Handle with Care
All of Michal Shamir’s works, the installations, paintings, collages and videos which she creates, deal with the transformative nature of the materials she uses. In the past, Shamir built objects whose basis material was wine gums in different forms. Indeed, it was a courageous act to take these unimaginative sweets into the realm of high art and cause their mutation, which places them in a different context, in which banality is turned into horror. The wine gums were assembled into torsos of animals or wounds cut in the wall. Glued together they were partially burnt so that a second metamorphosis occurred which changed their initial character from something sweet, harmless and benign, into a spectacle of decay.
In a way these works were late versions of the medieval memento mori genre where the wine gums represent both the innocence of the young girl lead by the figure of death, as well as the disintegration of the flesh that follows. The gums, once melted, create a rich texture which contradicts their origin and contains a sense of horror because of the obsession with the surface that they reveal. It is the nature of the metamorphosis they pass through, its unconditioned and extreme recasting, from the familiar into the domain of the foreign that lends Michal Shamir’s works that specific air of the uncanny.
This eerie mystic is exemplified in the exhibition through the table lamp to which are glued wine gums in the form of lips, which, due to the heat emanating from the lamp, melt and are transformed into blood-like drops. The gums, once lips, a symbol of sexual desire, are residues of Eros and Thanatos united in one object. It is this almost unbearable vicinity which awakes the uncanny so meticulously embedded in what was a harmless object.
Thanatos is known to be depicted in the fine arts as a young man holding a butterfly and butterflies are the subject of the next work in the exhibition, a video documenting the death throbs of the famous Bombyx Mori, which are the adult moths of the silk larvae. After spinning their silk threads into a cocoon around themselves, the caterpillars turn into butterflies and break away from the cocoon in order to start a new cycle of production in which they copulate, lay eggs and shortly after, die. In a way, the Bombyx Mori butterflies die the moment they cease to be productive and this is also a metaphor on the human condition in a global world.
As with the wine gums, it is both the process and the end phase of the metamorphosis which is put on display. Shamir emphasizes modes of change through states of fluidity, acts of secretion and extraction, where the agents of change resemble bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. The art work becomes an organic body. It turns back and from being a product of culture, it becomes an object of nature, and as such it documents its own end.