Curator: Sigal Barkai
The exhibition “Landsc®ape” is the second in a series of shows linking the collection of Petach Tikva Museum of Art with a critical social view via etchings and prints by contemporary artists corresponding with the works in the collection. The artists’ exposure to the works in the collection was spawned by the desire to generate a multi-channel, inter-generational discussion of artists about the landscape. The artists invited to take part in the process passed through several stations on their way to creating the featured works. In the first phase they entered the collection storeroom, where they examined the range of landscape works created by the artists represented in the collection over the years. In the second phase, each artist selected several works with which to correspond directly. In the third phase the new etchings and prints were created at the Gottesman Etching Center, Kibbutz Cabri (Larry Abramson’s work was created at the Jerusalem Print Workshop).
The point of view of the collection artists, the real or imaginary place where the easel is positioned and wherefrom the landscape is seen, represents not only a physical place, but also an emotional and ideological position. The formative world views of the veteran artists in the collection have been nourished by Zionist thought in recent generations, since the early 20th century to the late 1970s. The contemporary artists, on the other hand—Jews and Arabs, men and women, young and old, newcomers and veterans—display diverse and stratified references to the landscape as an impression of a physical reality on a mental reality, and vice versa.
The landscape in the exhibition is represented as content oscillating between contradictory meanings: on the one hand, the Hebrew title Nof Hatoum (literally “sealed or stamped landscape”) attests to a formal, official approach. The registered sign ® in the English title, “Landsc®ape,” stands for a narrative fixed by a certain establishment, by a history told one way and not another; on the other hand—the landscape is sealed and treasured in the mind and soul of each artist, and is steeped in individual meanings. The trials and chronicles, wanderings, feelings, moods, sex, age, and ethnicity of each artist form a fine filter through which the meanings infiltrate and drop. The choice of the etching technique refers to the printing plate as a “stamp” which fixes and scorches a defined, uniform image, yet one which may, at the same time, be conceptually and technically manipulated, reflecting processes of transformation and personal interpretations. The artists work in the print workshop offered a range of possibilities for unusual use of the etching and engraving techniques in manners which deviate from the traditional modi operandi, thus expanding the boundaries of expression.
Jacob Steinhardt, Anna Ticho, Larry Abramson, Nurit David, Jacob Eisenscher, Hanna Farah – Kufar Birim, Hamutal Fishman, Erez Israeli, Yuri Kats, Sigalit Landau, Hila Lulu Lin, Manal Mahamid, Jan Rauchwerger, Tamar Shakin Pardo, Yochanan Simon.
Erez Israeli’s Friday Night (2009) expresses a yearning for another, Judeo-European world, a type of collective memory of the Europeans who immigrated to Israel. It is precisely the native-born Erez Israeli who sends a longing gaze toward a distant world that has been lost. “The train represents the progressing time as opposed to the time that has stopped, serving as a reminder and forbidding the diners to return to the table… I tried to combine the image of the dining room table with a real landscape of European forests deeply rooted in my consciousness when I think of landscape in the context of Jewish identity. It is surprising to me that when one thinks of landscape in the context of Jewish identity, one thinks of a European rather than an Israeli landscape. In the print I tried to connect the train and the image of the forest, to unite them through the chosen technique.”
Hamutal Fishman creates a landscape consisting of areas of land engulfing the Separation Wall: a known chaos of a twilight zone and a no-man’s land, where the traces of roads, deconstructed structures, and aerials are heaped (Homeland Carpets, 2008). Under the carpets spread over the debris, which barely conceal the ruins left by a hasty construction, a new young life begins to sprout and burst forth. Marvelous creatures suddenly rise out of the ugliness, raising a fresh and hopeful head.
