Scarlet
 

Artists: David Adika, ArieH Aroch, Shai Azulai, Ido Bar-El, Avner Ben-Gal, Eitan Ben Moshe, Yossi Bregger, Dror Daum, Benni Efrat, Zohar Elefant, Moshe Gershuni, Tamar Getter, Sigalit Landau, Raffi Lavi, Matan Mittwoch, Michal Na’aman, Moshe Ninio, Gil Shani, Nahum Tevet, Pavel Wolberg
 

They should make the vest of gold, of blue, purple, and deep red yarns and of fine twisted linen with embroidered designs. The vest will have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges so that they may be joined together. The vest’s belt should be attached to it and made in the same way of gold, of blue, purple, and deep red yarns and fine twisted linen – Exodus: 28: 6-8

Modernism, at its various stages and movements aiming to liberate artistic means of expression from their dependency on external reality, was well versed at utilizing color. For this cause, often a single tone was introduced as a dominant trumpet imposing the suggestive vitality of the color – painting’s pure substance – on the addressee (the viewer, the critic). Wassily Kandinsky summed the trend thus: first, the color meets the eye and pleasures it through the sensual experience, and then it delivers an immediate impression on the soul, cradling it in the spiritual experience. Red is especially useful for this purpose, due to its association with heat, life, vitality, the fire of the storm exploding and then feeding on its own core.[1]

A deviation of this tendency will find its expression in another modernist channel of operation, which finds – or discovers – the color red in the given existing things of the world. Krzysztof Kielowski’s well-known Three Colors Trilogy (1993-1994) – Red, White, Blue – can serve as an example. In the trilogy, the painterly image of the cinema and its emotional affectivity are rooted, initially, in the colors of the French flag, including their political implications. This is a delaying and conceptualization of the suggestive-expressive-emotional implementation of the world and its re-accessibility – in an operation zone that looks toward a far-off area, where the linguistic and factual data of the world are inscribed.  Often, the use of red as a blessing for the done deed is realized by a shielding of supports in its various shades; joining the practical hand of the artisan who paints existing objects; or even seeking operations and useful items that were meant in advance to be shrouded and covered. This trend stands at the heart of this chamber exhibition.

This direction of operation finds an early and distinct expression in Arieh Aroch’s UNTITLED (RED TABLE) from 1962. As Gideon Ufrat pointedly observed, Aroch painted the surface of a table in red in order to gift it to his friend, the painter Pinchas Litvinovsky.[2] Years later Litvinovsky would pile drawing paper on this table. Ufrat notes that when drawing on the surface of a table Aroch shifted his act of painting from the traditional painting that operates on canvas toward the chronology of operation used with “found objects,” the readymades from the time of Duchamp on. Yet in light of his covering of the table in the sensual and painterly tones of red, another chapter of modernist painting should also be taken in consideration –one beginning with Cézanne and continuing in “synthetic cubism” – that presents still life (with Cézanne, mostly apples), household items and objects from cafés set atop tables, depicted in a flattening that makes then seem as if they are painted on the surface of the table itself. The paintbrush markings of the red color on the demonstrative-transformative support is an act that links Cézanne’s painting model, the readymade, and a friend from the local painting community. On the back of that red covered surface, Aroch inscribed a thin and elongated coiled outline, somewhat gothic, concealed, in which Ufrat detects the signs of a female body. It is her oblique depiction, as an abstracted vision devoid of distinguishable lines that leads to her identification as a female figure –even an idealized loved figure – refined and subtle, ingenerated from creative processes and artistic expressions. The private enunciation of this woman-lover figure is not done with the pen and the artist’s personal handwriting, but from an act of slitting-scratching-piercing of both the screening material and the language, both of whom for eons have been declaring red as the color of passion and of love. A lingering look will find at the top of the painting some arched and horizontal incisions, an image inscribed in the wood evoking the angle images that appeared in Aroch’s painting from the mid-1960s on. This might be the “guardian angel” that from time immemorial accompanies the lovers on their quest to discover their feelings and transform them in works of art.

Raffi Lavi attended to the gesture of love-friendship-generosity-gifting folded in Aroch’s piece, when working on his group of red paintings, which he used to call Shulchan Aroch (Aroch’s table)  – clearly indicating to the Passover Shulchan Aruch (Set Table). With this term he posits Aroch as synonym to Halachic discourse, to a canon of rites and rules, of language or, as Aroch would say zahkh (“things,” in Yiddish) – to which the color red also belongs, as part of an ordered manner. In Lavi’s "UNTITLED" (2007) red appears as the capacious color covering all the surface of the work. Lavi also inscribed a swirling scribble in it charting and concealing the abstract figures of a man and a woman, throng together under the wings of a celestial angel. Here too this image of love is revealed, not due to its depiction in red but from the outline of a mark on the red screen that was made on it or perhaps even existed before. The triple image of love (man-woman-angel) is accompanied by an image of a ladder; that ties the painting to another anchor – the Parisian School and its links to Chagall’s paintings of lovers.

