Ilan Manouach: "What is a proxy?"

Ilan's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017

Possible Languages


Weaving together a handful of narratives across various times and spaces, Ilan Manouach’s lecture performance begins with a personal anecdote. He describes being in a Greek hospital room with an injured knee where he is confronted with maritime art decorating the interior. Just as the text Ilan reads crosses a wide expanse of political issues, geographical spaces and pictorial spaces (the sea, specifically) in painting, the form of Ilan’s lecture performance also refuses a one-dimensional surface reading if only because it is a re-articulation of a previous lecture given in February 2017. It thus arrives within a context defined by something that happened in a specific moment in the past. Crossing the sea as in the text, he touches upon the issue of the delegation of political responsibility, with particular to the current refugee crisis in Greece.

Ray Brassier began by clarifying as to whether the change of the title also signaled that the question had also changed. Understanding that it had, he continued, “the nesting of discourses in the text illustrates the problem of delegation. There is a difficulty in the way in which this piece articulates this problem of the delegation of art’s responsibility.” For Brassier, Ilan’s choice to look at “the role that the sea plays in reactionary ideology in Greece is a questionable framing of the political responsibility” because there is “a danger of slipping into moralistic reading.” Taking a very wide view, he opined that “if you are going to frame the question politically, you have to look at global forces… [it is] dangerous to characterize it as Greek, as though the Greeks were worse than others.” At this moment Ilan interjected “they are”, and Brassier insisted that moralizing is an evasion of political responsibility. “If you moralize a political problem you offer the viewer a way to solve their political conscience. If art is simply representing suffering by resorting to journalistic pedagogy, you are not actually engaging with the political crisis. So this turns out being no different from [publishing] pictures of starving orphans.” Careful to point out that to say that he didn’t think Ilan was doing this, he continued by saying that while the lecture performance focused on question of delegation, he thinks “art has to take intellectual responsibility for political analysis”.

Gabi Ngcobo began by asking, “when was art not political?” Looking at how the South African landscape has also been depicted in painting as an uninhabited place, she continued by saying it is “useful to look at historical paintings because they expose the gaps, also perhaps the gaps of language…[it is] always a question of translation, or the failure of translation.” Commenting directly on the lecture, Ngcobo said “as a lecture itself on this history, it exposes many questions about the sea as a question of power...not only visible through the lens that you provide.” She “appreciated the lens” Ilan provided because it expanded the way of looking at this problem. After all, she said, “the emptiness itself is replaced by something else.”

Rachel O’Reilly was interested in “the topic that wasn’t presented - the slippage between disguise and digest.” Making the observation that this is new work, she commented that she didn’t think Ilan framed it in a way that was easily digestible and that it seemed to be a step away from previous work. This created a “genuine reflexivity here open to a production of ideas that is not entirely self-authorizing...also by recruiting colleagues who are wrestling with similar projects can be productive through the choice of collaboration and listening to each other’s criticism.” Agreeing that there is a slippage around nationalism and blame - particularly on people smuggling, she didn’t think Ilan had unpacked it enough. Asking what it means for a male artist to be a patient, she suggested that this could be more interesting theme to work through “politically speaking - the white male artist and patient who is getting a taste of infrastructure.” The question of artists’ responsibility for the infrastructure in which they are working brought to mind the Sydney biennale boycott and how to “push that politic about infrastructures of care... this is an EU project borrowing from Australian influence and policies.” O’Reilly referred to the work of Lorenzo Pezzani who works with the independent research agency Forensic Architecture based at Goldsmiths, University of London because of how it addresses the infrastructure of different nations’ rescue operations (and their neglect).

Remarking that the lecture performance took a very tactical approach, Bassam el Baroni agreed with Ray Brassier’s position on the moral dimension of identifying Greece as the problem. Speculating about the idea of making a dispersed collection of paintings, el Baroni asked what the function of that would be. “It can only function to expose the existence of bourgeoisie class. Also, the question is: in order for that kind of tactical move to bear fruit it has to dig deeper into notion of collecting itself. I think the political act is not about exposure - it has to go an extra step.”