Burning upon reentry: The digital art of Arik Weiss

In a new Hamidrasha exhibition, curator Nicola Trezzi presents artists who explore Soviet space-age memories along with adaptations of classic Western paintings

July 16, 2019 21:09
4 minute read.
Burning upon reentry: The digital art of Arik Weiss

‘TARBUT ENCYCLOPEDIA And its Discontent’ (2019) – mixed media by Didi Smoly Hamburger. . (photo credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)

How are heroes made? Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die in a space-flight accident when in 1967 the parachute of his Soyuz 1 spacecraft failed to open and he burned upon reentry. A black and white photograph of his charred remains with severe-looking Soviet generals staring on is what greets visitors when they enter the space Arik Weiss created for the “4th of July” exhibition by Hamidrasha art school.

“Komarov knew this would happen,” Weiss told The Jerusalem Post. “There were roughly 200 things wrong with the Soyuz 1.” Yet in the fierce competition between the superpowers over who would be the first to reach space and be able claim their system superior, capitalism or communism, there was little room for the actual men and women who left the planet to challenge those powers. “They told Komarov that if he’ll refuse, they’ll give it to Yuri Gagarin. The two men were close friends and Komarov decided to take the risk upon himself and not risk his friend dying. As a final ‘I told you so’ to his superiors, he requested an open casket at his funeral so that the world could witness the result of uncaring policies.

Was his sacrifice an effective way to bring about social change? Weiss, who is mainly interested in the power that images hold in the public mind and how they are manipulated by rulers, argues that Soviet myth-making had been extremely effective in turning a story about human folly into a heroic tale. One of his works features the 1964 Monument to the Conquers of Space in Moscow. The original work, built from titanium and 351 feet high, is an impressive feat that celebrates the human desire to excel and move heavenward. Weiss manipulates the image, breaking it up and rearranging it in a loop, as if to ask, “Who are the people who commission monuments and for what reasons?”

The Soviet space program was explored in the deeply dark 1992 satire Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, in which the heroes of the Soviet Union are requested to remove their legs in order to reduce fuel expenses of the spaceships they are to pilot off the planet.

ISRAEL, WHICH has unfortunately experienced its share of wars and terrorism, produced a deeply dark satire about the need to build monuments for the fallen in the 1981 film The Vulture. The film’s protagonist “hand-makes” works to celebrate the brief lives of fallen children for their grieving parents. The stories and poems allegedly composed by the fallen soldiers are fake, as the real people who died were just regular people, yet the emotional need of the parents is so great things get out of hand.
In another work, Weiss presents the crew members of the 1967 Apollo 1 mission. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee are presented in a 1966 mock-prayer photograph the crew presented to their program officer Joseph Shea.

Shea chose to approve the spacecraft’s design despite warnings that there were flammable materials in the cabin. Shea was presented with the photograph and the inscription informing him that while they trusted him, they decided to go over his head by praying to a higher being. Sadly, the three men perished when fire consumed them just as they feared would happen. Weiss passes the image through a projector that manipulates the light in a precise way. This gives each crew member his own unique “frame” with their hands clasped in prayer reminiscent of Durer’s 1508 study Praying Hands.

“Both sides,” Weiss told the Post, “sacrificed lives for ego.” One of his inspirations in exploring the unique relationship between myth-making on a national level and space exploration is Turkish artist Halil Altindere. In a 2016 work called Space Refugee, Altindere presents Syrian astronaut Muhammad Faris who, due to the civil war in his country, became a refugee in Istanbul after supporting democratic change.

Created for the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein art association in Germany, the work explores the possibility of housing refugees in space.

“There are no conspiracies,” Weiss assures the Post, “only research to figure out how things really work. It’s a little like the way people kiss in commercials,” he laughs. “Nobody really kisses like that. The same is true for conspiracy theory. People think in images which are totally divorced from reality.”

Under the guidance of Nicola Trezzi, the exhibition includes the paintings of Gali Lutski who creates colorful exploration of painting history by referring to such classic works as St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco, and the funny, acidic mixed-media works of Didi Smoly Hamburger, who uses images from the Tarbut encyclopedia to create pastiches that challenge cultural norms.

‘4th of July’ will be open until July 20 at Hayarkon St. 19, Tel Aviv. For more information: 4th-july.com, arikweiss.com, or call 03-620-3129.

Related Content

August 21, 2019
Tour Israel: Gems hiding in plain sight


Cookie Settings