Menace of the forest

Monika Tichacek skillfully creates the ambiance for a psychological nightmare, one that keeps the viewer awake and aware of terrible things about to happen.

monica art 88 298 (photo credit: Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art)
monica art 88 298
(photo credit: Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art)
After viewing a handful of installations and several video presentations at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art's current theme exhibition, The Forest, I found myself at the last station, confronted by a dreadfully sinister film entitled The Shadowers by Australian artist Monika Tichacek (b. Zurich, 1975). Tracking the abduction, binding, torture and rape of a young woman (played by Tichacek) in a dark and impenetrable woodland, the action fluctuates between several levels of visual mechanisms one would connect to a full menu of sadomasochistic behavior. At the base of this morbid, extremely erotic and at times repulsive video is a theme of transition and metamorphosis, as we see the body of the immobile protagonist transformed into a battlefield on which the captor carries out her evil actions - and passions. Although spectators are constantly aware they are watching a fictional performance of alarming circumstances, Tichacek skillfully creates the ambiance for a psychological nightmare, one that keeps the viewer awake and aware of terrible things about to happen. The musical accompaniment, together with rustling leaves, chirps of the dense forest and intertwined with muffled groans of the victim is perfectly coordinated. The final few minutes of this 40-minute horror film are devoted to a couple dancing a tango to the band of Astor Piazzolla outside the forest venue on an inexplicable black stage. In 2001, Tichacek worked with the accomplished video artist Matthew Barney in New York while he was creating his last clip in the Cremaster series. The Shadowers is an excellent response to Barney's weird, androgynous creatures. Among the 14 other international and local artists participating in The Forest, the French multidiscipline artist Fabrice Hyber is undoubtedly the most celebrated. Unfortunately, Petrol, his monumental colored drawing of spindly upside-down and horizontal trees on the museum's entrance wall, falls short of expressing his abilities to communicate or explore vital issues. In addition, Hyber shows several ineffective video clips pertaining to potted plants based on his concept of POF - Prototypes d'Objets en Fonctionnement (Prototypes for Functional Objects), the invention of clever sculptures that are mutations of everyday objects. A large space has been allotted to Dina Shenhav for Dog, a sculpted replica of a forest in the form of leafless trees carved from stacks of foam rubber. The center of Shenhav's colorless installation is occupied by a submissive dog lashed to a tree trunk. A narrative tableau at best, the work is a response to insensitive and heartless dog owners who leave their pets in remote forests either to die of hunger and thirst or be saved by the occasional passing Samaritan. As social commentary, Dog could have been much more confrontational, but Shenhav has chosen a more conciliatory manner to deliver her message. Donna Conlon, an American born artist-biologist-botanist living in Panama City, has created a fascinating video, Coexistencia, in which hundreds, possible thousands, of leaf-cutter ants have been hoodwinked into carrying paper leaves adorned with peace signs and flags of United Nations member states inserted by Conlon into their natural earthy habitat. As her metaphorical ants scurry to and from their enormous nest under the scrutiny of Conlon's close-up lens, one cannot but appreciate the behavioral relationship between insects and humans and the socio-political message they convey in terms of a cooperative utopia. Nestled in a gallery corner is Masha Zusman's Home, a wooden structure constructed from pinewood crating and adorned with ballpoint pen illustrations of female figures, floral decorations and ferocious beasts exploding forward in foreshortened rendering. The obvious delicacy of Zusman's drawings does not detract from the menacing undercurrents prevalent in many Anglo-Saxon fairy tales devoted to forest witches and ruthless hunters, indicated here by a firmly locked door and windowless walls, elements that provide a disturbing feeling of anxiety, incarceration and enslavement. Of Jodie Vicenta Jacobson's two video works, All the Sex We're Not Having and Aspens, the latter is far more interesting and commands a better use of the moving image. In a homage to the Futurist movement, Jacobson uses the camera like a speed skater, moving quickly across a snowy aspen forest in Colorado, capturing the shimmering light of crystals against the cloudless blue sky. Eventually, as the shooting pace increases to a turbulent level, the viewer is exposed to a changing cycle of abstract fields of white and grey flashes. Methods that deconstruct photographic panoramas and detailed digital images all the way back to the language of realistic painting are presented by Eyal Sasson on canvases rendered in watercolor pencils and diluted acrylics. Trees and foliage of impenetrable forests begin to emerge from a battery of meticulously applied layers of green, yellow and purple. Sasson's three-dimensional window into a claustrophobic reality is established by accurate perspective drawing. To further investigate classical mannerisms Sasson uses computer programming to apply the technique of anamorphosis to a number of landscapes. Invented during the early Renaissance, anamorphosis was used to create illusionary images which, when viewed on a curved surface, reflected a regular image. The American artist Aaron Young (b. San Francisco, 1972) affirms both his patriotism and his disgust at the French national character in Freedom Fries, a raucous video in which he kicks and shoves his ground level camera around the gardens of Versailles so that the imagery violates the natural order of things and interferes with the artificial beauty of the site. Scorn is achieved. Israeli video artists Elyasaf Kovner and Nir Evron deal with forests of a varying nature. The former, in Learning Pain from Trees, films a person wandering through the burnt remains of the Carmel range attempting to heal the destroyed trees by peeling off burned layers of bark. The latter looks at the oldest forest in Europe, the Bialowieza, gigantic primeval woodland passing between the borders of Poland and Belarus. Evron's six-minute documentary journey through the thickets and clearings of Bialowieza is marked by memory and myth. For centuries, large tracts were untouched, but in more recent times it was used as a refuge for partisan fighters during WWII while concurrently proclaimed by Hermann G ring a sacred Germanic site. Israeli painter Jossef Krispel uses an Eretz Yisrael plant guide as his reference for monochromatic gray illustrations of plant life on sharp yellow fields; and Eti Jacobi, in The 91st Night, paints monkeys, elephants, skulls, trees and people in a humorously free style. Reversing the order of established rules by painting on a black field instead of a white or lightly tinted one, Jacobi offers the viewer an alternative for scribbled imagery that emerges playfully from a spooky atmosphere. (Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, 4 Rehov Habanim.) Till March 15.