What could be more basic, practical, ubiquitous and – let’s face it – downright dull than a black waste disposal bag? But, of course, anything can be grist to the creative mill, as evidenced by the works currently on display at The Farm Gallery, in the Atuma exhibition which forms part of this year’s Israeli Design Season in Holon.
Curator Dr. Guy Morag Tzepelewitz says there is more to the common or garden household item than meets the eye, literally. “In our memory and our automatic imagination, the opaque [atuma in Hebrew] black plastic bag is connected to at least two entirely different matters. One is the disposable bag for domestic garbage, and the other is the body bag used when someone dies.” They can also, Morag adds impishly, serve more contentious purposes. “A garbage bag is also a bag which someone can use to hide bottles of champagne,” he chuckles.
As a dedicated non-follower of scandalmongering or of non-cultural current affairs, and not being up on all the political tittle-tattle, I had to ask for some clarification on that. Seems I missed yet another juicy news item from last year about the ongoing saga of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara and their predilection for the high life, and claims that Sara had champagne surreptitiously delivered to her, courtesy of a wealthy friend, in a specimen of the exhibition’s thematic objet d’art.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea for Atuma was sparked by artist Reut Dafna who also has a work in the Farm Gallery lineup. “This is the first time I have curated an exhibition I didn’t conceive myself,” says Morag. The starter came from Morag’s wife, well-known artist Keren Shpilsher. “Keren saw a painting by someone with garbage bags and started to chat with her on Instagram,” he continues. That someone was Dafna. She told Shpilsher she thought it would be good to have an exhibition based on garbage bags. Morag got wind of the idea and ran with it. “I started seeing the bags all over the place,” he laughs.
Atuma embraces quite a conceptual stretch and the exhibits duly span a broad spectrum of ideas and presentational formats. Gaby Salzman’s Wish, for example, is a screen print affair on a garbage bag, with some added video art photography. Morag says there are shades of British graffiti artist Banksy’s 2015 megaproject Dismaland in there and, in particular, compatriot artist David Shrigley’s contribution to the temporary art venture in southwest England that took a shot at the commercial fantasy utopia of Disneyland. Shrigley’s creations often present oxymoronic contrasts, featuring dark visuals together with some insouciant verbal message.
Morag sees it as a sort of sublimational yin-yang process. “The black garbage bag printed with the slogan: ‘Always wish for a happy ending’ undergoes a transformation, from garbage, trash and remnants to an object from a world of joy, childhood and hope,” he observes. “The slogan printed on the bag, that has turned into a balloon, reflects both innocence and cynicism.” Plenty in there to wrap our head round.
The environmental aspect
REFUSE AND the disposal thereof, naturally, conjure up thoughts in the environmental sphere. Things get a little more fluid, and global, with Debby Oshrat’s mixed technique creation Black Rain. Morag was keen to have that in the exhibition mix. “The climate crisis and global pollution are happening in front of us, and getting worse,” he declares. “It can no longer be ignored.”
"The climate crisis and global pollution are happening in front of us, and getting worse. It can no longer be ignored."Curator Dr. Guy Morag Tzepelewitz
That was very much in Oshrat’s mind too. “I used black garbage bags to create a black cloud sending down black rain!” she exclaims, adding she also took some inspiration from a certain Nobel Prize laureate writer. “The words are inspired by Bob Dylan’s song A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, which has been translated into Hebrew and sung by Yonatan Geffen. It’s a wake-up call, before the catastrophe… because we have no other home…” Ne’er a more plaintive word was spake, or idea expressed, on a plain old refuse receptacle.
All told there are 32 works in Atuma, all but five of which are brand new and were made specifically for the Holon showing. The subject matter veers across an eclectic thematic sweep, from fun entertaining designs to thought-provoking workings, and troubling topics such as the nefarious deeds in Ukraine. The latter includes a photograph of black waste disposal bags with dead bodies unearthed following the Bucha massacre last March.
The 34 participating artists came up with some inventive takes on the base plastic material, imparting all kinds of ideas and messages in the process. Idan Ohana offers a highly expressive, and animated, image with his White Dove with Olive Leaf. With wings held aloft the bird is caught in mid-flight but appears to be heading for a crash landing. Ohana has cleverly worked the yellow drawstring into the shape of a leafed twig, while the rumpled plastic conveys the texture of the bird’s flesh remarkably well.
The artist wants us to sit up and take note. “I wrapped the dove of peace in a black garbage bag – which seemed to become part of its skin – to protest the neglect of the symbol and the vision,” Ohana explains. “The image shows a large realistic dove lying with one raised branch on a dark mirror surface like a puddle on a white podium.” There is evidently more than one way to skin a cat, or dove.
We eventually get to the contribution by the artist who gave birth to the whole venture. It is a gorgeous drawing, by Dafna, featuring a woman with crammed-full garbage bags hanging from each hand by their drawstring. The figure has her eyes shut and it is not clear whether she is in a calm meditative state, or is troubled by the content of the bags or simply struggling to keep them in equilibrium.
There is a fine balance between tension and tranquility, and the texture of the plastic resonates neatly with the creases in the woman’s dress. The scene also suggests some iconic intimations. “It reminds you, possibly, of the goddess of justice (Themis) with her scales,” the curator proffers.
The collection also references some local cultural content, with the odd whimsical slant. One particularly entertaining creation, by Tamara Efrat and Shaul Cohen, marries a Canaanite-style ceramic statuette clasping a bulging disposal bag. It is as if the artists caught the second millennium BCE homemaker as she was making her way to the dumpster.
Morag says he intentionally left the field open for artists to bring their own takes on the black plastic receptacles. “That’s why I mention the bags are used for waste and also dead bodies.” And much more betwixt.
Entry to the exhibition is free. Atuma closes on May 27. For more information: (03) 502-7167