|Like water in water Smadar Shefi, Ha'aretz |
|In honor of Israel's 60th anniversary galleries in kibbutzim around the country, along with the Kibbutz Israeli Art Gallery in Tel Aviv, published a guide to kibbutz galleries, which effectively illustrated their scope. In listing all of the galleries together, the guide also illustrates how the apparent range of this widespread network is not proportionate to its cultural impact, making one wonder about the intentions of the people who operate these exhibition spaces with respect to Israeli culture at large. |
I was occupied by these thoughts on my visit to Kibbutz Nachshon, where Galia Gur Zeev's solo show, "Swimming Pool," is currently showing. The gallery has been active for some time, and the quality of work it shows has varied over the years. In Gur Zeev's case it functions as a kind of laboratory. She is a veteran artist who, on the basis of the quality of her previous work, should enjoy a more prominent presence in the art world. Her pieces are very personal and resist social or political categories. Characterized by a gaze looking inward into the experience of elementary living, they represent a search for equilibriums and curbing mechanisms that promise an enveloping defensive shell. This is the second time the artist has dealt with the theme of pools, following an installation she showed at Tmuna Theater in 2004.
The pool, or bath, is a central theme in the history of art and culture at large. The long string of associations begins with images of water in biblical illustrations of the Old and New Testaments - scenes like the crossing of the Red Sea or the Jordan River as well as the baptism of Jesus in religious art - and extends all the way to Cezanne's paintings of bathers and the video work by Bill Viola. In recent years a number of international photographers have addressed the theme of pools and bathing, including Reinke Dijkstra as well as Israelis like Orit Ben Yosef. All of this art, the religious and contemporary, refers to the water and to the act of bathing in metaphysical terms - as purifying, change-effecting agents.
Gur Zeev's show is an attempt to deal with the metaphysical, or more precisely to extract the syntax of such an investigation. The artist shows for the first time a video work, a photograph that she insists on referring to as a 3-dimensional object and a kind of animated cartoon made up of photographic stills. The feeling is of a search still in progress, a chapter in the transition from what Gur Zeev has made in the past to something new. As in every groping of such kind there are parts in which the artist appears confident in her way as opposed to others, which are more superficial in character.
For example, the tiling of the steps that lead down into the gallery space is superfluous decoration that in no way gives the gallery the feel of a purifying bath. In contrast the series that shows an elderly woman putting on her swim cap evinces the ambition for a more detailed understanding of the artistic process. In this "animation" Gur Zeev underscores her hesitation in the sequential move from one photograph to the next, which creates a somewhat jumpy rhythm. The moment of putting on the cap represents a succumbing to the dictate, due to the somewhat drab appearance of the cap ?(a few years ago at the Heder Gallery in Tel Aviv Shira Avidor showed a self-portrait in which she wears a swim cap in profile, which accentuates the curve of the top of the head?). For Gur Zeev, wearing the cap represents a kind of public admission - the cap is after all mandatory for public swimming pools.
Two interesting works are the photograph of a pool in Budapest, a Turkish bath in a late-19th-century castle, and a text whose words form the outline of a pool. The photograph of the luxurious castle, which presents bathing as a celebratory act for the body, is made in such a way that it hangs in the corner of the room. That is, the photograph is folded in two so that it actually rests on both walls, losing its flatness as if to heighten the enveloping feel evoked by the photographed space. And yet the search for dimensionality here is only partially successful: It is more of an inquiry, an exercise.
The text work, also a first in Gur Zeev's body of work, is extraordinary. Its appearance relates to Jewish texts concerned with the hidden world, the kabbalah and all sorts of amulets. The words create the outline of a pool and swimming lanes, that is, places for training and competition. The text is like a series of short stories, which may be autobiographical or not. Their arrangement into an image anchors them in a world that viewers can imagine, so that we become partners in the same limited way that strangers who share a pool are partners. The intimacy of the water as an enveloping womblike experience together with the somewhat ridiculous appearance of the cap reflect the mercilessness of bathing gear toward the body. The short stories address childhood memories of swimming lessons, present fears of an exhibition with empty walls and odd encounters that take place in water in which one can cry pool tears, writes Gur Zeev. This work, along with the video and swim cap series contribute to the expansion of Gur Zeev's modes of observation as an artist