October 10, 2013

Gideon Gechtman at the Artists' Studios, Jerusalem

Gideon Gechtman at the Artists' Studios, Jerusalem

Gideon Gechtman and Miri Segal

(With the participation of Shachar Geiger and Bat-Sheva Zeisler-Gechtman)
For the exhibition text in Hebrew click here.

Curator: Avi Lubin

17.10.2013 – 15.02.2014

Gideon Gechtman, White Peacock, 1999, mixed media. Photograph: Tal Nisim

Gideon Gechtman and Miri Segal met in 2003, while participating in the second International Installation Triennale in Haifa (curator: Daniella Talmor). This encounter led to a friendship and the possibility of creating a mutual work. This idea was repeatedly discussed during their meetings. However, it has never been executed until Gechtman’s death in 2008.

The starting point of this artistic dialogue began with Segal’s work Foreshadowing, which was exhibited at the MoMA PS1, New- York in 2001. The center piece of the work is an image of a rotating roulette, focusing the viewer’s attention onto its center. Even before the roulette stopped, the results of its rotation flickered on the screen, thus transforming the ‘fortune machine’ into a foretold mechanism. The image of the roulette was screened on a tilted mirror, enabling the viewer’s reflection to vaguely appear within it; simultaneously, the spectator casted a shadow on the floor. Alongside that shadow, another shadow, without a body, suddenly appeared on the floor, creating an illusion of an additional presence in the room. The movement of the second shadow, also reflected in the mirror, created a sense of invasion into the viewer’s consciousness- a ghost standing in the room and watching over the spectator’s shoulder.

Segal and Gechtman’s encounter led them to rethink the roulette work. Their general idea was to create a new work, placing an actual roulette at the center, with a manipulated mechanism so that according to the artists’ decisions it will have a ‘good day’ or a ‘bad day’. The work was supposed to deal (among other things) with fate and fortune, with determinism verses the freedom of choice. Gechtman even contacted the local police in order to obtain a confiscated roulette, which they were going to use. Despite this, the work hasn’t been executed prior to Gechtman’s death and the dialogue between Gechtman and Segal remained an abstract idea, incorporating a general, conceptual thought; a non-cohesive primal concept of an object.

This is the starting point of the exhibition Vestige, induced by a desire to continue this dialogue and to execute their mutual work, five years after Gechtman’s death and parallel to his retrospective, exhibited at The Israel Museum. One of the main questions arising from this exhibition is when and if this work can be attributed to Gechtman after his death (as Segal’s partner) and how it can be executed when the conceptual and visual decisions collaborated with him, were only a beginning of an unformulated dialogue?1

Launching Apparatus
In his art works Gechtman frequently dealt with the issue of preserving his works after his death. Under the title “Gechtman’s Mausoleum” he created a personal memorial project, incorporating his entire body of work. This way, he formed a conceptual framework to all of his pieces, which could be exhibited each time in a different manner.

His last show, Launching Apparatus which was exhibited at Chelouche Galley in 2008, the year of his death, was supposed to be the basis for the next stage of his self- preservation ongoing project. That show exhibited prototypes of ‘Qassam’ sculptures/missiles – some were painted in silver, while others were painted in different combinations of red-green- black and white.2 The missiles/ sculptures were exhibited alongside and on top of their launching apparatuses. Some of them were already packed and ready for shipment, storage and preservation while others remained outside their packages. The exhibition was followed by a catalogue, designed in a form of a handbook, including meticulous technical instructions of how to duplicate Gechtman’s sculptures/ missiles.

This project was supposed to begin a process of creating handbooks for Gechtman’s entire body of work. It was an actual attempt to preserve them, to “launch” them into the future unharmed by the poor maintenance conditions, existing even in the utmost important art establishments.3 Even though Gechtman gave preferential treatment to his original pieces, the duplicated works were meant to serve as a reservoir in case the originals were to be damaged. In this spirit, the ‘secondary manufacturer’ was to function as Gechtman’s vector, carrying his works into the future. This project was also born due to the dialogue between Gechtman and Segal, as mentioned in the project’s summery written by Gechtman in attempt to raise financial support.

