Letís Fall in Love: Staging a Political Marriage
dr. Maaike Bleeker, professor and the Chair of Theatre Studies at Utrecht University.

Published in: Migratory Settings, Thamyris Intersecting no.19, 2008, Rodopi, Amsterdam- New York, pp.57-76

A video. Three young men are having dinner in front of a small wooden cabin in the woods. It could be a home video about enjoying a day off in the Dutch countryside. The men are Gil and Moti, two Israeli artists living and working in Rotterdam, and their lover Oliver, from Lebanon. The video was shot during Oliver’s first visit to the Netherlands. It is a personal souvenir, a token of a special moment in their private lives. At the same time, it is a work of art that may be read as a (slightly ironic) response to ex-Documenta-curator Catherine David’s project Contemporary Arab Representations, an event that took place next door to Gil & Moti’s home in Rotterdam.
The video is part of an art project, in which Gil and Moti put their personal life, and love, on stage in an attempt to engage with human relationships as they take shape in a much larger cultural frame. With their staging of their personal life, they invite us to look at "all the world" as a stage. Their aim is not so much to show "all the world" to be "merely" theatre but rather to highlight the ways in which human relationships are mediated by culture and history; how culturally and historically specific norms and values ‘migrate’ between public and private, between real and imaginary places; and how such processes involve repetition as well as transformation. They show these processes to be performative in the sense in which Judith Butler defines it, as discourse that has the capacity to produce what it names.
In response to what she terms a voluntarist interpretation of her argument in Gender Trouble (1990), Butler is eager to point out the importance of the distinction between performativity and performance (Osborne and Segal). Performance, she argues, presumes a pre-existing subject, whereas performativity contests the very notion of the subject. Performativity describes the moment at which discourse becomes productive in a specific way: the discursive mode by which ontological effects are installed. Performativity, therefore, describes an aspect of discourse of which we, subjects, are the products rather than the instigators.
With their work, Gil& Moti engage the performative effects of discourse. Staging is their means of pointing attention to the processes of reiteration and resignification that are part of the ways in which human relationships are lived. In this sense, their work confirms Butler’s argument on the performative power of discourse as something beyond our (subjective) power to control. Yet, at the same time, their staging points to the subjectivity that is involved in a different way. Whereas Butler focuses on the ways in which identity materializes as the effect of discourse, or, more precisely, as the effect of the ways in which present acts reiterate absent discursive formations, Gil & Moti’s focus is on the nature of the relationships that are involved in specific instances of discourse producing what it names: relationships between people, between them and their audiences, between performative acts and the subject of vision that is implied within the address presented by such acts. They use staging as a means to expose how the recognition of the significance of performative acts depends upon point of view, how point of view involves a particular place (in time and space) — while the characteristics that define a given point of place may also migrate from one place to another.
In what follows, I engage with Gil & Moti’s staging of performative acts through Kaja Silverman’s “ethics of the field of vision” in her The Threshold of the Visible World (1996). I show how Gil & Moti’s explicitly staged performative acts point attention to the way present acts reiterate absent discursive formations and, also, how their particular way of staging these instances of reiteration demonstrates the potential of theatre and theatricality as what I term a ‘critical vision machine.'1 The practice of organizing things to be seen by an audience, theatre explicitly engages with the relationship between what is performed and the point of view from which this performance is seen. This staged nature is at the same time often reason for concern and suspicion. Ever since Plato, theatre and theatricality are associated with make-belief, exaggeration, and falsity. Gil & Moti’s work suggests that the suspicion of theatre and theatricality might actually be caused by a certain unease with the ways in which these invite us to recognize that the performative installment of ontological effects requires a subjective point of view. A recognition of the difference that point of view makes is all the more important in today’s globalized world, where processes of migration have opened up formerly closed communities, and more and more people find themselves in situations in which they do not automatically share the points of view that are implied within discursive acts. In this situation, peaceful coexistence may depend upon our ability to reconsider our relationship to what is discursively installed as ontological. Gil & Moti invite such a reconsideration, proposing political marriage as an alternative approach to both love and truth.

