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
The Other Side of Drawing
C’est toujours les autres qui meurent… (it is always other people who die)- so writes Marcel Duchamp on his tombstone in Rouen. Is this simply just the last witticism, from an array of witty sayings of this 20th century artist? Years later, in a television interview, Yeshayahu Leibowitz would say things of a similar nature, but not necessarily to amuse: death, he would argue, cannot be placed on the continuum of human experience which transpires on the timeline of our existence. Consequently, a reality which is called death does not exist, there is only lack of life. Kant, so it seems, also shared this way of thinking. Two hundred years prior, in his lecture on anthropology, he related to the linguistic aspect of these insights. According to Kant, since no one can experience his or her death, the thought “I no longer exist” cannot exist; nothing can be thought if I don’t exist. He thus claims it would be a contradiction to assume a subject that negates his or her existence while speaking in the first person.
The English word scalper sounds similar to the word sculptor. Among the archaic actions done to the human head, like turning the skull into a vessel or the use of it for the performance of various rituals, the action of scalping is the only action which does not necessarily kill. It is an action performed on the other side of the head, not the face which is so identified with the human presence. The action of scalping like turning the entire body into a vessel, removes the cover of this organ enabling a chilling look into the interior of a living head.
In an article that he wrote at the beginning of his specialized training in neurology at a Viennese hospital, Sigmund Freud describes how in lab conditions one can see the nervous system in the brain completely and concretely by dipping tissues from the grey matter into a certain solution. Later, on the way towards the formulation of psychoanalysis, in attempts to trace conceptual imprints in the psychological system, Freud abandons this concrete way of thinking in favor of thought which has no chemical reaction, and examines the ways of imprinting the conceptual in the human consciousness in a completely different way. Thus, while at the outset Freud was interested in physical manifestations of the nervous system, he will later go in a different direction that in essence does not deal with physical recordings that can be observed in lab conditions but rather the imprints of the activities in the psychological system. He shows how external understanding of the system penetrates internally through sensory perception.
Some of these perceptions will not leave a trace in the system but some will leave imprints, like traces slit onto a wondrous writing pad. These are unconscious imprints, traces of unconscious memory that don’t have anything in common with conscious memory. Freud shows how, despite the fact that they were seemingly erased, the traces in these wondrous writing pads can be seen if observed from a certain angle and with proper lighting. In a similar way, something from the traces of unconscious memory can be established through the speech of a subject during analysis or through formations of the unconscious. In other words, things imprinted in the psychological system are not available for direct observation but will appear in coded manners. The way to interpret these formations, for example, a dream or a joke, will be through unraveling the handicraft of the joke or the dream in order to get to its roots, to observe it from the other side.
Monotype printing is a strange kind of printing: you spread paint on a hard plate, like glass, for example. You then attach a sheet of paper to it and draw on its reverse side. The resulting print is of course a mirror image of the original engraved drawing. This is different than the common printing technique whose goal is to duplicate and distribute, here the print is unique and cannot be reconstructed. Besides the unique quality which characterizes the monotype, it has another advantage: the slits which were engraved may appear on additional prints created from the same plate, thus the plate preserves something from everything that is imprinted on it.
Casting is a three dimensional equivalent of printing. Here too, the outcome, in this case the sculpture, is an inversion of the mold which produces it. But in this present exhibition, the mold doesn’t just produce the shape of the mass which congeals inside of it; wood cuts, which are on the interior sides of the mold, are saturated with ink and imprint figures on the surface of the sculpture, figures that are engraved on the plaster while it is still in liquid form and appear on the surface of the final outcome.
“The human language constitutes a kind of communication in which the sender receives his or her message back from the recipient in an inverse form.” Thus, argued one of the participants in one of Lacan’s seminars. Lacan warmly adopted this claim and repeated it several times in his writing. The claim refers to the way the truth of a subject arises from speech in analysis, but in a different way than the things that were thought to have been said. The unconscious, said Lacan, in one of his famous sayings, is understood like language. It can be found on the surface at all times but it is coded, and analytic knowledge allows us to listen to the words which arise from a subject’s speech, despite his or her intention to say something completely different. A subject who is split between ego and the unconscious is the one who is present in the gap between what is said and what he or she thinks has been said. An awareness of this gap enables us to understand speech which is seemingly not possible: for example, I am a speaker who speaks of the absence of existence. While a negation like this creates for Kant a contradiction which cannot be, Lacan shows how this negation presents exactly the opposite, the appearance of the subject of the unconscious in language.
