Gideon Gechtman – Butterflies & Pyramids
Curator: Nira Itzhaki
In the exhibition ‘Butterflies & Pyramids;, early works by Gechtman are displayed for the first time since his demise (2008). These works portray the core of Gechtman’s interest throughout his artistic career: transience as opposed to immortality, authenticity versus artificial, questions of origin and imitation.
Gectman’s “Obituary Notices” are perhaps the most identified with his artistic work. In the exhibition we witness some of the varied contexts in which Gechtman puts them. One of the first uses Gechtman did was to publish his own obituary notice in the newspaper and on the street’s billboard. The act of externalizing death and making it public knowledge challenges the boundaries of truth. In the exhibition, the billboard is photographed and printed in real size, now entering the gallery’s space. This act raises questions regarding the essence of private and public spheres in Israel.
The obituary notices are also present in Gechtman’s pyramid works. Choosing a pyramid – the Egyptian burial chamber – resonate death theme which is also connected to amphorae and cremation urns – motifs Gechtman used later in his oeuvre. Now, the obituary notices are pealed from the board and cover the pyramid walls as tapestry. On another pyramid, photographs taken by Gechtman – depicting the demolishing and re-building of his neighborhood, are used in the same way. In this act, the signs and the signifiers are separated and joined again and again.
In an installation consists of video and framed photographs we witness an act of an almost-actual touch with death. The artist and his son Yotam (who died a few years before Gechtman), burned plywood shaped as huge butterflies covered with obituary notices in their back yard. The act takes place during day and night, repeated several times. At the background we hear everyday noises: the wife and mother’s singing during a vocal lesson, pots rumbling, and cars passing by in the street. Like the father and son, we find ourselves mesmerized to the sight of the butterfly as it burns and rises again from the ashes. The two of them, then so young and full of life, deal with death in a meditative way, perhaps wanting to touch immortality for a brief moment, yet at the same time as if foreseeing their own death.
Using different materials, changing their state of aggregation and faking “delicate” ones – are all expressions of a back and forth movement. Between a utopian promise of eternal life manifested by the artifact and in culture at general; and the dystopia of the body and mortality embodied in the synthetic, still object. Stubborn standing in front of death reminds us that there is no ‘life after death’, without death itself. The act of reconstruction and representing is supposed to implant new meanings in the work of art, with that also to preserve the memory and ‘beat death’. It empties the object (both the body and the work of art) from its original meaning and actually ‘killing’ what was… Gechtman’s project tries to fight this regression to the future and forgetfulness, but at the same time it reflects an a priori knowing of sure disappointment.
– Avshalom Suliman on Gechtman’s work, 2007
Perhaps re-exhibiting Gechtman’s early works holds a touch of defiance of Suliman’s observations – that Gechtman knew his mission is destined to fail, that there is no way to fight the future and that forgetting is inevitable. That is since his works paradoxically become more and more memorable, monumental with time. Like the pyramid – commemorating for ever the Pharaoh, death is unforgettable, but so is life. The acts taken whilst alive still resonate, still have impact.