Adding to Subtract /// Ayelet Zohar
http://erev-rav.com/ 25 July 2012
"Adding to Subtract" (curated by Ory Dessau) is a small-scale exhibition featuring only four artists. Nonetheless, the exhibition represents a reflective process that projects on the meaning of the curatorial procedure, its goals and "means of production. "Dessau's curatorial process is reinforced by an endeavour to propose a statement that leaps over any ideological or positivist hurdle, or any attempt to render an essentialist amalgamation of the featured works—whether it is a definition pertaining to the artists' ethnic/national identities, neither a similar sensual reaction to the exhibits themselves, nor a thematic classification concerning the works' subject -matter. Dessau's is an especially refreshing curatorial approach in light of recent exhibitions on view in Israel that concentrate on the artists' place of birth/residence, showing art from Korea, Taiwan, India, and Japan. These shows raise a fundamental question regarding the appropriate way to present art created outside the cultural centers of Europe and the US.
The invigorating stance introduced by Dessau is an inquisitive approach that sets out to comprehend the essence of "action" within the creative (as well as curatorial) process—not a mere action, but an action implying "self effacement."
The apprehension proposed by Dessau attests to the artists' acute awareness of the work process, its insignificance, inability to influence, stimulate, its lack of essentially political or "utilitarian" role. That awareness, however, becomes a process of self-entrapment, an act of erasure, a performance that melts, drips, dissolves, and finally, is eradicated. The work of art, with its incorporeality, dissolution, and annihilation, becomes a signifier of human life, its ephemerality and dissolution. The artists (as well as the curator) are conscious of the action itself and its significance in the socio-cultural context, as an act of self-effacement, of "Adding to Subtract," which becomes the most noteworthy signifier of the artistic and curatorial performance.
The work marking the embarking point of this process is Francis Alÿs's Paradox of Praxis 1 (aka Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing) 1997, which documents Alÿs himself on a journey through the streets of Mexico City, pushing an ice- block with his hands and feet, until it completely melts, leaving only a tiny puddle. The progression toward nullity, the reduction to the point of liquefying, the action's insignificance and lack of influence are presented here as a meta-narrative, a key to understanding the process underlying other works in the exhibition. The engagement with disappearance, invisibility, fading, repetition, and subtraction is integral to Alÿs's oeuvre, emerging in many of his video works, such as Guards (2004; not presented in the show), in which he follows the British Royal Guards wandering around the City of London, each one all by himself, until they find each other and team up to form couples, then triplets, a line, three lines etc. until the whole unit is formed and marching about; in Rehearsal I (1999-2001), the artist attempts to drive a Volkswagen Beetle uphill , time and again, to no avail. While viewing the work one realizes that the progress of the driving effort is, in fact, structured by the soundtrack, which is comprised of excerpts from a rehearsal of a brass band playing the same piece of music over and over without ever reaching its end. Alÿs's video turns into a documentation of a Sisyphean process par excellence, when the effort to roll the car up the mountain and its repeated downward slides become a highly convincing sign of the repetitive, discouraging, replicated, endless nature of human action.
If Alÿs's process is essential as an action, as diminution to the point of nullity, Benni Efrat's drawings contribute the highly significant title of the show: "Adding to Subtract." As in the apparently simple algebraic calculation of +(-), so does Efrat use white paint to erase an ink grid faintly outlined on a sheet of paper, an action echoing the absurdity of the painterly deed, thereby connecting to the essence of Alÿs's actions —not by likeness, location, a shared history, theme, appearance, or some sensual experience, but rather, through the null nature of the painting action, which emerges as marking and erasure, containing the traces of the action that was then eradicated.
Efrat's concealed grid also alludes to the imperceptible grid of the brick wall on which the works are placed, the precise location of the drawings. The relations created between the passive structure of the gallery space and the eliminated (active) setup of the picture plane thus become an essential continuum that ties the two actions together: that of the artist who erases the grid in a drawing, paralleled with the curator's deed of affixing the painting to the brick wall's grid. The passivity of the action of erasure is preserved in the discrete frames documenting layers of dust accumulated on the lens and the photographed object alike (Skylight, 1974), or in Vanishings (1974), which likewise renders a fading process resulting from gradual exposure of colored photographic-paper to sunlight.
The act of erasure is also manifested in the emergence of the shadowed silhouette in Lothar Hempel's cutout. Erasure here is generated by cutting the object out of context and transforming it into a "self-shadow." Instead of the photographed being within its outlined space, within the boundaries of the structured frame of the photographic space, the act of cutting out transforms the photograph into a detached two-dimensional format, an object placed in space as an "obliterated sculpture" of sorts, a silhouette, a leftover trace of three-dimensionality, a flat cutout attesting to what remained of the option for an actuality of an object in space. Hempel's cutout ceases being a photograph, yet does not become a sculpture either. It occupies a limbo of self-erasure, "adding to subtract," an intermediate state between losing the photographic signifying potential (of two-dimensionality in general). Yet, it is unable to assume a physical, sensual, monolithic presence, one which corresponds with the viewer's body proportions.
Doron Golan's work, a large-scale wall projection on the top floor, echoes the works mentioned in the first part. Mexico City's urban landscape is reinstated to a more familiar landscape setting: the intersection of Dizengoff, King George, and Tchernichovsky streets in Tel Aviv, with the massive presence of the Dizengoff Center shopping mall appearing as a set of fortifications dominating the street. Within this urban sphere Golan identifies several essentially naïve actions and actors: a man walking, a car passing by, someone waiting for the green light. The familiar location and the apparently ordinary actions, however, are displaced and amplified by virtue of their doubling. Using digital manipulation, Golan was able to duplicate the singular, insignificant movement to form an intimidating process: every walker becomes a marching platoon; every car turns into an armored flotilla moving up the street; and a group of pedestrians becomes a company marching to battle. The familiar, innocent action is abruptly revealed as a hostile, nullifying moment. The gaze at the familiar, recognized landscape is modified in a terrifying shift that raises the question, to what extent do we really know our environment and the people operating within? What does it take for a banal setting to become a battleground, a fighting arena of death and malice? The columns of armored vehicles, the soldiers marching in procession with duplicate arms raised gradually fade, return and vanish, in a repetitious looping action, misleading the viewer. The estrangement and unattainable artificiality of duplication and erasure renders the viewing instantly as painful and unsettling. The fragile reality outside acquires a threatening echo. It doesn't take much to transform a pedestrian into a charging platoon, which, under certain circumstances, would tread on you, the viewer, as well. The uncanny moment and its erasure remains a profound shock at the imminent, dystopian and apocalyptic events, a warning against the vicissitudes of times, the intrinsic violence, as opposed to the ephemerality and evanescence of the initial scene, as if all this never existed before.
That fact that each of the projects in the show comes from a different context and diverse cultural backgrounds, that each employs a unique style and medium, presenting a fundamentally dissimilar thematic and imagery, transforms this into an exhibition with an uncompromising, crystallized statement. The thread running through the different works and actions introduced ties the works of art together. It is the work of these artists, meticulously accompanied by the curator's set up, who masterfully created a flat yet multi-dimensional world, duplicated and multiplied yet simultaneously erased -- a sphere of movement and disappearance, of "adding to subtract."
"Adding to Subtract," Contemporary by Golconda, Tel Aviv
Curator: Ory Dessau
May – July 2012