images and text by 2014 alum Yael Eban, from the 2015 issue of "All the Best, Alice."
In January 2013 I set up a Google alert for “Abba Eban,” who was my paternal grandfather. That winter, my parents and I began the laborious process of dismantling my grandparents’ home in Israel after the death of my grandmother Suzy in 2011. She was the archetypical diplomat’s wife and an avid art collector. On January 28th I received the first Google alert by email, informing me that there was new web content containing my grandfather’s name. It was as though my grandfather, though long gone, had an active presence on the Internet. Often referred to as the “Voice of Israel,” Abba Eban (1915-2002) was a diplomat and international public figure for many decades. In 1949 he made a seminal speech to the General Assembly that led to Israel’s admission to the United Nations.
General Assembly is the examination of a space that exists between the public and private archives that represent my family history. The online presence of my late grandparents is the anchor for my research. I look for specific images and objects that relate to their lives, and follow this trajectory as it moves from the private sphere into the public, or vice-versa. In doing so, I am investigating the consolidation of various modes of representations, and the impact these different forms have on the historical narratives they describe. All types of images in this project are legitimate and of equal value: a snapshot, a press photograph, a fine art photograph, a newspaper clipping, a screenshot of an eBay receipt. Working with these varied layers of representation, I create visual collages of related imagery that trace photographic threads through space and time.
I am fascinated by the dissemination of images of my grandparents and the objects they owned. I find representations of my family in a variety of contexts—on the Internet, in flea markets, or in my family’s collection. The urge to collect the images I stumble upon and to add them to the ongoing archive is always present. The consequence of this act is a questioning of my own duality as the mostly-American, somewhat-Israeli granddaughter who is expected to carry on an important legacy. As a result of feeling pulled between two places I am denied both identities, and my nostalgia is continuously displaced. This project is a journey of reconciliation between my private heritage and my public persona as artist.
In the piece Jenkins, I begin with one of my original photographs of what is, for my family, an iconic painting by Paul Jenkins from my grandparents’ home. It is shown hanging above furniture and art that are wrapped or boxed with labels, waiting to be dispersed. Next I layer two family snapshots on top of this photograph, in which the same Jenkins piece appears, and use a graphic match to rebuild the forms of poured paint that define the painting. By only using photographs from my personal collection I assert that the value of the image in this assembly is determined by its nostalgic implications rather than its place in the art world; it is the last remaining link to the private family space that exists now only in photographs. Jenkins invites the viewer to question the provenance of the image and how objects are dispersed. It also functions as a portal between the recent past and the projected future; though it contains no web-based content, this piece points forward to other works in the project and to the theme of finding art objects on the Internet via auction.
The experience of following the life of an object from domestic space to virtual space can be seen in Three Sisters. I combine a screenshot of a Sotheby’s auction showcasing a specific piece of art, and a photograph I took with the same piece of art when it was displayed in my grandparents’ home. In my photograph, the artwork later sold at auction is secondary to the main subject—the oil portrait of my grandmother and her two sisters. On the table below sits a small frame containing the same image of the young ladies, and a photograph taken decades later of the three sisters as elderly women. I create another repeated motif by merging the two images through use of the frame: I follow the virtual line used to frame the website and connect it to the frame of the drawing on the left wall. On the right side the white curtains bleed into the white space of the web browser, further emphasizing the paradoxical space between digital and analog realms. I have employed this white space as a visual tool in many of the pieces; as an image disappears into the white, it is unclear where the artwork ends and the virtual space begins. The online presence and the physical presence intersect, and the result is my construction of a liminal space.
In this body of work I ask the viewer to reflect upon the new experience and parameters of the archive and the lives of photographs as objects in a digital age. I deliberately create and explore relationships between the public and the private for viewers, leading them both inside and outside of this construct. In a sense I am presenting visual puzzles; the viewer has to work to follow a thread of information and to put the pieces of presented evidence together. The viewer’s experience echoes my own search and process of discovery. Ultimately, this project acknowledges that I am a part of a family whose representation belongs neither to me, nor to the public. General Assembly is my attempt to comprehend where I sit in this cultural and photographic landscape, both as descendant and as artist.