Guy Ben-Ner, Still from Stealing Beauty, 2007, Single channel video DVD,
Courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York
Postmasters Gallery, New York
By Yaelle Amir
Guy Ben-Ner’s third exhibition at Postmasters gallery addresses the weighty topic of ownership in a humorous and playful manner. In the two videos on display, Stealing Beauty and I’d Give it to You if I Could But I Borrowed It, Ben-Ner continues the practice of integrating his family into his work as both a source of inspiration and collaborators. Yet, in contrast to his earlier videos, the current ones portray Ben-Ner assuming an authoritative role, as he directs and guides the family dynamics, rather than isolating himself from it.
In Stealing Beauty, the Ben-Ner family ventures out to IKEA – the Swedish furniture store that preaches the formation of an ‘inspirational living environment,’ and urges its visitors to make themselves at home. Filmed stealthily in the showrooms of various store locations in the outskirts of New York, Berlin and Tel-Aviv, the 18-minute video follows the family through a mostly uninterrupted narrative. As unassuming strangers walk in and out of the frame and price tags dangle from the surrounding furniture—the Ben-Ner family inhabits the spaces seemingly unaffected, as if they were entirely their own.
Guy Ben-Ner, Still from Stealing Beauty, 2007, Single channel video DVD, Courtesy Postmasters Gallery
The main plot commences when the mother, Nava, reports to Ben-Ner that their youngest child Amir was caught stealing at school. An extensive dialogue transpires between Ben-Ner and his children concerning issues of family values, private property and its ownership, as well as the nature of different relationships. All along, Ben-Ner alludes to doctrines of the likes of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in sayings such as “the family stops the property from leaking out” or his clarification of the difference between marriage and the possession of property. This lesson culminates with Elia and Amir’s somewhat detached manifesto in support of thievery. Considering the context within which the narrative unfolds, Ben-Ner’s thoughtful insights are deemed completely futile and hypocritical, while the children’s manifesto emerges as the true voice of the family.
Guy Ben-Ner, Still from I'd give it to you if I could but I borrowed it,
2007, Single channel video DVD, Courtesy Postmasters Gallery
In the back room, the video I’d Give it to You if I Could But I Borrowed It plays on the screens of two stationary bicycles. In order to view the video properly, the visitors are required to mount the bicycles and pedal forward—assuming an active role in advancing the narrative. This work was created originally on the occasion of the Sculpture Projects Münster 07. It is comprised of a range of art historical allusions, which are joined by the over-arching reference to the famous decadal Münster bicycle ride during which riders visit public artworks that are installed throughout the city.
Guy Ben-Ner, Still from I'd give it to you if I could but I borrowed it, 2007, Single channel video DVD,
Courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York
The first portion of the work takes place in a museum gallery that showcases Joseph Beuys’ “Zerstorte Batterie,” Marcel Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel,” Pablo Picasso’s “Bull’s Head,” and Jean Tinguely’s “Cyclograveur.” Realizing they are surrounded by various components of a bicycle – Ben-Ner, Elia, and Amir resolve to dismantle these masterpieces and construct a bicycle of their own. Thus, again we are presented with questions of ownership and ethics, as the family disassembles a seemingly useless but public object, and transforms it into one that is of value and use to them alone. In the second portion of the video, Ben-Ner appropriated Rodney Graham’s “The Phonokinetoscope” (2001), a video and soundtrack that follow the artist taking LSD and biking around Berlin’s Tiergarten. In Ben-Ner’s version, the father and children also dose themselves and ride around Münster with their newly fashioned bicycle to visit different locations.
With humor that echoes the vaudeville tradition, Ben-Ner crafts ironic circumstances from the intersection between everyday dilemmas and moral issues. The educational lesson that Ben-Ner imparts to his son in Stealing Beauty is thus undermined by his own actions in both of the works—resulting in a scrutiny of our own notion of social divisions.
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Yaelle Amir is a writer in New York