Let’s Fall in Love

The video, again. Gil, Moti and Oliver are having dinner in a rural setting, a utopian and pastoral scene reminiscent of Arcadia, or the Garden of Eden. These are visions of nature that in the Western collective imagination traditionally stand for wholeness and peace, a place before (or beyond) the human conflicts that separate us in the real world. What we see is indeed utopian, for the fact that these three are lovers refutes one of the most enduring violent conflicts of our time. The idyllic countryside of Holland serves as a free zone, a third space for a gathering that could not have taken place in either of the lovers' native countries. Israeli Jews Gil & Moti are no more welcome in Lebanon than Arab Oliver is in Israel, and neither Israeli nor Lebanese society are likely to welcome either the open gayness of the men, or, still less, their sexual threesome.
The video dates from 2004. Two years earlier, Gil & Moti had declared:

In October 2002, we (Gil & Moti) have decided to execute a contemporary form of political marriage by falling in love with an Arab guy. The idea originates from the common belief that love can overcome all obstacles.

Is it possible to decide to fall in love? Isn’t falling in love by definition something that happens to a person, rather than something one can willfully choose to do? Isn’t this unintentional character of love — the fact that love happens to us beyond our control —one of its ineluctable characteristics? Precisely this uncontrollable aspect, we tend to believe, decides love's truth and authenticity.
With their decision to fall in love, Gil & Moti question common assumptions about the nature of love. Instead of waiting for love to happen to them, they set out to make it happen, and they do so by means of strategies aiming at what Silverman has termed ‘the active gift of love’ (Threshold). Love, Silverman states, is the result of psychological processes that are largely unconscious and, therefore, difficult to consciously control, let alone influence. In that sense, one could indeed say that love largely happens to us. It is nonetheless possible, she argues, to consciously interfere with these unconscious processes. And, in this respect, Silverman claims, works of art hold a privileged position. They have the power to intervene at the level of the unconscious, while at the same time allowing for conscious reworkings of these interventions.
The starting point for the ability to love, according to Silverman, is idealization. Without idealization, life would be unbearable. Idealization, however, is shaped by the cultural norms and values that we internalize from early childhood on. These norms and values are part of our culturally specific ways of looking at the world, and it is within that framework that love ‘happens.' To look, argues Silverman, “is to embed an image within a constantly shifting matrix of unconscious memories” (Threshold 3). Looking depends on the subject’s ability to ‘embed’ what he or she sees within this matrix of images housed within the self, with this matrix of images functioning as a visual unconscious: ‘through’ these images new perceptions become conscious. Through this matrix of images, culturally specific preferences and dislikes are reproduced. Functioning predominantly at an unconscious level, these mechanisms of visual perception tend to be conservative. Nevertheless, these mechanisms may also be put to culturally transformative uses.
A crucial question therefore, in today’s globalized world, is how to redirect the ‘look of love’ in such a way that it might include the cultural other. This, says Silverman, can be achieved by consciously and explicitly idealizing the other, according to the norms and values of the dominant gaze. It can be done, that is, by means of strategies of representation that show the other according to the parameters of ideality that are at work in the dominant look, while at the same time understanding that this ideality must be "marked as a garment rather than the body itself" (Threshold 103). For, as Silverman puts it:

The ethical becomes operative not at the moment when unconscious desires and phobias assume possession of our look, but in a subsequent moment, when we take stock of what we have just ‘seen’ and attempt — with an inevitably limited self-knowledge — to look again, differently. Once again, then, the moment of conscious agency is written under the sign of Nachträglichkeit, or deferred action. (Threshold 173)

Silverman set out to develop a psychoanalytical theory of love. What she ends up with is a theory of visuality or, as she puts it, “an ethics of the field of vision, and a psychoanalytical politics of visual representation” (Threshold 2). This ethics of vision explains love in the context of the relationship between someone seeing and someone or something being seen, a relationship that is mediated in complex ways by the representations that surround us. A politics of visual representation, Silverman’s theory argues for the active use of representations to reconfigure the relationship between seer and seen, and thereby to bring to the fore “the active gift of love.”
It is within this framework that Gil and Moti’s work can be positioned. Their work stages the relationship between the one seeing and what is seen in ways that invite a reconsideration of the apparently self-evident visions that are presented to us by works of art, popular culture, and the performances that make up our daily life. The explicit staging of their art provides the key to understanding their project. This staging confronts the audience with the expectations, desires, and propositions that guide and underpin their culturally specific modes of looking. With the conscious decision to fall in love with their cultural and political other, they question the ways in which these expectations, desires, and presuppositions dictate how love 'happens' to us. They also draw attention to the way in which the very notion of love as true and authentic makes truth and love conflate to the point that love becomes the promise of a truth that inevitably lies somewhere ‘beyond our power to control.'

