Fairies and donkeys
The main body of my work is paintings on black canvas. There is a tradition of painting which reacts to the white canvas, to a blank support.
The white is the non-color which is being stained. The non-color of my works is the Black. Of course, the logic of acting towards a blank, black background is different from the logic of acting in response to the white background (like Raffi Lavie or Cy Twombly). Nevertheless, I still take action towards the black in a way which has to do with the way these painters (re)act towards the white.
There has always been a figure of a fairy in my works. My painting is the utmost degree of stuttering fairytales.
Concerning that, there is a thought that keeps popping up in my head, a suspicion that always bothers me: that in every donkey there hides a fairy.
Filipa César chooses the anonymous citizen as the main character in her work: a character that is simultaneously idiosyncratic (endowed with its particular and unique characteristics) and generic (shares its existential condition with its peers). Her characters reveal themselves during banal moments of pause that intersect the daily routines in the space of the city, occasions of anonymity during which nothing apparently occurs, on the margins of the productive and functional conception of time, dominant in contemporary societies. The artist fixes both her gaze and ours on the realm of appearance, the external traces that define individuals socially, the externalisation of wealth, gestures and expressions, to suggest (and fictionalise) an inner life that remains greatly unfathomable. We are at the antipodes of a widespread critical perspective that sees the common citizen as a featureless person, devoid of qualities, standardized into his subjective world by the dynamics of contemporary life. In opposition to this, the artist places in motion a process of identification: the situations of daily routine she depicts, or fictionalises, and the strangers or actors she transfigures into characters, return the image of our own existence.
The exhibition “Berlin” features three video works:
Ringbahn is a video project that advances a two-folded insight on Berlin City’s life policies, for it is both a documentary that issues from a direct observation, and a commentary that issues from an analysis of the former through a lens of a neurological disorder. Through a comprehensive editing procedure the two layers are combined into an associative sequence where from the juxtaposition of sound and image-track sometimes an unexpected meaning arises.
Aura is a gaze from the outside at our everyday behaviour. It presents a strange situation that raises questions about the veracity of the phenomenon of an apparent group hypnotic state. The main element that is the object of contemplation in this work is the Reichstag building, home to the German Parliament. In order to address the non-sense that this protagonist organizes around it, the viewpoint is inverted —the subject who is looking at the building becomes the object.
Berlin Zoo is a video loop set in the train station and terminal interface of the same name. Several bystanders were captured by the artist’s camera as they are gradually overcome by a general state of disbelief – of shock and awe even – while staring upwards at the arrivals and departures timetables. This gallery of grimaces is intertwined with an eerie soundtrack of wind blowing and occasional squawks of birds. Berlin Zoo could be classified as a fake documentary on the contemporary wildlife of a metropolis, an exercise in modern day ornithology.
Amikam Toren is showing in his first comprehensive exhibition in Israel works from four series.
Plan B is a three dimensional parallelogram built from 1500 wooden figurines, collected from different markets, representing diverse cultures and religions. The sculpture that looks like an architectural model combines esthetical tensions accumulating to a powerful effect of beauty, astonishment and wonder.
Insomnia institute is a series of drawings created through the observation of the emerging sculpture of Plan B. Therefore, the automatic drawings draw one’s attention back to the sculpture as though capturing the empty spaces between the figurines.
Clouds in trousers are five white overalls worn by artists during their work in a studio. Toren uses an unpicked trouser as a canvas stretching it on a wooden frame; he lets his brush wander on the surface until some image appears on the fabric while cleaning the excesses of paint on the overall. The line of overalls hanging on the wall inevitably invites some unpleasant images of a slaughter house.
Armchair paintings are oil paintings that one can buy at the market and antique shops. In the center of those idealistic and kitsch paintings Toren cuts out words or sentences, thus updating the painting and recovering the lost quality. The bare wall behind the painting becomes part of it as the letters cast their shadows on the wall. The paintings represent a postmodern irony as a work of art is upgraded through its destruction.
Naomi Aviv, curator
Aprons spotted with dough hanging on a white tiled wall, chubby golden bread loaves in a blazing oven, lumps of dough covered with plastic sheets swooning on huge trays, dough-stained fabrics, burnt baking trays, used rubber gloves, an oven’s dark interior, an empty industrial freezer – and, yes, a black flour bag lying like an abandoned corpse: Orit Raff’s bakery.