In this sense, the exhibition Vestige is a re-evaluation and an additional step in the process that Gechtman had already begun. A broad outlook on both Gechtman and Segal’s works might explain the power and interest in executing their mutual piece, not by means of collaboration between two living artists but in this current constellation- after Gechtman’s death.

From the beginning of the 70’s and throughout his artistic career, Gechtman dealt with death, memory and memorialization, while examining the meeting point of being and not- being.
Already at the beginning of his career, in the exhibition Exposure he directly reacted to a heart surgery he underwent in 1973. He shaved off his entire body hair, as a symbol of a transition ritual- a transformation from being healthy into being morbidly sick, and stored it in five display windows, mimicking sacred relics.

Enlarged frames of the shaving process were hung on the gallery walls, alongside documenting video and medical documents (both real and fictitious) dealing with his condition. The use of body hair as a subject matter repeated in other works, such as brushes made from his wife, his children and his own hair. He perceived hair as being similar to art, in the sense that it is a synthetic product which survives long after the artist’s death.

In May 1975, Gechtman published an obituary in Ha’Aretz, Jerusalem- Post and around his neighborhood, which said: “with great sorrow we announce the timeless death of our beloved Gideon Gechtman, may he rest in peace. The family”. During the 80’s this obituary was reproduced in various versions: in blue and red neon lights, painted versions (industrial colors on plywood) and versions incorporating childhood game titles (for example: ‘Gzuzit’).

In the exhibition Yotam4, which was held after his son’s death (age 26), a stuffed peacock greeted the audience (in the exhibition Vestige, a different, white version of this peacock is included). The peacock, a symbol of eternal life after death in Christian iconography was placed on a marble pedestal. Based on furniture taken from both medical and cosmetic worlds, Gechtman created alternative possibilities of display for his works. Within medical drawers he exhibited old works alongside photographs of his son’s grave and various marble pallets. A video work showed Gechtman weighing marble letters constructing his son’s name, dissembling them and placing their remains within glass tubes. In many works, Gechtman used materials from the memorializing industry, assisted by professionals from this field.

Gechtman’s works frequently dealt with the subject of death. They did not engage in death itself, but rather embodied death within an actual object. Using the French philosopher Jean Luc Nancy’s terminology- these works embody the invisible; these are not works about a person who died but rather works which visually present the invisible (death) by using alternative means.5

Truth and Fiction
Miri Segal’s works examine the concept of existence (‘Dasein’), by challenging and eroding one’s perspective in relation to himself or his space (actual or virtual) within a political context. Segal uses optical and conceptual manipulations in order to invade the viewer’s conscious sphere. Ghosts, shadows without body and Purgatorium- a limbo between life and death- serve as basic figures in her works. She offers a challenging perspective, enabling the viewer to experience the world with alternative tools; by engaging with fictitious realities (Place de la Bonne Heure, 2005), by dealing with a virtual world and the idea of Second Life (BRB, 2007), and by transforming her studio into a laboratory or a research center, in which physical movement generates a liminal space of dialogue between the dayto – day and the afterlife (Interlocutors, from Garden, 2012).

In the work Place de la Bonne Heure, Segal created an audio- visual journey, connecting “The Circus of the Beautiful Hours” – an architectural dystopia located in the border between Tel – Aviv and Jaffa, and Qalandia checkpoint, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The video work generates a feeling of stagnation, moving back and forth between the two squares, whose public and communal role has been distorted: “The Circus of the Beautiful Hours” – due to a deficient architectural planning which left it abandoned, and Qalandia checkpoint- due to the local market’s demolition and the construction of a checkpoint in its place. Each spectator entered a dark space alone. The viewer sat on a chair, while the weight of his body activated a rotating mechanism. Headphones were attached to the chair, playing an audio piece written especially for this project, by Ori Frost. Above the visitor’s head a tiny projector was placed, rotating according to the chair’s movement, so that the screened video was projected onto appearing and disappearing walls and columns in the dark. Segal’s manipulation transferred the subjective sensation of a political stagnation, onto the viewer’s physical space: bound to the moving chair, his gaze was fixated on the screen; if he would have looked down or sideways he would automatically become dizzy.

