Our era is one of weakness, and is invaded by images. Photography is repetitive and reigns supreme over an artistic milieu that stays away from politics. Artists, too busy with art festivals and biennales, are not moved by the world’s commerce, and usually avoid commenting on worldly government. We care so little that the emergence of a young photographer who is troubled by her world disconcerts us.
For over a decade now, Noel Jabbour has been placing the marginal at center stage, forcing her viewers to take notice of the overlooked. Her photographs consistently expose a human dimension, an angle of vision, or a profound insight, which are usually unseen or ignored. In this, she performs one of art’s important tasks: rendering visible what is otherwise invisible. Jabbour’s art-making praxis has a transformative dimension as well: it expands our range of vision and shows us things that are important to see.
With her/his personal memory, every individual stands in a complex relationship to what is called collective memory. In artistic depiction, the personal aspect works off history in its entirety, in societal structures, in coarse turning points and changes. Against this background, the artistic individual operates macrologically, so to speak, and at the same time determines what and how the viewers will individually remember her/his pictures.
As difficult as the connection between collective history and individual experience can be in detail, that is how clearly a struggle is currently being carried out over the collective interpretation of history, i.e., over the framework for personal memory. Usually this is a peculiar struggle from above, channeled in many ways by the media. We often merely parrot what the media and politics suggest to us. The Palestinian Noel Jabbour, born in Nazareth in 1970, has caused a stir several times with her photos, for example her diverse series on the Israel-Palestine conflict [»Segregation Wall«, »The Abu Dis Wall«] and on the living conditions of three Palestinian families on the outskirts of East Jerusalem [»Life on the City Edge«] and with portraits of prostitutes, for example in Italy and the Czech Republic [»The Living Road«] with whom she established contact in various urban surroundings.
The way Noel Jabbour views the objects of her pictures displays a kind of knowledge and simultaneously a concealment of the actual, an oscillating between depiction, melancholy and sarcasm, documentary journalism, and a speaking between the lines—all of it formulated with an alert eye. At first sight, her photos are unspectacular. On second glance, we see how the thin veneer of our consensuses on certain points of societal conflict and of cultural chasms is crumbling. What remains is an appallingly silent lack of questions and the chauvinistic tones of the phrases mouthed by certain observers who are not only heard from society’s marginal zones, but are now situated in the middle of society—between dullness and the decay of values.
Noel Jabbour’s pictures are not truer than life; nor do they want to convert us to »goodness«. On her path, the artist has approached the flashpoints of globalization and the failure of the West. She has developed her own picture of the conflict situations. In this, she knows how to preserve the dignity of her figures, even and especially when they are forced to live and work in difficult situations that test their humanity.
Christoph Tannert, Director of the Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
Noel Jabbour’s Million Dollar Homes offers the viewer a glimpse into the socio-economics of the American South. Yet these images remain very timely in the way they arouse thoughts of the current evaporating U.S credit and mortgage economy. In Galveston, TX were Noel Jabbour shot Million Dollar Homes in 2006, many of these types of homes were once vacation homes for the upper middle class of Texas. The idea of the ‘One Million $ Houses’ has become a catchy slogan that local realtors and people in the area call luxury homes sprinkled along the gulf coast beaches. Theses types of homes are often meant to accommodate up to12 people and the property is on average about 190,000 square meters.
Beyond the price tag and specifications theses Million Dollar Homes have a quintessential American aesthetic. The ‘picket white fence’ is the hallmark image of the ‘American Dream.’ In some of the photography, the picket white fences seem more like a garnishing instead of a type of fencing. The color palate and architectural elements exude an archetypal American Southern look. The long and grand plantation style porches are vacant and ready for summer enjoyment on the gulf coast.
However, the Million Dollar Homes create a psychology outside the space of vacationing and enjoyment. Noel Jabbour frames her subject with a simplicity that arouses a sense of emptiness and abandonment. The viewer is held at a distance and gazes from afar at the vacant luxury homes. The picket white fences sever the foreground and project an inaccessibility to the space beyond the white fence and fog.
The fog softens all detail and suspends the Million Dollar Homes in temporal limbo. Making it difficult to see signs of decay, imperfections, use, and the passage of time. The fog carries through each photograph an indifferent and cool tone. It creates a surreal image and collapses the horizon and engulfs any sense of direction outside of the picket white fences.
These Million Dollar Homes are arrested in a dream-like temporal state that evokes thoughts of Edward Hooper’s painting of abandoned rural homes. In the 1960’s when André Breton, a French Surrealist, was exiled in America he became acquainted with Edward Hooper’s work. Breton became interested in Hooper as an ‘American surrealist’ whose work has the ability to express an unnerving ‘synthesis of reality and dream’. Hooper’s paintings of abandoned homes capture a socio-economic phenomenon stemming from shifts in wealth and population. In the 1950s and 1960s large populations were leaving the rural areas in search of work and opportunity in more industrialized cities. Jabbour’s formal investigations have a parallel interest in the synthesis of a contemporary socio-economic reality, dream, and phenomenon behind the American pursuit of wealth and real-estate.
Rosalinda Gonzalez, curator and media artist