Bread – a word that inhabits a basic existence, a metonymy for hunger as well as satiation; Bread and Circuses – the Emperor’s bribe to the masses in ancient Rome; in western hedonistic society, where culture and gastronomy habitually flirt with each other, industrial bread is upgraded with mixtures that improve its taste infinitely and it spreads its aroma in prestigious pastry shops, a spectacle of inspiration and grace; at the same time, it is displayed on the news as the sign of an intense social struggle in the Jerusalem “Bread Plaza” in front of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset; in Judaism, bread’s power is strengthened by dipping it in salt before saying Hamotsi (the blessing over bread), and in former times bread and salt were presented as a peace offering to all those who came through the Jerusalem gates; and yet, it is no coincidence that in Hebrew the same letters form the words bread (lechem), salt (melach) and war (milchama).
In religious rites and according to folklore bread is an icon with magic powers. In the Bible it represents a caring Providence, providing manna to the hungry people in the desert (Exodus 15:15), while according to Christianity Jesus said the dividend-carrying words: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). The Greek Demeter is one of the most well-known mythic goddesses of grain and fertility, a maternal archetype that is realized in conception and nourishment. The Homeric Hymn To Demeter describes her as the “fair-stressed awesome goddess […] of the bright fruit and golden sword”, and her narrative – tales of seduction and of the twists and turns of desire, death and resurrection – was accompanied by secret, mysterious rites of purification.
“‘For me’, said Dulac, ‘there is more to bread than mix and bake, mix and bake. […] Bread is something that is alive; we must take great care with it'”. A bakery is often pictured as a hellish place of fermenting yeast, heavy smells and burning furnaces, a volcanic space of soft, sensual dough lumps awaiting their turn in the oven while others swell in the fire like demons. In contrast, Raff’s photographs of the bread bakery are immersed in coldness and darkness. The groups of monochromatic images bring to mind death or purification chambers. The white aprons hang on the white tile wall like exhausted corpses, and the light baking fabrics, hanging like washing, also resemble shrouds awaiting their dead. In the past, Raff made several white on white photographic series, dealing with cleanliness and sterility: photographs of white laundry (1997-1998), a series of sparkling bath fixtures (Untitled, 1998), and an installation of bathing soaps (The Pot Calling the Kettle Black, 2002). In another work (Untitled, 1996) the artist herself goes through a personal purification rite, immersing her naked body in a white bath that suggests a sterile facility or a narrow burial casket. The obsessive preoccupation with cleanliness and dirt removal is also evident in a humoristic ready-made installation of empty rubber gloves, of the type used for cleaning (2002), and in the series of photographs Dis(located) Land (2001), in which Raff isolated spaces, mapped them and took photographic samples of intimate body remnants – hair, skin, nails – that have been defamiliarized and were left as unidentified post-mortem evidence.
In her works, Raff favors the implicit over the explicit, and her images intensify a past that seeks clarification. Like an act of detection, the artist follows with her camera traces and signs of a place or a time, findings by means of which she wishes to breath life into a frozen memory and construct a narrative from vague fragments, left behind as a present absence: the markings of furniture in an abandoned house, signs engraved on school desks or ice accumulations in an empty household refrigerator. Now the evidence line-up is augmented by dough crumbs that cling to walls and charred baking trays, extinguished ovens and rows of stainless-steel trays on which dough lumps covered in batter are stretched out, looking like rotting corpses. Raff’s observation of the bakery’s walk-in refrigerator uncovers only empty cells, referring back to the morbid, splendid glacier-scapes in her photographs of old freezers (Untitled, 1999-2000).
Writing about Andres Serrano’s series of photographs The Morgue, Stephen Bann describes, following Hubert Damisch, how the Ovidian myth of metamorphosis is visually depicted in Poussin’s Echo and Narcissus (1629-1630), where the body of the hero, Narcissus, is seen alongside the flower that perpetuates his name, the narcissus: “thus the painting is representing both death and resurrection – cold and pale flesh, and a crown of spring flowers”. Bann points out a similar metamorphosis in Serrano’s glowing cibachrome surfaces, where the photographic plate adheres to the flesh of anonymous dead bodies, victims of murder and disease, and the mythological flower is nothing but the vivid presence of pink and red death wounds. The proximity of the terrifying and morbid to the spectacular and enchanting is also evident in some of Raff’s works. There is an unresolved tension in her photographs between potential vitality and beauty, and nullifying restraint. The radicalization that is fundamental to Raff’s photographic staging neutralizes the vitality implied by the image of turning live dough into bread, converting it into a clinical presence. The glowing fire that breaths life into dough as in an act of creation is stamped onto the singed limbs of Raff’s floury “death victims” like a decisive seal.
