On Ran Slavin’s Ursulimum / by Naomi Aviv
A gaze spins slowly in a gradually penetrated gilded architectonic space. A sequence of geometric models self-replicates and expands, like a sunny supernova, into an ornamental spectacle of a temple or a spiritual site.?Images solidify into heavy, spiritual, medieval, gothic symbols. A soft soundtrack emerges from afar and gradually intensifies. A thin ding-dong of bells merges with the calls of a muezzin, absorbing growls that echo in spaces whose size is difficult to estimate. A gleaming colliery of objects that burn in the light like a hidden treasure of jewels and gems. “Ursulimum”.
Since the 1980s, Ran Slavin’s visual-musical bent has been gradually honed into what can be called “tourism in the third domain”. A semi-scientific semi-religious crusade to what may be either a futuristic reality or a primeval dream.?A journey aimed at exploring the secrets of the collective memory of a place which is at once site and space, consciousness and time, sound and image, reality and fiction. The intended, though always breathtaking vagueness, results from a work of digital composition that stitches together the mythic and the magical, the historical and the esoteric, the factual and the speculative, the archaic and the science-fictional.
Most of Slavin’s projects suggest a kind of intuitive hovering that simultaneously records and broadcasts, receives and transmits sights and signs and a sea of signals seemingly sent from stars whose light continues to shine millions of light years after having been extinguished. What is revealed in his works is often mediated for us by a heavenly creature – a bird, a pilot, an astronaut, an alien or a seraph, a kind of angel or winged cherub who plays the role of a reflexive flaneur – a kind of intergalactic Walter Benjamin. Slavin – an active musician, a thriving artist and a skilled video editor – also comes across as a conspiratorial narrator who is no older than the alien who invades his latest work, “Ursulimum”. As a narrator he also seems to have long been filling the shoes of the Swiss writer Erich von Däniken (“Chariots of the Gods”), who in the name of modesty claims that human civilization began in the wake of a visit to Earth by aliens more intelligent than us.
About a decade ago we became acquainted with a new definition for art that is being made today, in the age of surfing in virtual spaces. Relation Art is the name given by the French curator and critic Nicolas Bourriaud to the new aesthetic with which Slavin can also be associated; an aesthetic which takes form under the influence of the technological frenzy attached to the ever-more-advanced means of communication. These contemporary technologies are capable of launching us at the stroke of an application into anonymous spaces, summoning for us all kinds of organic yet bodyless encounters that hold the potential of a relationship or a relatedness. Bourriaud insists that what is common to these artists is the desire to communicate through the artificiality of the traditional channels of time and space – be they physical or institutional. Whether the internet reports to us about activities related to this trend, or whether the internet is used as a form of “plotting” or plot-creating act – speaking about this art is as elusive as its products, which are mostly inspired by photography and cinema, and are based on a screenplay, on writing and language, on various models for weaving a plot or telling a story which is, primarily, a material with wonderful plastic visual potential.
Exhibitions that deal with what is called Relation Art and artists who are called Relationists (to relate – etymologically to recount, to tell) use computers and cameras in order to rummage disorientedly in a past buried in the depths of the cybernetic archives. Twenty-first century Aporia. These artists tame ancient storytelling practices, reviving legends and strewing them with findings from inquiries into events that occurred or did not, sailing on their elusive backs towards a sublime utopia. Slavin joins these romantic storytellers’ return to the adventure novel, while being aware of and amused by the stereotypes which form an inseparable part of the narrative process.
Beyond the plot, which often tends towards the exotic, the nostalgic and the picturesque, it seems that what motivates Slavin is the search for the new or renewed sublime, or the attempt to establish a post-colonial cosmic justice before which we shall all stand agape with amazement: “the step towards the beyond” as a political, social, aesthetic, longed-for and unifying experience.
In “Ursulimum”, his latest work, Slavin’s style soars to an aesthetic peak. His favorite topics are combined into a dense and glowing recital. Visual and auditory landscapes carry the viewer to speculative regions of history-archaeology and science-fiction. Detective puzzles gape open in the depths, panoramic labyrinths peer out from among gilded architectonic structures, canals and corridors are organized into elusive ornamental patterns of an unknown tribe and are caught by an electronic eye launched from somewhere in space and somewhere in the pre-biblical past. It is a breathtaking vision that was apparently buried under the Old City of Jerusalem and is exposed here for the first time.
The vision is ascribed by Slavin to a curious 7-year old boy, perhaps a robot, who lands on the Temple Mount wrapped up and insulated in an astronaut’s suit. There, under the site sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the gaze of the angelic boy scans vast and bizarre underground structures, and he starts moving among sacred relics and altars of an unknown civilization, architectonic machines and mutated futuristic sites. “Ursulimum” refers to the first mention in Egyptian?scriptures of the Old City, which was perhaps built more than 3,000 years ago, but who can count the number of times it has been besieged, attacked, conquered and laid to waste. For the sake of this film Slavin, equipped with a video camera and a sonar sensitivity, made several nocturnal visits to the dark city, based on the assumption that every ruler who conquered Jerusalem built new streets on top of the old ones, and that every excavation reveals another layer.?The film’s plot introduces the cherubic astronaut to a breach near the Well of Souls under the Dome of the Rock – through which he reaches kaleidoscopic sights and electrifying patterns hundreds of meters below ground, wandering in magnetic fields which are none other than machines or nano-particles captured by a huge particle accelerator which turns out to be the secretly built Third Temple.
When the boy arrives at the flickering centre of the Temple, which is none other than the vast accelerator, he opens his helmet for the first time and reveals that he is blindfolded and is now doomed to walk in the dark and carefully?feel his way around a foreign reality and in soundscapes of growling machines.
The soundtrack also functions as a temple, a space that allows audio surprises to break through, background rustles of large undefined spaces to reverberate, and as yet unmarked territories to appear. The layered sound acquiesces to Slavin’s defamiliarisation of the steam- and heat-stricken visual data, tying them together; they too undergo countless processing measures that expropriate and distance them from the origin, simulating a planetary, alternative, experimental journey. A journey designed to place reality within different proportions and enable a new and beautiful view of the “temple” situated in a place as contentious and as hallucinatory as Jerusalem.
Cast: Yonathan Gilad
With sounds by Sinu Spiral/ERH, Than Van Nispen, Herbert Boland, Kim Burgess,
Fectoper, Dyenstikker, Gy2hor, Cormi, Suonho, R.Humphries, Rodcencko, Poised to Glitch, Ran Slavin
Sound Mastering Miguel Carvalhais
Supported by The New Fund for Cinema and Television
Director/director of photography/editor/post production/sound designer Ran Slavin
References and research:
Second temple plan:
References and research: