The book was published in conjunction with the exhibition
LOOT 25.06.09 – 08.08.09 , Chelouche Gallery, Tel Aviv
Text: Lea Abir
A bilingual English-Hebrew edition
© 2009, Guy Goldstein and Chelouche Gallery
Loot / Inheritance: On Guy Goldstein’s Works
“How can I say ‘I’ and what do I do thereby? And in the first place, me, what am I (following) and who am I (following)?” (Jacques Derrida)(1)
Guy Goldstein is following artist, one that “comes after.” The things that lay in front of him, those that were caught in the net, he receives as inheritance and displays as loot. He collects and samples objects, images and voices that oscillate between the inanimate and the animate, constantly preserving the tension between the two states. These materials are handled in various techniques ranging from the traditional to the experimental (sculpture, drawing, embroidery, photography, video and sound). The works are spread out in front of the viewer, displaying variety and multiplicity but at the same time also demonstrating dynamics of negation and concealment. Dealing with the preset and the given allows for the breaking in and breaking loose, for the assuming and relinquishing of ownership and control, and for the simultaneous, subcutaneous activity of internal drives.
Goldstein’s works are based on the principle of re-using found materials and objects that surround him, that are before or behind him. They lay before him lake an inheritance without a will – with no invitation or intent to give, without a contract. In front of these materials, the artist’s decision to take places him as an uninvited, self-proclaimed heir. But just as Goldstein follows these materials, they seem to be following him, being there even before he takes them in thereby reinforcing the “inherative” aspect of the encounter. At this moment in time, as Derrida observes, the heir is faced with a double injunction – to accept the legacy, which cannot be chosen, and to choose to reaffirm it, to restart it in a different way. Life itself, or being alive, states Derrida, could well be defined by this inherent tension found within inheritance.(2)
An Oath Is an Oath (2008) deals directly with inheritance. In it, found materials are charged with multiple layers of context and meaning, and are saturated with autobiographical and psychological content. Visiting Krakow, he went through one of the official Auschwitz commemoration album, only to stumble upon one photograph. One photograph depicting a raw of people standing on a ramp, shortly after they got off the train to Auschwitz. Looking at the lone of people, Goldstein suddenly recognized his own grandmother among them. As it turned out, this same photograph led to the summoning of his grandmother as a witness in the famous trail of Adolf Eichmann. Parts of her testimony are entwined in the work’s elaborate and multilayered soundtrack, emerging from the surface of a sound box which frames an embroidery work – a family heritage. Further echoing in the soundtrack is the voice of Donald Duck – an animated animal figure which Goldstein used to imagine, as a child, hiding in the embroidered scenery; and parts of a soundtrack from a James Bond movie, as well as a tune that originates from a 1943 American propaganda cartoon ridiculing the Nazi army, and the rustle of fingers tapping on a microphone, that preceded Eichmann’s statement in his own trail, in which he concluded: “An oath is an oath.”
Even when not directly dealing with inherited objects, Goldstein’s work is typified with inheritance a fundamental principle. It is found its materials, modes of action and in the strategies of handling and display. As Derrida writes, an heir not only receives but also chooses and makes decisions, and critical differentiations.(3) The materials that comprise Goldstein’s works are things that he stumbles upon, more than ones that he hunts or seeks after – they are remnants, substitutes, leftovers, superfluous. This is the point of departure to the works’ strategies, economy and ethics – sequences of choices and actions that examine the transformative (productive or disruptive) affect of the artistic gesture. Examining affect and transformation by a series of manipulations is also characteristic of Goldstein’s constant occupation with time – its effects, legacies and residues – through notions of process, traces, speed and rhythm. The sound work exhibited in the exhibition Loot is a successor to An Oath Is an Oath in its use of a given sound, going through a process of abstraction. It is a human voice that is lowered, slowed down and broken. A human voice becomes sound through receiving new values of time, duration and resonance, and new effective powers over man and object.
“…the question of what ‘to follow’ or ‘to pursue’ means, as well as ‘to be after,’ back to the question of what I do when ‘I am’ or ‘I follow,’… then, I move from ‘the ends of man,’ that is the confines of man, to ‘the crossing of borders’ between man and animal. Crossing borders or the ends of man I come or surrender to the animal…” (Derrida) (4)
“The painter and the musician do not imitate the animal, they become-animal at the same time as the animal becomes what they willed, at the deepest level of their concord with Nature.” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari)(5)
Goldstein’s drawings use grid sheets as their drawing surface. Originally, these sheets were used as “educational devices” – the children are encouraged to color their extensive geometric patterns in order to find different shaped, figures and textures within them in a free and independent way. The name given to these coloring booklets, Altair, is derived from the Arabic for “the flying eagle”, denoting the brightest star in the constellation Aquila. These sheets provide a given, complex and elaborated geometrical grid. Its lines take the shape of road instructions, of potential spaces for becoming of forms. This geometric net is meant to signify a cartographic realm for orientation. Like all grids it is static and lacks hierarchy and center. Like all grid, as Rosalind Krauss pointed out, it is impervious both to time and to incident – to all intrusions from outside. It is a space of silence, which allows for “[n]o echoes of footsteps in empty rooms, no scream of birds across open skies, no rush of distant water – for the grid has collapsed the spatiality of nature onto the bounded surface of a purely cultural object.” But the grid, as Krauss write, is essentially a paradox – it is a prison in which the artist feels free; a starting point which cannot serve invention, enabling only a perpetual repetition. Although it doubles and follows the surface, the grid does not reveal it, but only veils it through the repetition. Goldstein’s drawing is mostly occupied with covering and erasing the patterned grid, turning it into a surface or background. It is this choice of action that grants these patterns the potential of breaking through in a different way – their blackening as grounds to an image transforms them into night textures, another drawing divides them into realms of earth and sky, and often they are suddenly identified as possible contours.