Like the photographs, the video A Roundabout (Fertility/Futility) (2004), depicting a female figure in the midst of a strange bread ritual, also puts bread back in its mythical cultural contexts, where it is associated with ritual acts. Associations of fecundity, conception and birth, impurity and lust, death and resurrection flow into the bread-stomach kneaded by the woman, who is dressed in white like a priestess. “He wrestled a gobbet of dough to the table and began massaging it […] This could be a woman. Thighs, buttocks. Deep, soulful flesh. He pressed and kneaded, using his hips. […] It tensed, relaxed, grew fragrant with its pleasure. It stretched […] then contracted into a shuddering, swollen mound. When he cut the dough into pieces and gave it over to the fire, it was very nearly a human sacrifice.” The presence of bread dough as an erotic entity that combines sex and death was common in pagan rituals that sought to appease the Spirit of Grain by means of human or animal sacrifices, eaten in unbridled gorging feasts at first harvest. Some of the rituals were overtly sexual: bread loaves shaped like young girls were eaten in public feasts, as well as different types of grain, identified as male and female, symbolizing a union that yields golden sheaves.
The woman in Raff’s video, shaman-like, frantically strives to bring a stale loaf of bread back to life. Her hands tear the bread’s flesh, ravenously digging into its guts, Beuys-like, Sisyphically trying to restore the shriveled bread crust, to heal its dry skin with sandpaper, but the bread crumbles in her exertion-reddened hands. The ruptured fruit of the womb is dispersed, and the agonizing process starts all over again. A desperate act in an endless loop was also evident in the video Palindrome (2001), where Raff stacked thick felt squares inside a frozen arctic igloo and wallowed in them like an animal as she attempted to heat her body and preserve her life. She also challenged the boundaries of personal space in a repetitive attempt to realize the female body’s desire in The Moon Tastes Like Letters (2004), this time with the reflexive image of a moon caught in a bucket of water that is placed in a home territory – the kitchen. Raff explores the affinity between instinct and necessity, between sexuality and urge, and in her present video her ongoing preoccupation with femininity, obsession and compulsion presents itself with archaic urgency: the manic bursts accelerate and seem to seek fulfillment of a physical hunger, a sexual hunger, an insatiable creative process.
 “The Homeric Hymn To Demeter”, The Homeric Hymns, translated by Helene P. Foley, Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 2.
 Paul Hond, The Baker, Random House, New York, 1997, p. 226.
 Stephen Bann, “Death and Metamorphosis: a propos the Morgue of Andres Serrano”, Andre Serrano – The Morgue, exhibition catalogue, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1996, p. 62.
 Paul Hond, The Baker, p. 270.
 “Moonlight vision”, the way of seeing attributed to the moon goddess Artemis, is interpreted in psychological theories of femininity as enabling access to deeper levels of consciousness and widening the boundaries of perception.
Requiem for the Silenced Body
Dror K. Levi
Pnina Reichman’s exhibition at the Noga Gallery examines the tense relations between words and images. Reichman paints as though she writes, and after seeing her exhibition, one may say that she writes as though she paints. Her painting does not originate in a clean and empty place: Reichman is associated with self conscious reflective artists; she keeps an active dialogue with the complicated problems the contemporary art discourse is concerned with.
In many ways this exhibition is a continuation of her previous exhibition, “Love Letters” (1998), that explored the discourse about the other. In the latter she adopts a melancholic voice seeking an answer to the question of passion and death, while her current works convey the disappearance of a body in its allegorical sense. Her decisive and authoritative voice communicates with the I and the You. This ironic dialogue emerges through a variation on two groups of sayings replicating the words “You” and “Don’t”. The conflict between language and things between the addiction to language and the need to go beyond what it represents is resolved in a denial, in a resolute “no”.
Reichman’s picturesque writing reveals a body imprisoned in layers of words: as we peel a layer another one appears. She creates an indefinite world of typographic images that embraces the body, shuts it inside and leaves blind spots as though gaps denied an erotic meaning, inaccessible, impenetrable. The typographical discourse of the painting becomes a symptomatic code. The words and the images, they are the overt symptoms, the visual marks that cover the empty spaces, the lost; on the other hand, they protect from the empty spaces constantly present in the human experience.
Reichman’s paintings are fascinating, enigmatic, almost hermetic, but although condensed they do not freeze. On the contrary, they invite the audience to an inward journey, to an interpretation that brings forward a sensual and erotic atmosphere that does not appeal directly to the senses, but emerges from the depths. The room becomes a murmuring space, music from the depths, distant voices, traces of sonnets. The typographical discourse of the silenced body only the physical aspect of which remains, ironically, turns into an image, an ideogram, an allegory.
Dr. Dror K. Levi
Lecturer on semiotics and culture criticism,
The department of history and theory
Bezalel, Art and Design Academy, Jerusalem