In early 2013, The Shpilman Institute for Photography, Tel Aviv, in collaboration with KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the schir Foundation, Berlin, announced Ilit Azoulay as the first recipient of their joint photography residency. Azoulay moved into her studio at KW in June 2013 and used her five-month residency to develop her interest in the archeology of cities.
Azoulay traveled through Germany, collecting and photographing objects and architectural fragments in Berlin, Weimar, Kulmain, Regensburg, Dessau, Bamberg, Brandenburg, Xanten, Potsdam and Halle, as well as in the KW building itself. In some cases, she singled out sites undergoing preservation, while in others she examined buildings that were reconstructed precisely, brick for brick, in accordance with Germany’s restoration laws. She was fascinated by the special character of German preservation laws, archives, and public and governmental institutions as reflecting the country’s mechanisms of inscribing memory and history. Consequently, she undertook the collection of all possible information pertaining to the origin of each and every one of these objects. This meticulous gathering of information became central to the artist’s project in Germany, Shifting Degrees of Certainty. The final work is composed of 85 objects, which Azoulay photographed using a technique similar to scanning, and their stories. It also includes correspondence with monasteries, squat residents, taxidermy experts, plant researchers, building constructors, and lawyers.
The photography technique used in this project is characteristic of Azoulay’s practice. It allows her to juxtapose multiple points of view within a single, digitally composed image. The photographs are accompanied by a sound work which makes both the data gathered and the process of its collection available to the viewers, allowing them insight into the artist’s research process and the historical, personal, and idiosyncratic details it uncovered. Unlike Azoulay’s previous research-based projects – a practice characteristic of her photographic oeuvre – here, the meticulous research behind each image is made part of the work. Consequently, what might seem, at first sight, to be an object-based work reveals itself, through the audio tracks that bring to life a process habitually left behind, as one in which the object is merely the starting point for questions regarding the construction of history and reality, as well as the production of memory and its mechanisms. The presentation of the story as part of the work not only shifts the artistic focus away from the object itself, but also undercuts the certainty of a single perspective, and therefore of a single truth, which is pertinent both to reality and to the photographic medium.
The soundtracks are available to the viewer via an audio-guide device, a traditional semi-didactic museum tool by which facts are often relayed in language typical of research. The information conveyed in Azoulay’s audio tracks encourages the visitors to observe the images, to focus on small details, to stare, to wonder. The stories told are not linear and do not offer a clear perspective. Listening to them, one becomes confused and distrustful. Consequently, one listens more attentively and commences one’s own investigation and inquiry into the images, the audio tracks, even the device itself – putting in question the very transmission of knowledge and the museum as an institution. The language of documentation employed by the soundtracks draws one’s attention to the ways by which history is constructed, determined, organized, and perhaps manipulated.
In her show presenting this project at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, the objects were presented as a theatrical set awaiting a situation or an event. Arriving in the gallery, the large-scale panoramas of Shifting Degrees of Certainty hit the viewers with a sense of reality. However, on approaching the wall on which the individual photographed objects were arranged like a complex puzzle and listening to the soundtracks, one realized that the panoramic images were a mere option, and the objects were composited together to create just a particular version of reality. In this installation, which brings together the aesthetics of the theater with a sense of behind the scenes, one can never be certain of what one is seeing. As the panoramas’ titles convey – Third Option, Fifth Option, Sixth Option, and Seventh Option – Shifting Degrees of Certainty presents options of reality, setting side by side the factual and the fictional, the actual and the possible, the visible and the imaginary. In this nonhierarchical museum installation, where all is possible, the visitors must remains actively engaged in forming their own perspective.