Out of the heart of darkness

Dramatic photographs entitled Fading Grounds are a visual anthology that poetically encapsulates both the living and the dead of the natural environment.

weinstein art 88 (photo credit: )
weinstein art 88
(photo credit: )
Dramatic photographs entitled Fading Grounds are a visual anthology that poetically encapsulates both the living and the dead of the natural environment. One after the other, a group of stunning prints describing isolated glens and thickets, composed and enlarged by Daniel Tchetchik, record brooding close-ups of a tangled, gnarled and weary forest. With neither skyline nor sunshine to provide relief, Tchetchik documents mother earth in her most primordial beauty. He scrutinizes the textures of every crooked bough, twig, dark leaf and friendless stone as they provide the maze through which run rivulets of shifting cloud-like forms that appear to be gaseous emissions, as much as the intended brook or stream. And they provide his solemn, umber-tinted compositions with an alternative to what Conrad described as the "heart of darkness." Tchetchik is a passionate observer who has injected life into this darkness, for beneath the surface of his sharp portrayals of nature one can detect a spiritual awareness that takes one far beyond the characteristics of wood, rock and water. Once a devotee of the light-filled landscapes of Ansel Adams, Tchetchik has now taken his camera to places we think we know but actually only dream of. He has become an inventive photographer whose sensitivity for the medium improves from exhibition to exhibition. In his essay A Way of Seeing, James Agee wrote: "In every other art which draws directly on the actual world, the actual is transformed by the artist's creative intelligence into a new and different kind of reality." Tchetchik doesn't alter his little corner of the universe but merely perceives the aesthetic qualities inherent in its varied parts and unites them for all to see and scrutinize. Staying within the shadowy dark ranges of the gray scale, and using only scanty available light (and some darkroom energizing), his faintly defined scenes emerge into the foreground from near blackness in an exceedingly Baroque manner. Tchetchik asks the viewer to come close, to detach him or herself from the immediate surroundings and partake of his journey into a fading world of continued existence. FOR MORE than a quarter of a century Ben Lam was among the best (many say THE best) fashion photographers in the country. Of late, Lam has taken to photographing women, mostly attractive ones, in sporting activities. Two dozen prints whose subjects range from judo flips to fencing thrusts - and grunting facials from a lovely lass pumping iron - are perfect for their oeuvre. In addition to an attractive black and white digital print quality, the pictures are wonderfully composed. Every arched back, spread legs and a body leaning out of a 420 sailboat are caught by Lam's camera at just the right moment. However, one must draw a line between journalistic photography on the playing fields and the kind that Lam displays. The former, playing to a mass audience in search of thrills, searches for the moment of truth, while Lam just explores the moment. BY COMBINING Pinchas Cohen Gan's Everyman with Keith Haring's prancing unisex image, Anat Strul has created a reductive anatomical shape suggesting an Astarte branding iron. This quasi-fertility figure is embedded in decorative mixed-media panels painted in acrylics and applied sand in sharp chromatic scales - from a fiery crimson to a sizzling magenta contiguous with a bottle green and bordered by sugary pink. Resorting to both this recurring palette and the graveled textures, Strul simply arranges and rearranges her square formats with various geometric shapes and palm prints topped by her figure and severed anatomical details. All in all, she manages to design tiresome bits and pieces of a flamboyant graphic quilt. (The three shows above are at the Museum of Israeli Art, 146 Abba Hillel, Ramat Gan.) IN 1960, photographer Peter Merom published a book dedicated to the draining of Lake Hula in the Upper Galilee. A number of pictures from his The Song of a Dying Lake acquired mythological status, for they embodied fundamental features in the Zionist dream of reclaiming the land. In an attempt to recreate portions of a vision gone sour - for the Hula Valley has become an ecological nightmare and re-flooding it is on the government's agenda - Gal Weinstein has created a two-part exhibition in which the essential characteristics of this environmental experiment are presented. The entire first floor of the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion is covered with treated and carved panels simulating dried, crusted and broken red earth. The reference is obvious but the context is vague. The installation could just as well have been a recreation of Utah's Great Salt Lake, a phenomenon light years away from the Galilee and the Zionist ethos. The upper gallery is decorated with six virtuoso murals, each a replica of a small Merom photograph. Weinstein's technique of drawing with steel wool on massive wooden boards provides the viewer with unrefined and undefined black and white images of swampland vegetation, cascading water cannons and linear descriptions of water lilies. The drawings are adequate declarations for making the message sting, but the ersatz earth work seems to be superfluous. FLOWER PAINTINGS that defy the descriptive Victorian idiom are presented by Masha Zusman. Lacking color, considered composition and a subjective presence, her Black Paintings are actually drawings. Working with red and black ball-point pens, Zusman, with Sisyphean determination, illustrates poppies and irises with an exactitude and beauty hard to believe. Each flower or spray is rendered on plywood, using the natural knots as floral centers and the wood grain as supplementary texture. The attempt to associate Zusman's flowers with feminine sexuality and the early works of Georgia O'Keeffe, enlarged upon by curator Ellen Ginton, is not only unnecessary but disparaging. Zusman is far too clever and talented to fall into the conceptual traps of female modernity and the sexual psyche. Her drawings, whether garlands of flat poppies on a horizontal format or an overall floral pattern on a standing diptych, are carefully rendered, beguiling and exude a warmth derived only from her artistic impulses - and the earth from which they sprang. (The above two shows are at The Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, 6 Tarsat, Tel Aviv.)
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