“Gaza: Mowing the Lawn” by Artist Jaime Scholnick

14 July, 2021
GAZA #5 by Jaime Schol­nick (all images cour­tesy of the artist). 

The July-August 2014 asym­met­ri­cal war that Israel called “Oper­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge” left over 200,000 Gazans home­less with more than 2,000 killed. Hear­ing about the onslaught on the news in Los Ange­les, while it was hap­pen­ing, artist Jaime Schol­nick want­ed to turn away. She says, “The images that came across my news­feed through social media were hor­rif­ic. At first, I was angry at these post­ings and would pass them by. After two days I stopped and made myself look. I felt the need to doc­u­ment this lat­est atroc­i­ty on the part of the Israeli mil­i­tary. ‘Mow­ing the Lawn’ is a term they coined to describe the peri­od­ic assaults they con­duct on Gaza to keep the Pales­tini­ans under con­trol. By cov­er­ing these images with mul­ti­ple lines and col­ors, the imagery becomes eas­i­er to look at, not less hor­rif­ic.” —Ed.

Sagi Refael

 

In her book Regard­ing the Pain of Oth­ers (Pen­guin 2003), Susan Son­tag sug­gests revers­ing the com­mon per­cep­tion of “peace” as the norm and “war” as the aber­ra­tion, to what they real­ly are  — war as a con­tentious con­di­tion, and peace as a rarity.

In oth­er words, we are accus­tomed to war; we imag­ine peace. Son­tag con­tin­ues by quot­ing Leonar­do Da Vin­ci’s opin­ion that, in order to cre­ate a pro­vok­ing and sub­lime­ly beau­ti­ful work of art, the artist’s gaze at its sub­ject should be piti­less, as evi­dent in many ear­ly Chris­t­ian mas­ter­pieces depict­ing the cru­ci­fix­ion and the Pieta. Yet, Son­tag claims, it seems heart­less to look for beau­ty when it comes to pho­tog­ra­phy, a medi­um that brings the hor­rif­ic sights from the war or the scene of the crime “direct­ly.” That kind of pho­tog­ra­phy, it is com­mon­ly agreed, should not be beau­ti­ful, since it dis­tracts the atten­tion from its sub­ject mat­ter to its framed aes­thet­ic medium.

Jaime Schol­nick­’s “Gaza: Mow­ing the Lawn” is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant polit­i­cal­ly-­charged art series of recent years. Not only because of the direct ref­er­ence to one the world’s end­less and vio­lent eth­nic and reli­gious con­flicts between the Israelis and Pales­tini­ans — but because of its pre­cise cap­ture of the cur­rent Zeit­geist, the spir­it of our times. It seems that we are at a high point in his­to­ry, where we can know so much, yet pre­fer not to know as much, and eas­i­ly turn a blind eye.

Gallery Exhibit: Gaza: Mowing the Lawn

Schol­nick­’s 2015 instal­la­tion at the CB1 Gallery in down­town Los Ange­les con­sist­ed of 50 acrylic­ on ­paper works about the size of an iPad or a page in a small book. 49 of them were placed on a gray ­paint­ed strip stretched on the cor­ner of two walls, which evokes the bar­ri­er of the Israeli West Bank and seems to sym­bol­ize a blocked hori­zon; a fence of indif­fer­ence that this pre­sen­ta­tion strives to pen­e­trate.  Sit­u­at­ed on the oppo­site wall was a sin­gu­lar piece, the 51st, by itself, that cap­tures a group of civil­ians who seem to be watch­ing the live show of the Israeli Air Force spread­ing its dev­as­ta­tion across the oth­er side of the room.

Dur­ing the Israeli bomb­ing on Gaza in the sum­mer of 2014, images of the destroyed city emerged online, painful­ly shared on social media out­lets such as Face­book.  Those images from a remote land in a too ­well ­known war zone were dif­fi­cult to con­sume and digest for many, includ­ing Israeli soci­ety at large. The Israeli media shield­ed its con­sumers from images of dead bod­ies and destroyed fam­i­ly homes, uni­form­ly pre­sent­ing a pic­ture of a “no ­oth­er ­choice” vic­to­ry. Israelis who stood against the mas­sive attacks on Gaza were marked pub­licly as trai­tors by politi­cians and many brain­washed cit­i­zens. All crit­i­cism had to be put aside; it was us or them; no tol­er­ance for vary­ing shades of gray.

