Leora Laor 88 298.
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Cousin Hannan and his wife Zipora, uncle Moshe, aunt Sara and uncle Yehezkel, Gil and Roni, Rivka, cousin Eta's daughter, the Greenwald cousins, aunt Yafa and uncle Baruch... and so on and so on through a pictorial genealogy that envelops four generations and scores of family members in Vardi Kahana's fascinating, and poignant, photographic documentary appropriately entitled One Family.
Kahana begins her exhibition with a triple portrait of her mother Rivka and her sisters Leah and Esther. This black-and-white bromide could have been an ordinary family portrait if it were not for the consecutive numbers tattooed on their arms - A-7760, A-7761, A-7762 - seared eternally into skin as they disembarked from the cattle cars in Auschwitz in 1944. The numbers tell the story of survivors, their memories of the Holocaust and their suffering, but the photographic image elevates the viewer onto a higher level as it transmits perceptions of pride, new beginnings, determination and, by the compactness of the composition and by the gestural placing of their arms as an act of both cohesion and tenderness, an unending promise of unity.
This marvelous visual description is followed by 100 more, the extended family of Kahana. She has spent close to 15 years traveling and photographing from Galilee and Savyon to Bnei Brak, Hebron and Sussiya, in the Netherlands, Denmark and the United States; not only crossing geographic boundaries but intersecting political and religious ones as well, from Hashomer Hatza'ir kibbutzim and West Bank settlements to secular neighborhoods in North Tel Aviv and haredi housing in Jerusalem.
Admittedly, Kahana's family represents the essence of Jewish-Israeliness. As each person, couple or group of people face the camera straight on the viewer becomes aware that this totality of humanity - secular and religious, old and young - provides the onlooker with a cross section of not only who they are but who we are, what we have achieved in the past half decade and, as a people, we are reminded that this is our center and this is home.
SOMEONE ONCE remarked that a raison d'etre of modern art, as opposed to classical representation, is the artist's independence to identify something of interest, or several interesting items, then proceed to isolate them, rearrange them, rescale and recolor them and, after scrambling, the possibilities emerge from his endeavors with a spanking new, highly imaginative image, real or abstract.
Amon Yariv is that kind of independent artist. His exhibition of large Lambda color prints, Well of Genesis, is composed of divergent elements that have been recycled, photographed separately, then arranged on backgrounds of alternate materials including dirt, stone, fabric and landscape.
In most instances, Yariv presents poetic compositions containing natural and man-made objects from polished boughs to walls made from ancient stone. The exhibition curator, Shva Salhoov, indicates in her rambling catalog essay, often filled with too many Zionist-bashing idioms, that Yariv has relocated the materials of that "land of the Jewish state" and that they bear only a scorched, consumed imprint - like advanced rot - of its physical bounds.
She goes on to say that purification is present like a testimony to the disease afflicting the metaphysical, fantastic imagination of that "dream land." These harsh words in themselves are metaphysical and have little bearing on what Yariv has presented. The photographs are too slick, esoteric and carefully considered to bond them to art-speak gabble. Nevertheless, look at the pictures, enjoy the admixture of possibilities and take away whatever you can.
FROM YARIV'S poetic vocabulary, the visitor is directed to a comprehensive exhibition entitled Moods and Modes in Israeli Photography, a wide-ranging display of prints from the collection of Leon and Michaela Contantiner. More than 30 contemporary artists show bromides that have been previously exhibited, but when shown in unison there is a powerful message of what Israel's history, geography and society are all about - its rural landscapes, urban culture, diverse ethnicity, hostility and harmony. And it also displays the high quality of photography these individual photographers have achieved.
In the show's catalog introduction, Contantiner reminds the viewer that as he or she browses through the pages, he or she will discover pride, energy, solitude and camaraderie and that Israel is a country in constant progress. These qualities and more can be found in, among the hundreds of pictures, Polish Landscape by Simcha Shirman; Barry Frydlander's composite urban landscapes like Salame/Derech Shlomo; Blue Eyes, a riveting portrait from the series Princess Bingo by Hanna Sahar; social and biblical allegories by Adi Nes; Leora Laor's beautifully illuminated figurative compositions in Image of Light; powerful coverage of the news in Pavel Wolberg's photojournalist frames; Reli Avrahami's quartet of inner-city juvenile flower vendors and disturbingly honest black-and-white compositions of dead animals by Pesi Girsch.
PERFECT INTIMACY, an exploration of the cloistered lives of Carmelite nuns in three convents (Haifa, Bethlehem and Port Tobacco, Maryland) was shot by Lili Almog, an Israeli photographer living in New York. This series, encompassing portraits, living quarters and prayer sessions, was first exhibited last year at the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York and was simultaneously published in book form.
Almog's work of the past decade has focused on the intimate lives of women in their private spaces, creating photographs of the feminine body and psyche including Bedroom Series and Mogyoktang, a Korean women's bathhouse. Her accomplishment in penetrating the devotional world of the Carmelites has been applauded in several American journals and will be covered on these pages in a coming issue.
TAL GUR is an industrial designer specializing in lighting fixtures. But he also has invested his talents in creating a variety of commercial objects that have emanated from a desire to meld the fine art of sculpture with his industrial technology.
The Turtle Laughs at Me is a four-part installation whose common denominator endeavors to combine natural forms and environmental phenomena with a variety of alternate manufacturing methods. All-white reclining chairs, constructed from wire mesh and polyethylene bags, have absorbed a spider's web with the ups and downs of a geographic site; loose bamboo shoots imported from the East have been rolled and fixed to metal clasps to form a wispy partition of loops into a vegetative island; bubbles coming to the surface of the Yarkon River where it meets the Reading power station are the influences for a dozen interlocking low tables made from Caesar stone and boxwood; and the final installation is a ceiling piece he calls Alata. Essentially a lighting device combining line and organic forms made from a series of parallel fiberglass rods and parachute cloth, Alata undulates in a syncopated breathing motion around the entire gallery.
For the past 150 years making products by hand has been virtually replaced by mechanized production and the onslaught of innovative, non-organic, materials. An attempt by the Omega Workshop in London (1913-1919), because of failed management and diversity of artistic talent, failed to meet its objectives and sailed miserably into the sunset. Gur is among a group of international designers determined to refocus the goals of craftsmanship into a movement that binds a personal creative process with sophisticated manufacturing technologies.
(All the above at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd. English-Hebrew catalogs are available for all exhibitions.)