(Israeli) Artists at Your Service, or In Praise of Exile
Tali Tamir, chief curator at the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art, Tel-Aviv, an independent curator and art historian.

Published in: Gil & Moti: Available for You, project publication, 2009, Kunsthallen Nikolaj, Copenhagen/TENT., Rotterdam

In his book On Hospitality, Jacques Derrida differentiates between two kinds of hospitality that maintain a relation of tension and opposition to each other – the political and the ethical.

The political tests boundaries, sorts out its guests, checks passersby, demands that they identify themselves before it upon entering the home, the Polis, as opposed to the ethical, which is unconditional: this is the law of the other, the law of otherness. In the ethical order otherness is never tested, the other is not demanded to present his identity, his identification. His acceptance, his allowance of entry, is unconditional. He is always invited.

Available for You, a project carried out by Gil & Moti in Copenhagen in 2008 and in Rotterdam in 2009, occupied the seam between these two kinds of hospitality and seemed like an attempt to bridge the two: introducing themselves to a population of immigrants from Arab countries who live in one neighborhood in Copenhagen and in another in the south of Rotterdam, they identified themselves as Israeli-born artists living in the Netherlands and proceeded to offer themselves as temporary guests, asking their hosts to let them enter their houses and help with the daily house chores. Instead of the regular identification processes that accompany the usual meeting of Palestinians and Israelis, such as the presentation of identification cards and security checkpoints, Gil & Moti drew up different rules: open and unconditional hospitality and full trust. They, for their own part, were up for any request: cooking, shopping, babysitting, housework, painting and the like. They asked for no fee for their services besides the right to document their actions on video for exhibition purposes.

The project continues a series of actions initiated by Gil & Moti since 2003 and targeted specifically at natives of Arab countries, who live, like the two artists, outside of their countries of origin. The pair’s artistic thought was bound up from its inception with the practices of hospitality, even as far back as their 1997 show at the Kibbutz Gallery in Tel-Aviv, in which they transformed the gallery space into a domestic living room and invited the viewers to sit down and watch a film screened on a domestic television set. That film documented a series of visits they made to different houses, during which they gave their hosts cosmetic treatments with green avocado cream… The show outlined the main themes in Gil & Moti’s work, which constantly teases the traditional boundaries between life and art and wishes to obfuscate the line separating the artists’ personal lives and their professional representation. Gil & Moti do not put themselves on a pedestal, ‘artists’ enshrined in the studio-bubble, but initiate a series of quotidian actions that incorporate regular people who have no prior connections to art. They have even transformed their very home in Rotterdam into a gallery, inviting people to come in and watch them… They turned their much-publicized wedding, which consecrated their romantic relationship, into an artistic event, and transferred their bedroom to the Tal Esther Gallery in Tel-Aviv, where they lived for two whole months. They exhibited the same action in galleries in New York, Vienna and Budapest, living in each site for a certain period of time, exposing themselves to the visiting public and its reactions.

The social-conceptual element that underpins Gil & Moti’s series of actions, at first glance seemingly a radical transgression of the traditional aesthetic language of art, is accompanied, paradoxically, by the most Classical of artistic media, namely painting. Both gifted painters and draftsmen, Gil & Moti habitually realize the painterly dimension of their work and surround themselves with paintings. The painterly part does not act as a distinct chapter but is rather naturally integrated into their conceptual practices, and aids in furthering it. So, for example, Gil & Moti submit their suggested projects to prospective galleries and museums not as verbal texts accompanied by a technical sketch, but using a series of vibrant watercolor sketches painted in the most traditional fashion, which envisage future encounters and situations. During the exhibition itself, these pictures adorn the exhibition space, and new paintings documenting the event in real time are added to them. The choice of watercolor painting is perfect for this pair of artists, who adopt the provocative stance of innocence and naïveté. No other technique so vividly brings to mind childlike, bourgeois and traditional painting. In the hands of Gil & Moti, though, these aquarelles are transformed into an imagined, lively “documentation” of their artistic work.

