Text by Tami Katz-Freiman:
Michal Shamir revisits two of her key works, combined with objects and aids that she used in previous exhibitions. This process of self-recycling raises questions about aging and dissolution, introducing the concept of sustainability into the field of art as well.
The bull sculpture (Untitled, 2003), now lying on the floor, charred and blackened, as if it had been thrown from the butcher’s hook on which it was suspended, has undergone many incarnations since it was first exhibited (“OverCraft,” 2003). Back then it was a spectacular polychromatic sculpture: differently colored jelly sweets glowed like a setting of abundant gemstones, ostensibly melted into the dead body of the bull. Over the years, the sculpture reached different venues; among others, it was installed right here, at the entrance to a vegetarian restaurant that operated on site, and later at the entrance to Haaretz editorial building on Schocken Street, Tel Aviv. Exposed to the ravages of time, the street, and the sea breezes, its colors were gradually soiled and its flesh assumed a moldy texture, attesting to the hardships of its life in the Middle East. Twenty years later, its defeat was finally decreed. Its body mass has succumbed to the force of gravity, and its time has come. Infusing it with an air of cynicism, Shamir installed hair dryers facing it, which starred in an earlier performative project (Protective Edge, 2017) in which she participated, held in close proximity to one of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Elevated on tripods, the devices emit heat directed at the corpse, as if trying to resuscitate it, but to no avail. The candy flesh rots, like a mirror image of our reality in the beginning of 2023.
The bull work was part of Shamir’s engagement with sweets in the context of temptation, body, and annihilation: In the early 2000s, she wrote on walls with string candy, sculpted in cotton candy, ironed sweets, created candy curtains, and opened wounds dripping sweet blood in the walls of buildings. The first wound was gaped here, in the public space of Comme il Faut, in the exhibition “Not for Sale” (2005).
Placed on its broken corner, the second work (Untitled, 2011) likewise disintegrated over the years. It was rescued from the artist’s studio and is treated here with compassion, like the burnt petals featured in it, as an adjacent fan tries to breathe life into it. Amidst the leaves, thistles, flowers, birds, and their drawn representations, one may discern insect joints, spider webs, grains of sand, and ash. As in many of her works, here too, Shamir duplicates and echoes the art historical notion of vanitas: the fresh beauty of the flowers encapsulates their future wilting, and their individual presentation emphasizes the processes of withering and decay. Like the bull’s bleeding flesh, the remains of actual nature, which were gathered, sorted, dried, and scanned, raise questions concerning the culturally-rooted affinity between woman and nature. In their precarious installation as vestiges of the wear and tear of time, as a reminder and a metaphor for our transience, both the bull sculpture and the broken digital print undermine the eternity of art itself. While the addition of fans and hair dryers lightens the grave tone, it also takes the sorrow of decline and desistance another step into the abyss of helplessness, the danger of decay, and the spread of evil, as a requiem for the current situation in Israel.