Earth to Earth

Uri Gershuni, Untitled (4), 2020-2022, black-and-white photograph, archival inkjet print, 5x7 cm (40x30 cm framed)

Uri Gershuni operates in the field of photography like a lightning rod of stories and the traces they leave behind. His work is a form of clinging to what will pass and fade away. The exhibition Earth to Earth features two series of photographs, centered on clouds, plots of land, and planes crossing the sky. The series […]

Come Crawling

Uriel Miron, Dog-Ears, 2017, stained and painted maple, 92x120x13 cm

Downwards Facing Dog In the studio stands a very large sculpture, bursting with color and joy. It has an orange tail with stinger held aloft, almost brushing against the ceiling, and an undulating blue body, and a huge red claw stretching forward, and another small, stout yellow leg, and a long green haunch. Each limb […]

But Why Do I Hear the Crickets, it’s Morning

On an autumnal Friday morning, about four years ago, when he was walking his twin children to school, Tomer Sapir’s daughter, Tamara, asked: “But why do I hear the crickets; it’s morning?” The question sounded to him like the vision of a prophetess who identified a disruption in nature, and echoed a dream he once […]

The Iron Road

Ira Eduardovna, The Iron Road, 2021, Two channel video installation, Duration: 22 min, Video still (2)

In her two-channel video, The Iron Road (2021), Ira Eduardovna revisits the night in which her family left Uzbekistan on its way to Israel, focusing on her memories as a ten-year-old girl from the farewell at the train station, which marked the beginning of a long journey. The artist reconstructs the train cabin from memory, returning her […]

Aviva’s Eye, Beuys Body

In his new exhibition, at the Bar-David Museum, Rahat presents charcoal drawings on paper and oil paintings on jute. In these works, the artist describes the influence of great international and Israeli artists on his works, inner world, and art.

FIRESTARTER

Assaf Rahat, From Series 'Daysleeper', Untitled (3), 2020, Ballpoint pen on paper, 29.5x21 cm

Are we facing a process of creation or erasure? Of subsistence or disappearance? In a series of intimate drawings, Assaf Rahat draws homeless figures, whom he meets on the city’s boulevards and alleys. The figures seem indifferent to their environs, indrawn, curled up to sleep on a bench surrounded by vegetation at the heart of […]

Folding Scenery

Nadav Weissman, Installation, Museo de la Ciudad de Querètaro, Mexico, 2022. plywood and charcoal, video mapping animation, Variable dimensions. Installation view (1)

Nadav Weissman’s exhibition, Folding Scenery, is a multi-layer installation of plywood sheets and digital projections snaking along the gallery walls and protruding into its space. Like a cut-and-pasted folded landscape, this jigsaw puzzle of physical and organic parts takes its forms from natural environments and the human body; creating a topographic view of invented territories. […]

The Slave Age

Following a global apocalypse, individuals from around the country gathered en masse for what appears to be an endless caravan, a procession without a clear purpose or destination–perhaps the sole reason for action in a hollow space that rejects any interpretation. Disdain for the notion that, within this huge, stifling order, someone–a person or a […]

Take Me Out of Here

Tal Shoshan, Take me Out of Here, 2021, Petah Tikva Museum of Art, Installation View (2)

Curator: Irena Gordon We step into a landscape which is an interior, a hidden space whose walls have been breached, revealing it in all its familiarity and strangeness. The space is inviting, drawing us in with its tactile sensuality, its formal richness, and the interrelations between the various objects within it. As we go in […]

Underground 2

Nadav Weissman, Underground 2, 2021, Birch, plywood and charcoal, video mapping animation, Variable dimensions Site-specific installation, Dana Gallery, Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Detail (3)

Site-specific installation at Dana Gallery, Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Birch, plywood and charcoal, video mapping animation, Variable dimensions.

