Dor Guez, Knowing the Land

Goodman Gallery, London

23 November 2022 – 14 January 2023

Dor Guez is an artist and scholar, who was born in Jerusalem to a Christian-Palestinian family on his mother’s side, and a family of Jewish immigrants on his father’s side. Living and working between Jaffa and New York, he is well-known for his photography, video installations, essays, and lecture-performances that explore the relationship between art, trauma, and displacement. In the past 20 years, his practice has focused on archival materials and photography of the Middle East and North Africa.

The exhibition title ‘Knowing the Land’ refers to Joseph Schwarz, one of the first geographers of Ottoman Palestine. A new series of layered botanic photographs are on display on the ground floor of the gallery. Based on a 1960s guide to flora in Palestine, Guez focuses on plants growing in national borders in the Levant to reflect on how nature is appropriated to create a sense of national identity: “Plants often bear names of cities, countries, and peoples, framing them as ‘Syrian’, ‘Damascene’, ‘Jordanian’, ‘Egyptian’, ‘Persian’, ‘Land of Israel’, ‘Arab’, ‘Palestinian’, ‘Jewish’, and more” says Guez.

The artist’s most recent sculptural series, 90° away from the Sun, 2022, is dispersed throughout the exhibition. On the floor, we can see sliced basalt rocks from the Israel-Syria border which float on a reflective surface that simulates lines on a map. The rock pieces are paired with ancient measuring instruments hanging from the ceiling. The basalt, which is unique to this area, creates a magnetic field that disrupts the functionality of a compass, making it challenging for military forces to navigate the area.

Qalâat Al-Husan, 2022, the centre piece of ‘Knowing the Land’ was filmed in a historical basalt stone-built city, an archaeological site located between Syria and Israel, known as Hippos. Today, access to the site is restricted and has been abandoned, due to minefields left over from past wars. With decreased human activity over the decades, endangered flora and fauna have been able to flourish again. For example, a rare species of bats have set up their roosts in an old military base. The soundtrack of the film is composed from recordings of female bats looking for prey above the basalt city at night. The video opens with a distant panoramic gaze recalling historic colonial images of the Levant. The movement of light and camera throughout the video evokes gun turrets scanning for a target, navigation devices or the frantic commotion of a battlefield.

In close proximity to the film, Guez’s new series of prints, Amid Imperial Grids, 2022, presents negative images of the first modern maps of Palestine dating back to 1885. Guez removed any markers from the maps that label the landscape, including names of roads, towns, mountains, and more. The resulting bright orange and yellow lines look like pulsating blood vessels.

Both Palestinian and Israeli, Guez’s personal background embodies the notion of hybridity, and his work maps the space where several cultures have collided into one. “My work doesn’t aim to prove who is right and who’s wrong. Dichotomous thinking does not interest me” says Guez. “The idea is also to expose narratives which to a certain extent oppose the concept of nationalism.”

Dor Guez’s powerful and visually intriguing exhibition ‘Knowing the Land’ invites audiences to engage in new ways of seeing, knowing, and understanding the complexities of the Middle East today.

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Christine Takengny
Senior Curator

26 Cork Street, London W1S 3ND
Opening Times: Tuesday to Friday 10am to 6pm; Saturday 11am to 4pm
Exhibition open until
14 January 2023