Pil and Galia Kollectiv - Asparagus: A Horticultural Ballet

Live performance at Conway Hall, production documentation, props and soundtrack CD, The Showroom, London

by Avi Pitchon

Israeli artist duo Pil and Galia Kollectiv (the official name of the married couple) are better known in Israel as journalists and critics than as artists and curators, and this is due to the fact that most of their artistic endeavours in Israel, other than the exhibition Carbona at Plonit Gallery in 2002, has been centred in their home town of Jerusalem. The radically contemporary nature of their work was expressed in their organizing a live performance of Berlin electro band Chicks on Speed in 2000 at Hazira performance art centre (before they had even released their debut album), alongside an exhibition which featured the debut appearance, to my knowledge, of Eli Petel's work. However, it was already possible back then to recognize their obsession with digging underneath seminal moments in the history of art and popular culture, with events like an Atari tournament combined with a party and exhibition.

In recent years, their activity has been focused on an intensive and challenging examination of the legacy of Modernism - in terms of aesthetics, content and politics. The Asparagus project - a Dada ballet par excellence - is their most ambitious yet, in its juxtaposition of the past, the present and the future - or more precisely futurism as it looked and sounded in the second and eighth decades of the twentieth century. The ballet is in fact an adaptation of a project conceived in the seventies by an esoteric minimal synth band xex, whose existence, alongside that of the surreal performance, has left little mark, even in the age of the internet. When the Kollectivs lost touch with the band's founding member Waw Pierogi, a space was created for free interpretation partly inspired by German Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer's Triadic Ballet. Canadian post-punk trio Les Georges Leningrad were flown to London to compose a live electronic soundtrack for the ballet, which was structured as three acts for six dancers/art students deressed as asparagus to march in a variety of robotic, geometric, alienated and funny motions, with each act dedicated to a different key theme in Marx's Das Kapital: the commodity, labour and capital.

If all this sounds like an annoying, academic concoction, that's just because you weren't there. The aesthetic coherence and the aptness of the hypnotic score sufficed to produce a rich and entertaining experience that did not collapse under the weight of the references for a minute. Moreover, the humour and absurdity of staring at the ensemble of giant, charming and clumsy asparagi, functioned less as a parody of modern art, and more as a reminder of the Dadaist love of enlightened stupidity, not to mention Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks". And this is precisely where the strength, effectiveness and relevance of the Kollectivs' work lies - the meeting point of a militant post-modern archeology and pure British (Jerusalem?) humour, enjoyed by the hundreds of audience members who filled the trade unionist Conway Hall (and there you have another layer of retro). More than anything, the ballet reminded me of my favourite Python sketch, "Confuse a Cat", in which a special task force is called in to shake a cat out of a state of shock in which it has been for weeks: it just sits in the back yard staring aimlessly. The team puts on a performance in front of the cat that is meant to be so bizarre and unrelated to anything that it will break the trance and make it return to its usual behaviour. You can imagine what happens when the Pythons, kings of genius bizarreness on any given day, try to portray this double absurdity. The result is tear-inducingly funny, moving, hypnotic and evocative of contemporary conceptual debates, just like Pil and Galia Kollectiv's Asparagus.