Slippery Slope

Smadar Keren Text for “Slippery Slope”, Beit Uri and Rami Nehoshtan Museum, 2021 ‍ Two series of paintings from the past year are at the core of Shai Yehezkelli’s exhibition. `Star of Redemption,’ a grouping of four works, each with a flawed star at its center, and ‘Slippery Slope,’ a trio of paintings that feature […]

Ballade to the Double

“Ballade to the Double” 17.3.2022-9.7.2022 Curator: Rotem Zuta. Ballade to the Double draws the viewer into a Connecticut train ride filmed over the course of a year. All four New England seasons are projected simultaneously, sideby-side, in a way that transforms our usual experience of time and landscape. The journey is seen from the front […]

ART B AND B | 9-12 Nov. 2020

Art B and B

Monday  at 8pm starts the “sleeping show” by “Protective Edge” group in the sleepy empty halls of the Tel-Aviv’s cultural institutions. You’re welcome to join us at Shaul Hamelech 19 BLV or watch the live streaming in the following link: https://vimeo.com/event/439630 ART B AND B From 9-12 November, the “Protective Edge” group undertakes renews action, […]

Yotam

 Yotam

 

A cycle of works by Gideon Gechtman , 1999

Herzliya Museum of Art, January-February 2000
Rehovot Municipal Art Gallery, May-June 2000
Mishkan Le'Omanut, Museum of art, Ein Harod, September-October 2000

Elegy, ready-made

As Walter Benjamin tells us in his lamentation of the gradual waning of experience, in the modern era death (and dying) has been removed from the perceptual world of the living, from the public sphere of the (bourgeois) community, through its increased isolation by means of hygienic and social procedures – to the point that the very thought of death has declined in omnipresence and vividness. Gideon Gechtman's works- by now a life work-confronts us (at its peaks, such as the present set-up) with that which we would rather evade.
 

From a certain point in time, death – the very experience of facing death – was posed as a source of authority underlying Gechtman's work, through re- activation of the notion of eternity (what is left of it, as a term). The current set – up is already a stage- like modeling of an experience endured, of the after-death – the death of someone who was crucially significant to his life as well as to his artistic work – by means of what is left: the indirect testimony, the waste, the remains, the secular relic.
The possible persistence of memory, and thus the very ability to experience the work beyond the formal context, assume the existence of a community possessing prior knowledge (a community which Gechtman indeed activated, for real, when raising funds for his son's medical treatment) – or a late, belated, belief in the ability to reconstitute a community based on shared experience (which is no longer the common experience which Zionist agenda, for instance, sought to engender, one of whose articulation is contained within `Yad Labanim`, the memorial room for fallen soldiers located on the other side of the wall).
 

Gechtman's work – whose components are to consolidate in the course of time into a total work of art – comprises concentric systems of formal hybridizations based on a metaphorical adoption of prevalent concepts from the field of genetics – reproducing-mutation-evolution – and their activation through the attributes of a local material culture (or to be more exact, through the surface embodying the ersatz-culture of the lower- middle class suburbia). Alongside the engagement with the material culture there lies the biographical artery – the axis of personal and familial fate, an institution which is the ultimate embodiment of reproduction and transformation relation- intersecting, in different modes, the chain of reproductions and mutations comprising the world of objects which is the material culture. At the thematic focal point of these concentric circles lies Gechtman's own body – an everyman whose heart contains an object without which he has no life – and next to it, from a certain moment on, the accompanying figure of his son Yotam – a reproduction both fine and flawed. The current cycle of works is a farewell, parting with the son as a life partner, and, in a sense, as the object and the primary, privileged addressee of his work as a whole.
In terms of artistic fate – and Gechtman operates within a framework where art is already in quotation marks – his works manifests a cross-breeding between the making of that which is still sculptural (in the traditional sense, in terms of the use of material, formal values, and the presence of the work-sculpture in the private or public sphere), and a pragmatic functioning in the manner of post-Duchampian kind of artist. Gechtman's typical artistic practice takes place in the twilight zone in-between sculpture shifted or fallen into the world of objects, the world of design and commodities, and a (ready-made) object pushed into situations of sculptural-like allegories. In most cases, it is still not an absolute objects materialized, for instance, in American art, which operates in reference to a quintessentially object-oriented culture. One of the causes of this “fall” lies in the world of material-substitutes which Gechtman – from the outset of his career – has been employing in an informed, yet never Camay or cute manner. Unlike natural (original) materials – material substitutes, embodying a partition, no longer allow processes of transfiguration, but only the immediacy inherent in production which eradicates the temporal dimension, like an industrial product, one directed for the gaze.
 

