David Reeb Let’s Have Another War No.5 1997

Artwork details

Artist
David Reeb born 1952
Title
Let’s Have Another War No.5
Date 1997
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1600 x 1400 x 21 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Joseph Hackmey 2000
Reference
T07652
Not on display

Summary

Let's Have Another War No.5 is based on two photographs by the Israeli photo-journalist Miki Kratsman (who works for the newspaper Ha'aretz), taken in the Occupied Territories in September 1996. These events are called by the Israelis 'the last war' - meaning most recent rather than final - although the concept of a final war in the context of Reeb's title for the work is itself an irony. Prior to this series Reeb painted military images but not war itself. The Let's Have Another War series, which according to the artist consists of about fifteen works painted in his Tel Aviv studio, marks a departure in this respect. To most viewers used to seeing images of the conflict the assumption will be that the two figures firing in the upper image are Israeli soldiers and that the figures emerging from the cinema below are Palestinians in fear of being shot. However, the figures shooting are in fact Palestinian policemen firing at Israeli soldiers, thus forces of law and order firing upon the force that permitted their establishment. It was during this period that a Palestinian policeman shot an Israeli soldier for the first time. Previously Israeli soldiers had only been killed by weapons held illegally. This time it was by a weapon legally held. As Ariella Azoulay intimates, shooting at the occupying forces was executed 'under the aegis of the law and as an expression of abidance by the law' ('Let's Have Another War' in Let's Have Another War: David Reeb, Tel Aviv 1997, not paginated). The shot marked the beginning of a war in which over two hundred people were killed and which was partly provoked by the Israelis' decision to start an archaeological dig beneath the Dome of the Rock in Old Jerusalem. Built around 687-691 AD, the Dome of the Rock is one of the holiest Muslim shrines, said to mark the spot from where the Prophet Mohammed made his Miraj, or 'night journey' to the heavens and back to Mecca (Quran 17:1); it stands on Temple Mount, where the first and second Jewish Temples were apparently built (the former in 957 BC, then demolished in 586 BC, and the latter in 515BC, destroyed in 70 AD). This site is thus holy for two different, but related, warring religions.

The paintings are not simply a depiction of conflict but also of the conditions under which such conflict may be observed. The camera lens is the eye of the occupier. The photojournalist shoots to left and right very much as a soldier shoots his gun. But the photojournalist's job is governed by rules; he can only enter areas by permission, and generally speaking he is not a primary target even though he may be allied, by nationality if nothing else, with the occupier, the forces of control. Kratsman recalled that he decided not to photograph the Palestinian policemen from the back but to be in the centre of the conflict himself. The shooting seemed to be entirely random. 'I am convinced that ninety-something percent of their shots were at nothing. They were in a euphoria of using their weapons rather than hitting anything with them. It all looked as though you had taken people who'd been in the army for two days and told them to fight. No military drill. They looked like civilians, with civilian behaviour, who'd got hold of weapons and army uniforms. There was no logic in anything they did, whether it was somebody running and doing a Rambo spin-and-dive on the street or people who shot and hid behind bushes. This was a Wild West situation, every man for himself. It all looked very naïve. A naïve battle' (quoted by Azoulay). 'The game of war is seen at its start', Azoulay has written, 'the players are not yet sufficiently familiar with the rules, the arena is unclear. It is unclear who is fighting against whom, the separation between the arena of "war" and the audience watching it is indistinct, the relation between the direction of advance and retreat is not unequivocal, the front line is overrun, the movements are lax, the gestures aren't only military, the strategic dispensation is unintelligible.' Are the Palestinians emerging from the cinema as an innocent target or are they a group of terrorists taking cover? Are they a target at all or have they emerged to see what is going on? Reeb deliberately courts ambiguity in his effort to depict not only the futility but the inevitability of the conflict. As he has stated in an interview with Azoulay: 'I think that in Israel there is a situation like the acting out of something similar to a morality play. A simple story on the one hand of a struggle for power, and on the other a struggle for liberation. All in all it represents trends that exist in every society and in everyone. The only position an artist can assume in regard to it is the position of the viewer rather than anything else. Fifteen years ago I might have answered differently. Then I felt a little bit more that I was in the position of spokesman, somebody whose job it is to speak in [sic] behalf of other people. Today, whether I like it or not, I find myself in a vaguer position.' (Quoted in Azoulay, 'A Painting Is a Thin Layer of Paint Applied onto a Canvas', Let's Have Another War.)

The title of the painting and the series can be interpreted in different ways. It can be read as an absolute desire to wage war or it can be seen as a rather jocular remark indicating that if peace cannot be found any other way, then 'let's have another war.' An impasse has been reached. No conclusion can be reached other than by war. Wars are defining moments, while the passage of time between wars is historically less memorable. Thus the period of the 1920s and 1930s is often referred to as the decades between the wars. But the phrase 'let's have another war' is also a declaration of futility, of inability to negotiate the way out of the crisis, the intractable nature of the complaint and the obstinacy of the representatives of the two sides of the conflict.

Further reading:
Let's Have Another War: David Reeb, M Publishers, Tel Aviv 1997, unpaginated
David Reeb: Recent Paintings and Photographs, exhibition catalogue, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin 1999

Jeremy Lewison and Giorgia Bottinelli
February 2002