Images and shapes of tables are interwoven in Nahum Tevet’s works. They are the building blocks but also the dismantling tools of his practice: entwined in his large sculpture installations, pinned in his small pieces, at times clearly revealed to the eye, at times hidden, enmeshed in labyrinth arrangements, held in formations that seem to be tumbling down. Recently, Tevet has been painting many of the table images in his works in various shades of red. Such is the case with ‘TIME AFTER TIME (WITH RED AND PINK)’ from 2014. Frequently, Tevet shapes his entire sculptural formation in the shape of a table. His continuous connection to the medium of painting (as for example in his significant series ‘Painting Lesson’) allows reading these tables in the light of Aroch’s "RED TABLE".

David Adika’s works present images of things that are usually placed on tables: bowls and vases that hold items such as fruit, flowers, plants and peacock feathers. Adika’s tables are items that carry items that hold or encase more items. Those found at the end of the conveying chain are very often things in shades of red, that gives them the appearance of items that are about to come forth and move beyond their place. At times, such as in the two "UNTITLED" photographs from 2002 and 2014, Adika even captures them in a close-up frame, so that it seems as if the vase and the feather have detached from their mutual hold and are floating in space, or otherwise placed-rested atop the table support, that is identifiable with the photographic support itself. Standing out among these is the feather – a vestige of the peacock’s full plumage, the threshold of its virility and of male courting, that flew away or alternatively landed on the surface of the base, as an offering of seduction and love.

Dandification of the body by the reddening of its edges is implied also in Yossi Breger’s ‘NAILS’ (1997) that are marked with red letters spelling “nails.” The language written in red acts as a substitute for the body also in Ido Bar-El’s works where an image of a car presents an alternative casing for the human body. In "UNTITLED" (1999), the body substitute is represented through its edge or end, as a remnant. A “found object,” a car light, originally red, is “dressed” with a number of red buttons hinting at some sort of cloaking or another layer of the body (and perhaps even referring to the suited figures of the various “bridegrooms” in Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre). The full or fragmented figures depicted in shades of red in Avner Ben-Gal’s works from 2013-2014, ostensibly nude, are totally immersed in exposing the body and penetrating it. However the dismantling or diffusion of their body outlines in one work, or their enlargement and inversion so that their backs face the viewer, demonstrate that the figures’ red skin functions like a protecting armor.

In Tamar Getter’s ‘RED LANDSCAPE’ (1982) a thin red line charts, in a single breath, the images of an animal and a man, a landscape and an urban outline. Like a scarlet letter it binds them into a hybrid-image, that hints at a “world” whose appearance is as a transparent bubble with cities floating inside it (perhaps like Italo Calvino’s invisible cities). Yet at the same time, the appearance is also that of a fortified barrier, implied in the reference to ancient cities and especially in the pronounced flatness of the work in its entirety. The red color is served on a wide support of greenish hues, which in the context of Getter’s oeuvre is connected to the images of classroom blackboards. The didactic element is also present in the demonstrative coloring as a presentation of complimenting colors - red and green. The learning process embedded in the meanings of the work transposes from “set table” to “classroom.” The red color tightly secured in its teachings, in the finality of its shape, in the regulations of the ordered empirical world. However the controlled heat of its shades, like glowing ember, leads the heart and the senses elsewhere.

A similar dialectic relation, although more extreme, between “cold” and “hot” is demonstrated in Matan Mittwoch’s ‘TUBE’ (2012). A single image of a red elongated pole or pipe stands outs against an empty bare background, which seems like a product of high-tech mechanized and computerized technology, engineering and emitting abstract architectural elements on to the world. These are the elements of a non-existent architecture, utopian or dystopian, that for sure does not exist for the benefit of worldly architectural structures or a familiar world order. And still, the sight of this oblong crimson vector, coming down like a synthetic meteorite or failed space-missile, bestows the image a physical aspect that is experienced like an imposition on the viewer’s body. So too does Eitan Ben Moshe’s ‘RED FLUTES’ (2009), protruding from the wall in the direction of the viewer, emerging toward the body in their vibrant colors. But then they also offer the viewer the chance to fly off, as they seem to be hovering in space, as if in time machines. This is an invitation to travel to parallel universes, to wander in artificial expanses, to encounter lowly cave life-forms (giant mushrooms?) or those living in the depth of the sea (strange jellyfish?); to encounter imaginary worlds revolving around the beginning or the end, to recall the surrealist biomorphism from a futuristic version. The crimson color washing these abstract images lends their contexts a visionary aspect, while at the same time it ridicules any “high” pedigree, seeing as the shrouding of the images brings to mind cheap visual effects and set designs used in the entertainment, leisure, prostitution and game industries.

Light club lighting is implied in the reddish opaque glare that wraps a group of sturdy lustful men in Pavel Wolberg’s ‘TEL AVIV HAUMAN 17 (CLUB, PURIM)’ (2009). In contrast, Dror Daum’s ‘POSSIBLE INJURIES #11’ (2013), uses a dated black and white photograph showing a sole delicate dancer floating in the air like an angel. A dull light emanating from a simple light fixture behind her lends her red frame a trace of the dignity of the crimson color. The melancholic train trailing behind the nostalgic use of “old” equipment is evident. Yet here too this is a contemporary artistic attitude that transforms for its own needs means and tools usually used to create glamorous effects and moods. This art uses painting and mood enhancing lighting methods – “painting in red” – as its readymade, thus critically indicating at the manner in which the decor in the entertainment, adult and recreational industries are implemented for financial gain. In the meantime, they are ascribed with a mantle of tranquility, often linked to “new age” areas of activity.

