Herman Asselberghs, Belgian artist and art critic born in 1962, lives and works in Brussels.  He writes about audiovisual culture and teaches in the Department of Cinema at the Saint Lukas School in Brussels.  His work interrogates and revises expectations regarding the relations of image and sound as well as visual poetics and political activism.  His installations have been exhibited at the Tate Modern; Centre Pompidou, Paris; documenta X, Kassel; Deitch Projects, New York; CGAC, Santiago de Compostela and throughout Europe.   He is a founding member of the Brussels unique production platform Auguste Orts.

Herman Asselberghs stayed at the JCVA over three weeks during March and April of 2014.  Having visited in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza in 2002 on an artists' exchange program, he came ready to expand and deepen his artistic and political understanding of the local scene.  With this in mind, he met with the Belgian Consul, Jan De Pauw, with Robi Damelin of the Parents' Circle from the Forum of Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families, and with Shahar Fisher, a writer, educator and activist in Jerusalem. The latter was intensely involved with the Summer 2011 protests here, and as such he could offer a thoroughly informed view of the city's complex issues.  Asselberghs visited Hebron and Bethlehem as well, for an even wider view.

In Tel Aviv, he met with Yigal Shtaim, painter and activist who is the founder of the Levinsky Soup Kitchen (with Orly Feldheim), which has been feeding and in other ways supporting thousands of African refugees who have no legal status in Israel.

Asselberghs' stay naturally included many art destinations as well. He met with Miki Kratzman, head of the Photography Department at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, with Dr. Vered Maimon, coordinator of Photography in the Art History Department at Tel Aviv University, as well as with two photographers from ActiveStills, a collective devoted to advancing social and political change.  As art and politics are intertwined for Asselberghs and for many of the artists he was most interested in, he took the opportunity to join Kartzman in a demonstration in the occupied territories, an experience he found strongly enlightening despite his in-depth familiarity with the context.

During his stay, he gave a well-attended lecture at the Bezalel Academy of Art MFA program in Tel Aviv, whose title sums up the questions that preoccupy many radical artists in Israel, and Asselberghs' own offering: Can a Poetical Gesture Become a Political One?


Dear Steve, 2010

Over this 45-minute video, a man, possibly a technician, slowly and precisely disassembles a new MacBook Pro laptop.  The man works in perfect silence and maintains a spotless, orderly environment more characteristic of "clean manufacturing" and assembly lines than of the sites where machines are dismantled.

As the video progresses, the silent work is accompanied by a voice-over reciting a missive to "Dear Steve."  The letter -- the video's main sound track -- frames a detailed discussion of the computer's component parts as a personal note, which refers to "Steve's" preferences and choices regarding these components.  As the materials used, the locations where they are found and shipped from, and other aspects of the production process are thoroughly detailed, viewers can recognize "Steve" to be Steve Jobs, Apple's legendary co-founder and the designer behind the MacBook Pro (In 2008, when unveiling a new version of the laptop, Jobs described it as "exceptionally beautiful on the outside, but also on the inside.")

The letter's text unravels the globalized economy and breaks it down to the specifics involved in assembling the personal computer using parts and labor from all over the planet.  A sharp and mutually complementary opposition between this text and the physical dismantling of the machine builds up the tension as we watch.  At another level, the video highlights the materiality of the laptop – our gateway to almost infinite virtual worlds.

The voice-over can be perceived as obsessive, provocative inner thoughts, or as a precise manifesto that unfolds global production and consumption processes.  As soon as the voice-over is complete, we hear a loud industrial fan melting the glue holding together the final components of the laptop, an image that suggests the potential breakdown of the entire Western economy.  In this way, the laptop functions simultaneously as a literal microcosm of global political economies and a symbolic one.  

The exceptionally lucid and stark visual effects Asselberghs employs, and the delicate balance maintained between sound, text and image, create a meditative, reflective space for the viewer and challenge familiar bounds between film genres.  The choreographed surgery performed on the machine is synchronized with the text (in Flemish, another distancing technique), so that the video is experienced as artistic and experimental.  With its own elegant fascination with the beautiful, complex, desirable machine, the video thus frees the documentary of its conventional role and structure.  Asselberghs' film on the laptop, a device commonly used for addressing others, is itself a mode of address; the work is then both descriptive and performative, a kind of grand email to Jobs about the conditions underlying our reliance on laptops, cc everyone who cares to listen.

After Empire, 2010

Video, 16:9, English spoken, 52'

After Empire is a video that offers an alternative constitutive moment for our recent history, as a substitute for 9/11, when the Twin Towers in New York were demolished by two kidnapped planes in an Islamic terror attack.  Asselberghs offers us instead 15/2, that is the 15th of February, 2003, when 30 million people the globe-over protested against the US plan to assault Iraq as part of "the war on terror."  This was the largest set of protest demonstrations since the Vietnam War, and the largest protest we know of ever.  Though the war did indeed ensue, the demonstrations can be seen as a different, inherently empowering iconic moment for the new century and third millennium.

The video's narrative hangs on the stories of several figures who discuss "15/2" as though it was indeed an historical turning point.  As they speak, we see dark, clouded images of the actual protests, but these are treated as the story-tellers' personal flashbacks and approached with various cinematic manipulations associated with fictional films.  This personal  and fictional approach is enhanced by the use of general, suggestive and universal terms for the geographical areas in question, such as "the desert" (for Iraq), "the territories" (for Palestine) and "the empire" for the US and Europe.  These strategies create a transformation wherein the historical, documentary materials are experienced simultaneously as journalism and as fiction.

As a result of this fresh approach, the artist's role, too, is rejuvenated: neither imaginative dreamer, nor conscientious witness, he becomes an active participant in history whose creativity is harnessed not only to advance but to invent modes of social change.