The word “hayot” in Hebrew is ambiguous: it is both the word for animals and also the present tense of the word to live in its feminine, plural conjugation. Both meanings exist simultaneously; women who live are animals, or are situated on the boundary between human existence and some other existence. It is interesting to note that the letters which form the English word-HAYOT, are not influenced at all by their mirror image, so this word has no other unreadable side. Now a new meaning can be added to the word when it reverts back to Hebrew as heyot and thus assumes the meaning- being.
Efrat Biberman, June 2015
In the exhibition: Tree incubator (Live statue), drawings, video work, and tattoo machine drawings on silicon.
Following the opening night of her exhibition Shahar Yahalom will leave for New-York, for MFA studies at Columbia University. Yahalom is the winner of the Young Artist Award of the ministry of Culture and Sports for 2012. Among other venues she has exhibited: final nominees for the Gottesdiener award exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum at 2011. On 2009 she exhibited at the Herzliya Biennial and Art TLV.Biennial.
“…Following past exemplary shows in which Shahar Yahalom masterfully created objects and installations that corresponded with the contemporary art discourse, in her present exhibition she examines the borders of the high road of the art discourse in which she conducted herself so naturally. The exhibition ED raises the possibility of the turn towards perversion. This possibility is found in canonic aesthetic doctrines that see in the artist one to whom the law, the example or school do not constitute a barrier, but rather a leverage.
… Beyond the description of the artist’s action of drawing, the word “drawing” in Hebrew applies to different forms of drawing, such as literary notes, supply lists, or any other type of list in which something is written, jotted down, leaving a mark. In Hebrew the name of Shahar Yahalom’s current exhibition ED encapsulates within it at least two meanings of “Drawing”. On the one hand it is vapor, which is at once visible yet will soon dissipate. Similarly to the random scribbling of the grocery list that will soon be forgotten after it will be replaced with the groceries themselves. Yet it also keeps the meaning as a witness that will remember and remind of the occurrences.”
-Taken from the ED exhibition text “Five Remarks on Drawing” by Efrat Biberman.
A conversation between Nechami Gotlib and Shahar Yahalom
Question: What brought you to create an incubator for a tree?
Answer: The incubator originated as a thought of an object, a collage of ready-made objects. One of the images used as a source for the work is a photograph of the first space shuttle to land on the moon, Apollo 11. The space shuttlecraft seemed to me as a collection of junk pieces, and it wasn’t clear how such a thing managed to reach the moon. The fantasy that guided me was taking a Sycamore tree, whose origin is in North America, there is a difference in its behavior in Israel and at its natural habitat abroad, so I wanted to build it a space or “space craft” – a space constructed from many elements. The tree is physically too weak to sustain the fantasy, the incubator suffocates it rather then allowing it to live. There is use of every bit of air in the space, there is no one consolidation point. Near the tree sculpture/ incubator there is a Styrofoam sculpture that creates a sort of glacier and snow or ice flakes. Above the tree, there is a lamp that is a source of energy.
Question: The use of “ready made” in your works is new. In the previous works there was always a wish to “invent” something.
Answer: That’s right, in this exhibition there isn’t an expression of freedom in the sculptural work. In this case I didn’t want to invent, but rather to combine things, create objects that are not sculpted.
Question: Why not sculpt?
Answer: In my previous works, and especially in the work “Raspberry Land” that was exhibited in the Tel Aviv Museum, the sculpting was very physical, erupting, grand and full of passion, abounding in creation, not taking into consideration anything besides itself. This exhibition is the complete opposite; it brings out a will to think from the other side of the ball. It’s a struggle not to sculpt. There is use of living and breathing material as the tree and the air that creates the interactions on its own – A living sculpture.