In this fall into the world of objects (and into the dimension of invitality and finality inherent in it), Gechtman's work partakes, as the echo speech of someone who is located at the margins, in the comprehensive process of modernist art's collapse into the theatrical – a state of affairs in which it has been immersed since the 1960s; one underlied by three modes of artistic production formulated during that decade in American art: Pop, Minimalism and Conceptualism. Gechtman's artistic œuvre was, from the outset, marked by quasi-popular hybridization and modification of aesthetic codes, devised at the “center” by these three trends, as well as by concurrent differentiated cases (such as Richard Artschwager, Robert Morris , and Marcel Broodthaers; Joseph Beuys is particularly significant withregard to structuring art as a personal myth in relation to an omnipresent horizon of death) – codes such as the use of hackneyed images derived from mass culture; repeated-modified application of serial models (and their violation or mutation); and reliance on quasi-research-minded modes of presentation and on work coefficients founded on non-visual models.
 

This possible historical unfolding of a discussion of Gechtman's work is not aimed at reconstructing its historical origins, but rather at indicating a principle nucleus of a work which may at times appear all-too-obvious – work concerned with exemplifying, by the means of a province-based individual, processes of constant cross-breeding, reproduction and mutation of cultural codes; processes occurring away from the code's “original” place of emergence. Within this context, we are concerned with modification of artistic codes – code fragments, to be more precise – that arrive, in gradually intensifying degrees of meditation, from a center where they emerge in their quintessentiality. In their transition to the periphery – in this case, to the Israeli lunar culture (a culture whose industrious documentor in photography may be Gilad Ophir) – they undergo a process of enfeeblement, and are fused to render electric hybridic combination. The pseudo-aesthetic characteristics (for we are concerned with adopted aesthetics originating in the “surface” of the lower-middle class, in its local sense) of Gechtman's work, with their inarticulateness or awkwardness , are derived from “lunar reflexivity” concerning his location here, in the shikum (public housing project), in the orient.
 

It is this paradoxical alertness to a collective state of sleep or numbness that produces the more radical aspect of his work, which may be dubbed “radical mediocrity”: a principle choice of averageness, possibly for the sake of survival; an act performed out of a servile acceptance of limitation, of weighing average beliefs and taste-conventions; an act which refuses to contain, as a defense against mauvais-foi, a potential of revelation (bliss).the `anywayish` reliance on Christian manifestation and emotional patterns – the figure of the Orant in the exhibition Exposure, the iconography of Deposition, and the polyptych structure of the works in the current cycle may also be perceived as derived from the same position.
The work Exposure presented as an exhibition in 1975 was a key event in Gechtman's oeuvre. In this total work – one of the first installation works presented in Israel – he installed a pseudo-documentary cycle of staged photographs, like a morality play of secular salvation modeled on a familiar iconographical formula of early Christian art. The installation , so the story goes, laconically presented a deconstructed process of marching toward a possible death and over coming it, albeit temporarily, through external intervention in the form of an object (a valve) implanted in Gechtman's heart. This key event was perceived as a gateway to a new awareness of subject-object relations and to a new type of hybridic existence of a person whose most charged organ – as far as the cliche goes – had become mechanized. The work also marked the early crystallization of the ongoing dialogue in his work between two antiseptic institutions, the hospital and the artistic space (the gallery, the museum)- two types of spaces which share several features: detachment, whiteness, silence(required there, and called for here), sterility. The current work, Yoyam, is already the story of a bitter defeat, taking place within the same kind of site – a hospital – which is no longer presented as a place of transformation (and redemption, as it were), but rather as one of disappearance.
Two years after Exposure (and the publication of a Self-Obituary which accompanied its closing) Gechtman embarked on an enterprise of composing a boundless, multi-organ work, appearing within a pseudo- conceptual framework entitled Mausoleum – a framework which gradually admits previously executed works as well. In a large-scale array, which thus far has not been exhibited in full ,entire bodies of work and discrete pieces are incorporated in diverse modes and manners. The objects themselves- at once banal and ritualistic, all deprived of potential depth or quality – rely (in terns of their means of production and mode of manifestation) upon craftsmanship and small industry, like those found in lower-middle class neighborhood-suburban “institutions”: the bank, the synagogue, the beauty parlor, the cemetery. Compounds extracted from the total array are exhibited in various contexts, at times transfigured. The constantly cumulating components of Mausoleum indicate a gradual process of shifting the early conceptual position by reinforcing the object category, a category of action congruent with that which had triggered many of the work: a labor of lamenting the loss of childhood (the realm of experience), the disintegration of sensation, the disappearance of layers of meaning, of quality, of value. The current work may be read as a real work of mourning masquerading as an artistic manifestation.
Gechtman's works – the objects produced for him by craftsmen – lack the power to be appealing. Their morphology is elementary, almost didactic. Many of them demonstrate a process of reification, a product of the hybridization acts, the most (aesthetically) conspicuous of which is the cross-breeding between two ostensibly unbridgeable positions: Constantin Brancusi's auratic practices (shaping and refining pristine materials), and Marcel Duchamp's tactics of impractice (illustrative-semantic-indicative modes of representation). Both positions, with their common point of departure (Eros, in one way or another: tactile-optical in one case, optical-semantic in the other), are brought here to a state of cul-de-sac and finality in relation to a horizon of petrifaction, inertia, decomposition (on the level of culture).
 