Living Sculptures

Gil & Moti’s decision to fall in love is part of an art project that encompasses their entire life. In this project, life and art converge to the point that their life is their performance and their performance is their life. From their always carefully styled appearance as near, but not quite, twins, to their home in an art gallery, to their wedding as public performance, their whole life is staged. Like their (art) historical predecessors Gilbert & George, they consequently use the double name Gil & Moti as their signature. Like Gilbert & George, they turn themselves into ‘living sculptures.’ Where else do living sculptures live but in an art gallery? In 1999, Gil & Moti moved into a gallery space in the center of Rotterdam, right next to the well known Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. They sleep in a glass cubicle, like Snow White in her crystal casket. Their personal belongings are exhibited in glass cabinets. Living as they do in a gallery, their ‘home’ is transformed every now and then by visiting artists who exhibit their work there, and who are granted complete freedom to ‘re-do’ the space to meet the needs of their work, with the only provision that Gil & Moti can continue to live there.
In The Homegallery, personal life and belongings turn into art exhibits, and art objects become household items. With this explicitly theatrical staging of their personal life, Gil & Moti create a firm distance from ordinary life. This artistic frame does not, however, put them on a pedestal, as is the case with Gilbert & George, whose artistic strategies tend to create an atmosphere of inapproachability. Gil & Moti’s more cartoonesque esthetics garner the opposite effect. They reach out, inviting the public at large into their world. Not only are their art world friends and audiences welcome, but also their neighbors, the local shopkeepers, and the children playing in the streets. In many of their projects, the audience is invited to become participants rather than spectators, to the point of them too becoming living sculptures, just like the artists themselves.
Gil & Moti’s life-performance invites their audiences to reconsider the reality not only of the artists’ actions, but also of the performances that make up each witness’ own daily life. In their ongoing presentation, they expose reality to be what Silverman elsewhere has termed the ‘dominant fiction’ (Subjectivity). The ‘fiction’ in this phrase foregrounds the fictional character of what normally passes for reality, while the ‘dominant’ points to the fact that there is more than one fiction possible, and that these different possibilities do not have equal access to achieving the status of 'reality.' Calling reality a fiction undermines ontological claims of truth, allowing for change and cultural difference. Understanding reality as a fiction also draws attention to reality as a story that is told from a specific point of view.
Take, for example, their installation Fresh Feelings & Boyzone Pavilion (2000). This work consisted of a construction reminiscent of an eighteenth-century gallery (the Boyzone Pavilion), as well as of an open space filled with pieces of furniture, wooden panels, clothes, and pages from sketchbooks (Fresh Feelings). In the Boyzone Pavilion, a series of paintings hanging all around the ‘gallery’ space offered a view as if through museum walls of the outside world. This supposed outside world consisted of a cemetery surrounding the pavilion. It also included a series of paintings hanging above the cemetery images, depicting nighttime scenes from the neighborhoods of various prestigious European museums such as the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Boymans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.
The installation brings to mind Alberti’s idea of the picture frame as a finestra aperta, a window opening to the world. Alberti introduced the metaphor of the finestra aperta in his treatise Della Pittura (1453), in which he describes Filippo Brunelleschi’s discovery of perspective as a technique to create images that show the world as if seen through a window opening onto to the world behind the picture frame. For Alberti, the finestra aperta contains an argument about perspective as a way of constructing the image of the world as it is: that is, as an ‘objective’ vision independent of any particular observer, independent from any particular place from which this vision appears in the way that it does. Gil & Moti’s installation, however, is precisely about the subjectivity of point of view and about how that point of view predetermines from where the world ‘as it is’ can be seen. As it turns out, the cemetery and the places that are depicted on the night paintings are, in fact, gay cruising areas. In order to recognize these places as such, special local knowledge is required. What particular world these window paintings open onto will depend, then, on the knowledge and experience of the viewer, which makes point of view something that profoundly influences the viewer’s perception of what is there to be seen.
As indicated, the Boyzone Pavilion stages a view from inside the art gallery towards the 'outside' world. The Fresh Feeling part of the installation invites a move in the opposite direction. Wandering between wooden panels, pieces of old furniture, sketchbook pages, and embroidered t-shirts, all strewn in seeming disorder, the viewer is offered a glimpse into the private world of a young adult. This glimpse has to be actively constituted from the various references that can be gleaned from this apparent disorder as meaningful codes and icons of popular culture. Remarks, both visual and written, are based on childhood diaries, and are scrawled on teenage images as portraits of Leonardo di Caprio and Brooke Shields, as well as on advertisements and cartoons. At first, the childish imagery seems to confirm dominant notions of adolescent identity as produced in and through mass culture. But a closer look reveals another story, told through the careful reframing of well-known popular icons. Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, and Bert and Ernie are all depicted from behind, with specific focus on their backsides. The young man in the Coca-Cola advertisement presents an image of ecstasy, his eyes closed while he is sucking on an unidentified object. Brooke Shields becomes a role model for gay identity. Mass media imagery is presented here so as to denaturalize the point of view that is normally implied by these images, questioning their seemingly self-evident characteristics and hence bringing into question the point of view of the visitor as well. What exactly, one might be led to ask, is the relation between Bert and Ernie anyway?
The Fresh Feelings & Boyzone Pavilion installation plays with the supposed oppositions between private and public, showing them to be entwined rather than separate entities. The installation reveals that what appears as ‘inside’ and as ‘outside’, as ‘reality’ or ‘fiction’, as ‘private’ or ‘public’, is actually nothing more than the result of the way images are presented. Furthermore, the installation makes one keenly aware of how this process of framing is related to subjectivity: not only of who is seen but also of the one who is seeing and the point of view implied that is already within what is seen.

