Back in the days of lockdown – surprisingly and happily, that seems like a distant memory right now – the honchos of the Mekudeshet Festival thought it would be a good idea to have an exhibition that would be visible from the street. You know, people could just pass by and catch a glimpse of the works as they made their masked way to some important errand or on their way home.
According to Guy Zagursky that would probably have been the presentation mindset, for the Open Closed Circuit undertaking in the festival’s “Feel Beit” (“At Home” in Arabic) slot, curated by Itay Mautner, even without the Health Ministry guidelines.
“Yes, there was the lockdown, but the idea was to have an exhibition as a sort of façade, to offer passersby a brief view of these works,” says the 48-year-old artist about the oversized and illuminated creations he currently has on show at a pavilion on Naomi Street, right next to the Yes Planet complex.
He says he had plenty of room for maneuver too.
“Using a place like that offers you a large ‘canvas,’” he notes, even though he had his work cut out for him in planning the exhibition. “I normally make classic sculptures, with space, and which you can walk around and view from all angles. This is a more pictorial layout. This was a challenging project but I learned a lot from it.”
Zagursky is one of the more interesting and colorful characters on the Israeli arts scene. He set out on his creative path at a relatively late age and comes across as larger than life in terms of both his bubbly personality and his physique. The latter attribute inspired one of his better-known works, Karnaf (Rhino), currently the centerpiece of Open Closed Circuit.
THERE IS no missing the outsized single-horned creature, calmly reposed in the center of the Naomi Street building. Zagursky says the work has been around the block a couple of times, and has garnered enthusiastic responses across the board, and across the globe.
“I have had it on show in Russia and in other places, and people really appear to like it,” he notes with a touch of understatement. The zoological creation is, in fact, already 17 years old but doesn’t look any worse for the wear.
It is something of a signature piece for the artist.
“My nickname is Karnaf, or Rhino,” he explains. “I have always been big, so I got called that at school and in the army.”
The voluminous animal figure also neatly counterbalances the conceptual thinking behind the display.
“There is a metaphysical element to art,” Zagursky observes. “There is light, which is antimatter, and the Rhino is the opposite.”
There is more to the yin-yang play.
“It is a bit like secular as opposed to sacred. There is something holy and lofty about light, while the rhino is dirty and sweaty, very down-to-earth and very physically present.”
The reference to illuminational aspects is central to the exhibition foundation. The building is topped by a large neon creation, which logically enough reads “light” in Hebrew, Arabic and sign language. The multilingual rendition was a given.
“This location is on the seam between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods,” says Zagursky.
The flipside ethos is a constant in the artist’s oeuvre.
“There is a binary basis to everything,” he posits. “I also realized that you can’t have light without darkness. And darkness is not a negative thing. It is not like they have it in books, legends, about the forces of evil, of darkness. Light and darkness complement each other, and cannot exist independently.”
Now there’s some light bulb food for thought.
ZAGURSKY IS something of an old hand at fluorescent fashioning. He is a big fan of its striking appearance and aesthetic simplicity.
“I think neon lights make for an impressive image. I have done quite a few neon works over the years. They grab you and immediately draw the observer’s attention. That gives me control of the viewing public.”
While that may come over as more than a little megalomaniacal, Zagursky is anything but a heavy mean-spirited chap. He tends to look for the bright and breezy side of life, which naturally spills over into his work.
“Humor is important. If something is not silly, it’s not worth much. I like the infantile,” he chuckles. “I tell my students that things have to be dumb if they are to be of any value. And I don’t take myself seriously.”
For someone who has been doing pretty well on the local and international arts scene for some years now, that seems a little contradictory or, possibly, oxymoronic. But they do say that the older we get the more likely we are – hopefully – to ease up a bit, and take stuff with a pinch or two of salt.
“It’s all about play, and you get some serious products from that,” he elucidates.
Zagursky was past his first flush of youth by the time he decided on his career path. He began his formal studies only at the age of 28, after accruing some useful hands-on experience, which he now brings to his artistic fray.
“Yes I started out late. I’d done all sorts of technical things that I now use in my work. I worked in a boatyard, I went to sea, and worked in crafts with different kinds of fibers and polymers. That is valuable for me now.”
The initial push in the desired professional direction came from a family member.
“I had an aunt who was a psychologist and she suggested I do an aptitude test,” Zagursky recalls. “I did it and they found I had a really good grasp of space. So I ended up at art school,” he adds a little simplistically.
Even so, he wasn’t entirely sold on the creative idea just yet.
“I remember being in the first class, and we looked at a work by [20th century American abstract expressionist painter] Jackson Pollock. I thought that if I don’t get what that is about I wouldn’t carry on with my studies.”
Thankfully, the Pollock penny dropped and the rest is ongoing, expressive, fun, diverse and successful history for Zagursky.
Open Closed Circuit runs through to mid-April. For more information about the Mekudeshet Festival: https://en.mekudeshet.com/landing-home-page/