However the isolation of these evocative means from these capitalistic areas and mass spectacles – and still under the sensual and maddening impression of the shades of red – lends them added value. This value stems from the indirect way in which art returns deep emotion, even pathos, expressions of human warmth penetrating through the cold means of the “cold media” (as Marshall McLuhan called communication technologies).[3]  Thus, for example, Zohar Elefant’s video ‘SIVAN’ (2010) focusing on a documentary clip showing the Hapoel Tel Aviv football club supporters’ stand during a match. The footage pauses on the figure of a woman (obviously dressed in the club’s red) and her ecstatic reactions to the game. The work embodies a contemporary version of Pathos Form.


Echoes of pathos and ecstatic singing are softly heard in a Brahms song that is inscribed-signed-scrolled in the red color of the painterly personal handwriting of Moshe Gershuni in the triptych ‘UNTITLED’ (1982). The quoted song is the fourth in Braham’s Four Serious Songs cycle (opus 121), that opens with the words: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels.” This sentence is dropped from Gershuni’s words, like a sacred text that is forbidden to copy in handwriting, as opposed to the following words offered to the world in red by the artist’s hands, perhaps hinting on their being drawn from a bleeding wound. When the words “faith, hope, love” are written in the work, it seems as if, between the lines, the artistic medium emerges through the opus cycle, the liturgy, the theology and the art of Christianity. But they are already preserved in the written text that in its muteness suffocates the song, the voice and the tools of a ritual world that has liberated the valves of vernacular language for the expression of emotion. Yet still, the painterly handwriting, in its red tones, touching the desires and what is said at the end of the quoted text – “but the greatest of these is love” – opens a slight access to a place of sweet remembrance, a plea for a morsel of compassion and tenderness also in a place devoid of the Catholic sentiment.
Screens of texts and words etch Michal Na’aman’s ‘SCAR-LET PAIN-TING’ (2011), whose title appears at its center. The work is drawn as a texture of lacerations-scars-bandaging: traces of color, signs of drippings as evidence of flowing fluids and straps of masking tape that cover-dress another painted layer or expose-mark scars and their partial-temporary healing. The scar is a metaphor for the painterly process. Moreover, in the name of the indexical and magic validation that Na’aman’s works find in the words, the scar is bound to the cultural status of the scarlet. If so, the scar – and with it the entire painting process – is a finality not only of the blood but also of the theological context of Western historical painting, where Jesus’s bleeding wounds are the fountain of the red paint. Na’aman’s painting recalls this context while bringing it to an end: the blood has cooled, congealed, become a scar. But every scar and every painting done in its name are not allowed to forego the recollection of the wound – the tearing of the tissues, the red blood – and the Catholic passion, all missing from the earth.  
Yet in their place a meager condolence is offered. It is concealed in a winding and meandering path, in the choice of dedication to the task of the creation of screens, textures and texts, from a fabricated indifference to magic and the charge of their materials. This is the path of wisdom that leads the making, but it is not different from its tasks. Sigalit Landau and Moshe Ninio add the dimension of time to this tapestry. In Landau’s ‘UNTITLED (FRUIT BASKET)’ (2002) it seems as if the blood or the red color that collected in the heaped balls, made of newspaper papier mâché, has been dry for a long while. Do the traces of blood belong to the information the newspapers held, or perhaps they are tied to the hand that formed them anew and asked to bring warmth and life to the “cold media?” to the time that passed and the moldy balls that survived through its answers and forgetfulness. Years have passed since Ninio exhibited the hologram image of the reddish carpet in ‘RED RUG [EXTRACT]’ (1992-1996). What at the time were hologramic snippets of a red covering – a floor cover that became a ghost-cover floating horizontally (a faraway hint to a red tabletop from the past?) – has now become two mirrors, in two photographs that document the exhibition of the hologram work almost twenty years ago. The one photograph, taken from afar, captures what is now almost imperceptible: a hologram surface that transformed into a black stain, a blind spot in the field of vision. The second photograph is a close-up shot with a surveillance camera that was placed in another space from where it scanned the work. The projection of the mechanic-indifferent “eye,” the eye of the “big brother,” is revealed in a tiny red dot secreted in the photograph. This dot is a first-last sign of the red that was, that disappeared, that was swollen up and that is rediscovered, undisputedly for those who thought The vest’s belt should be attached to it and made in the same way of gold, of blue, purple, and deep red yarns and fine twisted linen

 



[1] Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), trans. Michael Sadlier (New York: Dover, 1977)

[2] Gideon Ufrat, In Arieh Aroch’s Library (Tel Aviv: Babel, Yossi Hachmi, The Phoenix, Gabbi and Ami Brown, 2001), pp. 133-139 [Hebrew].

[3] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding the Media: The Extension of Man, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964)