How To Do Things With Marriage

In The Wedding Project, Gil & Moti staged their own wedding as a public performance. They even managed to cast the actual mayor of Rotterdam in the role of the civil servant yielding the power to join man and man in matrimony. They staged the event on the balcony of the Rotterdam Town Hall, a place usually reserved for honoring the national football team or other winning heroes from the world of sports. On this occasion, however, everybody was invited to join a party of a different kind.
Marriage is the moment par excellence where performance and reality converge. A wedding is a carefully staged performance, whose reality status depends upon a strict repetition of inherited rules and norms. Not merely legal requirements are responsible for the staged character of the occasion, as many people go to considerable effort to stage their wedding in order to be able to live the event as their own particular fiction, demanding both considerable preparation as well as stylized and strictly choreographed behavior from all participants. All of this makes the wedding an excellent topic for Gil & Moti’s larger project of exploring the ways in which performativity produces reality and how this happens through reiterating discursive practices.
The spoken ‘I do’ by which bride and groom in the Anglo-American wedding ceremony undertake to wed one another can be seen in terms of the conflation between saying and doing: saying things becomes doing things with words. For J.L. Austin (1975), who originally proposed the notion of the performative, ‘I do’ constitutes the example par excellence of the performative utterance. As many critics of Austin’s notion of performativity have pointed out, the force of words does not stem from the free choice of the individual who use them. The ‘I do’ gains its force because it cites and so reproduces an entire genre of performance. For this reason, Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick compare marriage to a kind of fourth wall, or invisible proscenium arch. The arch moves through the world, demanding the continual reorientation of the surroundings by shifting the relationship between visibility and spectatorship, between the tacit and the explicit, between the possibility and the impossibility of a given person articulating a given enunciatory position. In their critique, Parker and Sedgwick draw attention to the fact that the meaning of the wedding performance depends upon the citation not simply of the words themselves but of the entire regime of heterosexual socialization. A wedding thus becomes the interplay between a specific text, individual performers, and the web of practices that constitute a specific performance as a meaningful citation. In their comparison of marriage to an invisible proscenium arch, they draw attention also to the fact that the ceremony deploys the text — and much else besides — as part of an elaborate reiteration of a specific vision of social order. This vision is at stake in Gil & Moti’s The Wedding Project.
Gil & Moti did not deny what Parker and Sedgwick describe as the ‘regime of heterosexual socialization.’ Rather, they demonstrate its principle; their explicit retheatricalization of the marriage institution worked to denaturalize that regime, including the vision of the social order implied by it. They showed marriage for what it truly is: a highly theatrical performance that nonetheless has real consequences for the main participants. They also drew attention to the fact that the consequences of the marriage ritual depend on a particular vision of reality, while different visions implying a different point of view. Thus, in the Netherlands, Gil & Moti are lawfully wedded, though in many other countries, their marriage is a fiction. In the Netherlands, the reality status of their marriage was briefly contested: a conservative Christian party officially protested against the presence of The Wedding Project in the Town hall. The equality of heterosexual and homosexual marriage in Dutch law is far from real in many people’s eyes and, for some, still remains a fiction.