In the video work BRB (be right back), Segal went through a journey in the virtual world of Second Life (SL), along with her assistant. This world mimics actions from actual reality in a realistic way, simultaneously providing its participants with super powers, such as, the ability to fly. The video begins (after a prologue in the shape of a chat correspondence) with a scene in which the participants sit around a fire- a 3D version of an assimilated philosophical chat room; a kind of purgatory space, in which they contemplate over the universal meaning of SL. Segal edited countless playing hours in this platform into a narrative in which the characters talk, act and transform their appearances. In the final scene, the two characters visit the show No Matter, What?, in which Segal exhibits her new- media series of work, existing solemnly in the virtual sphere. In one of these works – Time Flies – the word ‘time’ appears on the wall, consisting of bustling flies.

In her work Garden – Segal scattered “devices to increase inspiration” around her studio space, and the visitors were offered to experiment with them. The leading assumption of the work is that a physical shift creates a conscious and mental transformation. The devices require abrogating some of the studio’s natural restrictions (such as, a high positioned window, through which one cannot look outside) and to change repeatedly the visitors’ point of view (to sit on a hanging chair, on an inverting device, floating swings and more). One of these devices is Interlocutors; by hanging two chairs, a table, a whiskey bottle, drinking glasses and a poetry book by Alejandra Pizarnik in the air, Segal created a utopian conversing corner for couples. The chairs co-depended on each other, in a way that one chair’s movement was echoed in the second. The spectators were invited to climb on rope ladders to this conversation corner, to sit and to talk in it. The work wished to disconnect the viewers from the physical context of the space and the rules of gravitation; enabling opening conditions of physical empathy, by means of movement vibrations between the two sitters.

The neon work Temporary Relief from 2013, exhibited in the show Vestige is an entanglement which from every angle (apart from one) appears to be a scribble. Only from one viewing angle, the scribble consolidates into one clear word: Together.

Noli me tangere
In order to understand the essence of the space created by deceased Gechtman and living Segal, I will shortly go back to Jean Luc Nancy’s book – “Noli me tangere”. This book is dedicated to a scene from the New Testament: after Jesus’ passing, before he vanished and passed onto the world of the father and the Holy Spirit, he appeared on earth- he resurrected. Maria Magdalena encountered Jesus, recognized him and wished to touch him, and in response he told her- “don’t touch me” –“noli me tangere”.6

In the depicted scene, Jesus is physically present, as if he came back to life, but he already belongs to a different order of existence. According to Nancy, he does not return to life; he exists in an intermediate state between life and death. The prohibition to touch, stated by the phrase – “noli me tangere” – produces a rupture between the world of the living (Maria Magdalena) and Jesus’s dimension- which is not death yet and no longer life. This is the boundary between being alive and not being alive, pointing to their discontinuity. This is not a dialectic of life and death. Jesus isn’t dead but he isn’t alive. He exists in a different sphere.
There is an impossible gap between Magdalena and him. This scene abolishes the differentiation between the earthly and the divine.

The encounter between deceased Gechtman and living Segal produces a unique space – the only space in which the work may exist and be executed. If we use Nancy’s description, it is the space which isn’t death yet but already isn’t life; the boundary between being alive and not being alive, points out their discontinuity. This space is detached from common rules of time and space, enabling a dialogue (realistic? fictitious?) between Segal and Gechtman (by a sound work, Hi Gideon (sketch), 2013, or an object- the roulette). In this sphere, a mutual action takes place, beyond time, in which not only the relationship between life and death is subverted, but also allowing Segal to converse with Gechtman (by using the artist’s archival tapes7). In this conversation, Segal can reflect and interpret what she sees in fragments from Gechtman’s archive; talking to him about things she wasn’t able to- the birth of her son close to his death, their relationship, their own collaboration and the hardships of executing this mutual work.

