Courtesy of ArtPort Tel Aviv.
In April 1939, the New York World’s Fair opened under the title “The World of Tomorrow.” Amid monumental buildings and hovering dirigibles, between pavilions showcasing innovations and inventions from all over the world, crowds of visitors walked around wearing “I have seen the future” pins, which corresponded with the fair’s slogan, promising a glimpse into the “Dawn of a New Day.” Like the fairs before and after it, the 1939 fair was also based on the hope that tomorrow would be better, a hope that even World War II, which broke out a few months later, could not undermine.
That future, imagined throughout most of the 20th century, is now here. We know it well from movies and books: flying cars, control rooms full of screens, silvery costumes, and teleportation. Only with the turn of the millennium and the insight that this future, which we watched for many years on black and white broadcasts, looks slightly different, we seem to have given it up trying to imagine it; a relinquishment that has only intensified in the past two years, in which it has finally become clear that reality surpasses any science fiction movie. Nevertheless—the view of the future, as established throughout the glittering world’s fairs, remained with us: faster, higher, stronger.
The world’s fairs, which began in the mid-19th century, were a grand celebration of tourism and commerce, the spearhead of scientific, commercial, technological, and artistic inventions and innovations: a huge carnival, embedding monumental architecture along with political and economic considerations, spiced with dreams and curiosity about the future of humanity. The great inventions, the innovative buildings, the exciting promises, were all presented for the first time at the fair—from ketchup to the fluorescent light bulb, from the phone call to the zipper, from the television broadcast, the ice cream cone, the X-ray machine, and the Ferris wheel to Paris’s Eiffel Tower, Seattle’s Space Needle, London’s Crystal Palace, and other icons built especially for the fair. The cities were decorated for the festive event. Phallic structures were erected, and often removed too, in the blink of an eye. The world felt better, if only momentarily.
Concurrent with the glamorous outdoor events, a completely different kind of glitzy event developed indoors—the cocktail-party culture, which began in the United States during the heyday of the world’s fairs, in the post-World War II era. With the move to the suburbs and the rise of consumer culture and household products, and especially with the introduction of television to the center of the living room, cocktail parties came to offer a different kind of social life. What began as a celebration inaugurating new consumer goods and household items soon became an alcohol-saturated social event. Friends and neighbors gathered around cocktails and finger foods—hors d’oeuvres and palate pleasers, small vegetables, mini sandwiches, cheese cubes, and drinks garnished with colorful paper umbrellas.
Glasses clink, eye meets eye, hands are extended to be shaken. In “Finger Food and Future Mistakes”, Guy Goldstein brings together two different events—the multi-participant World”s Fair and a small, intimate home cocktail—for a shared inquiry into the forces that drive them and the motivations that set them in motion. From bottles opened for an intimate toast to the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, from a face to face conversation to an outdoor public address system, from the demand not to crowd to the yearning to be part of a crowd. The exhibition delves into the basic need for a human encounter and the places where it bends or adapts itself to the human need for organization, supervision, and maintaining norms. The desire to predict the future goes hand in hand with the need to test and check, and the knowledge of everything that has happened, is happening, and is supposed to happen. Examining countless past data, which are supposed to impact the future: from analysis of maps and graphs drawn by hand in the 1940s to today’s big data; from an identified, uniformed enemy to an invisible web enemy; from the arms race to the vaccine race.
The work The Good Standards displayed on the gallery’s entrance space, may be interepted as the control room dominating the space. A network of music stands and metronomes creates a complex array of sounds and supervision, like an orchestra without instruments; a machine room whose purpose is unclear. Kinetic and sculptural elements produce sounds in a variety of rhythms, techniques, and speeds—some appear to be hanging by a thread, soon to cross the threshold, and everything attached to them will fall. The aids, which are supposed to carry the musical code (the notes) and monitor it through the steady metronome rhythm, become the instruments themselves. Their movement resembles a search for a frequency, like an endless search for something that will never be found. The mechanical arms—windshield wipers, radio antennas, a fan, a magnet, a magnifying glass—swing from side to side like a pendulum, deprived of their original meaning, activating the background which they are scanning.
In contemporary culture, the pendulum marks forces operating in opposite directions, the boundaries of discourse and the power of ideological concepts; two forces that pull the weight from side to side, away from the comfort zone, toward change or extreme disagreement. As the pendulum’s extremities approach each other, the space in which it moves shrinks, and the possibilities inherent in it become fewer. In the world of mysticism, the pendulum is used to predict the future. It is considered an amplifier of the body’s energies and neural frequencies and is supposed to reflect our personal inclinations and preferences: from fateful decisions, such as whom to marry, to mundane ones, such as what to eat. Through “yes” and “no” answers, the pendulum furnishes its users with the absolute freedom not to decide for themselves, providing them with the ability to put their fate in the hands of greater internal or external forces.
Hosts of eyes accompany the exhibition, peeking from behind lenses and drink stirrers; impaled on cocktail sticks next to olives; unfolding like a winding train track that passes around the table, like a train at an amusement park or as a musical score; surveying the table and looking for a foothold to understand the reality facing them. They move between small plates and finger foods, amid soft, fluffy sausages, tiny zeppelin dumplings whose content remains mysterious, and piles of olives—not local Israeli olives, rife with national references, but American olives—pitted, voided, seedless, and futureless; instant olives, ready to eat; olives for a martini glass; olives of feigned politeness, which do not require spitting the pit out or, God forbid, choking on it; olives whose large black pupil stares at us, as we try to evade ourselves.
When did we stop imagining the future? When did our optimistic outlook change, and alongside the discourse on the dawn of a new day we began to talk about the decline of mankind? When did we stop following the innovations of technology in admiration and began to fear that technology is following us? Using industrial leftovers collected from factories that were closed down, Goldstein creates an alternative existential space, devoid of a clear time or place, a space of imaginary future for an equally imaginary past; a utopian moment in a dystopian present—a possibility for rectification in an incessant sequence of mistakes.