Passage International Art Encounters
Jaume Plensa and Nir Alon
11.10.00 – 17.11.00
Published by: Chelouche Gallery, Tel Aviv
Passage: International Art Encounters
Project No. 6
The joint exhibition of the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa and the Israeli artist Nir Alon is the 6th project in the series of Passage: International Art Encounters, taking place at the CHELOUCH Gallery for Contemporary Art.
The idea behind the project, which started in 1996, is to organize joint exhibitions showing the work of Israeli and foreign artists who share a similar or parallel artistic language, which, consequently would pave their way towards new representation possibilities in Israel and abroad, as well as maintain a genuine dialogue within the international world of art.
The artists who have exhibited within the framework of Passage are:
Motti Misrahi (Israel) and Patrick Renault (France)
Zadok Ben David (Israel) and David Mach (England); Chaim Steinbach (New York), Bertrand Lavieux (France) and Gidon Gechtman (Israel). Michelangelo Pistoleto (Italy) and Micha Ullmann (Israel). Pedro Cabrita Reis and Gal Weinstein (Israel).
At the current exhibition Jaume Plensa (born 1955 in Barcelona, Spain) presents an installation of round, bronze gongs lit in the center and floating in the Gallery’s space. Two pairs of words are engraved in the middle of each gong: “water-fire” – “hair-bold”. A drumstick is hanging near each gong and the visitors become active drummers i.e. participants in the installation. Each gong has its specific sound and when hit, a sequence of different sounds is sent into the air, onto the visitor’s body and Gallery walls. In another corner Plensa hung a sculpture made of blown glass drops hanging from a white cloth. The feeling of hovering, the lightness of the glass in contrast to the rigidity of the bronze, the dramatic use of the light, the gongs’ sounds floating in the gallery’s space altogether create a sensual dreamy, enchanting and theatrical ambience.
Next to him, Nir Alon (born 1964 in Tel Aviv, Israel) presents a sculptural installation comprised of two objects: the first – “Observational Learning” – consisting of a desk painted in white, held by 2 office lamps, the one supporting and the other balancing it. The lamps illuminate drawings outlined directly on the wall. The second object – “Applied Behavior” – consists of a perambulator wrapped in masking tape, which simultaneously supports and is supported by an office lamp that illuminates the perambulator’s seat.
The inner light source creates a shadow, which by withdrawing from the works disentangles from the object. At the same time the illumination creates a shadow that defines the object, which causes the physical object to dismantle, leaving an imaginary space in the wall.
Jaume Plensa and Nir Alon create a genuine dialogue, which enriches them through their differences as well as their similarities. The affinity between both artists appears not only through the sound and the theatrical light that defines its surroundings, but also through their placement and installment, which creates an elevation (by means of hovering). The use of light and shadow causes the works to be a bit floating and slightly disengaged from the immediate surroundings, as though it was a fantastic reverie. On the one hand the light makes the work distinct, and on the other hand causes its isolation. The abundance of “disengaged” works finally creates a hovering, illusionary, dreamy and somnambulant environment, which can be interpreted as detachment from reality, autistic- or astronaut-like – disengaged, but at the same time also looking down, floating, receiving and transmitting some kind of essential, focused and principal matter.
Both artists are somewhat theatrical in their approach in the sense of creating scenes (similar to those in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland(Dreamland)/Through the Looking-Glass” etc.). Thus, the exhibition turns into a quasi-theatrical performance, in which the scenery is detached from the immediate reality, yet reacts and is related to it.
The acquaintance with the installation is made by way of walking through it. Its location in the space determines both movement and sound. The act of watching through the body creates a sensual-physical definition. Both artists build an environment in which there is equal place for both the visitor and space, but whereas Plensa invites the spectator to take part in his work, Alon creates a quasi-theater, leaving the spectator outside.