In Bed With Gil & Moti

During the week following the wedding, Gil & Moti positioned themselves in the central hallway of the Town Hall in a big bed that was surrounded by the paintings and installations that had served earlier as the scenery of the wedding. Gil & Moti’s bed installation, which included themselves as living sculptures within it, was again reminiscent of a famous historical predecessor: that of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 'bed-in' in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in 1969. As was the case with John & Yoko, the aim of Gil & Moti’s playful performative reiteration of this model was to create real-world change. Gil & Moti’s variation on the historical theme testified to a self-reflexive awareness of the relationship between their action and that of their historical predecessors, as well as of the historical distance separating them. Whereas John & Yoko directed their performance towards the world press and, via the press, to the world’s political leaders, Gil & Moti, constantly striving for a direct interaction with their audiences, addressed their performance to the individuals living and working around them. In this process, paintings and installations — for example, the so- called Wedding Paintings that were created for this installation — function as 'pre-texts.' They serve as starting points for interactions and the exchange of ideas. These paintings show Gil & Moti in the company of a selection of cultural icons like Princess Di, the Dutch Royal family, and famous Dutch football players. The paintings position Gil & Moti as fellow celebrities sharing the same stage, while simultaneously — through the very fact of their existence — presenting a reflection on the very concept of the staging of stardom. The specific stars that are shown here are all also on display in Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum in Amsterdam.
Like John & Yoko, Gil & Moti operated from within a bed. They build their bed around a statue representing a naked young man. This statue stands in the central hallway of the Rotterdam Town Hall and is a memorial to those who fell in the Second World War. Gil & Moti’s bed-sculpture instantly transforms the naked young man from the self-evident representation of courage, strength, and national pride into an ambiguous appearance that is marked by complex presuppositions about gender and sexuality. In the installation, the nakedness of the statue, now divorced from its framing as a monument, erases its meaning as a representation of idealized heroism. His new position in the middle of Gil & Moti’s wedding bed contests and questions the self-evidence of a naked young man, in neo-classical style, as the representation of Dutch pride with regard to the nation's role in the war. Furthermore, their restaging of this statue as part of their bed-in, invites reflection on the often forgotten relationship between the Second World War and the current situation in Gil & Moti’s country of origin, Israel, as well as on the struggle of the Dutch with their relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The statue carries the inscription "Stronger through Struggle" (in Dutch: Sterker door strijd), a well-known saying by former queen Wilhelmina. In Gil & Moti’s bed-installation, the phrase is repeated in embroidery on the sheets of the bed. Wilhelmina's saying, referring to the way in which the experience of W.W. II has (supposedly) strengthened the Dutch nation, is given an uncanny twist when reiterated on the bed sheets of this Israeli couple. Furthermore, the transformation of Wilhelmina’s quote from the memorial to the bed sheets may be understood to symbolize the shift from the macro-political aspirations of the performance by John & Yoko towards the micro-political approach of Gil & Moti in their reiteration of John & Yoko’s historical example. This micro-political approach proceeds through exposing the implications and presuppositions of the biases that are implied within conceptions and perceptions of the ‘real’ world.

