Where the Wild Things Grow
Botany is one of the loudest trumpets of modern nationalism and as such, it is no surprise that the connection between Zionism and the wild flowers of Israel was established in an attempt to tighten the bond between the Jewish settlers and the land of the fathers. Furthermore, the act of giving the plants Hebrew names by Effraim and Hanna Reuveni in the 1920’s was aimed at establishing an irrefutable proof of identity and belonging, as if from these plants the people and the language were sprouting. The flowers help to establish a feeling of belonging, as if uprooting the flowers help to root the people to their native land. The wild flowers establish ties between the people and the habitat, fusing together the botanical with the ideological. However, biological habitat do not overlap national borders.
As a child Yuli Tamir recalled “reading ‘Our Country’s Flora’, one got the impression that Israel was a unique botanic habitat whose flora and fauna were special and whose borders were natural. One day I came across a nature book published by a Palestinian Israeli. It had the same beautiful sketches of the same flowers and trees, and yet the mere fact that it was written in Arabic made it alien. This was a clear expression of the geographical reality of two nations sharing a land, each pretending it was its sole owner.”
In Fragile Land, Gersht has photographed the endangered flowers of Israel. Flowers that were declared; ‘national treasures’ and therefore must be protected and respected. In each specimen he was attempting to reveal the tragic humility of the living plants that were ripped from the soil reviling the solitary and existential essence of being. His approach was inspired by the history of scientific botanical drawings, which are aiming to rise above the specifity of the model, depicting the timeless, the archetypal specimen isolated from its environmental context. However, his photographs are also inspired by the artistic quest of such Renaissance painters as Leonardo and Durer in their search for idealism and for poetic representation of the divine creations.
For this new body of work, Gersht simultaneously used 10X8 Polaroid’s film and a high-resolution digital camera to photograph and catalogue the endangered flowers of Israel. In his Polaroid photographs he was attempting to meltdown both, medium (film) and subject (flowers). In doing so he has destabilised the Polaroid and at the same time shot the flowers with a rifle capturing them in the critical moment of impact. This process allowed him to integrate the fragile and unstable presence of both flower and film. Unlike digital processes, each Polaroid film is unique and Unrepeatable, therefore each event becomes a unique ghostly record for the interaction between medium and subject.
In contrast to the sensual and earthly natured polaroid’s, the identical images captured by the high resolution digital camera are super sharp and detailed, revealing a different reality, unfolding a contrasting parallel narrative of the same event. The comparison between the two mediums is incongruous and may allude to the role of technology in defining the perception of reality, the subjective nature of evidence and the elusive phenomenon of truth.
Ori Gersht was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel in 1967. He received his BA from the University of Westminster, London (UK) and his MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art, London (UK). He lives and works in London. He has previously been the subject of solo exhibitions the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Imperial War Museum, London (UK), The Tate Britain, London (UK), The Tel Aviv Museum of Contemporary Art, Jerusalem (Israel), The Santa Barbara Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, The Jewish Museum, New York, The Yale Centre for British Art, Connecticut, and the Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton (UK).
Gersht is included in the public collections of the British Council, London (UK), Deutsche Bank, Government Art Collection, London (UK), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, the Imperial War Museum, London (UK), The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Israel), The Jewish Museum, New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, the Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, The Tate Britain, London (UK), the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv (Israel), the 21C Museum, Louisville, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (UK).