The Biennale for Drawing takes on the tactile and material

The arts event opened at Jerusalem Artists’ House on November 23 and is due to run through to February 15.

AMIT LEBLANG’S ‘Wall’ conjures up images of the lives of apartment block residents who use the letter boxes in her work.  (photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
AMIT LEBLANG’S ‘Wall’ conjures up images of the lives of apartment block residents who use the letter boxes in her work.
(photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
In a world in which, increasingly, we “experience” things from afar, on various virtual platforms, the Biennale for Drawing currently up and running in Jerusalem offers a far more tactile and concrete take on visual aesthetics.
The arts event opened at Jerusalem Artists’ House on November 23 and is due to run through to February 15, with additional exhibitions on display at Ticho House, Jerusalem Print Workshop and Barbur Gallery.
The current edition of the biennale goes by the name of Traces VII – Action Line. The first part of the title alludes to the fact that this is the seventh run of this format here, while the post-hyphen part references the dynamic nature of the exhibits.
That is very much due to curator Hadas Maor’s approach taken to the showing at Jerusalem Artists’ House. In plain terms, she has taken the two dimensional drawn line, the bricks and mortar of the discipline of sketching, and added a dimension or two. In many of the items in the main exhibition, the lines almost leap out and grab you by the throat. There is no missing them, and there is little chance of the visitor calmly shuffling past this or that work. The creations demand to be seen, listened to and pondered over. With some it is difficult not to reach out and – heaven forbid! – actually touch the work in front of you.
“The exhibition is very tactile and material,” Maor notes. “The material physical importance in space is very important to me, because, to me, when I think of an exhibition, I think of the relationship between the viewer’s body and the body of the art – the objects – or whatever it is, in the space.”
She clearly wants to get us on board, totally and completely. And, if you want to capture the spectators’ attention, one way is to present them with a creation or two that unequivocally conveys the sense that the artist has been through a particularly energized process in order to get to the visual end result. That is certainly the case with Avner Pinchover’s Riot Glass video work. It greets you – for want of a better, gentler, word – as soon as you make it to the top floor of Jerusalem Artists’ House where the majority of the exhibits are housed.
The title of the work comes from the generic name for various types of reinforced glass made to withstand excessive force. In it we see the artist doing his best, and eventually succeeding, to smash the outsized transparent plates to smithereens. As already noted, Maor takes a generous and wide-ranging view of the linear core of the thematic discipline.
SHE RELATES TO Riot Glass as a kind of performance and, as the destructive narrative unfolds, an aesthetic connection to drawing gradually emerges, with something Maor terms “action drawing.”
“As the video progresses, we see several manifestations of a drawing show,” Maor posits. “There [is] a drawing aspect to its body, to the movements he makes, and when the stones hit the glass in some cases nothing happens, on other occasions lines appear, like a cobweb – like the one with the rubber bands – in the cracks.”
Maor also sees the work as a political statement of intent.
“Throughout history, stones have been used as a basic vehicle of resistance against oppression, and Pinchover’s work brings the notion of resistance, in its artistic, political and personal context, to the fore. It addresses questions pertaining to the relationship between artist and audience, viewer and viewed, as well as the very notion of resistance in the physical sense of the stone’s encounter with the glass, and in the context of the local political situation.”
The cobweb reference ties in with a work by Vardi Bobrow on the ground floor of the building, in which the artist created an enormous spider’s web made of plain old rubber bands. Curiously, in Hebrew the work is simply Untitled, however, in English, the artist opted for the self-explanatory Rubber Bands. I wonder if that is a national-cultural thing. The use of common or garden components is a recurrent element throughout the exhibition, with basic raw materials providing the corporeal anchor for many of the works, and sometimes accounts for the whole caboodle. Take, for instance, Anat Kainan’s Untitled (Puzzle) which comprises a metal framework with wooden panels that can be moved around on wheels, thereby changing the shape.
Previous editions of the Biennale for Drawing have followed a seesaw conceptual route, oscillating between a traditional approach to the discipline of drawing, and a more radical take on the essence of the line. Maor has gone for the latter, with the vast majority of the exhibits presenting lines as actual physical 3D entities.
