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In her second major exhibition since being appointed chief curator at the Haifa Museum of Art, Tami Katz-Freiman has assembled a group of 25 Israeli and international artists who provide visitors with a broad range of media and content in Fata Morgana: The Magic Lantern of Consciousness. The second in a trilogy attempting to promote art's essential features masked in an anxious and often confused world of contemporary art (the first, Mixed Emotions, seen last year), the current displays are remote from proper illusory or hallucinatory effects one might have expected after appraising the title. Nevertheless, taken piece by piece Fata Morgana is a rewarding museum experience and one that should be seen, if only for the multiplicity of visual games Katz-Freiman has brought together and documented in a carefully researched catalog.
Tucked away in a corner of the main exhibition space is an untitled miniature, rotating, oval environment fabricated by Orit Adar Bechar (b. Bat Yam, 1960). The viewer is asked to peer into the interior of the revolving object through a small slit to witness a labyrinth of surreptitious architectonic spaces that change dramatically, and mysteriously, with the alternating intensification and attenuation of flashing lights.
Among the video artists in the show, Janine Antoni (b. Bahamas, 1964) projects Touch, a manipulative work from 2002 in which a video clip of her walking a tightrope is subsequently superimposed onto the unflinching horizon line of a gently rolling ocean. The conflict between concepts of balance, chance and tension opposed by a resolute natural entity where water meets sky is an imaginative and enduring image.
Double Take is a magical assembly of five holograms created by Zadok Ben David (b. Yemen, 1949), an Israeli artist living in London. Indicated by a phantom image that one can see but not feel, the image is reflected from an internal hidden mirror to the surface of a box. Ben David's apparitional work, as described by Katz-Freiman, is characterized by a play between two and three dimensions; between the force of gravity and levitation; between reality and fantasy and between presence and absence. Tricky but fascinating.
Nahalal, the agricultural community representing the best of the early Zionist spirit, is reduced by Gal Weinstein (b. Ramat Gan, 1970) to a segmented, puzzle-like carpet made from simple felt fabric that is neither illusionistic nor deceptive. It merely plots a symbol of Eretz Yisrael in a neutral manner without any reference to Nahalal's importance socially or historically.
Fantasy is applauded by Shibetz Cohen (b. Rehovot, 1967) in his five larger-than-life figurative panels, each one derived from a combined process whereby wispy self-modeled photographic images in a variety of dress are superimposed over ambiguous, shadowy drawings made in dark heavy graphite.
Political overtones concerned with seizure and disappearance pervade the unique drawing technique of Oscar Munoz (b. Colombia, 1951), an artist who harnesses fugitive media like water and dust to create transitory works of art. In Re/trato, a documentary video, Munoz sketches portraits with a water-based brush onto a concrete sidewalk; as soon as he completes one section of the portrait the previous parts have already evaporated. It is a Sisyphean task, one that will never be fulfilled but nevertheless reminds the viewer of man's vulnerability and the artist's weakness in changing a political climate.
Another South American, Vic Muniz (b. Brazil, 1961) shows works from three series produced during the last decade, Pictures of Chocolate, Pictures of Soil and Pictures of Color. In each, Muniz has adopted these unorthodox materials to create images that represent important historical paintings or generic works by important painters. Muniz recreates Courbet's The Origin of the World, the close-up of female genitalia considered by many to be the epitome of salacious art, in dirt and dust, and athletic figures in soaring poses from Aaron Siskind photographs have been reproduced in chocolate. To quote the artist: "Illusion as bad as mine makes people aware of the fallacies. These illusions are made to reveal the architecture of our concept of truth."
