Artist-in-Residence, Fall 2012

Efrat Kedem’s installation The Reality Show, was on view at the Paul Robeson Center in both the Taplin Gallery and the Digital Media Studio from Oct. 4 – Nov. 21, 2012 as part of the regional collaboration “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society.”

Efrat’s project consisted of surveillance video footage from various sites in Princeton, NJ, displayed in a ten-minute loop feed on video monitors in the context of a security surveillance control room. Kedem, an Israeli artist who is no stranger to the reality of video surveillance, “interrogated” the practice and ethics of surveillance in her installation of cameras that were placed at locations throughout the town of Princeton.

Efrat Kedem was born in 1980 in Jerusalem, Israel, and spent several years creating art in the greater Princeton area. She received her BEdFA (2005) from the Midrasha School of Art and received her MFA (with honors, 2008) from the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design. Efrat’s multidisciplinary body of work is rich and varied and she has exhibited widely in Israel and internationally.

Computer equipment for Efrat Kedem’s installation was provided by the Princeton Public Library. The Arts Council of Princeton’s Artist-in-Residence Program is supported by the Anne Reeves Fund.


The Reality Show Interview by Dan Zeltzer

How did you come up with the idea for this work?
When I moved to Princeton two years ago, I was wandering around town, taking photos. Many views and scenes were very new to me, and had this fresh feeling one has when coming to a new place. I was enchanted, curious, and surprised.

What were you mostly surprised about?
Nothing seemed usual or familiar. Princeton had a very different feel than that of places I was used to. Quiet. Spacious. Spread around. Green. Clean. This encounter has also influenced previous works I did. A work named “Something terrible Happened to Ms. Raven” was a 600 square foot rectangle of synthetic turf, with a whole in the middle breaking through the wooden gallery floor and exposing the concrete underneath. It expressed a response to the perfect lawns, an urge to discover what is beneath this perfection, this tidiness, to intrude this strangely ordered place [in a move analogous maybe to that of the TV series Desperate Housewives], to get to know the place from within. The work reflected both the alienation I felt and the frustration from the impossibility of intrusion, of penetration: after all there’s only so much that could be penetrated before hitting the concrete. In a previous work done here in New Jersey, I installed surveillance cameras in the Montclair Art Museum. I was interested in the simultaneity of capturing different landscapes at once and presenting them next to each other, this manipulation of space by this gaze. (Borges’s The Aleph). A gaze is like a scan of the landscape. The camera’s gaze: my gaze, looking as a foreigner, a newcomer, a stranger. I also like the classification element of this work, almost like an archival work. My initial intention was to use surveillance cameras, to install them in various locations and let them foot the nothingness that happen in front of them, and then sample parts of the footage and combine it to become one work. When this turned out impossible (due to privacy concerns of the places I had contacted), I decided to instead fake it: to imitate the footage of a surveillance camera using my regular video camera. I positioned my camera on a tripod in various locations and moved away from it for a while, letting it capture whatever was there, without controlling or interfering directly. I find this development of the work process interesting, and it definitely resonated with past experiences I had in my work: I often start from one idea, but the conditions of the work, and unexpected constraints, force me to change it, leading me to completely new places, and new ideas. Sometimes the most interesting things happen due to the unexpected (here the unexpected doubles itself: from surveillance to video, and the unexpected footage of both). The notion that my ideas sometimes have a life of their own, and can lead me to places I didn’t plan on going to, keeps surprising me. In the current case, I think the freedom that was given to me when I was going out with the regular camera is blessed, as I could reach certain places that captivated and enchanted me before, at the time just after I first got here. I am not sure I would have been able to do that with surveillance cameras, which are usually constrained to buildings, to the power grid, etc.

How did you choose the places?
I did not. I mean—not consciously, not in advance. I was wandering around. When something or someplace caught my eye, I placed the camera. I did not plan the angles, only intuitively. Ironically, I may say I did try to make it look unplanned: nonchalant, not dramatic, and not technically “correct” (lighting, composition, etc.) brings to mind dogma. I think of this type of photography as more like testimony or evidence, and less like documentation or surveillance. A testimony is mostly unintentional, by witnesses who just happens to be there, whereas surveillance and documentation are inherently intentional. I tried to film ten minutes at a time (brings to mind writing under constraints, like OuLiPo), but I have not edited the materials. That is, apart from technical editing, like adjusting the footage to the monitor proportions, or combining several videos into a single, control-room like frame.

What is the subject of this work?
Princeton; the gaze; foreign eyes watching from the outside; simultaneity of spaces. More generally, it also deals with beat, and volume, and this great diversity of tempos and occurrences across spaces.

What is the object of the look? What do the foreign eyes see?
The object is also Princeton, but also the camera, or photography, or the look itself. Princeton is a specific choice, but it is not the only possible one. The same work could work in different spaces.

What are the sources of inspiration?
The place: Princeton. My life situation as a foreigner, looking from the outside. Personal photo albums of mine, with pictures of places in Princeton, like Harrison Street. My experiences from encounters with people in the United States. There is something inaccessible to me in people here, probably due to cultural differences, language barriers, and my status as a foreigner. This is very dominant in my life here, and is maybe expressed in this work: it presents a look, a series of looks, or gazes, which try to blend in, but are stuck; keep trying unsuccessfully.

Is this work related to Israel?
Not exclusively. Surveillance is not unique to the Israeli context. Surveillance cameras are everywhere: in Palmer Square as in Times Square, on campus, outside of every bank. In Israel they are also related to national security, but in the current work, the first association surveillance has for me is simply that of watching, of observing. But I am aware of the connotations, the associations that come to mind: the viewer is reminded that he or she is being watched, is under surveillance. Nowadays the viewer is also watching others, surveying and documenting them: with smart phones, everyone is documenting. Like those kids who obsessively document everything they do and post it on social networks. But not only them: we are all doing it more than we used to. Take, for example, reality shows. They are so common. Their purpose, their essence is voyeurism, watching, spying on others from the outside. This dominant part in our culture has inspired me in this work.

Another thing worth noting is that this work will have a different interpretation, and carry different connotations, if presented (and clearly if it would have been filmed) elsewhere. Its exact meaning depends on the context: in Tel-Aviv the associations are more likely to be related to the geopolitical situation and to national security, in contrast to, say, Manhattan, where they are more likely to be related to privacy and the contrast between private and public spaces.
This work also goes back to the search of the Object in art. One could come up with a story, a narrative to tell. But this is unnecessary: the place presents itself better than any single narrative. And maybe the plurality and the foreignness is my narrative.