Goldstein doesn’t draw between things, he draws things. The grid doesn’t confine him because he plays freely within its limits, while even creating new ones. But what Goldstein doesn’t renounce is the grid’s spread out frontal character, its overt visibility. Different figures and scenes come into being in these drawing, occupying a hectic zone between the silent, inanimate grid and the live, organic pattern. Most of the drawings feature animals and generate different kinds of relations between them and human figures. These are not wild animals (although occasionally their wild – back or frontal – side straightforwardly pops up), nor are they domestic pets. The dogs maintain a middle status that keeps them close to man but far away from home. The hare is not resting in the person’s lap – it is forcefully held and silenced, while an incidental overt nudity is drawn underneath it (Is someone trying to explain something to this hare? Why do we feel it is still alive?).
Hunters and anglers, so they say, tend to dwell in river strips or wetlands – areas between the wilderness and the city. They tune themselves to the environment, much like the animals whose proximity they seek. They follow closely and quietly their dog’s reactions. They reside in substitute living arrangements, in different temporality of whole days and camps. They are place inside the landscape, practicing all their senses. (7) How does this sensual space of thickness and proximity ends up in loot?
“Animal is a word that men have given themselves the right to give,” Writes Derrida, “These humans are found giving it to themselves, this word, but as if they had received it as an inheritance… [T]hey have given themselves this word, at the same time according themselves, reserving for them, for humans, the right to the word… to the very thing that the others in question would be deprived of, those that are corralled within the grand territory of the beasts: the Animal”.(8)
The human characters in Goldstein’s drawings are full of contentment. They move between arrogance and indifference. Some of the images put on a didactic, almost medical face, like instructions for hunting or taxidermy – animal “handling” of anatomical sketches. The depth of the drawing is the depth of an animal’ innards, or the distance between an animal and the person who exhibits her for show. That distance is always also a great proximity, assimilation – a woman swims next to a boar; the hand of a mustached man becomes fin-like; the decorated garments of a frontal man echo the decorations on the beast behind him, its buckles doubling his.
“Who has not known the violence of these animal sequences, which uproot one from humanity, if not for an instant, making one scrape at one’s bread like a rodent or giving one the yellow eyes of a feline?” (Deleuze and Guattari) (9)
Work in Process started in 2007. For this work, Goldstein kept live gerbils in his studio, following their chiseling through plastic utensils. These desert rodents sharpened their teeth over the utensils on a daily basis – a durational activity which is creative and destructive at the same time. Goldstein stood aside as the gerbils gnawed, slowly reshaping the utensils into random sculpture, consuming them while leaving chips and scraps behind. These colorful remnants, as well as the sawdust that the gerbils lived on, and their urine and feces, were used by the artist to form a number of works over two years. The different by-products led to varying display strategies – such as a large-scale projection sequence of the chiseled objects or a floor work made out of the animals’ leftovers – relating to archeological and geological practices.
In Loot exhibition Goldstein is showing another work, which seem to an additional, almost necessary step in this process. Leatherette (leather substitute) sheets are stretched over “donkeys” (the Hebrew term for wooden supports – legs substitutes). Using his fingernails, Goldstein scraped and plucked the upper plastic layer of these sheets, exposing their white fabric lining. The white cloths become a background for large colorful stains which now seem skin-like also in their appearance. In this work, Goldstein no longer rears the animal and displays its products, but instead adopts its’ organs qualities and functions, its affects. This same affect re-generates the animal, restores the animal into that which wills to substitute it, to simulate it in its absence. The colorful sheets of cloth, with their plucked rims, now seems like stretched skins. The artificiality and decoration are still present, only this time as means of display and preservation. The lamps light as lamps do, living up to their substitute function. They are attached to the upper part of the “donkeys,” still allowing it, as narrow as it may be, to maintain its weight-bearing function. The “donkeys” are wraps with the leatherette sheets, losing their horizontal customary burden in favor of an independent, differentiated “donkey” existence. Instead of facing each other they assembled as a group, maintaining but small gaps between tem that compel proximity and close encounters. Like the lumps of human-hair Goldstein once collected in hairdressing salons and strung as beads (Untitled, 2007), the “donkeyed” sheets transform singular units into an assemblage, a pack – a preserved and displayed multiplicity, spread out and apart, as loot.
(1) Jacques Derrida, “The Animal that therefore I Am (More to Follow),” Trans: David Wills, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28 (2), 2002, p. 418
(2) Jacques Derrida et Elisabeth Roudinesco, Ma Yeled Yom… (De quoi demain), Hebrew Trans. Avner Lahav, Tel Aviv: Xargol, p. 12
(3) Ibid, 16
(4) Derrida, 372
(5) Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible…,” in Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, London: The Athlone Press, 1988, p. 305
(6) Rosalind Krauss, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde,” in Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986, pp. 151-170
(7) Adrian Franklin, “Neo-Darwinian Leisures, the Body and Nature: Hunting and Angling in Modernity,” in Body Society, Vol. 7 (4), 2001, pp. 57-76
(8) Derrida, 400
(9) Deleuze and Guattari, 240