Letters to Laylah

With their decision to fall in love with an Arab man, Gil & Moti returned to the marriage theme, this time stretching the traditional practice of marriage further to include a third person. This person is not just any third person, however, but their political other. The search for their significant other was carried out through gay dating sites on the internet, and in the spring of 2003, they found their lover in the person of Oliver from Lebanon.
Gil & Moti’s decision recalls the old tradition of settling political conflicts through the arranged weddings of representatives of opposing parties, thus using marriage as the way to forge connections between different peoples or nations. The artists thus engage with a situation in which the personal and the public converge: their political marriage does not so much confirm the conventional institution of marriage, as play with it, denaturalize it, and subvert it from within, complicating the positions assumed within it. Again, Gil & Moti’s approach is micro-political: their political marriage does not intervene at the level of world politics. Instead, they use their personal involvement as a starting point for a playful exploration of the complicated relationship between personal emotions, preferences, and desires, and the larger political, historical, social, cultural determinations that make up the dominant fiction. In this case, they engage with Israeli aversions to Arabs as dirty, noisy, rich, violent, primitive, lazy, and thieving, as well as with their powerful fear of the alleged sexual prowess of Arab men. Although they explicitly situate their project within the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel, their projects about their Arab lover suggests a power of expression beyond this particular context. For example, the features applied to the Arab other of Israel’s dominant fiction are those that have generally migrated from and to other targets of bigotry in other circumstances and cultures. The sexual stereotype in particular has also been used against American blacks by whites, against Europeans in China and Japan, against European Jews by gentiles, and so on.
In another project, Letters to Laylah, Gil & Moti play with, and interrogate, these aversions further. The letters in question are addressed to their imaginary lover, Laylah. They write, for example,

Good Morning Laylah
Last night we thought about you and reached a conclusion with which we are happy and content. If you’d agree to shave your moustache, pluck your eyebrows, clean the yellow dirt on your teeth, shower more often, wear some perfume and deodorant and especially clip your nails or at the very least clean the black underneath, then it would be a perfect falling in love, sort of boundless. Then we’d be willing to give you everything.
Truly yours. Gil & Moti

Acknowledging the impossibility of avoiding or undoing the cultural mediations at work in the ways in which we see the other, Gil & Moti settle for the opposite approach, setting out to expose and reflect back the phobias and desires that assume possession of our always-mediated way of looking. In doing so, they invite the conscious reworking of what what seems to be a feat of ‘just looking’ at what is ‘there to be seen.' Sometimes, they do so by making explicit the presuppositions and projections that are at work in their ways of seeing the other, as in the example above. Sometimes they do so by further complicating the twisted combination of aversion and sexualization at work in those ways of seeing, as in this other letter: ”In our love, equality is required, so that if you’d like to fuck us up our ass you’d be able to since we love to fuck and assume you do too.” Sometimes their letters to Laylah describe events from their childhood, bringing attention to the way in which the combination of the aversion and the sexualization of the Arab other is transmitted from parents to children, as well as by all kinds of media:

Dear Laylah
When we were kids we used to lock ourselves in the room on Friday afternoons while our parents were watching an Egyptian film in the next room. We’d approach the wooden closet (uncle’s craftsmanship) and open the third door on the right. Under the second shelf, the drawer was always kept locked. The key was hidden. We knew where. We’d stealthily take the key and open the drawer. Three soft transparent scarves were lying there in perfect order. We’d gently take the purple one and the azure one and wrap them around our narrow waist twice. And then, while looking in the mirror we’d wiggle our behinds from side to side to the rhythm of the Arab voices coming from behind the door.
Love. Gil & Moti

