Ella Littwitz: If everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place / 15 September - 29 October 2022
Copperfield, London is pleased to present the second UK solo exhibition by Ella Littwitz (b.1982 Haifa). As the title suggests the exhibition builds on her past examinations of such seemingly innocuous items as plants and rocks, revealed to be highly meaningful and often divisive in the hands of humans concerned with territory. Here herbology is supplemented with ropes, buoys, barrels and markers in unusual and intriguing formations, but there is not a barbed wire twist in sight and as ever there is nothing inherently political about the scene. Navigating highly polarised and often dangerously oversimplified subjects, Littwitz’ subtlety is her greatest strength. There is little room for haste in subtlety.
Five separate worn pieces of rope make lyrical loops across the wall with flotation buoys still clutching them at regular intervals. The only thing that points to their origin, is a small framed extract from the Jordanian and Israeli peace treaty. Politics, politicians and nation states would have it that borders are fixed, absolute and unquestionable but the currents of this river know better. The framed text reads, “This line is the administrative boundary between Jordan and the territory which came under Israeli Military government control in 1967. Any treatment of this line shall be without prejudice to the status of that territory”. The sheer human absurdity of a floating militarised border can only be compounded by the fact that various locations either side of the river near Qasr el Yahud – or Bethabara – are proclaimed to be the baptism site of Christ. Not only does the border line change at the whim of nature, but the land itself shifts in tectonic movements along the “Great Rift Valley” creating one of the most loaded and complicated intersections of landmasses, peoples, politics, and religions on earth, and the geographical centre of this exhibition.
After Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the area along the bank known as the Land of Monasteries was deemed “prone to terrorist infiltration” and set with landmines. The ground shifts so much and is so unstable that in trying to control the border, they lost control of the land; since the mines are no longer in the locations on their maps. Largely reclaimed and disrupted by natural forces the area stands as a sort of monument to the impotence of human politics and the constant desire of humanity to define limitations that nature ignores and obliterates.
Faded red triangles that were once landmine warning signs, have been removed by Littwitz who has drawn glimpses of the plant Arabidopsis Thaliana on each. While nature often thwarts human agendas, humanity has also put it to task. This plant has been genetically engineered to detect mines in the soil by changing its colour from green to red and hence the title Semiology of the Underground. Another plant protruding from the gallery floor, Autonomous, is a slender stem that on closer inspection is cast from bronze. Unusually, the level of detail achieved here destroys the mould in the process, allowing only one work to be made. The Drimia Maritima (also known as sea squill) has a strong root system and is toxic to the touch making it an unappealing task to remove; likely the reason that it has been used by Arabs and Jews for centuries to delineate land boundaries. This practice is described in the Bible (Genesis 23:17) where the plants were used by Joshua to delineate the land of Canaan. More than a physical barrier, these herbaceous dividers are markers in the legal separation of land and so often are subtly but intrinsically loaded.
When plants are not put to work governing borders, people have often reached for the closest thing to hand. These delicately punctuated, almost filigreed barrels were used to mark the limits of military shooting ranges. Intended to define both safe and unsafe spaces, rules, and to allow the rehearsal of war, their use has almost obliterated them out of existence. Drawn from the Paradox of Place, one of the several paradoxes attributed to Zeno by Aristotle, their title raises the ultimate question of the exhibition, what really is “a place” and how, why, and by whom is it defined.
All at Sea extends this proposition, the title coming from a seafaring term for a state of confusion and chaos. The work uses a phenomenon called paleomagnetism, for which basalt stones lock in a record of the Earth’s magnetic north as it was at the time of their formation, thousands of years ago. Littwitz places a compass on each basalt stone, forcing it to point to a historic north, then turning the two rocks and their compasses into apparent conflict.
Cracked and detached fragments of sun-baked soil crust are cast by Littwitz to remain bound together in bronze and titled Facts on the Ground. The phrase describes geopolitical circumstances under international law where a state de facto settles on land but is not recognized in law. This expression is often used for the Israeli settlement policy in the occupied areas of Palestine.
The final work, Edith, comprises two images of the “Lot’s wife”, a geographical phenomenon that connects the mythological with the tangible. According to the Bible (Genesis 19) Lot’s Wife - in some writings called Edith – was turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Standing on Mount Sodom today a sizeable pillar of salt has been given the name due to its figurative appearance The doubled image that composes this work is made with a highly accurate drone scan of the column, allowing these two “Lot’s wives” to face each other, with one looking back in biblical accordance. The other one therefore looks “forward”, away from past destruction and genocide and into the future.
The exhibition runs 15 September Wed - Sat, 12 - 6pm
until 29 October 2022
For the artists CV and more information please click here