The She-elephant in the Room / about the Annual Conference on the Prevention and Care of Pressure Ulcers, by Yael Yudkovik
About two years ago, Yael Yudkovik showed me photographs from an installation-in-progress, titled the Annual Conference on the Prevention and Care of Pressure Ulcers. I clearly remember my reaction to the photographs – laughter, and a sense of sweetness. I laughed not because they were intended to make me laugh, or to distance me from that which hurts through irony, by ostensibly allowing me to remain outside of what happened – on the contrary. I recognized this laughter. It was the release that occurs when you encounter something precise and surprising. The precise is always surprising. It is a laughter of joy; Here is room for movement that has been impossible until now. And sweetness – because sweetness is the gift of future memory to hope, the same would happen again. Poets have always recognized that sweetness. Dante at the height of brightness, and Yona Wallach, who carefully described emotional/physical sensation, has written that sweetness is not of the honey but the nectar. Let me say it cautiously, this is the sweetness of encountering freedom.
What had I seen in these photographs, and when I was secretly brought into the studio a year later – in these objects, that made the auto-nomous sweet?
(Autonomous = a law unto myself. But not in the idealistic or greedy sense. Autonomy that remembers the circumstances that have nurtured it, to which it is related not only out of necessity but also by choice.)
How I wish not to talk about this, but I have made a promise.
In any case, I cannot discuss it as I would have liked, because it is about things to come.
Here is a name and a place for what we need: the Annual Conference on the Prevention and Care of Pressure Ulcers. I know nothing here and yet much is familiar.
I know the ulcer but not the experience of bandaging. The bandaging of that which cannot be bandaged.
This is how it appears, in Arabic, which I do not understand. In fabrics I do not use (a kaffyeh). In boxes I do not move around.
But the thirst and the aridity of the stones are familiar to me.
The wheels, the supporting props, the open caskets, the skateboards, the matrioshka dolls – they are all familiar.
This is not about such and such a catalogue versus another.
Someone has created a space and put in the language of the future – what does the language of the future look like? Women, mothers, icons of beauty and seduction, who have slowly, over time, inevitably, become creatures.
The creatures congregated to announce that pressure ulcers can be prevented and cared for. We can prevent what currently we do not know how to prevent – only to cause, through alienation, cruelty, and constant forgetting.
An intact body has no place here. But this is not a circus or a freak show. And if it is a circus or a freak show, it lacks the exposure of the pitiful wound. Not here. The humor comes from respect for the layers of history and art history. With the knowledge that the layers have been almost completely used up and there is no other option but to acknowledge that the exploitation and depletion require something else. A new physical configuration. Not olives or coffee or pigeons – no more promises of sensational changes that end up in violence. No. This is a place of hospitalization and rebellion. For many years now I have been interested in how mourning connects to rebellion. All the figures here are, or used to be, women. Women too are not quite human beings. Not yet. At least the suffering and the mourning and the rebellion – after all, healing in incurable places is rebellion – transform the female body in Yudkovik’s work and reveal its heartbreaking strangeness, a strangeness that in this Conference creates a community.
There’s a small sheep here – it has been born into a walker, or maybe it is a walker. It is bandaged with the monochromatic black-and-white of a kaffyeh. Now that the kaffyeh is the bandage, and the covering, and an enclosing fabric – I can better see the marks of the vegetal tendrils in its past, the weaving and the junctions, the barbed wire and the wall, but also the colors of the prayer shawl, and the blazing sun that leaves behind only black, white, and some brown.
Who was it – perhaps the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, or maybe somebody else, who, when asked about the long conflict in Ireland (400 years!) had said that reconciliation had been harder than the conflict. Suffering can be endured. But when it becomes evident that suffering is unnecessary, unjustified by the ideology that suffuses the quotidian, grievances and constant lies, vengefulness, and above all hate that makes us all criminals to some extent – then comes the even worse thing: the acknowledgement of the waste and purposelessness of the suffering (400 years!). Perhaps any weight can be carried, to the point of collapse, and death. But to find a place to lay down the load – this is the hardest thing of all.