Caught Wanting

The letters to Laylah are written to focus on the point of view implied in the descriptions, fantasies, and memories of the cultural other. As a result, they are not so much about that other as they are about the person doing the seeing or fantasizing. The letters expose various aspects of this subjective perspective, bringing into focus what Peter de Bolla has termed the ‘social thickness of the visual.’ This ‘social thickness of the visual’ is again the subject of an installation titled The Dating Project (an ongoing project that started in 2003), which was conceived as a counterpart to Letters to Laylah.
The Dating Project consists of a wall made of simple, stackable picture frames. Each frame contains a watercolor portrait of a man. At the bottom of each painting, an email address is punched through the paper. Peeping through these holes, the audience can observe Gil & Moti at work behind the wall, busy writing emails and painting more portraits. They are painting these portraits based on profile descriptions and pictures found on gay dating sites on the internet. All the men are Arabs. After painting the portraits, they scan the images and send them to the email addresses provided by the potential dates, along with a message explaining who they, Gil & Moti, are. They also ask questions, such as whether or not the recipient likes his portrait. Doing this put them in touch with many different men, one of whom, Oliver, from Lebanon, eventually took up the role of Laylah, Gil & Moti’s lover.
The original watercolors punched through with the email addresses are used to construct an installation that might be read as an inverse of Marcel Duchamp’s famous Etant Donnés (c. 1946-66, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Duchamp’s installation reads as a commentary on the subjective perspective that is involved in the artistic representations of naked female flesh covering the walls of many art museums. The installation consists of a life-size diorama behind a large wooden door with holes bored in it, through which the viewer is invited to peep. Through these holes, the viewer sees a brick wall with another hole in it. Behind this hole lies a female body with spread legs.
Duchamp’s installation exposes the viewer as a voyeur caught wanting, at the keyhole, gazing at the ultimate object of male heterosexual desire. In The Dating Project, on the other hand, it is not the viewer, but Gil & Moti who are to be caught wanting. Peeping through the little holes in the paintings, the audience can see them busy surfing the net and making images of the mostly naked bodies of their imaginary objects of homosexual desire. In Duchamp’s installation, the female body is reduced to being the passive object of the invisible viewer, who looks at her from behind the door. She lies there as if unaware of being seen, apparently existing independently from the desires that have molded her into the image she is. Gil & Moti’s Dating Project, however, points to vision as taking place somewhere in-between. In their installation, the paintings act as a screen mediating the relationship between the artists, their possible lovers, and their possible viewers. The paintings are visual fantasies fuelled by the profile descriptions and pictures that were provided by the men depicted. That is, they are fuelled by descriptions and pictures that in turn are intended to play into the desires and presuppositions of an absent, imaginary viewer. This viewer is someone who, in the installation, can be seen as present through or behind the images. In between seeing and being seen, vision appears as a contested field.