All too often curators get trapped into forcing issues of representation or using words to describe esoteric material providing the means to make a work justifiable for inclusion in an exhibit. This has happened here on several occasions. One in particular, To Die For, a video clip by Servet Ko yi-it (b. Turkey, 1971) serves little purpose to expand the conceptual base of Fata Morgana. Others include a bombastic installation entitled Forces of Attraction by Michal Krieger-Motolla (b. Tel Aviv, 1967) created especially for Fata Morgana and Etude SB by Anthony Aziz (b. Massachusetts, 1961) and Sammy Cucher (b. Venezuela, 1958). The former is a three-meter high crystal chandelier hung in a darkened space that spreads a circular shaft of light through the transparent prisms, and the latter a video film dealing with something Katz-Freiman calls digital consciousness, shows ersatz kinetic natural formations but are actually colorful liquids in motion, a work more about manipulation than about delusion.
Gil Shachar (b. Tel Aviv, 1965) is concerned with representational paradoxes. For Fata Morgana he has cast several flat epoxy reliefs, reminiscent of limp cloth, onto which he has painted super-realistic geometric designs in a trompe l'oeil painting tradition. The designs were inspired by Byzantine mosaic floors, Islamic art and, in most instances, the remnants of Op Art popular in the 1960s.
Using a high-speed digital program, Shirley Shor (b. Beersheba, 1971) presents Becoming an Artist, a captivating quartet of flickering digital screens from which a continual composing and decomposing of innumerable portraits are projected. Shor proceeds to place her own facial features onto the multitude of pixilated portraits as she generates, in a hypnotic fashion, a digital persona that embraces elements of family and friends.
Coalescing art and technology, Wendy Wischer (b. US, 1971) creates dramatic effects of light on simple materials to foster meditation and understanding. In Looking for Home she uses a shocking blue neon wire to weave a drooping linear ladder that falls from the ceiling into a jumble of compositional confusion. Wischer, by her own admission is interested in redirecting attention to the smaller things in life, exposing the sacred within the mundane and the monumental within the minute. Other works of note are Ketem, a tar-black stain projected onto a bed of gravel that is enlarged and reduced until it disappears and reappears for another round, by Talia Keinan (b. Kfar Saba 1978) and Dina Shenhav's (b. Jerusalem, 1968) apocalyptic black landscape of rocky hills and slender wadis that enfolds a single rectangular crater whose sole optimistic image among the ravage of warring sides is a video film of blue sky interspersed with billowing white clouds.
AT THE same venue, Prof. Tsibi Geva, a veteran Israel painter, has curated an exhibition of varied works by five recent graduates of the MFA program at the University of Haifa. Labeled Mountain Language, the title is adopted from a short play by Harold Pinter (the content circles two women speaking a mountain language but who are asked to speak the language of the capital by soldiers), and provides a metaphor for the school's Carmel ridge position. The works are not only diverse but encompass an artistic language that belongs to the periphery, not students overly influenced by the arty mannerisms and media of Tel Aviv and its environs.
Of the five participants, Nitzan Satt (b. Israel, 1971), who also holds a degree in architecture from the Bezalel Academy, presents the most innovative work, an installation-cum-sculpture infused with cultic force that appears to have germinated from a prehistoric or alien source. Anchored to the gallery floor, the work contains several independent units assembled and fastened into a coherent design combining architectural concepts with organic descriptions recycled from surrealist imagery invented by Yves Tanguy, Miro and Max Ernst. Skin toned and rather crudely modeled, Satt's work seems to whisper secrets about the past while attempting to construct an edifice for the present.
Tal Chet (b. US, 1980) holds a BFA from Bezalel and a diploma in curatorial studies from Oranim College in Kiryat Tivon. Her mixed-media paintings on wood are compressed studies of dense foliage that vacillates from extremely sinister naturalistic renderings to playful abstract patterns. Muralistic renderings of suburban Israel in reds and yellows by Efrat Galnoor (b. Jerusalem, 1970), an installation of handwritten socio-political poetry by Manal Mahamid (b. Umm el-Fahm, 1976) and a wall of small figurative oils by Shahar Sarig (b. Rehovot, 1980) complete the exhibition. (Haifa Museum of Art, Rehov Shabtai Levy 26, (04) 852-3255). Fata Morgana, till May 12.