It becomes clear in this Conference: if we want to prevent and heal the incurable, we must join the creatures we’ve become. The she-creatures.
Remember, Yudkovik is a creature of sorts, and has always been.
Unlike the goddess of war, whose father swallowed her mother, and who then sprang out of his head, armed and ready to lead the battle to victory, Yudkovik was born only to a mother. Her father had died in the war while she was still in her mother’s womb. As she tells it when she writes about the Conference and its origins, the cemetery has been a welcoming place for her, where all she wanted was to lie down on the cool tombstone, and take a nap.
My favorite Conference character is a kind of she-elephant – a she-creature made of a sphere of Perspex (like a rubber or ceramic ball), shining in its pure blackness and topped by a brown upside-down jug – and here is a person, perhaps pregnant, perhaps “just fat,” or bloated from still unsaid things, or maybe this is actually her size. The upside-down jug makes her face look elephantine with its trunk, and tubes extend from the sides like arms, or maybe a hookah. A gloved tube at the end is giving the finger. No. The she-elephant never forgets the outdoor from where she has come. And what does this she-creature wear on its head? A kaffyeh, like luxuriant hair or a bridal veil pushed aside, the kaffyeh held in place with a small structure above it, looking like two jugs or perhaps teats? It is not at all hard to imagine it as a walking bomb – yes, the women in labor are like ticking bombs – but not due to their child-bearing capability, not in this case, but rather because of their ability to congregate and say: a place has been found where we can name our condition. What’s next? It is unknowable. First we must give the floor to the jug, the tombstone (in black and white), the blackboard with its sentences that invite me in to a language I cannot read but is local, as in “the deaf woman heard the mute one saying that the blind one saw the lame one running.” (Notice the complexity of the place, the play of the language. This sentence, so natural to the Conference, has been excerpted and adapted by Yudkovik from a Yiddish poem.)
The language I don’t speak comforts me with the promise of being able to bandage anything that moves, all that has been damaged, changed, taken out of context – skateboards, figures on wheels, even the net stockings covering the woman’s legs, ripped from her (still erotic?) are reminiscent of bandages. The sentences in Arabic are like threads unraveled from the kaffyehs; they too flicker and resemble the twisting tendrils, barbed wire, walls, knots, bulbs.
You cannot stop looking at this she-elephant, which is also placed on a wheeled platform.
Nobody here has full and autonomous limb movement.
If Grandma had wheels…
But look – she has them. Otherwise, how can she find movement in a motionless place?
Who is the human here, everyone? An unresolved splitting. A damaged woman. A damaged woman will save us and give us shelter.
The strange – not the pure, of which we dream with bottomless vulgarity, which in any case is destroyed in the “purging of terrorists’ nests” – is our future.
Yudkovik has found something of the language of the future that will be necessary to the place, the place where we all live, because the language of the future always surpasses the present, possible imagination.
The strange, the odd, the one with no freedom of movement, has found wheels.
Even more than that – she has found a face.
This is a strange thing to say in a place like this, where the face is the face of a she-elephant made out of an upside-down jug; or the Mona Lisa, who stares at me/not at me from the body of a black matrioshka doll; or a photograph of the torso of the black woman, wrapped in white fabric, her white eyes fiercely blind; or a wooden figure with a stone on its head, her face completely bandaged as if it has turned into a wound – but here is the thing: the face has turned into an unidentified wound, and to give it a face again Yudkovik creates unforgettable faces.
At the far end of hatred, of negativity, is the one who has said “I am not who I am” (Iago) – and maybe at a different end – not necessarily its opposite, a twisted end, emerging from an unexpected intertwining, a vegetal structure, a textile that seemed to have been familiar, a text for empathies and panics – lies a microphone. The she-creatures wish to summon the dead but also the living – the call to congregate, away from the hatred, might be here in this artwork: “we, who have mutated into being – we stop.”