Dina Shenhav | MERKAVA
When Paolo Veronese was accused of blasphemy in his paintings, as he appeared before the Holy Tribunal by the Holy Office he said in his defense: “Painters take the same poetic license that poets and madmen take.” A winning argument, and to a large extent, a prophetic and groundbreaking one. Indeed, future generations of artists have increasingly allowed themselves strange, absurd, enigmatic things, while we, the viewers, have learned that we do not necessarily have to solve every conundrum.
For me, Dina Shenhav’s whitish, almost ivory-like, foam sculptures are such unsolved conundrums. Why foam? What does it signify? And actually, why stone, wood, or bronze? Foam is not sacred, that much is clear. And it is not really solid: a brittle rather than hard solid, perforated, airy, maybe even ugly? Touchable or off-putting? Perhaps both. Foam is a modern material, but Shenhav works with it as if it were traditional. She carves the material, whittles, the artist turned craftswoman. Indeed, for years Shenhav has been creating work areas out of foam – kitchen, a shoemaker’s desk, a corner in the home of the hunter, the woodcutter, the caretaker. so many masculine work spaces.
Is the work about gender? Of course, gender too. The facial features of the Soldiers in the paintings could have been of young girls. The masculine tank is “feminized.” The large cannon is softened. Still, it bursts through the wall. Where does this aggressive scene take place? This is an Israeli tank … Is the work political? Of course. The ghost of war. A soft rumor about tough things that go on. Indeed, alongside the white work areas, Shenhav also presents dark apocalyptic environments of sooty ruins and charred desolation. Are these works post-traumatic or pre-traumatic? In this unsolved conundrum of producing foam replicas of familiar objects, there is an absurd stubbornness that we do not need, and perhaps cannot, solve “completely,” a determination that bursts into the mind like a tank. Is the piece a self-portrait of sorts? A great violent force broken down into a diligent “cut and paste” action. Seemingly everything is exposed, yet a lot is concealed.
At first, the paintings seem abstract – wide shots of diffuse, saturated, or dilutedstains –like an aerial view, satellite images, or perhaps a map that offers an abstract representation of the terrain. At second glance, the abstract space comes into focus and becomes clearer. The eye skips from site to site and starts recognizing figurative images: snowy ridges, steep slopes, serpentine creeks, or possibly tangles of thin capillaries and open cuts of bleeding paint. A more careful look reveals small figures and other concrete images scattered in the torn landscape –figures in action, events that offer a foothold of sorts.
The work process is completely bare and exposed. Washing, squeezing, cutting, pasting, brushwork, drawing. But despite its unplanned nature, it also seems considerably controlled. Further treatment instills meaning in the accidental. Random stains, cracks in the paint, a faded wash – all these serve as the starting point for deliberate interventions. Pieces of canvas cut from one painting are pasted onto another, but also reworked and integrated into the space, elevating it like a topographic map. From a different perspective, these supposed ridges, these strips of canvas, these patches look like bandages meant to heal the wounded, bleeding surface; to mend the blemishes inflicted on the landscape. And in-between there are pauses. Empty, quiet, seemingly “undone” areas, territories formed by their own concealment.
Wandering past the works may generate a sense of disorientation, in the absence of anchoring elements to hold on to. One’s ability to be in uncertainties, mystery, and doubts is a “negative capability,” wrote the Romantic English poet John Keats in one of his most quoted letters. How can a negative be considered a capacity? Keats understood that any good artwork feeds on these “adverse” ingredients. Where there is no silence there is no sound.