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Ruth Novaczek

By Alia Syed

1. This Self Does Not Eat Shellfish

In the image is revealed the deserted layers of our time which bury our own phantoms. (Deleuze 1989,P244)

Ruth Novaczek's video pieces transgress. Boundaries of Identity continually reform within an incessant desire to find the way. Post Modern Kitsch melts down within a very traditional Jewish kabbalistic yearning to find Yahweh, but Zion is always elsewhere. Beyond.

Her videos map out a very personal landscape, encompassing lesbian rites of passage, the rights and wrongs of Israel, and being in and outside of love. Punk Rock grows up, Woody Allen meets Maya Deren, and Marilyn Monroe becomes Jewish. The French resistance is interrogated on the psychiatrists couch by a Jewish princess.

2. Tea Leaf

Novaczeks first piece 'Tea Leaf' was completed in 1986 within the film department of the then St Martins School of Art where her immediate contemporaries were, among others, Sandra Lahire and Isaac Julien.

It was at a time when various movements came to a fore, creating a wave of young filmmakers from diverse backgrounds, empowered to rigorously explode not only their own identity and representation, but also react against the perceived classical Avant Garde and filmmakers such as Malcolm Le Grice and Peter Gidal. Accepted film forms and forms of being in the guise of identity politics, took on a new life.

Shot in London, originated on super 8 colour and re-filmed from two projectors creating various super impositions, images of Chinese New Year transmute into the ghosts of a European Jewry celebrating, calling, hollering to the camera, beckoning not only to us, but the maker too, to answer, What or who is a Jew?

'Tea Leaf' takes the form of a confession to her new lover "We started off as friends and then we recognised something else" A raw cacophony of klezmer, Yiddish wedding music and 'Sister Nancy', a "toaster" or roots reggae artist who pre-dated 80's rap music, underscores the voice over which combines the painful memory of an abusive lesbian experience with an almost playful analysis of First Love. It is this tension between play and pain - the pain of play within the psychology of both individual and collective abuse that underscores this first and much of her subsequent work.

There is a sense in Novazceks work of continual movement. Her camera never rests. The end of one film marks the logic of the next creating a context that Novazcek constructs around her own iconography. Motifs build, images are often blurred, the video image degraded in a way that recalls the materialism of a generation of filmmakers that Novaczek positions her self against. What begins in her first work as philosophical reference, the "Khismet"(fate) contained within the swirl of a teacup transfers into her later work as an integral part of her aesthetic.

3. Documenting Spaces

Novazcek continually collapses geographical space and time in her work, we are constantly reminded of the inter-relationships between places, people and cultures.

Each metropolis holds within it a microcosm of another: Novaczek jumps with ease from London to Paris to Tel Aviv to New York. The body of works reflect historic moments both personal and cultural. " We understand ourselves through stories that are handed down ...but also ones that we invent for ourselves". Alia Syed ('Newcross to Hoxton' 11/02 FilmWaves Art in Sight).

Novaczek performs in some way in all her films up until 1998. 'Cheap Philosophy' was made in 1993 entirely on video as a series of soliloquys to camera. In this play to camera she presents us with a series of stereotypes using various wigs, dresses and gestures. Ruth's Jewishness, her obsession with meaning and love, becomes a comment on love and sex in post Aids Thatcherite England.The characters represent stories already known to us; icons. The strength of the piece lies in how these icons break down, it's a comedy of errors, the fissures in each reveal not so much the films failure but the failure of modernism to grapple with the gaping hole it left by murdering God. The conviction with which it holds its own rationality is blinding.

"They came dreaming"(Ruth) From 1992 until 95 when, he was assassinated, by an Israeli right wing student, Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister of Israel. In 1994 Arafat, Peres, and Rabin were awarded the Nobel Peace Price, it was a time of hope for peace. Novaczek made 'Talk Israel'. Novaczek interviews a disparate group of Israelis from an old Indian couple living (unhappily) on a kibbutz to a trendy gay couple who announce 'Israel is a ghetto. Most of the people came from ghettos.' Through her sense of humour, use of music and editing Novaczek manages to unravel and break the perceived hegemony of Israeli mono-culture Her work also has a very wry sense of humour. A man, Alberto, dances, to Dana International the Israeli transexual who won the Eurovision song contest, Alberto camps it up like some fictional "levantine lush" he is framed in front of a counter full of pickles "Tel Aviv is good for pickles" says the camera operator (Novaczek). The counter becomes a stage and Alberto performs, this staging contextualizes the other stories; people become characters, talking about their dreams, the myths that have created this land. We become aware not only of the mythical homeland of Israel but the mythical nature of all Homelands. Alberto's eloquence comes from his dance, his silence, his vibrant re-interpretation of gesture, rhythm and myth encompassing both sides of the Semitic wedding tradition. His hands dance around the frame in the same way that the truth of each persons story helps to re - frame the promise of this very unboundaried land.

4. Landlove

From 1990 until 96 Novaczek's work concentrates on the dual notions of love and belonging.

