By Idit Elia Nathan
‘Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.’
‘Perception Requires Involvement’
Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly, 2009 is a board game designed for gallery interaction.
Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly (1) has been shown twice. It was first exhibited at No Ladders to the Stars at The Social Gallery at Musrara School for Photography and New Media, Jerusalem, 5th September – 22nd October, 2009. Later, it was part of the Uncharted Stories exhibition at the Triangle Space in Chelsea College of Art and Design, between 28th October and 5th November, 2009.
The ongoing military occupation of Palestinian land by the state of Israel has created what Agamben (2) famously called a ‘state of exception’. The ‘reality on the ground‘, as described in reports by many human right organisations (3), testifies to the fact that over three and a half million Palestinians (4) are stateless subjects, whose freedom of movement, amongst other basic human rights, is violated on a daily basis.
A fact often overlooked by those living outside the region is that the people who live there all carry different types of ID cards, most visibly differentiated by the colours of their plastic holders. Palestinians who live within some areas, such as those defined by the Oslo Accords as being under the Palestinian Authority’s rule, carry an orange coloured ID card. Those carrying this orange ID cannot travel to, work in or visit beyond certain lines and access any areas which have been annexed by Israel, such as Jerusalem for example. Palestinians who carry a green ID card, on the other hand, are those that live within areas still under Israeli military rule. These Palestinians are required to obtain permits for every movement they make, whether it is for a daily journey to a place of work or an emergency visit to the hospital. The blue ID is carried by Jewish Israelis who (as citizens) are free to travel anywhere apart from areas within the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians who live within the Green Line, that is areas under Israeli rule since its declaration in 1948 as well as areas conquered by the end of the war in 1949, also carry a blue Israeli ID. This implies that they should have equal rights and freedom of movement, though in practice this is not the case.
Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly is based on a version of Monopoly- the real estate game invented in the early years of the 20th century. The Israeli version made during the early 1950s was called ‘Rikuz’ (which in Hebrew means ‘concentration’). Regardless of the fact that it was designed before the 1967 war, the game includes areas not officially part of the young Israeli state, namely places that were only conquered in 1967 such as Gaza and Jenin.
As noted by Israeli game historians Dankner and Tartakover the original Israeli game’s somewhat visionary geographical layout made it then:
‘…a bit strange to trade in properties located in Gaza, Jenin and Nablus in the days these were not within our territories. But no matter – as we proved when we conquered them later. And it is inevitable that those at the helm of the conquest were once children and remembered the game.’
(Dankner and Tartakover,1996:181- my emphasis) (5)
Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly retains an identical layout of the original game, though it removes the property dealing and replaces the themed pawns with ones that reflect coloured ID cards. At the start of the game a coloured dice defines which player has which coloured pawn. The sole aim of the game is for the players to move around the board. The player who manages to complete three rounds is declared the winner. All along the ‘journey’ around the board, in each of the places a player lands, there are instructions according to the pawn’s colour. The game has been updated to include the settlements and checkpoints that now litter the region, thus accurately depicting the landscape where ‘different degrees of occupation, corresponding to the gradient of Israeli military tolerance’(6).
The game in gallery settings operates as an interactive artwork that describes and interprets the landscape while engaging the players in the space where settlements and checkpoints abound, a landscape that is a ‘fragmented and elastic space in which clear distinctions between an “inside” and an “outside” of a political system cannot be easily marked.’ (7) An elaborate and vicious legalistic bureaucratic system of practices and restrictions is in place, which is designed to separate ‘us’ and ‘them’. The knowledge of the restrictions of movements imposed on some and not others renders visible the non-linear separation practices such as the checkpoints and the permits regime.
Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly thus deals with making visible lines and practices, which in this case determine whether one moves or not, wins or loses. It does that within a reality that offers no shortcuts – as the title of the exhibition of which it was part indicates, a place where there are ‘no ladders to the stars’. It accomplishes this by using a game, which activates the audience and introduces them to a harsh and mostly unknown reality. It entices the visitor to play, or sometimes to watch others playing. As one viewer/participant remarked:
‘I think a game in this context is interesting in the sense that a western audience may give in to the competitiveness of the act and betray a gap between their sensitivity to the subject and the need to win. It’s playful’.
The specific use of a game, which relies on chance, as the die determine the colour of each player’s pawn, reflects on the very reality the game depicts. As another viewer/participant remarked:
‘I think the game helps to step outside habitual responses and open up the debate. It helps replicate what feels like random, discriminatory rules.’
The game’s name was chosen to remind us that ‘at the head of the struggle for political and cultural hegemony lies the state, which aims to obtain the monopoly on the right to define an identity to those that live within it, whilst demarcating and separating from the ‘other’. (8) The name therefore offers a reflection on the political system that allows the strongest to win over land, both in the right to own it and move around it.
When played by a gallery audience Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly draws out, through minute details, the segregating restrictions of movement in a region littered with lines and wherein neither the knowledge of the restrictions, nor the freedom from them is equal to all. As if responding to Gregory’s call – ‘we need to find voices – passionate as well as analytical – through which we are obliged to attend to what we don’t want to know.’ (9)
Hegemonopoly/Machsomopoly is informed by shifts spent at the checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian territories with MachsomWatch, an NGO that protests against the Israeli occupation and monitors human rights violations at the checkpoints (http://www.machsomwatch.org/en)
http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/populati/demd1.aspx (last accessed 20.12.11)
Quoting from Dankner and Tartakover’s book ‘Where We Were and What We Did – An Israeli Lexicon of the Fifties and the Sixties’ (1996). I emphasized the ‘we’ which is also present in the title of the book, in order to expose the ‘nationalistic’ tone. This nationalistic tone is referred to by the authors in the introduction in which they ‘confess to it being a nostalgic book, that aims to document the mundane and the often overlooked of the period between the 1948 war and the 1967 one, after which things have unrecognizably changed’ (my translation). However they also say that: ‘the book is saturated with the political and social atmosphere of the period: the sense of lack and deprivation of the austerity period, the heroism, naivety and even hypocrisy of the socialist zionist ruling discourse of the time.’ (my translation)
Following twelve years as a theatre practitioner, Idit Nathan’s current visual arts practice is often playful and interactive. Her artworks create a provocative space in which the viewer is challenged to respond, often focusing on tensions between past and present, the gallery and ‘non gallery’ space and the activity and interactivity of the audiences that inhabit these spaces.
She is currently undertaking practice led research at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, where her project explores playful and interactive artworks in the context of conflict. She has recently been awarded escalator funding from Arts Council England for the Seven Walks in a Holy City project.
Idit has shown work in the UK, Europe and Israel Palestine.