Heat Signature, 2018

Live Video Feed, FLIR FCR thermal camera, industrial heaters, audio video cables, drop ceiling, mics, PC computer

Heat Signature

Heat Signature is a culmination of Tali Keren’s ongoing research into Judeo-Christian ideology and the military-industrial complex. Juxtaposing a design for the Great Seal of the United States unsuccessfully proposed to Congress by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin in 1776 with an FC-R thermal camera, Keren underscores the inherent relations between American national myths, religious belief, and the quest for power and control.

The recreation and manipulation of Jefferson and Franklin’s rejected design—which depicts the biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, with America serving as the ‘New Zion’—through a heat-based performative sculpture, allows Keren to explore the effects of thermal surveillance methods on bodies and mediascapes. These conjured imageries lie at the heart of the exhibition. Jefferson and Franklin’s phantasmic vision is brought to life with an infrared camera and electric heaters. Temperature shifts translate into focus shifts in the monochromatic live video feed, as the heaters turn on and off and the image of the Seal, which is embedded in the ceiling—unseen to the eye—heats and cools. Yet, it is in the constant appearance and disappearance of the projected image, in the tension between the visible and the invisible, that the viewer is asked to ponder the relation between militarized media perception and the meaning of ‘temperature seeing’—even as their own body heat is registered by the thermal camera. In Heat Signature, Keren turns the FC-R camera, designed to make human body heat visible, away from the viewers, whose collective temperature alters the background hue of the live-projected image of the Seal.

Testimonies by a drone sensor operator, a criminal defense attorney and a media scholar, voices reflecting on the new temperature-based visual regime, are presented by Keren in three audio-recorded interviews. Attorney Kenneth Lerner discusses the Fourth Amendment and thermal technology’s threat to privacy. Brandon Bryant, who served in the US Air Force, shares his daunting military experience using infrared cameras. Between infrared’s black-hot and white-hot polarities, Bryant describes humans transforming into targets, as if in shadow puppetry. MIT theorist Lisa Parks argues that a transition is taking place in which a visual regime based on visible light is shifting into a regime based on temperature, and considers how temperature-based optics affect conceptions of racial and ethnic difference and the registration and perception of violence and death.

The Great Seal, 2016-2017

The Great Seal 2016-2018

Interactive installation/performance. Teleprompters, microphone, touch screen, speakers, 12x12 feet custom printed rug, HD video, HD monitors, 20 minute experience. Video documentation (3 min)

The Great Seal

This immersive installation investigates the intersection between art, propaganda, religion, and politics. The piece invites viewers to step onto a stage at the annual Washington D.C. Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and assume the role of keynote speakers. CUFI mobilizes millions of American Evangelical conservatives who view Jewish rule over the land of Israel/Palestine a precondition for Christ’s second coming and the imminent Battle of Armageddon. By using a presidential teleprompter and a karaoke ‘sing-along’ machine, participants are invited to perform speeches compiled from those delivered at past CUFI summits. 

Throughout the interactive performance, the visitors will stand on a rug emblazoned with the design for the original Great Seal of the United States, first proposed by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and subsequently rejected by Congress. Franklin and Jefferson’s Great Seal reimagines the biblical story of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt with America framed as the ‘New Zion’. The myths linking the United States and Israel as two settler-colonial projects are thus embodied in the seal.

The Great Seal, activated by artist/performer Reverend Billy Talen, Eyebeam NY

Save the Presidents

Save the presidents, 2017

Collaboration with Alex Strada. 4k video, 13 min.  

Save the Presidents is a film that focuses on the deterioration of 43 giant stone busts of former American Presidents, situated in a field in rural Virginia. The busts had belonged to a sculpture park which closed in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. A local farmer and entrepreneur was hired to destroy the busts after the park’s closing. He decided instead to preserve them, moving the sculptures onto his own property and worksite. During their transport and over time, the busts have eroded.

The film details the decaying materiality of the figures, such as the cracks in their faces and the discoloration of their white stone. Structured over the course of a day, the work begins with the presidents sitting drenched in morning sunlight as manual laborers arrive to the field for work. As the light wanes and the laborers leave, the presidents are left alone to watch the sunset fade to black. The film explores the promise and instability of political representation and mythology, while raising questions about depictions of democracy, whiteness, and gender.

Save The Presidents, Times Square, 2018

Every evening throughout February 2018, Save the Presidents took over the screens of Times Square at midnight as part of Times Square Arts’ Midnight Moment. The film transformed the Morgan Stanley Building, NASDAQ Tower, Microsoft Cube, and over 50 other branded screens in this quintessential cross-section of late capitalism. In this setting, the work functioned as a counter-monument, where it temporarily interrupted and re-contextualized Times Square’s stream of advertising with images of decaying leaders from the past. 

