Kings of the Hill

Yael Bartana

11 February 2003

7 min 30 sec, mini DV & DVD, PAL, color, sound.

In Kings of the Hill, Yael Bartana casts her gaze over a leisure activity that takes place normally every week by the sea in Tel Aviv: a number of four- wheel-drive vehicles try to climb to the top of sand dunes. In an interview, the artist pinpointed the thrust of this work, “the phenomenon of 4×4 vehicles is not exclusive to Israel. These gatherings of men in open areas also take place in Europe, the United States and other territories where cars are fashion items representing money and social status, something that has more to do with an image beyond its mere practical function. The reading of the work in the specific Israeli context elicits questions about occupation, aggression and our own affinity with the land.”

Indeed, beyond the specific context in which the action takes place, Yael Bartana’s reading of a whole set of attitudes and values can be extended to a behavioural pattern that is consubstantial to our societies. The association of masculinity with notions of power, force and competitiveness finds one of its foremost channels for reaffirmation in the car. The periodical repetition of this competition in the form of a social ritual reinforces that sense of both personal and group reaffirmation it contains. The choice of the car is also part of that process of identity affirmation: the association between a certain type of vehicle and a number of attitudes, or in a different sense, the ability of the motor industry to explore and to make the most of pathologies and needs. In that regard, Yael Bartana’s video unveils and brings to the fore a whole territory or social field defined by a culture of excess.