The group of Carts – perhaps the most pivotal within the comprehensive work array – maintains a clear ironic affinity to the modes of matter transformation and refinement developed by Brancusi; to the metamorphoses of a motif from one material realization to the next, where each materialization is tantamount to a leap forward in term of the sublimation of matter through its refinement. In Gechtman's case, the metamorphosis of the group of Carts – illustrating a metamorphosis from childhood to mourning (the first is improvised the way children devise things to play with, the second is already coated with marble-patterned formica, and the subsequent ones are made of unrefined synthetic marble cast with increasing degrees of bluntness) – leads, by way of inversion, the more condensed it becomes, to a growing discordance with regard to the original event. This discordance culminates in the near scream of the last Cart (including in the current cycle of works), that has reddened in color, covering the impression it was made in a single, undifferentiated flux of color-matter that had congealed. In the current group of works, the use of the ready-made – beauty parlor equipment acting as hospital equipment whose authoritative qualities it wishes to imitate – is polarized to its original application by Duchamp as a means for opening up, liberating the unconscious through an unplanned and indifferent encounter with a mass-produced object. Here, as in many other cases (possibly the majority of post-Duchamp instances), the ready made formula serves a theatrical set-up; its products become objects devoid of a revelatory potential, props on a stage of death.
As Gechtman once asserted, the principal motivation for starting this work process stemmed from a desire (of someone whose continued existence in permanently doubted) to convey to his son a certain “heritage” about his father through the sphere of objects by which he has been shaped. A decade after Exposure – at the beginning of his transition from the conceptual research-like period to a period of preoccupation with reification – Gechtman mounted an exhibition revolving around a large photograph of Yotam, his eldest son, still a little boy at the time, lying in his sick-bed. This image came to reinforce the shared fate between father and son, between the origin and the reproduction. The current array forms the dramatic, albeit restrained as always, culmination of Gechtman's œuvre. It was executed during the past year, during and after Yotam's death. The labor of lamenting Yotam is performed through the works, which frame an absence (every detail within them, and all of them together, as an installation), presenting a world that has at once been depleted of life, a place which is all 'after' and 'without'.
 

The current array is to be woven into Mausoleum, into which the work Exposure was likewise incorporated last year, when reconstructed with its accompanying soundtrack – an amplified recording of the artificial valve's beating. The soundtrack accompanying the present cycle of works – which wold form an additional sound accompanying Mausoleum – is that of rhythmical hammer beating in a videotape documenting an act of crushing and milling the letters spelling out the son's name into dust. The pathos, to the degree it is present in the work, resides in the urge (of someone who is outside the scope of faith) to create a set-up touching upon the symbolic; and this symbolic situation, more than being an alternative rite of passage, may signify a secular model of solidarity, of shared fate, under historical circumstances where the father-artist has at his disposal but heap of scraps with which to improvise: some recollections of modernistic sculpture, a cliché or two of secularized religiosity, a degenerate ready-made, plastic fruits, a museum.

