The exhibition takes its title from one of the drawings featured in it – Nut Case. The hermetic, intact image of the coconut is not just a metaphor for a hard, fuzzy shell that does not crack easily and protects what is inside it (“a tough nut”), but also a symbolic play on words charged with a flash of madness, a borderline state, or instability.
The hollow knocking sound on the coconut husk (“Knock knock, who’s there?”) sent me to T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men: “We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. / Alas! / … Shape without form, shade without colour / Paralysed force, gesture without motion.” Doubt, absurdity, death, and alienation seep into Eliot’s poem. With a visual and poetic language, he depicts the hollowness of the human experience and the people who inhabit it – scarecrows, empty “vessels” stuffed with questionable materials, lonely and lost people whose skulls are like hollow headpieces. A mass without a backbone.
Shahar Yahalom’s private mythology meanders between the Gothic and Mesopotamian mythology to memories and dreams. Sleeping/dead heads, conjoined heads, hands, a lifeless bird, a lizard, a black cat, tropical vegetation. Flora, fauna, and human are intermingled, hunter or prey, a concoction of inanimate living beings. The images embrace the material from its front, back, or side, without drawing any clear distinction between the “right” side and the back side.
Her work processes are fundamentally physical, manual, and material, but they also hold a human, personal, and emotional dimension that permeates the sculptures themselves. The images break through the surface of the material from a vast, abstract mass or a liquid that solidified in a mold, like an embryo in advanced stages of development, curled up in its mother’s womb, moving, flipping, stretching, and kicking, trying to stretch the abdominal skin and emerge.
The coarseness and smoothness of the calcic plaster, the transparency and opacity of the glass, the black charred lead of the cement, the metallic conductivity of the aluminum. An alchemy of materials that inflate and shrink, expand or warp with the energy that erupts in the encounter between body and material, steeped in mythical and contemporary time, presenting themselves to the viewer who looks at them as though they were singular, accidental, fragile. Yahalom organically interweaves the various techniques – extracts drawing qualities from the sculpture, layers sculptural gestures in drawing, and fuses drawing, sculpting, and etching into the stained-glass pieces, where the light breaks through the green glass and renders the metaphysical physical.
The transformation from a state of liquid into solid mass does not erase the traces left by sharp tools that probed and incised the material or the movements of the artist’s fingers. Features, noses, sunken eyes, openings, depressions, and bulges make the inanimate human, and underscore the paradox of the living-dead object, whose very presence stands for its absence.
The sculptural space is charged with the tension between sight and touch. We are looking at the sculptures, the sculptures look at us. They are static, we are moving – wandering between them, circling them. They eschew self-presentation as sculptural monuments and wish to be read as sentimental, domestic artifacts on a cupboard or a table in the living space, becoming enchanting artefacts that unfold their – and our – stream of consciousness. Their presence, or being in their presence, brings to the fore a raw, pulsating human emotion, as though life is encased in them. The longer we spend in their presence, the more they take on human qualities, communicating not only the dense accumulation of the material in its untreated state, but also an intimate, physical, and mental human experience, which comes to life in the triangle formed between living body (sculptor), inanimate body (sculpture), and living body (viewer). The desire to touch them, feel, grab, hold in the palm of our hand or nestle in our lap, as though they are a physical and natural extension of our body, stems from the sculptures’ human proportions.
The body/sculpture/space relationship is also manifested in the marriage between the sculpture and the pedestal that carries it. The choice of (read-made) pieces of furniture as a temporary or permanent “understudy” for the museal plinth mitigates the sculptures’ material presence, mass, and scale, shrouding them with intimacy and presenting them as though they were “decorative artifacts.” This juxtaposition – organic yet unnatural on the one hand, and functional on the other hand – frees the sculpture from its dependency on the representative, formal, and unapproachable art space and bestows it with a human, domestic, and familiar dimension.
The space of the exhibition becomes an active mineral crystal that weaves a web of perspectives and focus points. Each piece is a zenith in the exhibition as a whole, but also an independent body that holds a substantial specific weight, magnetic, dense, and concise. The viewer walks in the space and becomes a part of this landscape of a living-still nature.
From Hebrew: Maya Shimony