The axis of the films evolve around the relationships between women, their exile is not only the exile from the homeland but also their own continual exile from love. "I was born from ashes the ashes of a people .....those who escaped were not necessarily saved"

In 1996 prior to joining Central St Martins Novaczek made 'Cactus Babylon', she also studied for a Masters in a Rabbinical College for one term. The first image in 'Cactus Babylon' is of Herschel Grynszpan a Polish Jew who, in 1938 in Paris after hearing of his family's deportation, shot dead the German Ambassador - this act precipitated the Nazis worst pogroms.

The films become increasingly dense, the pinnacle being 'Cactus Babylon'. New York becomes "Babil" As in all of her work the video images are degraded by refilming, usually from a TV monitor whilst experimenting with colour and contrast. The images become almost unrecognisable transforming into textures with a tonal rhythm. The rhythm holds a dialogue akin to scatting in jazz. Two women talk, another drinks incessantly, the frame of her body the video frame - a grey expanse of sea stretches out towards us, the greyness of the sea blurring into the greyness of the sky - words become stones that never fill the void. A skull haunts the memory of the film as do the police, walking, marching incessantly towards us, but this is no police state this is America - New York - the land of the free.

The Notion of Scatting is further developed in Ruth's most recent works, 'Series 1 and 2'. Rhythmical components are built between sound and image equally, Novaczeks deft editing holding the elements into a musical whole that takes the notion of the Pop video into a different realm, each piece is no longer than a classic pop song. In 1.3 a voice synchronised with the movement of a torso turning against a wall covered in mosaic tiles commands "Turn".

This is underscored with the line "Staggering forward looking over my shoulder". What do we see? We are shown a group of Romanian refugees approaching the Gare du Nord train station in modern day Paris, but we see a group of Jewish refugees, heads covered in scarfs carrying suit cases that are too heavy for them. Turn. Staggering forward, we are confronted with our past both on an individual and political level. The piece is simple, the schism between perception, memory and image eloquently augmented. The place Novaczek depicts exists more in our imagination than in reality but the people are real - so how do we - can we move forward ? TURN.

4. Lovething

Drive she said.

If Novaczek's work is a document of her life it is also a testament to her friendships. She tends to work very closely with the women in her films, each person taking on a character that Ruth explores in different situations, each film exploring different aspects of love, place becoming as much of an emotional space as a geographical point. 'Drive She Said' is an intimate portrait of two women. The journey is an evocative collage of places to the music of Rachid Taha. Novaczeks voice over revolves around the lines "Life is full of roads, and roads never end…., drive she said, just drive, drive to the end of the road and roads that have no end" The lines become another rhythm syncopating the sound track. This mantra pre- empts her later work in many ways; roads become films, images, shapes, feelings, sounds. Nothing is given, each piece becomes a map, an emotional pin point that we are invited to negotiate. Novaczek strives to hold herself within her work, her images are not so much perceived as felt, their caress lingers. In "love thing" the shape of a mouth blends into the shadow of a hill the colour and shape degraded to such an extent the shapes become interchangeable. The glinting of silver rings - passion - a moment passing. The camera seems to feel its way through the images almost like a hand passing through the fabric of a lovers clothing.

As in all of the 1and 2 series the structure of I.4 pivots around one central image. In I.4 it is the inside of an empty New York Tube carriage and the line "I thought this was a love story" We see urban images of New York in stark contrast to the Sinai desert, (where Moses received the commandments), then a cup of coffee, then the camera swirls, revealing abstracted images of tube stations, the face of a woman looking back at us through the crowd 'get me out of here' The voice-over could almost be lines from a John Cassavetes film (he was a seminal influence). Novaczek superimposes the body of a woman , hips gently swaying, her frame silhouetted by her white shirt onto scripture from the Torah. We slowly discern words, "destruction of the temple" but what temple is she referring to? The body, the promised land, the temple in Jerusalem? "These days things are coded in cynicism. shelf lifed, bar coded, lost in translation" The journey has yet to end. The promise of love, meaning - something - still eludes us, nothing is sacred.

5. End

The 1and 2 series was conceived in relation to pop songs that would be equally at home within the context of gallery or cinema.

They work as visual poems reminiscent of Haiku, each possessing the discipline of structure and content within one formal entity. Novaczek talks about a wall of sound, but these works are not impenetrable, there is a sharpness of observation that in previous works occasionally gets lost within the plenitude of material. In these works elements become discernible as colours within a mass of pebbles or bricks in a wall, meaning builds through association and rhythm, when placed in the gallery the inherent resonance of each piece builds further.

With the advent of computer editing sound can be sampled in much the same way as an image. Novaczek is able to tease out elements from her mass of material to isolate and remould. Her incessant camera movement and eclectic use of imagery is woven into new forms through digital technology. The ease and speed this new technology offers often results in work that is over long and formless. However, Novaczek seems to have arrived - the technology giving her a confidence and access to pin point her concerns with a formal and philosophical clarity that is lacking in much contemporary work.

Alia Syed

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