The mythical story of Cain and Abel is a chronicle of a murder. It is an account of internal conflict, unbridled loss of control, and violently passionate acting out. God’s (the Father) preference of Abel’s sacrifice evokes in Cain scorching feelings of rejection, insult, and jealousy, which drive him to slay his brother. The biblical text is succinct; its three very short acts – the birth, the sacrifice and its rejection, the murder and the punishment – leave wide leeway for commentary as to the motivations of the protagonists: Cain, (present-absentee) Abel, and God.
The event of the murder represents the triumph of evil over morality. Unlike the original sin (the Fall – Genesis 3), which was preceded by explicit divine interdiction, Cain acts within as yet a lawless space. It is only after the presentation of the sacrifice that the Lord vaguely warns him: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Genesis 4:7). Cain has to figure out for himself how to interpret this divine advice, and is almost required to lay down a new law by himself. Besides the notion of free will, the text also contains the accompanying concepts of reward or punishment.
Staging the brothers’ story as a large pictorial cycle, entitled “Cain,” Kliger intertwines it with ideas and visual elements borrowed from other ancient eposes and mythologies. She dissociates herself both from art history’s familiar iconography and from the biblical text, offering to perceive the brothers as a split whole, as two inherently complementary representations of a single entity.
This perception illustrates allegorically the psychomachia, or the primeval conflict within one’s soul between virtues and vices, and also corresponds with Jung’s idea of a “complete man.” The soul, according to Jung, consists simultaneously of inseparable polar elements: the feminine and the masculine, the good and the evil, the strong and the weak, and so on. The self is the intermediary axis between consciousness and the unconscious, and it is forever created and re-created, like a body regenerating its own cells. It provides one’s personality with a balance, functioning as an archetype of order, direction, and meaning, a kind of personal providence, divine voice, and a guide.
The inner layout of the gallery space has undergone a transformation, becoming an intimate, charged and condensed space, a sort of collective subconsciousness, where swarming uncontrollable urges and impulses threaten to erupt and unite in cathartic unification of the ego.
The works’ installation in the space disrupts the linear continuity of the text. The pictorial cycle begins at the peak of the plot, shortly before or after the murder, and ends with a kind of apotheosis scene, in which Cain and Abel are taken to heaven to be united as the “complete one.” The attributes given by Kliger to the protagonists highlight the contrasts between them: Abel, the shepherd, carries a lamb on his shoulders, as he is depicted in Christian iconography, which conceives him as prefiguring Christ, the Good Shepherd (Cain, on the other hand, symbolizes the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, or interpreted allegorically as the Eternal Jew). With a falcon perched on his shoulders, Cain, the tiller of the soil, brings to mind Yitzhak Danziger’s Nimrod (which symbolizes both Canaanite rootedness and the biblical hunter, who rebelled against God). The falcon that Kliger gives to Cain has a double role – on the one hand, it is the sign that marks Cain and protects him from those who hunt him, and on the other hand, it also gives him the quality of a hunter (accompanied by a bird of prey). Cain eternal wandering represents a merger of oppositions.
With their blurred genitalia, Kliger’s figures are gender undetermined. Be they crossbreeds between masculinity and femininity or archetypal and mythological figures, they are archaic or futuristic creatures playing symbolic-didactic role as they oscillate between the human and the trans-human, nowhere and everywhere, outside time.
Polarity is also present in the drawings: some are bright, ballpoint drawings, carefully and meticulously drawn with laborious lines and looking like faded sketches or paintings; others are dark and shady drawings made with paint rollers and brushes as well as print-like stamping. Hanging as they do in the gallery’s space, exposed, unframed, mounted on the walls, the drawings seem to both continue and transcend the genre of wall painting as know from chapels, mausoleums, churches, etc.
Thus, layer upon layer, Kliger unfolds and crystalizes the notion of unified dichotomies, bringing together bad and good, feminine and masculine, black and white, hunters and gatherers, the terrestrial and the celestial and gives Cain the whole gamut of oppositions.
Sally Haftel Naveh, March 2020
*Other days by appointment only
Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art is pleased to announce the opening of “Flower Fields” a solo exhibition by Alexandra Zuckerman. This is Zuckerman’s second solo exhibition at the gallery.
Rooted in the language of drawing, and yet informed by its numerous declinations – from painting to tapestry, from animation to textile –, the work of Alexandra Zuckerman sheds light on the thin line separating the field of Fine Art from that of applied arts; furthermore her appropriative use of techniques that belong to folklore, tradition and even amateurism, aims at contextualizing the histories of female artistic practices against a backdrop of unilaterality, which dominates the History of Art (with capital H and A).
Her latest body of work, which gives the title to this exhibition, is inspired by technical illustrations included in manuals and magazines for embroidery, cross – stitch and knitting. These images are specific and universal at the same time, they trigger the memory of places like Russia – where the artist was born and grew up before immigrating to Israel with her family – or Jaffa – where she currently lives.
Each drawing starts with a grid, which is drawn by hand, and consequently enriched by different fields of color, which are obtained by filling, again by hand, each square with crayons. Due to this technique, this series of drawings behaves differently according to their position in front of the viewer. Similarly to mosaics, they allow a double encounter –“bird’s–eye view” versus closeup.
In addition to that, the artist is interested here in the notion of repetition and how such repetition both entails pleasure and echoes the original craft – embroidery, cross–stitch and knitting –connected to the source of these images. Following such premises, some drawings are based on textile patterns and ornaments; there is always a tension between the motifs that appear in each drawing and its palette, which is based on tonal variations.
Continuing Zuckerman’s aforementioned interest in gently dismantling the notion of unilateral perception, this new series is emphasizing the possibility of working through abstraction and figuration simultaneously; while this tension can be encapsulated by the coexistence between an abstract layer – the pencil grid – and a figurative layer – the crayons blocks , between black and white – the pencil and the paper – and color – the crayons –, one cannot help but think how such tension can symbolize, once again, the artist’s desire to create a space that incorporates categories in order to erase them. Last but not least, the strict technical procedure behind these works could be seen, paradoxically, as a meditative act, confirming once again Zuckerman’s drawings as visual oxymorons.