The 2015 Los Angeles exhibition of

The 2015 Los Ange­les exhi­bi­tion of “Gaza: Mow­ing the Lawn” (pho­to cour­tesy Elec­tron­ic Intifada).

Sev­er­al of Schol­nick­’s friends advised her not to focus on the trag­ic cir­cum­stances of the vic­tims and sur­round­ing destruc­tion. Some even asked her which side she sup­port­ed. As it often takes at least two to tan­go, the Pales­tin­ian rock­et attacks on the Israeli pop­u­la­tion, which caused less imme­di­ate dam­age and casu­al­ties, were depict­ed less in the inter­na­tion­al media. Nei­ther are they evi­dent in Schol­nick­’s work here. After the press release pre­sent­ing “Gaza: Mow­ing the Lawn” was issued, feed­back includ­ed com­plaints that the “full pic­ture” was lack­ing — not  includ­ing Israeli vic­tims, both civil­ians and sol­diers, and ignor­ing the ongo­ing vio­lent attacks on Israel by Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ist organizations.

But what is “the full pic­ture,” and is it the artist’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to depict it?

In our tech­nol­o­gy-­based “time ­is ­money”­driven soci­ety, most of our image con­sump­tion is shaped by split­ sec­ond view­ing, under­stand­ing and opinion­ form­ing. Schol­nick­’s instal­la­tion, based on popped ­up images in the ephemer­al online media, bring forth an aware­ness to what­ev­er is going on in the Mid­dle East, while remind­ing us in this part of the world that these events don’t real­ly have an imme­di­ate rel­e­vance to our dai­ly lives.

These images get the same atten­tion, if not less, than break­out Hol­ly­wood gos­sip or Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics, func­tion­ing as a check­box for our social con­science… We know that some­thing hor­ri­fy­ing is still hap­pen­ing over there, but thank God it’s hap­pen­ing to total strangers, far, far away.


A Response to “Gaza: Mowing the Lawn” by Tony Litwinko


Schol­nick retrieved these images dai­ly from social media out­lets and print­ed them at home, then start­ed care­ful­ly paint­ing on them, cov­er­ing the pic­tures with col­or­ful, pat­terned lines. At first, these lines cam­ou­flage the hard ­to ­look ­at views, lur­ing the audi­ence in with the guise of col­or­ful abstract draw­ings. After cap­tur­ing the spec­ta­tor’s atten­tion, she forces one to gaze into the core of the image, into its real­ism of human suf­fer­ing. By repeat­ed­ly mark­ing hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal lines, day after day, on top of the doc­u­ment­ed real­i­ty of destruc­tion, it feels as if the artist is mend­ing the bro­ken and dead, wrap­ping the scat­tered human limbs with a metaphor­i­cal, heal­ing bandage.

In some cas­es, the sce­nario is not com­plete­ly clear. But in most of the pieces, the com­po­si­tion repeats itself over of over, refus­ing to be a dry reportage of cliché jour­nal­ism — demol­ished hous­es, toys scat­tered on ruins, funer­al after funer­al, mourn­ing, sad­ness, despair. While we might pre­fer to swipe these vio­lent images aside in an end­less search for the new, Schol­nick forces us to slow down, stop, look, think, con­cen­trate, ana­lyze, and comprehend.

The shal­low crit­i­cism over this body of work was not for how the artist treats the top­ic of war, but for depict­ing it in the first place. Not to men­tion that “crit­i­cism” from an inner ­cir­cle Jew, which desta­bi­lizes the defen­sive wall of right­eous­ness, should not be heard in pub­lic. At the same time, it is easy to imag­ine crit­i­cism from the Pales­tin­ian side for appro­pri­at­ing the suf­fer­ing of their peo­ple, and for “beau­ti­fy­ing” it, par­tial­ly cov­er­ing the whole truth.

But “Gaza: Mow­ing the Lawn” goes beyond ref­er­enc­ing the sin­gu­lar case of Gaza. These works com­ment on the way we con­sume and refer to war and mis­ery — as a flood of images that we view from a safe dis­tance, and yet the more we can see, the less we want to know. Instead of allow­ing us to keep war in the abstract, Schol­nick insists on pre­sent­ing her audi­ence with hard­core facts, swathed in a see-­through veneer.

