On the 7th of July, Israeli performance artists Jasman Wagner and Natali Cohen Vaxberg uploaded a video of themselves to Vimeo titled Shit Instead of Blood. In the clip, they drop steaming deuces onto dozens of flags from countries around the world, a scatalogical spectacle soundtracked by FrédéricChopin's "Grande Valse Brillante". In addition to the three-minute montage, they also uploaded individual videos of them defecating on each flag with the country's corresponding national anthem playing in the background.
At first, the compilation video didn't gain much attention. It wasn't until this fall that the video started to rack up views thanks to the the Shadow, a right-wing internet personality who later filed a complaint about the video with the Israeli police, who subsequently arrested Vaxberg for defiling a national symbol. Vaxberg was placed under house arrest for 30 days, during which time she wasn't allowed to use WiFi. (Wagner got off scot-free because she is currently living in Berlin, where artists pooping on things isn't that out of the ordinary).
Last week, I spoke to Vaxberg over her friend's phone and Skyped with Wagner, who explained that their project was political art without any specific country as a target. "It's about broad anti-nationalism", they agreed. "Don't take these symbols, these flags, seriously", added Vaxberg. "We took a crap on the Palestinian flag, the Israeli flag—all of them".
Vaxberg told me that on top of her house arrest and the confiscation of her cell phone and computer, the police wanted to "take and read my materials that I use for writing plays and poems. It felt like 1984".
The artists told me that Shit Instead of Blood was an experiment of sorts. Before uploading the clip, they predicted that even though they shat on a variety of flags, the Israeli press would report that they only fouled Israel's flag – which is exactly what happened. Even NBC News published an article that said the video was made "to protest the country's treatment of Palestinians".
"It starts a lot of conversation about Israel being as bad as Russia or another country where censorship is commonplace", said Vaxberg. "Plus, people are now talking about what is art and what isn't in Israel. Now people ask what is Israel really like? Israel calls itself a democracy – but is this a democracy?"
While Vaxberg's English was limited, my Skype conversation with Jasman expanded upon the project's goals, and she even told me what her favourite flag to shit on was.
Warning: This is a video of young women pooping on flags, so it's NSFW unless you work someplace where that sort of thing is fine.
VICE: What exactly inspired Shit Instead of Blood?
Jasman Wagner: It was Natali's idea. But somebody had to do it. It hadn't been done before. There is a difference between shitting on one flag – like [Aliaa Magda Elmahdy did in Egypt with ISIS's flag]. That was really cool, but it had a different message – it was against someone specific. What we wanted is a message against nationalism.
If you were to criticise, let's say, only Syria, that means you ignore that similar things happen in other countries. Somebody had to talk against broad nationalism, because people don't know the meaning, for example, of the word "Nazi". The word Nazi in Germany means a member of the National Socialist Party. Nationalism is not a good thing. It only leads to bad things.
At first, the idea was that we would do this project with lots of people around the world. Everyone would shit on a flag. Except for one person, who is a guest star, nobody agreed.
And the dog in the video, of course – a nice touch.
Yes, [laughs] but nobody else agreed. So we said, You know what? We'll do it. Me and you, shitting on the flags of the world.
So why did only Natali get arrested and not you?
First of all, we divided the flags up between us. She was doing the Israel flag, I was doing the Palestinian flag – but, of course, both of us stand behind every shit.
She lives in Israel, though, where freedom of speech is addressed differently than Germany.
Which shit are you most proud of?
I'm proud of all of them, but the ones I most enjoyed, for some reason, were Serbia and Croatia. I don't know why, it just looked beautiful. I think I ate a lot of fibers before it or something [laughs].
So how did you and Natali do this project together if you live in different countries?
We started working on art together at the Experimental School in Jerusalem, but this project began just before Natali came to visit Berlin. She was invited for a festival – she's an actress, playwright, and poet. She was happy she could visit me because I've lived in Berlin for four years. Before her visit, she told me about an idea where we'd shit on all the flags around the world. So I just started storming the shops and collecting flags.
How many flags did you shit on?
We need to count. You can count the number of videos on Vimeo.
You're holding one now – is that a fresh flag?
I washed them. It's a used one.
How long did it take you to make the final compilation?
It takes a long time because you cannot say, Today, I'm shitting on 40 flags. You can only shoot a video when you need to shit. This is why it's difficult to do it on stage or during a protest. We tried… When you don't need to shit, you won't shit. This is why I had a lot of problems setting up the camera when no one was there to take my video. This is also why you don't see my face in many of the shots. It was hard to angle the camera in time.
Were you surprised by the response to this video?
At first, we were shocked. We sent it to everybody who criticised the video Natali made. We sent it everywhere, but we only reached 4,000 views. Then, half a year later, we sent it to the Shadow. He shared it, and then suddenly everybody started watching it. Next he went and filed a complaint to the police, which led to Natali's arrest.
If your goal is to criticise nationalism broadly, do you think you succeeded?
I think there was an experimental goal. We said, If we shit on all the flags of the world, in Israel, they will write that we shit only on Israel's flag. And that happened. They wrote only about the specific video of the Israel flag.
It's interesting that your experiment worked out.
It completely succeeded. People didn't believe us. They told us that maybe they would write that it's bad that they shit on the Israeli flag. But the Israeli press saw a three-minute video and only acknowledged two frames of it.
If you walked around with a sign that said, "I hate Israel, I hate Palestine", everyone in Israel will call you a Palestinian supporter. People in the world don't know about this Israeli mindset, which was created by propaganda.
Did you see any Palestinian reports about this?
No. I think the Palestinians have actual problems to worry about. In Israel, they report about football and about people shitting on flags. I think one of the problems they have is the raging nationalism. There were people who saw the Palestinian flag and still were commenting, "Why didn't you shit on Palestine's flag?"
Do you consider yourself pro-anything? Pro-Israel or -Palestine?
Neither, because nationalism is dead. I think that the fact that your parents chose to rent an apartment somewhere nine months after they fucked doesn't mean anything.
It's much more moral to put shit on the flag than to put blood on the flag – to put your life on the flag. Some people say our video is disgusting, but every time I see all kinds of dead corpses in war, it disgusts me much more. I would rather see pictures of shit. And people see shit all the time. So why is it a taboo?
There are also cultural ideas, feminist issues, and social boundary issues involved in our work, except nationalism. For example, there are people denying the fact that women are shitting! It's like the Holocaust deniers: it never happened… Women do not shit! Boys fart. Boys shit. Not girls! Part of [male] chauvinism is to present women as "pure," to keep them like a statue, an object. There's a totally feminist issue that there are two girls shitting on all those manly (mostly man-led) countries.
I must say, of all of the things, Natali's arrest was totally un-proportional to what she did, especially since she didn't do an anti-Israeli thing. It was an anti-nationalism thing. But it's not surprising. I'm not surprised they did it, and I want to see if they can show the world that they are different from Putin.
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