Returning to the beginning of this list, the goal of the exhibition Vestige is not to realize a completed dialogue between Segal and Gechtman and to execute a work by a clear and existing outline. The challenge is to continue the dialogue with Gechtman after his death and act within the newly opened dimension. This is action “par excellance” and the actor behind it, alive or dead, isn’t but a mere fiction. Quoting Nietzsche: “there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming; ‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed — the deed is everything.”8

The idea behind this kind of action, which does not attempt to consummate a plan or execute a finished idea, opposes (allegedly) to the common (psychological) sense, leading us to believe that behind a deed there is intention; and that this intention is the reason for the deed, which gives an answer to the question: “why this thing occurred?”10

In the framework of Gechtman’s plan to create an array of instructions and packages for his complete body of work, he thought a special team should direct this project; exceeding the common working division between artist, researcher and curator9. This current exhibition and its working process, subsequently fulfill this plan to a great degree, by disrupting the balance and working division between “curator”, “artist” and the “artist’s wife.”

The basis of Segal and Gechtman’s dialogue (prior to his death) was the idea to build an actual roulette with a manipulated mechanism, determining a ‘good day’ or a ‘bad day’. As mentioned, the work was supposed to engage with fate and fortune, determinism verses the freedom of choice.

By executing this work, the work ultimately changed due to the attempt to comprehend its meaning with Gechtman and Segal beyond Gechtman and Segal. At the end of a polyphonic dialogue (including Shachar Geiger, the undersigned and Gechtman’s widow Bat-Sheva Zeisler-Gechtman, whose recorded singing voice accompanies the show) – a different object appeared. Similar to the original idea, the roulette’s mechanism is manipulated; however, the nature of this manipulation is entirely different.

The ball and the roulette are frozen in movement- the roulette is constantly moving in one direction while the ball moves in an opposite one. This is not a “photographic freeze”, denouncing the movement or smearing it on top of a photographic pallet; it is an actual freeze during which the object transcends beyond a simple existence, exceeding the rules of time and space. Instead of dealing with fate, fortune, determinism and the freedom of choice- the roulette embodies all of these within an object, enabling time, such as death, to appear in the space as a presence.

Avi Lubin

1. This is a different process to Amarillo Ramp (1973) – Robert Smithson’s last work, who died while
working on it. The work was later completed by his widow following Smithson’s accurate instructions.
2. This is the third stage of Gechtman’s Qassam missiles project, influenced by his exhibition of Qassam
missiles in the Petach Tikva Museum of Art – The Winners: Prize Exhibition by the Ministry of Science,
Culture and Sports for 2006 (curator: Drorit Gur Arie & Sigal Barkai), and his exhibition Dead-Line,
exhibited at Bet- Kaner in 2007: the Municipal Art Gallery of Rishon LeZion (curator: Effi Gan).
3. See Moshe Ninio’s text, opening the handbook: Gideon Gechtman: Self Production Specification (sample):
specification no.1, Launching Apparatus, 2007.
4. The exhibition Yotam was exhibited at the Herzliya Museum in 1999, for the first time.
5. Jean Luc Nancy, “The Vestige of Art”, in: The Muses (trans. Peggy Kamuf, Stanford University
Press, 1996).
6. Jean Luc Nancy, Noli me tangere: On the Raising of the Body, (Translated by Sarah Clift, Pascale-Anne
Brault, and Michael Naas, Perspectives in Continental Philosophy Series. New York: Fordham University
Press, 2008).
7. Included in the show, with the courtesy of David Wakstein, Eli Hakim and Tal Hakim.
8. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York: Vintage Books,
1989), I, 13.
9. On this matter see Pippin, after Nietzsche: Robert B. Pippin, “Lighting and Flash, Agent and Deed”
(GM I: 6-17), in Christa Davis Acampora (ed.), Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals: Critical Essays,
131, on p. 133
10. Ninio, view supra note no.3.


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