Poetical Intensification of Emptiness in the Work of Jaume Plensa ¬- Meta-architecture for Self-knowledge
Dr. Lorand Hegyi
Transparency versus massive density of material, text versus object, light versus dark, outside versus inside, classical closed form versus open quasi-functional form ¬those are the elements dominating the plastic work of Jaume Plensa. Each pair of concepts contains references to psychology, philosophy and art history, references which the artist makes discernible at the formal and material, or at the cognitive, immaterial level – e.g. by using lists of names, terms or quotations. What is just as important is the differentiated treatment Plensa gives the position the viewer takes vis-a-vis the sculpture. In this process, the physical situation – i.e. viewing from outside or being actually inside the work, entering the work – indicates a range of different experiences and interpretation strategies. It is here that Jaume Plensa is perhaps farthest removed from the classical model of viewing, which is passive and sometimes even places a taboo on the work of art. He proposes an interactive examination of works of art both in a contemplative and physically active manner; they should become a place of intense meditation. His works are actually highly dramatic, full of tension, marked out clearly and concretized in plastic art, strategic points in a fictitious sphere of meditation in which the viewer is confronted with text and sculpture, with information in verbal and plastic form, with the strategy of self-discovery in a situation which is determined by the artist and, though seemingly limited, is actually infinite. The body space is restricted to an absolute minimum and thus forces the viewer to concentrate on what is essential and at the same time points to other levels of reality. The process of intensification, which, in terms of physical, plastic form leads emptiness, a reduction, elimination, paradoxically creates a poetic wealth of references at the mental, intellectual level.
In the last three or four years, the artist created transparent objects in the form of pieces of furniture which were presented completely out of “furniture context” and in an irrationally poetic form high up on a wall. These objects announced a new understanding of space, marked by a poetic intensification of the experience of emptiness. The booths and cells made from iron, copper, alabaster or transparent resin, in which the viewers can enter through an aluminum or copper door and then lock themselves in, make this concept of space quite obvious and conclusive. The work of art is actually a space the viewer can experience from without and from within. Furnished minimally, with the bare essentials, the existential, the rooms at the same time contain anthropomorphous, bodily, physical connotations (such as the bed, table and chair, which relate to the dimensions of the human body) and abstract, intellectual, spiritual references (the text written on the wall). Like a monk’s cell, or, rather, a prison cell, they completely isolate the human being and, as it were, expose him to his own ideas, notions, fictions and memories. This radical isolation focuses his concentration on the essentials, strengthens his inner monologue and call into question all his prior experiences and memories. The slow, never definitely completed, process of quietly, meditatively focusing on the texts, notions, names- ¬whereby the physical presentation (size, plasticity, immediate legibility or estrangement through distance) of the verbal messages plays just as important a role as the text itself – changes his relationship with the space. The space is no longer the closed¬- off, limited space of a mental, meditative activity, with walls and doors separating the outside world from that inside and shielding the viewer as a prisoner from the exterior, but a metaphoric place of mental, philosophical, existential insights and experiences. Thus, the empty space is filled with thoughts, which have emerged in precisely this space and with the cognitive, meditative insights gained from this isolation. The space serves as a storehouse, or, – as Hans-Jurgen Buderer wrote ¬as a container. Considered metaphorically as a place of comprehensive connotations and unlimited mental associations, the physically limited space continually forces the viewer to revert to his position.
This tension fills Jaume Plensa’s room, which is highly reduced in formal terms, mentally alienated, cool and impersonal, with an almost theatrical drama. This is produced on the one hand by the emotionalisation of activities – such as entering the room, locking oneself in a cell, meditating on the text, leaving the cell in an act of self-liberation, of enrichment, of change – and, on the other hand, by the quasi¬-sacral nature of the cells’ meta-architecture. The quasi-sacral effect is reinforced especially by the symmetrical layout and the way light and darkness are treated, and by the nature of the meta-architectural forms. Having operated with the dramatic potential of light in earlier works, Jaume Plensa now uses light as a central instrument of his intensification strategy in his new meta-architectural installations. The contrast between light and dark zones underlines the contrast between interior and exterior, and between material and immaterial aspects. The artificially enhanced solemn and theatrical character of the work is only felt from the outside, hence as a world illusion. The visitor sitting or lying in the cell experiences the white light as almost brutal in its impact feels subjected and exposed to outside observers, unprotected and helpless, forced to grapple with a different level of reality. This radically intensified process of interiorisation and self-knowledge makes the rooms ambivalent: both prison (restriction, exposure, compulsion, limitation on activity, limited information) and source of knowledge, of self-knowledge.
