Adam Broomberg e Oliver Chanarin

Chicago #2, 2006
Chicago, Tze’elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Chicago
C-type print
© Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

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ADAM BROOMBERG & OLIVER CHANARIN (South Africa, 1970; United Kingdom, 1971)

Chicago, 2006-13
Photographic prints on wall paper

Mini Israel, 2006
Video, 10’26”

Courtesy the artists

The works presented by the artists in the show belong to the project Chicago, a reflection on the theme of the real and symbolic construction of a territory, a place that becomes the expression of the conditions of violence and insecurity generated by the unresolved Palestinian question on the Israeli territory. Chicago is the name of an artificial city situated in the Negev desert, built entirely by the Israeli army at the beginning of the 1980s with the aim of creating the most realistic scenario possible for the training of the Israeli army’s special forces. It was initially a mock-up Lebanese village, subsequently enlarged to become the simulated neighbourhood of an Iraqi city. More recently, in the years of the second Intifada, it reached the size of a fully-fledged Palestinian village, modelled on the towns of Ramallah and Nablus.
In a conceptual reflection on the role and value of the image, the approach of Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin combines the clarity of documentary photography with the ambiguity deriving from the presumption of reality with which photography is traditionally associated. The two artists question the function of photography in relation to conflicts today, in a society saturated with images, where traditional photographic reportage has lost much of its original meaning, having been superseded by digital technology and by the need to bend to the dictates of politics, through embedment and self-censorship.
Two large wallpapers represent details of “real” but “fake” interiors of Chicago, a place that is the likeness of a city, without actually being one. The star-shaped figure in the wall is a visual representation of the military technique of “worming” that has characterized the action of the Israeli army in Palestinian villages, a method of navigating urban areas by moving through walls, instead of along streets and alleyways where the soldiers are most vulnerable. Once the soldiers have determined that a space is safe, they blast a hole through the walls, creating channels through bedrooms and living rooms in the homes of real Palestinian towns. The home, a place of shelter by definition, a private, protected area, is breached. The road, a public place of communication and exchange by definition, is instead literally walled up, in an interpretation of the border as an architecture of exclusion and mechanism of security and protection. The wallpaper on the third wall of the room visually renders this condition through a close-up of a detail of those rocky walls that flank the roads built for the transit of Israeli colonists through the Palestinian territory in which they live, to arrive safely in their workplaces in Israel.
The video Mini Israel, lastly, shows an automated model of the Middle-Eastern country, originally built as a tourist attraction. It draws further attention to the themes of the Chicago series, both through the presences and the absences emanating from the images. The presences are the ancient history, the holy places of different religions, and a building program of new infrastructures and new settlements. The absence is the Arab population – reduced to the role of extras engaged in activities of livestock rearing and prayer, relegated in this case not so much to a segregated area, but to a remote time, distant from that of the everyday life (and reality) of the Jewish people – and, most of all, the Wall is absent, the one physically dividing those two worlds.


Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin (1970, South Africa; 1971 United Kingdom; they live and work in London) have been collaborating for over a decade. They have produced six books which in different ways examine the language of documentary photography; Trust (2000) accompanied their first solo-show at The Hasselblad Center; Ghetto (2003), a collection of their work as editors and principal photographers of Colors magazine, was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum; Mr Mkhize’s Portrait (2004) documented South Africa ten years after apartheid and accompanied a solo show at The Photographers’ Gallery (London); Chicago (2006), an exploration of the militarization of contemporary Israel, was published by SteidlMACK in conjunction with a solo-show at The Stedelijk Museum; and Fig (2007), by Steidl/Photoworks, accompanied their solo exhibitions at the John Hansard Gallery and Impressions Gallery (Bradford, UK). The Red House (2007), produced in the cells below the former Baathist Party headquarters in Iraq, is published by Steidl Editions. Broomberg and Chanarin regularly teach workshops and give master classes in photography, as well as lecturing on the MA in Documentary Photography at LCC. They teach at the Ecole Supérieure d’Arts Appliqués in Paris and are Visiting Fellows at the University of the Arts London. They are the recipients of numerous awards, including the Vic Odden Award from the Royal Photographic Society and the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013. Together they have participated in numerous international exhibitions including the Gwangju Biennale, the Stedelijk Museum, the International Center of Photography, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, The Photographers’ Gallery and Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art. Their work is represented in major public and private collections including the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Stedelijk Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Musée de l’Elysée, the International Center of Photography and Loubna Fine Art Society.

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