The private history of Hanna Farah-Kufer Bir’im is underlain by the yearning for a landscape the promise of return to which, repeatedly broken by Israel’s governments every few years, has been a black stain on Zionism since its outset. The story of the uprooted Arab residents of Ikrit and Bir’im has been the subject matter of scores of discussions in the Israeli government, supreme court, and parliament (Knesset). None, however, led to fulfillment of the promise given to the local inhabitants in October 1948, that they would be able to return to their villages if they agree to be evicted due to the war. The inhabitants of the village of Bir’im, to whose offspring Farah belongs, scattered in other villages in the Galilee, remaining Israeli citizens, but their yearning to return to their home never left them. Adding the village name to his name symbolizes for Farah the inseparable identity between his physical-geographical origin and his mental whereabouts. Farah’s delicate etchings—some containing the word “home,” others alluding to excerpts of typical Palestinian landscape, flora and fauna—are bathed in nostalgia, solitude, and yearnings for a place that was lost before he ever came into this world.
Hila Lulu Lin wavers along the axis between external and internal landscape. In her work, however, it is an entry deep into the physical body. In a series of works whose origins are found in medical textbooks, nervous systems, blood vessels, and internal organs transform into hills and mountains, trees and riverbeds. Intricate physiological structures of the heart and the brain generate a link between a microcosmic and a cosmic world, between physical, material, personal landscape and an external landscape. The link between the substance of the body and the substance of the landscape hints at the impossibility in dissociating landscape from man, or man from his landscapes. In Strip II, created in response to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, she draws an analogy between broken, dividing body cells and houses, mushroom clouds, and landscape arrays of destruction and ravage. On the most universal level, shared by all intelligent creatures, the artist turns to the viewers, reminding them that they too possess a mind and a heart, and that if they would only let themselves identify with the other, they will find that uprooting, refugeeism, and wandering are an inhuman condition in all languages and in all cultures.
The cypress is the subject matter of Jan Rauchwerger’s prints Black Cypresses (2003) and Red Cypresses (2004). Rauchwerger’s gaze is that of an older immigrant, local-foreign who stares at the landscape of the place with a mixture of appreciation, excitement, anxiety, and aversion. Rauchwerger isolates his red and black cypresses as two detached, blazing forms striving upward within the white void of the paper. Ostensibly, devoid of an identity, a frame, and a definite place, but in fact—highly powerful cypresses charged with meanings, to which only those who came from ‘there’ can be sensitive and emphasize them so accurately. “The palms and the cypresses are the backdrop of this place to which the artist came from ‘there,’ and they—the place and the person—have tamed one another in a long, slow process of learning from inevitable contact,” as Yigal Zalmona defines the artist’s ambivalence to the landscape. “Everything that is landscape in fact appears to be internal landscape. Everything that appears to be chemistry is alchemy. The true universe of this work is the twilight zone of muttering and silent murmur.”
The tension between a landscape of the past and cultural erasure has preoccupied Larry Abramson for many years. His exhibition “Tso˘ob’ä: Abstraction and Blindness” (1995) was one of the first visual discussions of the latent ideology inherent in the Israeli landscape. It offered a mode of observation conscious of details in the landscape that we would have rather overlooked. In his fascinating analysis of the “Begin Road” highway landscaping in Jerusalem (2003) Abramson offers a conscious, reflective, ironic gaze at the massive Zionist construction taking over the landscape, erasing everything that chanced its way, in order to create a fake, artificial landscape. He argues that “the Begin Road as a landscape picture realizes the Zionist dream in its images: a beautiful Jewish land, complete and accessible, with a grand biblical past and a promise for a thriving Western future.” But the awareness that this is a “wholly appropriated landscape” does not leave him. “Representation of the landscape of the Israeli paradise is incomplete without the dilapidating Palestinian ruin. The criminal is apparently doomed to return to the scene of crime time and again; once in order to peek, once in order to conceal evidence, and once in order to appropriate the victim’s memory.”