The Look of Love

Silverman’s theory of love is utopian. One cannot learn to love, she asserts, according to programmed instructions. However, by actively investing ‘others’ with attraction, we might be able to interfere with these largely unconscious processes of attraction and identification. In the long run, then, such acts may cause gradual changes in the parameters according to which these seemingly automatic processes take place — and, as a result, we could begin to fall in love differently.
With their decision to fall in love, Gil & Moti set out to make one such change in a project that, too, is utopian. At the same time, it is very much situated in the here and now, causing a kind of short-circuit between ideality and reality, a forced marriage indeed. Gil & Moti began writing letters to their lover even before they knew him. Like princes in a fairy tale, they were sure their significant other existed somewhere ‘out there,’ and that it was just a matter of finding him. Cowboys of their own time, they surfed the Internet until they found their lover in the person of Oliver. Oliver then took up the role of their imaginary lover Laylah. In doing so, he became one of them, literally, in the sense that part of his role was to wear the same clothes as Gil & Moti, and indeed to look like them. Literally idealized by the artists, Gil & Moti thus (re)created him according to their own parameters and after their own image. Apart from his appearance, this idealization manifested itself in the many beautiful and very explicitly idealized portraits they painted of him, and the emails and SMS messages they sent him in which they address him according to all the conventions of true romantic love.2 In addition to the artistic ways in which they gave him prominence in their ongoing life-performance, Gil & Moti actively gave Oliver (or is it Laylah?) all their love. They took the ultimate personal consequences of their decision to devote themselves to him. At the same time, the theatrical ways in which they made love happen leaves space for reflection on the tension between visions of utopia and daily life, a tension already present in the double identity of their lover Oliver and Laylah.
After several months of living together, Oliver left. Gil & Moti worked through their experiences in a video-installation that was combined with live-performances, entitled Laylah, the Creature Beyond Dreams (first presented at the Kunsthalle, Vienna, 11 November 2004). This installation started where the Letters to Laylah and The Dating Project ended, telling the story of how they met and fell in love with Oliver, and also of how their romance ended. It is a story about longing, loss and mourning, but most of all, it is a story about love. More than the highly theatrical love story itself, this conscious reworking of their own ways of looking and loving, is what turns their project into an ‘active gift of love,’ one that invites the audience to take part in it as well.
Gil & Moti issue an invitation to ‘make the ethical operative’, not only with regard to who can appear as the object of the ‘look of love,’ but also with regard to the conflation of love and truth that situates both beyond our powers of control. Silverman’s psychoanalytical account facilitates an understanding of how, to a certain extent, love is indeed something that happens to us beyond the bounds of our will to resist or to influence. But, importantly, her theory disconnects this moment when love happens from any notion of ‘truth’ as something that lies beyond or before the realms of human subjectivity. Perhaps we may not be in control of who will attract our ‘look of love’; however, this does not mean that love happens to us in ways that exceed the limits of our subjective perspective. On the contrary, if love happens to us, this is usually precisely because what we see corresponds to the personal desires, phobias, and anxieties of our ever subjective world-view, while, at the same time, the myth of love as truth depends upon the invisibility of this connection. This is the truth of love happening to us as if ‘beyond our power to control’: as long as we do not take control, it will continue to happen in more or less the same way, thus reiterating culturally and historically specific preferences, desires and dislikes.
Seen in this way, Silverman’s analysis of love illustrates the paradox of the type of truth that is involved in fundamentalism, based as it is on the recognition of an absolute truth, beyond and before subjective point of view. The truth of fundamentalism requires conviction whereas at the same time conviction involves the belief that the fundamental truths one is convinced of exist somehow independent from ones conviction. Such a recognition of truth as beyond our power to control is precisely what produces ones own convictions as fundamental and justifies acting according to them as well as taking action against those who do not share these convictions. At this point, Silverman’s ethics of vision points to the importance of taking into account one's own subjective point of view as always already involved in how both love and truth 'happen.'

‘Dear Laylah. We already like the smell of the bonfire, the black coffee, the pita bread, the falafel, the Kaffia and the cactus fruit and we are just about to love you too. Warm big hugs. Gil & Moti.’

Notes

1. For the potential of theatre and theatricality as ‘critical vision machine,’ see my “Theatricality and the Search for an Ethics of Vision” and “Theatre of/or Truth.”
2. Gil & Moti made watercolors of many of these messages, combining them with images after Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. That highly theatrical feature film has many storylines but is, as the main character states at the end, first and foremost a story about love.

Works Cited

Austin, J.L. How to Do Things With Words. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.
Bleeker, Maaike. "Theatricality and the Search for an Ethics of Vision." Performing Arts Journal: MASKA, XXI (winter 2006): 41-45.
———. "Theatre of/or Truth," Performance Paradigm 3: The End of Ethics? Performance, Politics and War (May 2007). Available at HYPERLINK "http://www.performanceparadigm.net" www.performanceparadigm.net.
Bolla, Peter de. “The Visibility of Visuality: Vauxhall Gardens and the Siting of the Viewer.” Vision and Textuality. Eds. Stephen Melville and Bill Readings. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995.
Osborne, Peter and Lynne Segal. “Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler.” Radical Philosophy 67, 1994. Excerpts at HYPERLINK "http://www.theory.org.uk" www.theory.org.uk, accessed August 15, 2007.
Parker, Andrew and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. “Introduction.” Performativity and Performance. Eds. Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. New York and London: Routledge, 1995. 1-18.
Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York and London: Routledge, 1992.
———. The Threshold of the Visible World. New York and London: Routledge, 1996.

 

Publications
Selected Essays
Mariette Dölle- Gil & Moti: Future Line Tours
Catrin Lundqvist- When Personal Becomes Political
Hans Günter Golinski- Who Makes Whom the Minority?
William Easton- Gil & Moti in the Kitchen
Elisabeth Delin Hansen- The Triple Heart
Mariette Dölle- Social Dynamics as Agents for Artistic Practice
Tali Tamir- (Israeli) Artists at Your Service, or In Praise of Exile
Selected Reviews