Irit Hemmo’s Untitled, Pencil Leads is an amusing case in point. Her contribution spells out the curatorial philosophy succinctly. The work is made of dozens of pencil leads of varying degrees of thickness. Placed side by side, in a sort of zigzag shape, they create a seismographic line across the floor which seems to reverberate beyond its actual physical contours. Maor says the exhibit “may, potentially, go on infinitely,” adding that it addresses the biennale theme from different angles.
“The work refers to the concept of drawing in several concurrent manners. The lead from which it is made is the most readily available material for drawing by hand nowadays, and the form creates echoes – the mechanical act of drawing known from various measuring instruments, from the seismograph, which reads the vibrations of the earth, to the pulse oximeter, which monitors oxygen saturation in the blood.”
Of course, one of the primary tasks of the curator is to position exhibits in such a way that they “communicate” with each other and offer the public a coherent viewing and sensorial experience. Maor has managed that with aplomb.
“As soon as [Jerusalem Artists’ House director] Ruth [Zadka] contacted me about curating the seventh biennale, it was clear to me that the topic I wanted to engage in was drawing in 3D, as an unofficial title,” she explains. “That means drawing, which has substance in space, which doesn’t relate to any base platform. The whole debate that has gone on in recent years, about whether there should be paper or not (on which drawings are created] did not seem to be particularly relevant. I wanted to examine whether drawing in space has volume or substance. It could also be movement or sound.”
MOVEMENT, AS NOTED, is addressed in Pinchover’s video work, and also, equally as feral, in his Cement work, which he created by throwing handfuls of the stuff across the walls, floor and ceiling at one end of one of the display halls. It is a dynamic piece which also has an organic aspect to it, as the cement dries and peels away from the walls. That dynamic element is also central to LImor Tsror’s quaintly named Going in Time II, which is described as “a dynamic, slowly evolving installation, which will continue to change throughout the exhibition as a live drawing in space.” The work in question comprises cast tar draped over an iron rod. As the tar dries pieces drop off, and the shape subtly changes. It deftly treads the fine line between drawing and sculpture, and between a fixed work and one that follows its own morphological continuum.
There are a number of intriguing video works in the exhibition, including Michal Helfman’s In Quotation and in Parentheses, which dips into sculpture, dance and performance, offering the viewer a range of perspectives as dancer and object change directions and present opposite sides of their black-and-white exterior.
“Some of the works were made especially for the exhibition. I met with the artists who, at the time, did not have an idea for a work. But they subsequently conceived of something. But Michal Helfman’s work already existed.”
Maor says In Quotation and in Parentheses was a natural choice for the exhibition.
“It suited the essence of thinking about drawing so well, and I was delighted to include it in the exhibition.”
Some of the works may elicit quizzical responses, while others may induce a smile. Rami Maymon’s Display may result in some eyebrow elevation. It is something of an oxymoronic effort as, in fact, there is nothing basically artistic “on display.” The rectangular piece of wood on the wall suggest that there should be a painting or drawing in a frame there, and the Plexiglas rectangular objects also beg some complementary work of art. It put me in mind of one of the principles of anthroposophic education whereby small children are not provided with all details of, say, a doll, and are thereby encouraged to complete the picture with their own developing powers of imagination.
There is a subliminal ingredient in some of the other works too, such as Amit Lablang’s wall of letter boxes in whereby the viewer is at liberty to imagine the lives of the residents who received their mail via the said receptacles. The same could be said of Micha Ullman’s site-specific House on House, which traces an architect’s plan of a building’s interior divisions with triangular 3D lines of red Hamra sand, inviting us, if we wish, to imagine what the house really looks like.
The use of sand, concrete, metal, glass and other basic construction materials infuses the whole show with a dynamic, organic and even ecological feeling that titillates the senses in a most inviting way.
And there is plenty more to catch over at Barbur, and the Jerusalem Print Workshop, while Khen Shish’s exhibition over at Ticho House is an alluring, polychromic feast for the eyes and heart.
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