The Homes of Others, exhibition catalogue, The Israel Museum Ticho House, 2008
curator: Aya Miron
The Homes of Others
Uri Gershuni entered the home of his father, the painter Moshe Gershuni, while the latter was abroad. In preparation for his photographic work, he made minor adjustments to the arrangement of objects in the house and added cyclamen plants as a gift to his absent father. In the resulting series of graceful photographs, “Aviv”, the flowers become a genetic image, “inherited” from his father’s painting. In 1984, Moshe Gershuni exhibited a series of drawings entitled “18 cyclamens”, some of which quote a line from “Bab El Wad” by poet Haim Guri: “spring will come and the cyclamens will blossom”. This song, written in memory of the soldiers who fell in the Israel’s war of independence, has become a classic poem of remembrance, and through it the cyclamen is permanently associated with the Israeli culture of mourning.
In many of the “Aviv” photographs, a white wall features prominently in the background, with household objects arranged in front of it. The flat walls merging with the white photographic paper makes us even more aware that photography is a two-dimensional medium which prevents us from entering the space and identifying fully with the scene. Even as Gershuni invites the viewer into the intimate dwelling place of a close relative, he sabotages our ability to relate to it as a real home by staging and aestheticizing the space and emphasizing the artificial quality of the medium.
The impact of Gershuni’s photographs on the viewer can be compared to Berthold Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, or alienation effect. Brecht sought to alienate the audience from the action on stage through the use of artificial elements that would remind viewers that drama is not reality, thus preventing their total identification with the characters and enabling them to maintain a critical distance from the play. By these means, Brecht emphasized the absence of a “fourth wall” – the term coined by Stanislavski to suggest that the audience should feel as if it is witnessing something real. In stills and videos of interiors, as well, the camera is often positioned at the “fourth wall”, the vantage point which renders the photographed space comprehensible. In Gershuni’s series, of the three walls needed to create the illusion of three-dimensional space, only the single white wall at the back remains.
Gershuni’s invasion of his father’s space is twofold: he intrudes both on his physical territory and on his art . This might be interpreted as the metaphoric search of an absent father, or as an expression of the son’s desire to forge a link between biological-genetic continuity with his father and the cultural legacy of someone regarded as one of the tribal elders of Israeli art. Alternatively, it might be seen as a subtle fulfillment of the oedipal drive to usurp the father’s territory. Perhaps Gershuni wished to present his refined and understated artistic style as a contrast to the expressive, visceral style of his father.