On the 24th of November, 1859, following two long years of hard work, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species was published. From that moment on, the concept of natural selection became central to understanding our world. The evolutionary scenario outlined by Darwin turned nature's violence into a prevalent, innate cultural phenomenon. Shaul's work observes the secrets of the civilized, socialized world from this fundamental point of view.
Violence is represented in the series "Hell is Other People" by full-size stuffed animals. The real thing is the ultimate ready-made, the natural material embodying the deep structures of reality. The dead animals tint the abstract social logic with a thin veneer of sheer violence, even though the social dimension has seemingly been sublimated. The totality of violence is expressed through complex crossbreeding of weak and strong, hunter and the hunted. Shaul grafts the two at the pelvis – the ultimate pleasure zone ("everyone follows their pleasure"), casting an allegorical gaze at the whole social order. In one image two men burst out of a dead animal's carcass, a pair of herbivores are joined in another, and two carnivores are coupled in yet another. Man is incarnated as animal, animal as Man, creating a complex mutation which defeats familiar evolutionary conventions.
Each of the creatures that make up the two-headed animal turns its gaze in a different direction: each follows its own destiny. The eternal struggle for survival is the bond that ties the elements together, or, in Darwin's terms, natural selection forces each species to be as competent as possible in its struggle with other species in a complex and constantly changing environment. Shaul's forced association points ironically to the significant social role assigned to violence. Violence has a double function in this context: it marks hierarchic delineations, but also serves as an ideological bond that binds the whole social entity.
But who is the hunter and who is the hunted in this tangled assemblage? The pieces do not provide a clear, comprehensive answer. Their natural division of labor occurs on the axis of power, which is not, as we know, a well-defined or a constant parameter. Power is an elusive entity, inherently and relentlessly fluid, unyielding to absolute possession. These properties identify power as the cumulative effect of real actions in a complex set of circumstances. In other words, in order to grasp power and feel its force, in must be constantly recreated.
The abstract properties of power are manifested in its material play (Foucault). This idea assumes that power does not reside in institutions or in specific persons; it is present in experience shaped by the exertion of violent conquest. Shaul introduces conquest in a series of patchwork maps constructed from animal fur ("No Justice Just Us"). The maps use bits of black or white fur to represent several geographical zones - South America, Alaska, and Africa. The maps' outlines do not simply reflect the topographical, objective projections, but also, and perhaps mostly, the patterns of colonial conquest and subjugation. Colonial power is represented by the slaughtered animal from whose skin the map has been sawn together, and by the labels on its surface. Thus, for example, the map of Africa shares formal similarity with another map which prominently displays the word "America." This similarity implies that all maps are cut from the same cloth, so to speak, along the same hegemonic mold. In another piece, a large part of the Black Continent is made from white fur labeled "Europe," indicating White Man's rule. The moment in which natural borders have become a continuous line drawn on a map, with no parallel in topographical space, was the moment when the White Man took over the Other's territory and turned their manifold treasures into legitimate spoils of war. The map has become a scientific abstraction standing for the spirit of progress, and at the same time a symbolic representation of a belligerent, violent reality.
"Nuevo Mundo" construes violent reality through images provided by military force. Military force is represented by a series of destroyers and aircraft carriers, made of horse fur. The destroyer harbors potential force, waiting to detonate and wreak havoc on a condition of fear and anxiety. This is violence symbolically represented as promise, ever-present in life, or, as Foucault put it, where there's force there's resistance, which in turn leads to another belligerent outbreak, since every act of liberation conceals renewed repression.
A pair of antlers emerges from the apex of each destroyer. This strange hybrid equates the social-cultural laws with those of nature, and attests to the animal force begat by scientific and technological progress. Shaul investigates the threat implied in destructive power by turning it into an art object. Art, language, and linguistic rituals (charters, declarations, and social contracts) strive to hide Man's violent aggression under the normative cloak of culture. But culture, the series claims, cannot escape the fierce passions it camouflages, since culture is the final effect of the violent deed itself. Eric Santner put it this way: "Our tribe has no cannibals. We ate the last one yesterday."
Is culture that last cannibal who ate the last cannibal? The series "Swear words" supplies an artistic answer to this theoretical musing, by displaying a rich and varied collection of swear words. Shaul has translated a selection of swear words from the original Arabic ("Levantine," "other," "uncouth") into English, the language of "high" Western culture. The Latin characters are placed inside a fine gold frame, redolent of old world aristocracy, which freezes robbed oriental treasures in respectable exhibition spaces. The cultural imperialism associated with the English language enhances the effect. Shaul's transcription voids the juicy expressions – kusallamamack, enaal rabback ,ahocharamotta – of their original meaning, through the symbolic domestication act effected by Western culture. At the same time, the act of domestication functions as a vehicle of defamiliarization, exposing the vast power hidden in language's symbolic violence. Myth, image, and fantasy are no less than the aggressive violence intrinsic to the real world.
"Loot" speaks to such a fantasy. The piece shows three birds of prey (two crows and a falcon) roosting over huge diamonds placed on a bed of coal. The installation comprises two tall tables standing on a black podium, which confers the sanctity of the museum upon the scene. However, the materials used to create the installation contain a disturbing duality, but signifying the toughest substance in nature as a product of common, everyday materials (a diamond's origin is coal; the regal bird is skin and bones). This duality points to wealth as an object of imagination and fantasy. The desire to achieve it, Shaul says, fuels the engines of male violence – primordial, fervent, urgent – which owes its existence to the Darwinian instinct that lies deep at the foundation of the passion for living.