 

Text by Moshe Ninio
 

Yesterday’s Sun

Uri Gershuni, Mr. Kronnagel (Bambi), 2009, inkject print, 74X54 cm, Framed 80X60 cm

Yesterday's Sun – solo exhibition at Chelouche Gallery

10.05.12 – 23.06.12

 

Poet Wisława Szymborska, in an imaginary conversation with Ecclesiastes, challenges him with cunning shrewdness: “There's nothing new under the sun… But you yourself were born new under the sun. And the poem you created is also new under the sun, since no one wrote it down before you. And all your readers are also new under the sun, since those who lived before you couldn't read your poem.”
The series of photographs featured in Uri Gershuni's exhibition—in itself, a contemplation of the notions of newness and sun in their photographic context—lacks the reconciled innocence underlying Szymborska's statement. It is imbued with an antithetical despair, and its conclusions transpire on the verge of an abyss, as it were. Gradually, however, their proximity will be revealed.
The exhibition seems to be underpinned by the realization that the sun that shines on us is, in itself, rather ancient, and that in an irreversible process which cannot be altered, it will evolve within about five billion years to a star unable to produce warmth and light. Sharp fluctuations in temperature would cause the sun to shed its outer layers, forming a planetary nebula moving around the nucleus of the shrinking sun slowly cooling in space. The sun too will cease to exist.
There is no artistic medium like photography so inseparably tied with the sun. Its idiosyncratic language is distinguished by its dependence on natural astrophysical processes originating in sunlight. When these processes are imprinted in the chemistry of the photographic paper, the photograph transforms into a perfect melting pot between the technological and the living, a contact point between man and the stars, mediated by a light-registering apparatus. The act of photography is a desperate attempt to fish out something illuminated in an infinite universe, to leave a hint of our being; the camera as a box for capturing tiny physical occurrences, the “Pencil of Nature” as per the ever so accurate title by the pioneer of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot.
Gershuni's photographs appear as though they have been created in a world struck by a process of extinction, under a disappearing sun and its gradually waning light. His journey to the village of Lacock in Wiltshire, England—Talbot's hometown—which spawned these photographs, essentially calls to mind worshippers swarming holy sites on the eve of an apocalypse.
The photographs in the exhibition document Talbot's habitat as it appears in the present. Some of them contain objects and places which were the subject of the first photographs in history. Gershuni's new photographs blend with the memory of Talbot's photographs—especially the oriel window at Lacock Abbey, the earliest known surviving example of a photographic negative and a photogenic print—like a chemical collision between beginning and end. It is as though in Gershuni's fusion of his photographs with the memory of Talbot's photographs, we witness a nuclear occurrence, a catastrophe which melts epilogue into prologue, while everything between them burns and melts away.
Had the universe suddenly reversed the direction of its expansion, it would have turned backwards, toward the Big Bang, and disappeared anew into the void. Gershuni does exactly that: a deep despair with photography's ability to innovate and excite, as well as thoughts about the dying sun on which photography as a whole is dependent, have motivated him to embark on a journey back to the starting point, to the realms of the “Big Bang” that gave rise to the pristine act of photography, perhaps in an attempt to be swallowed up by it and disappear into a black hole.
To prove that only the moments in which things—universes, planets, or human beings—are born or die has any meaning, Gershuni proposes to erase and destroy everything ever photographed, except for the first photographs ever taken by man; to try to assimilate into them so as to experience the sense of revelation embodied in Talbot's work, which is still concealed in his photographs. Subsequently, one must die out with the sun, never to photograph again.
Much has been written about the “devalidation” of the photographic act in this overly mapped era which is inundated by images. It seems, however, that Gershuni not only laments the devaluation of photography; he also dares to do what other photographers don't: to catalyze and to be present at its very moment of execution, while voicing a great cry of despair.
Gershuni's journey to Lacock is like a pilgrimage to a shrine to experience or see something that Talbot saw, before the end comes. A closer look at what Gershuni saw there in the moments of truth, however, reveals a less terminal answer than we might have expected. Despite the morbidity and the attraction with cessation simmering in the black, grainy photographs on view, they secretly emanate a wonderful yet silent hope. The first photograph in the exhibition features Talbot's tombstone. While at first sight, it is an image which declares the death of the inventor of photography, and with him, perhaps, the death of photography as a whole, and as such it invokes a sense of bowing to dead ancestors, on second thought it is also a photograph featuring a sculptural object made of a durable material which symbolizes the death of a man, while the stone itself lives on.
Thus, in his very first photograph here, Gershuni declares the ability of a given substance to survive long after the materials from which our bodies are made. The series of images continues; From the dark surfaces of his photographs, trees, stone paths, ancient gates, bridges, tables, and latticed windows float out—an assortment of objects that existed before Talbot's time and continues to exist years after his death.
Do these photographs, despite the withering images of mildew and damp and the bubbling, burnt photographic paper, in fact symbolize survival, subsistence, attesting to Gershuni's secret belief in the chance to be saved? Perhaps even a belief in a form of new life after the end of days? If an object, a piece of furniture, a structure, or a plant, can survive and still leave an indelible impression of the person who created it or came in contact with it, even after the latter's death, can not an art work do the same?