Jaime Scholnick lives and works in Los Angeles, California, where she continues to create art addressing global and domestic concerns. The artist received her BA from California State Sacramento and her MFA from the Claremont Graduate University in 1991. Her work has been included in institutional presentations as well as galleries in Asia, North America and Europe. She was commissioned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority to create a 400 ft. mural for the Crenshaw Expo Station on the new line to the LAX Airport which will open in late 2021. In 2020 Ms. Scholnick  was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Art to create a 20' x 42' mural to adorn the exterior of one of four buildings of the newly built LAC + USC Restorative Care Village on the KECK USC Medical Center Complex. This newest piece will be installed August 2021. It is an homage to the Boyle Heights Community. She lives and works in a studio in East L.A.

Jaime Schol­nick lives and works in Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, where she con­tin­ues to cre­ate art address­ing glob­al and domes­tic con­cerns. The artist received her BA from Cal­i­for­nia State Sacra­men­to and her MFA from the Clare­mont Grad­u­ate Uni­ver­si­ty in 1991. Her work has been includ­ed in insti­tu­tion­al pre­sen­ta­tions as well as gal­leries in Asia, North Amer­i­ca and Europe. She was com­mis­sioned by the Los Ange­les Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty to cre­ate a 400 ft. mur­al for the Cren­shaw Expo Sta­tion on the new line to the LAX Air­port which will open in late 2021. In 2020 Ms. Schol­nick  was com­mis­sioned by the Los Ange­les Coun­ty Depart­ment of Art to cre­ate a 20′ x 42′ mur­al to adorn the exte­ri­or of one of four build­ings of the new­ly built LAC + USC Restora­tive Care Vil­lage on the KECK USC Med­ical Cen­ter Com­plex. This newest piece will be installed August 2021. It is an homage to the Boyle Heights Com­mu­ni­ty. She lives and works in a stu­dio in East L.A.

While hor­rif­ic vio­lence has always exist­ed through­out his­to­ry, nowa­days depic­tions of war and vio­lence have become more famil­iar, and their con­sump­tion has become more porno­graph­ic (ISIS­-filmed behead­ings, for exam­ple). As Son­tag argued, “shock can become famil­iar, shock can wear off”; the attrac­tion to vio­lence becomes a norm in an escapist soci­ety, whether for enter­tain­ment (vio­lence in movies and on TV) or for sub­con­scious enhance­ment of self­-esteem  (per­son­al and nation­al). These images from Gaza are not of vio­lent action, but the results of it.

So why are they hard to look at?  Because they rep­ri­mand us silent­ly for our own com­fort and secu­ri­ty — for look­ing at them in a pris­tine gallery or on a flat com­put­er screen from the safe­ty of our own homes. They remind us that we hard­ly do any­thing to protest against or inter­vene and pre­vent these recur­ring hor­ri­fy­ing events from hap­pen­ing again.

“The prob­lem is not that peo­ple remem­ber through pho­tographs, but that they remem­ber only the pho­tographs,” Son­tag declared, stat­ing our habit to detach the image from its source and its orig­i­nal accu­rate ref­er­ence. By using the pic­tures as a plane on which she builds her visu­al state­ment, Schol­nick­’s trans­for­ma­tion of these images from Gaza into works of art caus­es their cir­cu­la­tion to go beyond the frame of the dai­ly or week­ly news are­na into the time­less frame of culture.

Fol­low­ing Goy­a’s “The Dis­as­ters of War,” Picas­so’s “Guer­ni­ca” or Leon Gol­ub’s post­-Viet­nam war oeu­vre, the sub­ject mat­ter of war and its con­se­quences in “Gaza: Mow­ing the Lawn” becomes big­ger than its speci­fici­ty. By includ­ing an image of ISIS sol­diers direct­ing their guns onto a baby’s head, Schol­nick blurs the lines between the dif­fer­ent vic­tim­iz­ers. While they remain remote and face­less, the vic­tims of vio­lence and war become all vic­tims, of any vio­lence, in any cul­ture, of any time.

While these rep­re­sen­ta­tive proofs might not hold the com­man­der’s fin­ger from press­ing the next trig­ger or but­ton, these artis­ti­cal­ly-altered pic­tures serve as both tools of remem­brance of past cat­a­stro­phes, and, despite the gap of time and place, a per­son­al “Memen­to Mori” for the view­ers of the fragili­ty of their own lives.