Fictive witness, 2018 - 2019

Commissioned by and performed at the Goethe-Institut, New York City
4 minute HD video clip from 1 hour and thirty minute performance
February 13, 2018

“Branding the Dream: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and the Meanings of America”

Lecture-performance and collaboration between artists Tali Keren & Alex Strada and legal scholar Kendall Thomas.

Fictive Witness is a series of lecture-performances that was commissioned by and took place at the Goethe-Institut throughout 2018. For each performance, Alex Strada and I collaborated with a different scholar who intervened within Save the Presidents by presenting a layer of narration to the silent film. Structured over the course of a day, the film centers on a field of eroding presidential monuments situated in rural Virginia. Save the Presidents was re-edited to mirror the length of each lecture so that as the sun sets on the screen, the performance concluded. Each scholar unpacked a distinct socio-political theme that lives beneath the film’s surface, reshaping its content through context. Throughout the course of the series, the same material was plumbed and reconfigured to engage with ideas ranging from property rights, ethical feminism, to branding. The performances were followed by talk-backs.

Legal scholar Law Kendall Thomas’ lecture-performance “Branding the Dream: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and the Meanings of America”, focused on U.S. cultural and political powers of the “imaginary” American presidency. Drawing inspiration from the visual landscape of Save the Presidents, Thomas’ performance used words, music, and an eclectic range of references (from the 18th century German art historian and archeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann to Beyoncé) to stage an encounter between two presidencies and between two conflicting and convergent visions of the American Dream.

“On the Imaginary Domain, Or Who Gets to Be a Person?”
Lecture-performance and collaboration between artists Tali Keren & Alex Strada and political philosopher Drucilla Cornell 

Still camera documentation of 1 hour and thirty minute performance
Commissioned by and performed at the Goethe-Institut, New York City
November 27, 2018

For “On the Imaginary Domain, Or Who Gets to Be a Person?” philosopher Drucilla Cornell unpacked her notion of ethical feminism as a theoretical concept and political strategy. Cornell’s performance centered on labor, gender politics in the workplace, and the right of each person to identify in their own way. Cornell’s lecture served as a kind of contrast to the content of the film — pointing to the absence of women within the limeage if presidents who conceived of and were employed to shape American national identity throughout its history.

The monumental presidential statutes featured in Save the Presidents had belonged to a sculpture park in Williamsburg, Virginia which closed in 2010 due to bankruptcy. The First Ladies were also represented in the park in the form of mannequins, which were all the same height and size. Parts of the First Lady mannequins survive but their heads have gone missing. Their remaining limbs now live in a shed, along with a small model of the never realized Obama bust. We presented some of our research images of the beaded First Lady mannequins as part of Cornell’s performance, framing them within a patriarchal culture that does not acknowledge the dignity of female labor.

“Dead Presidents: A Lexicon of Land, Race and Nation”
Lecture-performance and collaboration between artists Tali Keren & Alex Strada and architectural theorist Mabel Wilson
Still camera documentation of 1 hour and thirty minute performance
Commissioned by and performed at the Goethe-Institut, New York City
October 24, 2018

Architectural theorist Mabel Wilson’s lecture-performance, “Dead Presidents: A Lexicon of Land, Race and Nation” centered on a series of alphabetical entries relating to property and personhood within American ideology. As the film screened, Wilson presented a racialized history of the way in which the American landscape was cultivated, specifically referring to the use of enslaved labor to build national monuments that purport to embody “freedom”.

National Park

National Park, 2017

Collaboration with Alex Strada Commissioned by the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York
Wood, vinyl, ambient sound, and audio narrative
8 x 18 x 4 feet

National Park is a photographic and audio installation commissioned by the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York. Visitors are invited to treat the work as a kind of stage where one can stand next to an image of past presidents and examine oneself in relation to these decaying yet steadfast symbolic monuments. The large curved structure references the shape of Ancient Greek amphitheaters, alluding to the relationship between theater and politics.

National Park emits a continuous audio loop of ambient sounds recorded in the field in Virginia where the presidential statues reside. The work creates a site of slippage where the sounds of birds, planes, wind, and intermittent gunshots recorded in Virginia become enmeshed within the soundscape of the park.

The work is also accompanied by an audio narrative which is accessible to viewers by listening at www.socratesnationalpark.com. The narrative consists of our conversations with Howard Hankins, the entrepreneur and builder who was moved by his national pride to save the statues from destruction and to relocate them onto his property.

New Jerusalem

New Jerusalem, 2015
Multi-channel video installation and performance, 25 min.
(5 minute excerpt)

New Jerusalem is a research based project which culminated in a bureaucratic musical performance at Jerusalem City Council’s monthly assembly. The work brings together religious rituals and political performance. In the presence of the mayor of Jerusalem and city council members, an Orthodox cantor sang clause of Jerusalem’s urban plan: “Master Plan 2000.”  The concert was broadcast live to the Bezalel school of Architechture where panelists  analyzed the plan’s historical, legal and political components.