 

Gershuni's renewed belief in photography's ability to form a memory, a material incarnation of a former life, erupts from his surprising photographs of a human figure—Mr. Kronnagel—whose gaze is penetrating and direct. While observing the photographs depicting objects – which are akin to an invocation of ghosts – is disturbing; knowing that they are unaware of us observing them, as if we didn't exist, and they are oblivious of us since they will long outlive us, Mr. Kronnagel is well aware of our presence; he knows that we breathe on the other side of the camera, hence he constitutes an image which is all a living, breathing, present presence, much more than the sacred past around him. Thus he deserves to leave behind photographic evidence of his existence.
Now behold the photograph of a vehicle moving swiftly in a field (perhaps it is an ambulance, hence an image of resuscitation?), implying more life within the desistence, life moving from here to there, eternally frozen by the camera. When has a photograph last elicited such basic excitement in its ability to intervene with the flow of time and treasure life in light?
Talbot and Gershuni are indeed absent from the photographs, because in their destructive encounter both have been annihilated, whether physically or metaphorically. But photographs of other people, akin to survivors from a disaster zone, bespeak a life found which is yet to be documented, and life yet to be documented is nonetheless a belief in something new under the sun.
Gershuni has fulfilled the most basic commandment of photography: to offer evidence of the photographer's journey, whether inward or outward, into the distance; to constitute proof of the photographer's discoveries and revelations, whose photographable texture he perpetuated for us. Had every person been given the unique chance to travel in time, his choice, whether to move forward or back, would greatly attest to his sources of curiosity, his beliefs, and his hopes. Gershuni chose to travel back in time to the nascent moment of the photographic medium, which is also the beginning of its expiration, hence a point of destruction. He plunged into a dark, suicidal crisis of faith that had taken over him, and looked straight ahead. He experienced within himself powerful moments of contradiction, a split between the believer and the heretic within him: Is there an “afterlife”? Is eternity photographable? Is there anything left in this expendable world worthy of being photographed? Is there a merciful Great Father capable of explaining our disappearance from the world virtually without leaving a trace? And if the moments of birth and death are the essence, is it not vital that we meet the propagator, who is supposed to die before us infront of our eyes, at the moment of his death?
Gershuni's photographs are like souvenirs from a voyage to the end of the world, taken by a believer who has lost his path and now tries to find it again. He has found it in the masturbation photograph: Even if it might appear like sacrilege, as defiance against “wasting of one's seed,” even if it celebrates the carnal, the flesh, the corporeal, the expendable, this photograph is nevertheless blended with a different spiritual sanctity, the sanctity of the blessing of the Sun and Sight: “One who sees the sun at its turning point, should say blessed is he who reenacts the works of Creation”. Because we are observing a new man before us, under the sun, in a moment of vitality.

Sometime in 1839—a temporal view which is emptied of meaning vis-à-vis infinity—Talbot exposed a negative to the sun. All of a sudden, light was rendered dark and black, while darkness transformed into whiteness. That Gershuni discovered under yesterday's sun.

____________________________________________________________________________

Amir Kliger
 

Exhibition text – Hebrew

Yad

Uri Gershuni, 'Untitled', 2007, color print, 30x40 cm

The title of this series is 'YAD', which has a double meaning in Hebrew, 'yad' means 'hand' but also 'memorial'. The series was photographed in Peter Eizenman's holocaust memorial in the center of Berlin.
Gershuni approached couples visiting the memorial and asked to photograph them. Gershuni landed his camera always to the woman and asked her to take a photograph of himself with her partner (boyfriend or husband). Just before the woman snapped the photograph, Gershuni took the other man's hand, thus the photograph was taken while they were holding hands.

