Liat Berdugo / Berkeley, CA
Liat Berdugo is an artist, writer, and curator whose work — which focuses on embodiment and digitality, archive theory, and new economies — interweaves video, writing, performance, and computer programming to form a considerate and critical lens on digital culture. Berdugo has been exhibited in galleries and festivals internationally, and she collaborates widely with individuals and archives. She is the co-founder and curator of the Bay Area’s Living Room Light Exchange, a monthly new media art salon; co-founder and curator of World Wide West, an annual summit, exhibit, and performative new media event, among others. Her writing appears in Rhizome, Temporary Art Review, Real Life magazine, and others, and her book, The Everyday Maths, was published by Anomalous Press in 2013. Berdugo received an MFA from RISD and a BA from Brown University. She is currently an assistant professor of Art + Architecture at the University of San Francisco.
What is the power of the technology of a video camera in the hand the marginalized, the oppressed, the repressed — in the hands of those resisting, and those without power of free speech? Can recordings of injustice cause and produce justice?
My artistic practice ask whether technology can be used to claim freedom and power, truth and reconciliation, in zones of conflict. I examine the use of technology — at the camera, in particular — in Israel/Palestine, a well-known and highly documented zone of conflict. My research materials draw from the the video archives of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights NGO that distributes cameras to Palestinians living in high-conflict areas, and gathers the footage. What distinguishes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, more than any other conflict of its kind, is the freedom to record. In this way, the footage is not unlike that which has spawned the #blacklivesmatter movement in the US, and which continues to be important in court cases and protests in my home city of Oakland, other areas in our county.
As a I see it, citizen videography is a way to claim power. When I think about this power, I think about how the tripod is a tool that stabilizes a camera, but it’s also a tool that stabilizes artillery. For both, this stability enables a clear shot. But for the weapon, this stability equals the intention to stay in power; for the camera, it equals the intention to claim it. In these special cases of a lens turned against a lens, everything folds in on itself. In a world increasingly full of cell phone videos and police body cams, how can we seek truth and reconciliation that addresses, and uses, this destabilizing force of citizen-held technology? What might citizen recordings do to provoke truth?
This work continues and politicizes my prior explorations in technology–which interrogate relationships between digitality, embodiment, and the economy. With all my work–whether it’s about gesture, labor, or power–I survey the ground between what the technology promises and what it delivers, and to leverage this work towards social change.
While at SFAI I worked on researching and writing a book, The Weaponized Camera in the Middle East: Videography, Politics and the Visual in the Israel-Palestine Conflict (forthcoming, Bloomsbury / I.B.Tauris Imprint). Given the time and space provided by SFAI, I was able to re-conceive the structure of this book from one that led with theory to one that embedded theory within examples, case studies, videos, images, and films. I was able to finally begin writing this book while in residence at SFAI.
My fellow residents at SFAI were a brilliant group, each tackling their own topics related to truth and reconciliation. I had long, important conversation about decolonization efforts, and the role of artistic practice within change-making. I was especially lucky to be a resident alongside another writer addressing Israel-Palestine, Linda Dittmar, who has since become one of my most trusted critics.
I met many community members working on their own reconciliation and social justice projects in Santa Fe, especially around archives and libraries. I was inspired by their local, situated efforts to bring justice to their communities and histories.