark compassion for a controversial figure is complex, especially in the case of the Israeli minister Avigdor Lieberman who has been described as a ‘neo-Nazi’. In the film Out, BDSM dominant character Yoana Gonen speaks of Lieberman as telling the absolute truth, at least from his own perspective. Rosen wants us to clearly understand that this political figure has his own agenda, which he believes in 100%, but that he is a vessel for the right-wing ideas he speaks, just as Ela Shapira, in her subjective role becomes a vessel for Lieberman’s words. Through the staging of a BDSM role-play, Rosen reminds us that people are instruments though which ideas are sounded. He reverses the simplification process that dulls our political awareness. This draws us back from a binary understanding of humanity. We are presented with the idea that well-intentioned simplification can sometimes consolidate the very thing it opposes.
If there is one exhibition you go to this week, I would recommend this one, especially as Vile, Evil Veil is only on until May 5th. It is a complex and thought-provoking exhibition, and a significant reminder of the power art can wield, both in relationship politics and affairs of state.