This critical awareness is also the background for his work in the exhibition, Israeli Landscape (with Gutman, Tepler, Eisenscher, Steinhardt, Simon, Shorr), 2008. Abramson, whose work was created elsewhere—at the Jerusalem Print Workshop—is unique in his approach to the works in the collection. His large-scale piece appropriates a big group of works. By directly quoting the skyline, it employs them as a basis for the erasure he performs. Instead of the rich and colorful details, Abramson created a sequence of flattenings and silhouettes. The resulting new landscape is flat, dark, and mysterious. It incorporates minarets and churches with cypress and pine tree tops, water towers and the gabled roofs of kibbutz houses, palm trees with wild and imaginary flora. The resulting new silhouette unites all the landscape elements into a long, consistent sequence, eliciting the hope that one day all these contradictory elements will indeed coalesce through some wondrous alchemy to form a local harmony. The location of the Jerusalem Print Workshop on the line between Western and Eastern Jerusalem, and the landscape seen through its windows, allude somewhat to the multi-cultural, mixed landscape created in Abramson’s work.
Manal Mahamid combines a photographic print of the city Umm el-Fahem, adjacent to her native village, Muawiyah, and an image of a pine tree, of the kind dubbed by her family Shajar el Yahood—the Jews’ trees. Mahamid conjures up a childhood memory where her mother warns and forbids her from crossing the boundary between the village land and the Jewish lands around, a line marked by the pine trees. The imported, ever-so European tree, whose needles were designed to carry the heavy weight of snow, and are entirely unsuited to the local weather, “erases” the Arab town. For Mahamid, the pine symbolizes the Jews’ penetration into previously Palestinian lands, and the resulting change in the landscape which transformed from a contour swathed in tradition, steeped in slow, tranquil, Eastern nature, into a new route which imports with it power-minded modern perceptions, a new pace, mastery and threat.
from the artist’s book Sand Glasses
Nurit David’s works transpire in the gap between an imaginary, private place and the representative realms of countries: Japan and Israel. For many years now, David has been drawing painterly connections between biographical and personal landscape expanses in Israel and landscapes alluding to the culture of the Far East. I was Born Chinese is the title of one of her well-known paintings from 1980; her exhibition “Eternal Summer” (2006) featured landscape paintings concurrently influenced by medieval and Renaissance European painting and by Japanese paintings and woodcuts. “Israeliness exists,” David says, “the aridity, and the rupture in the landscape, but never as an illustration for collective ideas. For me, Yohanan Simon’s drawing combines the Zen aspect of observation with a depiction of a nature ‘gone mad,’ which is the outcome of feverish consciousness rather than natural.”
David described her work process vis-à-vis Yohanan Simon’s ink drawing from the collection (Vineyard Watchman in an Awakening Desert, 1965): “For me, the ‘here’ is always constructed from the materials of ‘there.’ The prints were created after the novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. The book is a profound, intricate treatise about ‘beauty’.” Hence, the children which David incorporated into the landscape quoted from Simon are not Israeli kibbutz children, but rather young Zen monks hanging on the ladder painted by Simon, leading to the watchtower in the vineyard, amidst indigenous wild flowers such as medicinal squill and bristly hollyhock.
