Rambo on his knees

A video exhibition in Herzliya reexamines the 'macho man' so prevalent in the media.

horse art 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
horse art 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At a time where unilateral cease-fires come and go, the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art sure hits the nail on the head with its current exhibition, "No Nonsense." This exhibition, by museum head curator Dahlia Levin and guest curator Antonio Geusa, allows a new artistic perspective on this holy land of eternal conflicts. The 19 Israeli and Russian artists that they recruited for the show are breaking free from the standard aggressive male role models that our society is all too keen to draft young men to become. Instead, they desert the common notion and head to the experimental spaces of contemporary video performance where they play out alternative figures by turning the stereotypes back on themselves. With seemingly irrational behavior, the artists recreate the playground and the rules of the game by voluntarily assuming the figure of the idiot, the village fool, the heartbroken cowboy, the court jester, the nutty eccentric or the sideshow freak. "The artists participating in the exhibition adopt a similar tactic in addressing onerous, painful issues. The marginal figures they assume… are perceived as non-threatening, amusing or grotesque. This engagement often occurs on a nonverbal level, while using physical humor and impersonal, non-heroic, superfluous and banal bodily gestures which put the performer or his performance in states of danger, violence, degradation and ridicule," comments one of the curators. A good illustration of the aforementioned phenomenon is Gili Avissar's Horse House Hat, which consists of five screens and two large canvases that welcome the visitor; it is the most prominent and elaborate installation in the exhibition. Avissar restages the icon of the cowboy as a sissy swinging his hips around a shabby, rundown South Tel Aviv apartment. This Middle Eastern version of the imaginary Wild West hero is obviously good at girly handicrafts. In the video sequences, he creates his cowboy boots and John Wayne hat out of cardboard. Also, the two canvasses are not painted; patchwork techniques form the images. One depicts a lion attacking a horse, the other one a house - the windows and doors forming a screaming face. This home boy also knows how to steal horses - he simply sews them himself. The horse takes a central and active role in the video performance. Here we do not get the classic Western movie iconic "guy on top" shot, where the horse is subject to the cowboy, serving to transport and elevate him. This cardboard hero gets down on his knees in front of his equestrian alter ego and slips inside the soft toy horsy. Then he gets out again and does a little ballroom dance with the dangling animal silhouette. In a parallel sequence, the paper house bursts into flames on a household gas stove, and in yet another sequence, the pony comes to its rescue. The cowboy stays at home, quite remote from conquering territories in Rambo fashion. ANYWAY, RAMBO is another hero brought down to his knees in this exhibition. Yaron Atar and Ishay Gross's video shows two couch potatoes reenacting the paramount suffering of this archetypal icon of virility. In one of the film's climactic moments, when Sylvester Stallone pulls a bullet out of his muscular body, the two spectators get up and imitate his movements, exaggerated masculinity as a model of identification, which they imitate in a type of a grotesque coming-of-age ritual in their domestic living room. And beyond all of the cinematographic suffering, Lior Waterman takes us into another kind of graphic misery. He frontally approaches the holy of holies of virility: the phallus itself. This central piece of masculinity is subconsciously treated by classic cinema as too holy to be depicted, as if a celluloid second commandment demands it be respected. In Waterman's heretic video performance, the issue is put on the table. He cuts up sausages, pokes them into plastic tubes to make them squirt and pulls condoms over them to obviously overexpose what society wishes to hide. The No Nonsense exhibition presents a variety of alternative male role models far from the ones portrayed in the media. Its satires refuse to follow the well trodden path to a senseless deadlock where violence only produces violence - until a state of nonsense. The seeming artificial nonsense makes us reconsider the factual nonsense; perhaps it is time. Runs until February 14 at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Rehov Habanim 4, Herzliya. Open Monday through Saturday. Call for details and hours: (09) 950-0762.