Guy Ben Ner / Meet Me. Tie Me. Wet Me

Jan 12 – Feb 28, 2023

At the entrance to the retrospective Go Back Where U Came From, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the text states that Guy Ben Ner is one of the most prominent video artists in the world today. Ben Ner is celebrated for the originality and innovativeness of his video art, and yet nothing in it is original or new. Everything has a previous life elsewhere – in literature, poetry, films, theater, a street bench, a garbage can, store signs, DIY furniture. That’s one of the conditions of Ben Ner’s art – everything must be recycled, deconstructed, cut and pasted. In his latest film,Whatever Gets You Through the Night (2021), Ben Ner rips down letters from storefront signs around Tel Aviv. He vandalizes, steals, plagiarizes – even himself. Twenty-six years earlier, he stripped away the meaning from storefront signs to form a new narrative.


The early works in this exhibition embody the seed of his later video art. The collages from 1994-1995, are like a code to the themes his late works follow: propositions, sexuality, fear of death, a childlike gaze that reconstructs reality.


“It’s a game that limits my ability to speak or create and I need to find my way within it,” says Ben Ner about the works on view. Freedom must be achieved through constraints. This is a cornerstone of his work and one of the paradoxes on which his art is poised. With his hands tied he’s free to create. “It’s a way of saying something and at the same time refusing responsibility for it. There’s nothing else I could’ve written with that.” Which is why, in his opinion, he can’t be blamed. These are not his statements. “It’s a way of having a private, emotional talk with a mask, as if I’m saying: I’m only performing a text that’s given to me by another mechanism.”


In 1965 Bob Dylan wrote: You lose yourself/you reappear/you suddenly find/you have nothing to fear. These days, when it’s nearly impossible to disappear, Ben Ner attempts to do so by playing a leading role in his films. Another paradox. He wears a mask to expose himself, plagiarizes to create original art, and improvises freedom within limits. If there’s no way to defeat the trappings of civilization, Ben Ner seems to say, he’ll obey his own rules. Within his own rules he has control. He can organize reality to expose the truth. But are self-imposed restrictions truly restricting? And if it’s only a game, what’s the truth? Even if his works provide an answer, Ben Ner found a loophole to escape accountability for it.


Curator: Anat Shavit Pinhasy

Works in the exhibition courtesy of the artist and a private collection, Tel Aviv.