The Nation's Groves, 2010

Venues: Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv; Carlier Gebauer Gallery, Berlin

The Nation's Groves ("Mataei Hauma") was a government-owned agricultural company that served in the 1950s as a branch of the Zionist enterprise, managing and maintaining the groves, vineyards and lands nationalized following the establishment of the state of Israel. It operated concurrent with the Custodian of Absentees' Assets, with Jewish and Palestinian laborers, until it was incorporated within the JNF in 1960.
 
In a series of photos, videos and scans from private archives, the exhibition focuses on the Israeli forestation project and the work of The Nation's Groves company, while combining historical ethos with individual tales. The exhibition presents a structural, formal and contextual tension between the artificial and the natural, between imitation and origin: a tension
between a culture struggling over its Jewish and democratic identity, and a culture rehabilitating itself in the shadow of plastic Christmas trees.
 
 
 
The video installation Pioneer Tree consists of two video channels screened simultaneously. The first is a one shot portraying KKL-JNF workers, both Jews and Arabs, loading trees onto a truck in preparation for the planting season. The second video channel was shot at several locations throughout Israel during winter 2011, at the beginning of the planting period, including several guided tours organized by KKL-JNF in various forests for the public, free of charge. Pioneer Tree introduces a contextual, aesthetic, and cultural juxtaposition between the Tu B'Shvat (the Jewish New Year for Trees) tree planting and the act of cutting down trees for Christmas, two holidays celebrated around the same time of year; it contrasts national ethos and personal memory, copy and original, natural and artificial. The conversion of the "wilderness" landscapes into pine forests indeed serves as a narrative axis, but at the same time, this "new" landscape represents the passions and desires of different communities. 

Two-channel video installation, 17:23 / 5:48, 2011
 
Some of the land held by the Nation's Groves company was intended for afforestation, and served for the Jewish National Found forests, seen in this panoramic photograph. Guez revisits the JNF forests in a typological series that systematically traces the wooden structures erected as playgrounds within the forests for the welfare of vacationers and their children. Each photograph is centered on a typical structure, simulating a house or a tower standing on wooden stilts, intended for children's amusement: for sliding and climbing. Similar in appearance, these structures are akin to variations on a subject. The eye of the Jewish-Israeli viewer immediately notices their great resemblance to the model underlying the "Tower and Stockade" settlements—settlement points erected overnight throughout the country between 1936-1939 in order to introduce a fait accompli and expand the boundaries of Jewish settlement in the country. The likeness is surprising and ironic considering the so very different purpose, location, and time of the playgrounds, which thus transform, whether consciously or not, from naïve play areas into a metaphor for dispossession and appropriation. One of the photographs in the series portrays a sabra-shaped playground facility on the outskirts of the Ben Shemen forest. The photograph symbolizes the expropriation and Hebraization of the local landscape.
Archival inkjet print, 40*30 cm, 2011.
 
Pine forests abound in Israel and are usually perceived to be part of the country's "natural" landscape. In fact, the Jewish National Fund planted millions of pine trees across thousands of acres, dramatically modifying the terrain, especially after the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. Guez's panoramic view of Ben Shemen Forest, one of the largest national parks in the country, includes two barely discernable Palestinians on horseback.

Color transparency in light box 120 x 300 cm, 2011.
 
The images originate from Guez's ongoing work maintaining the first Christian-Palestinian Archive.  
The Nation's Groves was a government-owned agricultural company intended to manage and maintain the groves, vineyards, and lands of the absentee Palestinians. It was a branch of the Zionist enterprise which operated concurrently with the Custodian of Absentees' Assets and dealt with the transfer of Palestinian agricultural land to the use of the new state: for afforestation, settlement, and agriculture. 
The cognitive dissonance articulated by the series of scanograms may be construed only through their historical-factual context provided by the works' titles. At first sight, the photographs appear like any other photograph of Jewish pioneers and settlers. The Jewish-Israeli viewer is familiar with such images from National History and Heritage lessons: men dressed in khaki clothes and work undershirts staged for a "group photo", planted in the landscape, in a grove or a field, close to the soil, leaning against one another or against their trucks. This vision becomes an absurd drama as one realizes that the images in these photographs were pulled from the photo album of a Christian- Palestinian who, like many others, was forced to rehabilitate his life in a state established after his own property, occupation, and land were taken from him. The company's name, Mataei Hauma (The Nation's Groves), like the title of the series and the exhibition, contains this incomprehensible dissonance: the groves of the new state are no other than the plundered groves of its "absentee" Palestinian inhabitants. 

Scanograms, series of 6 manipulated ready-mades, archival inkjet prints.