Question: And the video work “Window Over Dead Body”?
Answer: The video is a window, a diversion, the escape of a glance. This was taken in a dissection room (the room in which autopsies by medical students take place), the gaze of the living upon the dead. The gaze is constantly attracted to the light sources, the window, the light, the outdoors. The gaze is diverted to the conditions rather then the object.
Question: The work “Map” is a drawing done by using a tattoo machine on silicon surface, what brought you to this type of work?
Answer: The drawing is impressed upon the material, penetrates it, enters through it. It does not exist merely upon the surface.
Shahar Yahalom, Vegans, Still from video Animation, 2014
-80°C is the temperature at which bodies are stored while waiting for the future life – an encoded extension to the future – as well as embryos and organs for transplantation. The exhibition space is planned to serve as an experimental lab or a refuge of an alchemist/architect/philosopher busy with creating a new reality by sorcery and calculation: every sculpture may be translated into a mathematical equation.
Jacques Derrida defined the term ‘deconstruction’ as a method and not a style. An attempt to attribute Shahar Yahalom’s work to any style seems forced, and one should rather focus on her method. The majority of the compositions in the exhibition are based on two poles – one vertical and the other horizontal making together a cross (in the architectural connotation*), an unhesitating static structure. The strong juxtaposition of two intersecting axes lies at the base of architecture since the early ages. Postmodernism has undermined this stability by breaking angles and conventions.
At the center of a human skeleton there is a cross-like bone called sacrum (‘holy’ in Latin) and ‘krestetz’ in Slavic languages (‘krest’ = ‘cross’). According to the Zohar book, at the time of resurrection the lower part of the sacrum, usually identified with the coccyx (etzem ha-luz), will expand to four directions to form the body anew. The sacrum is the Foundation Stone of the human body, responsible for its posture; however, in art as in anatomy the physical stability does not depend on the structure alone but on the flow of life itself. Without it the structure will collapse.
Thus, the center poles are well positioned, and the artist may now begin her dance. She scatters other axes in the space as broken arrows. The small details hang on the axes, holding on to them, while their form becomes less geometrical and more organic.
Does the artist rely here on chance creating a chaotic structure and letting it grow as it pleases? It is indeed and intentional coincidence. In this intelligent way a plant occupies its designated space, feels it and sends its tendrils in every direction.
The exhibition space seems spellbound; otherwise how did the artist set these impossible sculptures? The space is pierced, unraveled, dissected, sliced, drawn with strings, straggling on hooks, alluring with its transparent screen traps, An astute pleasure.
Perhaps there is no magic here, but rather the gravitation laws were changed? The artist created a universe with two moons as in a recurring childhood dream. A heavenly duplicity as opposed to an earthly duplicity – the exhibition is designed according to a principle of duplicity, and from a certain point the view is repeated.
Perhaps the afterlife is here? The bones of fish from the Chernobyl area are curled as tendrils. Will the new world be created as a result of a crisis? In Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two ideograms: one means ‘danger’ and the other ‘new possibilities’.
The artist is fascinated with Gothicism, with the structure of a cathedral and its emptiness as opposed to the sculptural images. Yahalom sticks to daring perpendiculars and diagonals that strive to stretch the boundaries of matter and spirit and to defy the skies. The gothic creatures are not in the exhibition, but their presence is duly felt. Stubbornly they creep into the space leaving behind marks of claws on the glass. They scratch the slides with sharp beaks chucking their excretions here and there and wink from every corner.
Derrida rejects the confrontation of the tradition with the avant-garde. The contemporary age enables the two poles to collaborate – no more rebellion of the avant-garde against the tradition but coexistence. Yahalom is true to this philosophical view, but in her work she does not discard the visual art for philosophy that would have conceptualized the sculpture. She is devoted to her work, reminding of a craftsman sculptor; she does not order but skillfully carries out her own creation.
One literary character used to say: “children and good pipes one should make by himself” – to which I would add – good sculptures as well.
*The success of the campaign of Christianity was affected, among other things, by the catchy logo – the cross.