The metaphoric significance of light is one of the central elements in Jaume Plensa’s Oeuvre of the last years. The artist tries to integrate his long-standing interest in literature and particularly poetry (he has also always been a post) in such a way that the installations are linked by their common central content. This, in turn, reinforces the quasi-romantic character of his work in recent years, in which he has intensified and focused his search for fundamental situations of existence. He interprets the darkness of the exhibition room as eternal night, as a metaphor of the power of fear and uncertainty, as an endless dark forest where many wander eternally (Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Joyce), as a place of potential, unknown events, a place where people seek to find the meaning of life and to understand the mystery of coming into being and passing away. His works are placed in the dark room, which it is almost impossible to cross. Lighted from the inside with cool, impersonal white light, built of transparent white stones (synthetic material), these simple, luminous, geometrical formations resemble booths, houses, towers, which offer the visitor some visual reference or guidance. They actually are houses. They enclose a very narrow space, which is oriented on the dimensions of the human body but is nevertheless alienating, impersonal, uncanny and frightening, almost empty. What distinguishes a totally empty room from these almost empty rooms is the essence, the existential element, which gives meaning to the rooms and to the – metaphoric ¬process of entering: that is the text and the meditation on this text. The text is written on the wall, the floor or the objects in the room. The simple, geometrical benches or beds – which enable the body to take up a position conducive to meditation – and the light sources (lamps or chandeliers) complete the interiors and underline the sphere of metaphoric meaning. The light makes it possible to read the text and, at the same time, it coolly and impersonally radiates outwards, into the dark room.
With these luminous, oddly solemn houses Jaume Plensa reverts to his earlier sculptures, which had an archaic, metaphysical symbolic character that created a quasi¬-sacral aura around the works. At the same time he also uses a representationalism reminiscent of ready-made; the individual, real elements such as metal doors, chandeliers or lamps, and the walls themselves with their bricks, represent the integration of the material world into the work. Together with the actual making-use¬ of the real rooms in these booths and towers, this combination between alienation, material reality and metaphor creates a quasi-theatrical situation in which the viewer not only looks at the works from the outside but also enters both the metaphoric and the real rooms. This is a deeply cultic act. By opening and closing the door, the visitor links or separates two worlds and creates an isolation of his own choosing. Going through a portal, entering a closed room, which is brightly, lit and does not allow the viewer to hide, is both a psychological and an aesthetic decision. Another important element is involved: the viewer does not only experience himself as an integral part of the installation, he is also seen from outside and thus becomes part of the work for the other visitors, too. The transparent walls allow the visitors outside to observe the movements and behavior of the person sitting or lying inside and to view that person as part of the overall structure. Awareness of the overall situation also involves the reflection on this dual position taken by the viewers, who are not only passive recipients but also active participants and who also include the reactions and behavior of outside viewers in their own contemplation.
The new installations of Jaume Plensa have three central elements. The simple meta-architectural structures, both abstract and realistic, booths, cells, houses, towers with their doors; the verbal texts, written down and possessing a plastic, physical reality, names of artists, women’s names, geographical locations, titles of works of art, philosophical terms or quotations from literature; and, thirdly, the dramatic, theatrical, quasi-sacral light effects, the illumination of the inner rooms by means of different sources of light. The central, essentially functional, link is the activity of the viewer, the decision to enter, to lock oneself in a cell and to surrender completely to the inner, metaphorical entity. The entire structure of meaning is organized around this decision. The act does not involve any surrendering of individuality, does not require any self-sacrifice, it is not a flight from external reality into the metaphorical, poetical, contemplative world of the interior, but it makes awareness of the existential questions treated by the overall structure more intense.
The dense interrelationship of the various reference levels, which the viewer becomes aware of through active participation, and which are often heightened by the alienated nature of the verbal text fragments or the real-life objects, i.e. by a calculated irritation, lead Jaume Plensa’s work in two divergent directions without, however, compromising the individual identity of the work: one direction leads to memories, fragments, vulnerability, subjective, intimate experiences, i.e. into the past; the other points towards intelligible, metaphoric, archaic, collectively ritualistic, anthropological experiences, towards philosophical systems. The complexity of Jaume Plensa’s work consists in this very multiplicity of layers, with the collectively ritualistic moments and the personal, intimate, fragmentary elements always relating in a dramatic, unforgettable, very effective form to the search for crystallization cores. His installations invite the viewer to examine the categories, terms and connotations selected by the artist and presented in an analytically alienated form, to interpret them in this new context and to relate them to his own, personal experiences, whereby the central pivotal point is always revealed by a dramatic act of decision¬-taking. In this way, Jaume Plensa’s isolation cells paradoxically become places where common anthropological experiences are rediscovered, which enable links to be established between civilizations and epochs, between subjective memories and collective systems. It is in this sense that one has to understand what Jaume Plensa says about words converted into a plastic form: “They become fragments of a memory within another, broader memory, to which we all belong, like islands scattered in our common ocean”.