Born in Israel in 1957, Irit Batsry has lived and worked in New York since 1983. She received a degree in fine art from the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem in 1983 and, once settled in New York City, became an instructor and on-line editor for Film/Video Arts. She has had an extensive video and media art career and is renowned for her experimental videos in the early eighties. Her single and multi-channel videos and installations have been shown in museums and galleries around the world, including the Institute of Contemporary Art (London, England), the National Gallery (Washington, U.S.), the Reina Sofia Museum (Madrid, Spain) and the Witte de With (Rotterdam, the Netherlands).
Batsry has received several grants and awards throughout her career. Her videos have won prizes at numerous international festivals including Videoart
in Locarno, Switzerland, and the WRO Media Art Biennale
in Wroclaw, Poland. In 1992, Batsry was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and in 1996, the Société civile des auteurs multimédia honoured her with the Grand Prix Vidéo de Création.
Irit Batsry exploits the medium of video for both political and aesthetic purposes. One substantial series of work is brought together metaphorically in Passage to Utopia
(1985-1993). This trilogy comprises three videos from different periods of Batsry's career that all deal with hegemonic and individual histories and the way images and sounds can translate these histories. For example, Leaving the Old Ruin
(1986-89)-the second piece, the thematic context of which subsequently became a component of the installation Leaving the Old Ruin: Contaminated View
(1989) - centres on landscape and history. Through analog and digital image processing, Batsry has created a collection of displaced images, unidentifiable images and ephemeral landscapes that reflect the difficulties in reconciling individual and collective memory. For one critic, Batsry's metaphor of the "old ruin" exemplifies "the nature of the human witness and the meaning of recorded information.". (1)
Batsry's interest in providing the viewer with ephemeral, transitory images that are difficult to assemble rationally became more perceptible as she began to explore the life and work of renowned American architect R. Buckminster Fuller (2)
. In 1991, Batsry produced the video A Simple Case of Vision
and the installation ...of persistence of absence...
that looks at Fuller's late-diagnosed vision disorder that caused him to see blurry images nearly constantly. In these works, Batsry examines the issue of sight defects and how one's perception of the world, and more precisely Fuller's place in the world, is altered because of this handicap.
"The blurred/clear images on the screen get us worried about our visual health. We now share this handicap. An experience that creates a community of vision between us and the protagonist. A coenobitism of vision. Vision can be corrected with lenses, with science, with knowledge. But something of the past always persists. The eye is a slave of its childhood, humans are slaves of History, of the ruin. The text tells us that despite the corrective lenses the eye still depends only on "large pattern clues"." (3)
In 1993, the Centre International de Création Vidéo (CICV) in Montbéliard-Belfort, France, published a substantial monograph on her work titled: Irit Batsry : traces d'un passage. (4)
This publication details her video and some installation works until 1993. Several works after 1993, such as Scale
(1995) and Giacometti's Scale
(1995), continued Batsry's interest in formally exploring distortion and perception through video and space.
As a part of thematic project entitled Neither There Nor Here
(1994-ongoing), Batsry created the installation To Leave and to Take
(1997). Installed the same year at the artist-run centre Oboro in Montreal, Canada, the piece displayed the physical, tactile elements of experience and history through the placement of tons of grains of rice into transparent gloves laid like sandbags around the gallery space.
Amidst these tons of rice the viewer is confronted with issues of scarcity and abundance. At the end of the exhibition the rice will be used to generate over 10,000 free meals. The visitors are surrounded by video projections of a hand moving rice from one pile to another, turning the walls and columns into a site of continuous transfer. Projected large on a wall in an 'inner room', the viewers face an old woman endlessly grating a receptacle, alternating with a woman eating in a busy 'third world' street. This projection looks like a window to an "elsewhere". (5)
Through the technological manipulation of the medium, Batsry was able to echo tactility in the two-dimensional image.
Batsry's most recent work is a film produced during a residency at the Academy of Media Art in Cologne, Germany. These Are Not My Images (Neither There Nor Here)
(2000) premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival
in January and February 2000. Batsry's first feature film tells of the experiences of "a Western filmmaker, accompanied by a half-blind guide, and her encounter with a local filmmaker in a skewed 'road movie' set in the near future." (6)
A part of the same thematic project as To Leave and To Take,
one of many videographic explorations into the power (or lack of power) of images and sounds to retain and reflect history, this critique of "the documentary" probes the relationship between the medium's ability to translate notions of reality and actual experience.
Batsry is now working on a project inspired by Montreal's Biosphere and the vision of its architect, R. Buckminster Fuller. She is developing a site-specific, video and mixed media installation located in the Biosphere itself that will explore Fuller's creation of the geodesic dome, its aesthetic possibilities, and further notions of perception she has touched on in her video A Simple Case of Vision
(1991). Batsry will rely on the architecture of this spectacular space to create an installation that will delve into technological interactivity in an innovative manner.