Bandages and Kaffyies
On the works of Yael Yudkovik
Pressure ulcers are caused by the repeated or sustained application of force to an area of the skin. The application of force may occur in various fashions: protracted pressure or pushing on the same spot; extended, repeated friction or chafing; constant or repeated stretching. The ulcers are common in people with movement disabilities who experience difficulty in changing their position. (From Hebrew Wikipedia)
The Annual Conference on the Prevention and Care of Pressure Ulcers – an installation by Yael Yudkovik at the Chelouche Gallery in Tel Aviv – assembles representations of women, as well as treated objects, proverbs, aphorisms, and treated objects marked by Arabic-Palestinian traits. Yael Yudkovik defines this odd collection using medical terminology, which can also be interpreted as a psychological-political text: continuous pressure, constant application of force, or persistent pressing on a spot, chafing, friction, interior or exterior strain, movement restriction, and inability to effect change. Medical science recognizes the connection between sustained pressure and lack of maneuverability and the development of wounds and ulcers. The Israeli political reading disregards any causal connection between the constant pressure the Palestinian population is subjected to – and physical or mental pathology. But the pathology of the protracted oppression tunnels and bubbles up through the “normalization” – not only of the Palestinian society but also on the Israeli side. The well-being of both societies collapses in the face of the never-ending occupation. The more it is concealed and denied, the worse are the pressure ulcers it causes. In the absence of preventive treatment, only emergency care remains to stop the advancing decay.
Political art is received with suspicion in the Israeli culture field, more so when the art addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yael Yudkovik is navigating an art minefield when she clearly declares the point of origin of these works: her joining the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum, following Operation Protective Edge, as well as the Narrative Project, which published both sides’ stories of loss and bereavement. Yudkovik, a native of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in the north of Israel, was born into loss: her father was killed when she was still in her mother’s womb. Loss flows in her veins. “I was born into loss, nurtured on bereavement,'” she writes. “While still a baby, I was brought in my mother’s arms or on my grandfather’s shoulders to the military plot in the cemetery at Tel Hai. I took my first steps at the foot of the Roaring Lion statue. Growing up a bit, I’d hop and skip among the graves with my older sister and brother. I’ve always had the desire to lie on the grave and put my head on the headstone, as if it were my bed.”
The interweaving of childhood and death, of parenthood and bereavement, is a central motif in Yudkovik’s current work, but what makes these works unique is her refusal to collapse into the bosom of melancholy. Yudkovik bounds playfully between object and text and photograph, creating surprising connections, enlisting humor and parody, and sometimes chutzpa, dodging the polite pathos of memorial services: she has laid a microphone with a twisting cord on a vertical headstone, as an empty echo of some rhetorical speech, its sounds lost and its words forgotten. Or perhaps she is trying to give voice to the dead…
The women of the Conference congregate, set on wheels, platforms, and ramps, assembled of a variety of objects. Their macabre hybridity has a common motif: a kaffyeh, patterned in traditional designs, which circulates through the figures in various forms and locations. The kaffyeh envelops, bandages, hangs from and lies over things, popping up in every corner. An article of clothing, Arab and masculine, which Yudkovik has brought into the feminine territory of the Conference. As a native of Kfar Giladi, she identifies the kaffyeh also with the Kibbutz elders, past members of Hashomer Organization, who used to wear a kaffyeh and ride horses, to simulate the Arab, the native, and to elevate their manly profile. But there’s also a kaffyeh in the installation that wraps around a kind of growth, speared on walkers, one that clings to the surface of luggage carts, a model of a kaffyeh made from layers of dark and light-colored sand, used as a pair of legs supporting an opaque vertical wall covered by red soil. Kaffyehs with mottled patterns shroud a series of skateboards of different sizes (large, medium, and small, like a group of kids playing in the neighborhood), arranged in rows echoing Haim Guri’s famous poem: Behold, here lie our bodies in a long, long row / Our faces have been changed. Death peers from our eyes. / We do not breathe. Yudkovik describes a wild, dynamic outdoors childhood, frozen into deathly order. In “the Trouble with Dreams,” she pushes the use of the kaffyeh to the edge of abstraction: a black-and-white kaffyeh stretches as a background for mesh boxes, a black fabric hung above is covered in Arabic script. Everything blends into an abstract oriental design, creating a pyramidal structure that rises to display a sign, a flag, or a slogan; it is all temporary and feeble, but effective. The kaffyeh in Yudkovik’s work functions as an imprinted identity, stamped unto the skin and yet nomadic.
Arabic typography is tied to the textual aspect of the works. Yudkovik writes sentences and epigrams, uses original Arab proverbs, and has even translated a Yiddish one. The sayings, written on a blackboard supported on black legs, is addressed to the women: “Trust Allah, but don’t forget to tie the camel,” one admonishes, and the other advises: “Gauge the river before you throw yourself into its waters.” Another quote tells a macabre story of illogic: “The deaf woman heard the mute one saying that the blind one saw the lame one running.” The participants all display scars and mutations, also absorbing in ironic references to Israeli art: one such mention is the jar-woman, decorated with circular shapes arranged diagonally, connoting the Tel Aviv iconic sculpture by Menashe Kadishman. Another is a matriushka, always having a child in her belly and never hollow. Another’s abdomen is a black inflated ball, her head an upside-down jar with a colorful mouth, with her middle finger raised unapologetically.
Yudkovik often uses reflections of objects in mirrors, or shows the images’ back sides. The ‘other’ is always there, in the rear, at the side, visible only when the field of vision expands and curves. This flexible genealogy is represented, for example, in the joining of sculpture, kaffyeh, stone, and a photograph of a stone: a carved-wood sculpture of an African woman, her head wrapped in a Palestinian Kaffyeh, a framed photograph of a head-shaped stone resting lengthwise below it, and another stone, reminiscent of Brancusi’s Muse, lying sideways on its head. An eclectic sequence emerges, riffing between material and image, alive and dead, bandaged and hale, and East and West. They all came, any way they could, faltering, on walkers and on wheels, to the Annual Conference on the Prevention and Care of Pressure Ulcers.