“Even though Jerusalem is less than an hour drive from the Mediterranean Sea, Abigail has never been to the beach. She imagined the horizon making a contour line, recording the shifts in movement of the shapes around it. When people died, ghosted, or dropped out, the line layered grief on top of where they had been. The line was also good for things that were too painful to remember.”
– Tamar Ettun
A new commission years in the making, Tamar Ettun’s performance Dead Sea is her largest-scale production to date, encompassing the entire main hall of Pioneer Works as well as an upper floor mezzanine. Building upon the artist’s continuing interest in trauma, emotional empathy, and the universality of shared human experience, this performance is also perhaps her most intimate.
Dead Sea is composed of a succession of unfolding actions, movement phrases, and short stories that revolve around a fictional character named Abigail, who’s never been to the beach. Gigantic sails made of parachute fabric, lifeguard stations, sculptural motifs, larger-than-life curtains, and set pieces provide a fantastical escape for her. In the style of Magical Realism, Ettun’s narratives about Abigail’s life are both whimsical and horrific, detailing not only first loves and the rush of dating, but also death and repeated sexual assault at the hands of family members and boyfriends. Their guilt is complicated by the fact that Abigail once loved all of them, and in a way, they were also victims—of a patriarchal society that passed on such behavior from generation to generation. Fault belongs to the perpetrator, but also to the system that perpetuates it.
The performance begins and ends with the unraveling and then collapse of hand-dyed parachute fabric, which serves as something of a symbolic horizon line, delineating an above-water performance space from one “below the waves.” For Ettun, who was raised an Orthodox Jew and was one of four females serving in an Israel Defense Forces parachute unit, the fabric is rich with meaning; it has come to symbolize the brutality of institutionalized violence. For Orthodox theorist and Holocaust survivor Emmanuel Levinas, compassion is an ethical responsibility of humans, and Dead Sea conveys a nuanced opinion on blame and forgiveness, finding in both a complexity that mirrors lived experience.
Tamar Ettun: Dead Sea was commissioned by Pioneer Works and curated by David Everitt Howe.
Choreography: Mor Mendel
Performers: Laurel Atwell, Tamar Ettun, Mor Mendel, Tina Wang
Lifeguards: Aika Akhmetova, Roni Aviv, Echo Eraso, Caseena Karim
Score: Helado Negro
Costume Design: Veronika Brusa of BERENIK
Fabric Design: Aimee Burg, Soule Golden
Fabric Seamstress: Jennica Drice
Installation and Fabrication: Julian Townley, Willie Vantapool, Adrian Hayman, Vincent Sicilio
Producer: Amanda Grossman
Documentation: Walter Wlodarczyk
Videography: Jen Atalla and Gabe Rubin
About the Artist
Tamar Ettun is a sculptor and a performance artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Ettun received her MFA from Yale University in 2010 where she was awarded the Alice English Kimball Fellowship. She studied at Cooper Union in 2007, while earning her BFA from Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem. She has had exhibitions and performances at The Barrick Museum UNLV, Art Omi Sculpture Garden, The Watermill Center, e-flux, Sculpture Center, Knockdown Center, Madison Square Park, Bryant Park, Socrates Sculpture Park, Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum, Uppsala Art Museum, Fridman Gallery, Braverman Gallery, Herzelia Biennial, and PERFORMA 09, 11 and 13, among others. She received awards and fellowships from The Pollock Krasner Foundation, Franklin Furnace, MacDowell Fellowship, Marble House Project, RECESS, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Art Production Fund, and Iaspis. Ettun founded The Moving Company, an artist’s collective creating performances in public spaces and a social engagement project with Brooklyn teens hosted by The Brooklyn Museum. Ettun teaches at Columbia University School of Arts, Lehman College, and The New School Parsons School of Design.