Project Description

Part of group exhibition, ‘High Heels in the Sand’, Curator: Revital Ben-Asher Peretz

Petach-Tikva Museum, 2005

from the text: High Heels in the Sand Trafficking in Women in Israel / Revital Ben-Asher Peretz

…….Meirav Heiman and Yossi Ben-Shoshan present a staged photograph, Backstage: women trafficking in Israel, class of 2005. The site is the make-up/waiting room for a TV talk show. A moment before going on air, the guests are attending to their appearance – are they properly made-up, are their outfits nice – and the issues that had brought them there are pushed aside. The photograph ostensibly documents a “backstage” scene, placing it on the stage. Heiman and Ben-Shoshan created stereotypes of “role players” in the world of women trafficking, who foster it and follow its rules: trafficked women, policemen, lawyers, judges, politicians, customers and traffickers; and the pimp shall lie down with the judge, the prostitute with the politician, the policeman with the john – and it isn’t always clear who is who. This breach of boundaries questions, of course, reality beyond the studio walls. In the dispute between reality and artistic narrative, the confusion is exacerbated: some of the photographed figures are professionals, lawyers as well as ex-pimps, who pretended in this production to be actors playing roles that correspond to their actual lives.

Also emphasizing the glorification of external beauty, a series of photographs portrays men holding female lingerie and shoes. They stand in line, as if straight out of a catalogue of Roman Caesars or a gay magazine, in masculine poses, advertising and displaying themselves, allowing the viewer to examine every wrinkle and muscle in their bodies. It is difficult to escape a judgmental viewpoint that stems from social classifications, definitions and categorizations. The female “present absence” is stressed vis-à-vis male corporeal presence. Even when holding a negligee and a soft bra, the male is in a position of power and the female image becomes wrinkled like satin-and-lace skin on his proffered hand. And yet, at the same time, he is presented like an inanimate clothes stand, and in some of the photos looks like a domesticated, at times pitiful, animal.

In the installation Get Lost, Heiman and Ben-Shoshan invite the active viewer into a long, dark corridor saturated with the mustiness of solitary confinement. A video is screened in the corner: the same social grouping from the group photo Backstage appears in A Birthday – presenting the celebration of an individual’s existence, a symbol of love and social acceptance, as a forced, pathetic gesture. The act of raising the celebrator on a chair turns violent, simulating a rhythmic coital movement that ends in the disappearance of the girl in the celebrating crowd.

The walk along the corridor is accompanied by sounds of a busy street. Slowly the place becomes clear: a basement, above which urban life runs; a sense of gutter-like suffocation and confinement. Through peep holes in the wall, the video “habitat” of a street section can be seen. A girl in a short mini-skirt walks unhurriedly back and forth. Her footsteps are hesitant, her feet convey bewilderment. The peeking audience is locked in the basement while she cruises the street freely. We witness the lower half of her body, practically looking into her panties, watching her covertly from below. The sense of excessive proximity to her body is both sensual and repulsive. There is doubt regarding her occupation; is every woman standing on a street corner to be suspected of prostitution? Standing in a specific place, in a particular pose, wearing revealing clothes, heavy make-up, perfume – are all these signs of prostitution? Questions dealing with the representation of the body on the uncertain boundary between fashion and prostitution recur in all of Heiman and Ben-Shoshan’s works, engaging in an intense dialogue between reality and its representation.

At the end of the corridor, the animated movie bordel is screened: movement, to the sound of a heavily walking man, along a dark corridor with sensually, temptingly textured walls, and entry into the mysteries of femininity – an enticing vagina dentata, a never-ending hellish torment.