Cultural erasure is not the exclusive lot of Palestinians. Sigalit Landau, a resident of the Florentin neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv, protests against the real-estate sharks who erase the atmosphere of a modest, busy workers’ neighborhood in order to transform it into the small piece of heaven on earth for the city’s affluent. Maps and geometrical schemes outlining the territory before and after the realtory occupation symbolize for Landau the vulgar penetration into her personal territory. “The materials of the ‘new discourse’—the language of real-estate, maps, leases—call for semiotic, political, etymological, and archaeological reading,” maintains scholar Yehouda Shenhav, reinforcing his assertions with a set of questions: “‘Master plan,’ ‘release of land for construction (“land defrosting” in literal translation from Hebrew)’ ‘outline plan’ […] In the name of what ‘master’ is a ‘master plan’ set? Out of what social freezer are lands ‘defrosted (i.e., released)’? How is ownership of land determined? What is the difference between land and soil?” Landau introduces into the exhibition space a small hand cart of the kind used by the neighborhood people to transport goods on a daily basis. She emphasizes the bottom part of the cart which usually remains hidden. The “map” created on the bottom as a result of grinding, dragging, loading, and daily friction against the city’s sidewalks will be erased in a process of smoothing, polishing, and filing. The erasure of the “map of labor” cries against the annulment of small business, local initiative, and the communal joie de vivre. In the gallery space the cart will be laid face down, detached from its function, the loading surface turning its shiny, impervious new bottom-turned-face to the viewer. Will the land dealers and giant corporations succeed in erasing the identity map of the neighborhood’s inhabitants, or will the artists who have recently come to settle there, becoming a part of the neighborhood’s colorful mosaic, along with the carpenters, upholsterers, and Sambusak sellers, manage to create an effective protest that will prevent alteration of the physical and human landscape?
Tamar Shakin Pardo engages in erasure and etching in her works Partly Cloudy, and Night (2008-9). Embarking on a quest tracing her private biography, for many years she has been gathering drawings of outlines sketched around images in documentary photographs. She stratifies these meaningless lines one atop the other to create a cyclical, sonar network intended to absorb states of consciousness and emotional conditions through sensitive vibration. The result is somewhat reminiscent of Anna Ticho’s reticulated drawing touches. In her work presented in the exhibition (Jerusalem Landscape, 1960), Ticho went out to the landscape and cross-hatched, with thousands of tiny strokes, the grass in the field moving in the evening breeze. Shakin’s hatchings, unlike Ticho’s, do not unite to form a definite landscape image, yet something about the rhythmical quality and tonality of the works links the two women over the distance of generations.
Through the etching technique Shakin was able to lend the vibrating lines an added dimension of random, dynamic patchiness. The struggle between rigid line and a soft, expanding stain calls to mind Moshe Kupferman’s process of “daubing-erasure”, an important influence on Shakin. The lines, constructed and erased in a continuous Sisyphean process, create “scaffolding,” which holds her near-collapsing structures. As in Kupferman’s work, here too, there is more than meets the eye, alluding to the experience of reduction and survival under minimal conditions. The obsessive ritual continually reconstructs the traces of trauma, which generates a disturbing, stringent, visual “sound” that never falls silent.
Yuri Kats, a young artist who immigrated to Israel in the early 1990s, chose the cypress tree as an element representing belonging and foreignness at the same time. In his childhood he rarely encountered cypresses in the landscape of his hometown Kiev, save a single cypress tree which was planted by his grandfather’s grave. The “strange tree,” the child Yuri used to call it back in Russia. When he arrived in Israel he suddenly saw cypresses everywhere, yet here too, the cypress symbolized death, cemeteries, union with eternity. Immigration made him reflect whether the place in which he will be buried in due time will belong to him or be foreign to him. The tree links him to his choices, which influence his fate to life or death.
The physical resemblance between Kats’s Untitled (2009) and Jacob Steinhardt’s woodcut A Dread Great Darkness (1967) from the series “Elegies of War,” attests to the link between nature, immigration, and death in the cultural baggage of two immigrants from different generations. At the same time, the technique itself indicates different approaches to life. While Steinhardt forcefully engraved the wooden board, leaving physical marks and deep feelings, Kats hovers on the surface. He processes a landscape photograph taken from a decorative painting transformed and alienated via Photoshop, photo-etching the remaining blurred trace onto the etching printing plate. The result is a print which he has “never touched physically,” an outline of memory where every sign of real materiality has been eroded. Kats attests to himself that he “lives from suitcases”; in other words, the experience of his identity as an Israeli still has not entrenched itself, still has not filtered through into the deep strata. The frail, loose, ostensibly temporal settling is also discernible in the chosen technique.