Naïveté, trusting and the lack of any suspicion make up the strategy of Gil & Moti’s actions. This generous innocence acts as performative element, a material meant at melting boundaries and opening hearts, making people change their positions, become engaged and come in contact with each other. Their artistic starting point adopts naïveté as effective provocation against Postmodern cynicism. In a world of war and hostility, of terrorism and murder, Gil & Moti proclaim their full belief in the social role of art and its mission of developing connections between people.

The Danish-Dutch project (2008-2009) completely overturned power relations between Palestinians and Israelis: the Israeli has now offered himself up as the Arab’s menial worker, and the Arab acts as the Israeli’s host, opening up his private living space. But despite the reversal of political roles, Gil & Moti offer assistance between acquaintances: let me help you, give you a hand and lend you a shoulder. This offer of assistance still comes within the framework of an artistic action, but this does not however nullify the real sweat and effort: the two artists lug crates, saw furniture, cook and generally keep up their end of the bargain. Finally they also paint the landscape of Jerusalem crowned with the golden dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque – a landscape painting they encountered in all the houses, shops or offices of the Arab immigrants who consented to take part in the project. The paintings, which accompany the show and appear in its catalogue alongside the artists’ videos, seem to have soaked up Gil & Moti’s spirit of reconciliation: with bright, flowing colors they paint that landscape so near and familiar to both cultures, the ancient landscape of dispute, as if it were a golden palace on the peaceful banks of the Seine.

This magical transformation, which makes us rub our eyes in wonder as we watch two young Israeli men carry boxes of vegetables in the Lebanese greengrocer’s shop, is only made possible through the shifting of all involved from their natural element into foreign spaces. This shift is geographical as well as linguistic: the project itself takes place in English and Dutch, pointing to neutral territory where each of the participants has given up his or her mother tongue. “Language is the homeland”, writes Derrida, “hence it is what all the exiles, foreigners, all the Wandering Jews of the world, carry on the soles of their shoes”, language represents “the house that never leaves us”, but which moves with us wherever we go. Both hosts and guests have given up this private, intimate property – the mother tongue – thus proclaiming that they are outside their natural territory, that they are exiles and foreigners, ready to speak another language. But it is exactly the state of exile and foreignness that allows reciprocal relations between people who, in another part of the world and in different languages, have been at war with each other for many years. The set of rules set up by Gil & Moti makes use of the weakness of territory and language. The foreign space undoes hierarchies of power: no longer landlord and subject, occupier and occupied, just people encountering each other to carry out a specific task.

Especially touching is a moment when the two look after the young children of a Yemenite immigrant in Copenhagen, who declares her hate not of Israelis but rather of cooking. The two artists chivalrously save her the trouble, go shopping with her in the local supermarket, let her leave for her work and continue to make two bubbling pots of meat balls and rice… Like some fairy godmother who just happened to come by. The good smells from the pots intermingle with the animated conversation the lady of the house has with the two artists, a conversation unimaginable under any other circumstance: the Arab woman takes an interest in her Israeli guests, she is curious about them, tickled at her good fortune, and wide-eyed at the two’s innocence: just like that, you’re willing to do anything? The young Arab man who has bought an apartment and engages the artists in its remodeling and the construction of furniture uncovers his most intimate anxieties to them: his lack of any talent for even the simplest of menial housework and his fears of fire or attack. Palestinian consciousness awakens when he asks his Israeli guests to pad his doors with insulating material.

Watching Gil & Moti’s videos proves that art has transformed – if only for a short while – people’s consciousness: see how a flyer passed among members of Arab immigrant communities managed to produce cooperation between Israelis and Arabs, to animate a discussion and plant positive memories that no political negotiations could ever achieve!

Translated by Ishai Mishory
Eli Schonfeld, Introduction, in: Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality (Translated by Daniella Yoel), 2007, Tel-Aviv: Resling, p. 11

The show was curated by the writer, and was the basis for her continuing acquaintance with Gil & Moti’s work.
Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, 2007, Tel-Aviv: Resling, pp. 108-109


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
Maaike Bleeker- Let’s Fall in Love: Staging a Political Marriage
Selected Reviews