With Philistines

With Philistines | Avi Katz

Text for the exhibition “With Philistines”, Jule M. Gallery, Tel-Aviv, 2014

With Philistines (and in the exhibition: Samson [Self-portrait as], and also Self-portrait as a Happy Infiltrator): a declaration of ultimate otherness which is razor sharp and possesses the daring of a liminal painter, but is also crippled and even wide open to interpretation and castrated: the present absence of the beginning of the verse “Let me die”, as well as the echoes of these difficult times (many of the artworks in the exhibition were painted in the anguish of Operation Protective Edge) as well as an alternative reading that invokes the use of “philistine” as a moniker for those who show a crude contempt for intellectual and artistic values. Indeed, Yehezkelli's paintings offer a reversal of hierarchies that presume to distinguish between the proper manners of representation and the demonstrably outsider “bad painting”, which may affiliate him with that “omnivorousness” (to use the term coined by the sociologist Richard Peterson) – the highbrow crowd whose taste tends towards “everything…”

In his new paintings, Shai Yehezkelli continues to consistently develop a visual language of signs, which is multilayered, borrowed, and appropriated (from the The Birds' Head Haggadah to comic books and emoticons, from Stars of David to a cowboy with a cigarette) but also personal, veiled, and enigmatic. The viewer is invited on a journey of revelations that will somehow transform paint stains to shapes (the stain, claims Lacan, marks that which returns to the viewer from the painting, the presence of an object that cannot be seen). The act of painting celebrates a lively freedom of color and shape to the point of “excess” at times, but also presents its faltering and depletion.

In Yehezkelli's “presentation of 'self'” the painting becomes a chaotic container of sorts, into which conscious and subconscious forces are siphoned, in combinations riddled with irony and pathos (as a desperate attempt to produce emotion…). Yehezkelli's characteristic self portraits also have a deceptive nature, and rather than fixating self identity they are an expression of the dissolution of the identification of the “self”. The artist is an “entrepreneur of the self” (in the worlds of Svetlana Alpers). The multitude of self portraits (in the form of “self portrait as…”) expresses the game of changing masks, what marks the presence of the “act”, an “art occurrence” supposedly expropriated from the artist, an act that engenders a split of sorts between the portrait and the self that this portrait was supposed to transmit, and in fact embodies the dimension of failure to transmit the self that perhaps becomes “everyman” and at times “every Jew”…

This time, more than in the last exhibition, this carnivalesque art fair transgresses the boundaries of self that wallows in the pleasures of its despondency. From the introvert self to the world, to zeitgeist painting.
The works' titles do not “speak for themselves” but are a part of integrated art talk. Thus for instance, in the Monument for the Women of Shuja'iyya – a proposal for a monument of sorts, a woman lioness, an upside down IDF helmet that sprouts slivers of light, a noseless smiley, and another smiley that pops up in the layers of paint, winged like an angel of compassion from the top right, palm trees, Gaza-esque Guernicas (the junkyard of the global and Israeli history of art is not unknown to Yehezkelli). And next to it – The Picking of the Flowers – centralization in the hybrid figure and amorphous expansion into heaped chaos of signifiers that have multiple signifies: a bowed palm tree, a map that may also be a prayer shawl (Talit), a construction of an oriental landscape compressed in the left, a comb, an F bottle, and from the fauvist ground of amassed emoticons screams the death toll.

The two paintings of oriental sun, one happy and the other sad, imbue the exhibition space with a sort of atmospheric incense, suns which are eclipses, suns which are eyes, a watercolor pupil as a smiling face that will dissolve into an abstract stain in “sad sun”, where we find a happy palm tree … Onkelos from a bird's eye view that also resembles a palette, more than they exude life, these are disconcerting suns; the optimistic Platonist similitude between the sun and the eye, the metaphorical gaze at the sun as what leads to the purpose of the truth, a sublime step in the philosophical education ladder, is replaced by Georges Bataille who preaches to dare look at the anti-ideal, the dirty, with the blinding black sun, and like in the painting, the suns are also the eyeballs and the liquid is the tearing, the oozing, or the bleeding (this reoccurs in the painting Sunshine and Moisture and Self Portrait with Pogrom).
Pshat & Drash, drowners, a ship of fools, and a sail, a smiley wearing “a painter's hat”, a complicated hand, a floating piece of feces, a bird. An invitation to enter the “Pardes”.

(English translation: Maya Shimony)

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