In “A World Apart Within 15 Minutes,” video artist Enas Muthaffar drives through Jewish West Jerusalum asking for directions to Ramallah. Those willing to speak to her provide her with suggestive hand-waves and estimate it will take an hour and a half to reach Ramallah. In truth, it is only a fifteen-minute drive. Muthaffar’s illustration of the gap between mental and physical distance in Israel and Palestine distills the problem presented by “Imaginary Coordinates,” the second show in the Spertus Institute’s gorgeous new exhibition space. “Imaginary Coordinates” uses the Institute’s extensive antique map collection of the Holy Land in conjunction with objects of visual culture and contemporary art to illustrate the way maps of the region represent a taxonomy of political, social, religious and historical demands rather than unified models of coherent nation-states. Works by Yael Bertana, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Michael Rovner and Shirley Shor are deployed effectively by the museum to indicate where art can interrupt or usurp cartography’s “belligerent” geography with a “relational” geography of dispersal, fragmentation and uncertainty—one capable of acknowledging the internal contradictions inherent in all mapping practices. Landau’s “Barbed Hula” is an excruciating video in which the artist’s naked body becomes the contested Israeli-Palestinian landscape reterritorialized continuously by the violence of a barbed-wire hula-hoop. This visceral piece is countered by Shor’s digitized “Landslide,” a constantly moving landscape in which multi-colored “countries” are endlessly split and absorbed by those around them until only one color remains and the process begins again. The Spertus’ seamless presentation of historical and aesthetic materials is a hopeful example of the new institutionalism that such visual and intellectual collaboration represents. (Rachel Furnari)
“Imaginary Coordinates” shows at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, 610 South Michigan, (312)322-1724, through September 7.