'The Eye Longs for Happiness' - Home away from home

The exhibitors include couple – in life and studies/work – Yul Shif and Nimrod Landsman’s “Since We Are Never Even Here” video creation, which digs deep into the recesses of the Internet.

Taking an alternative look at life (photo credit: NIR BRAININ)
Taking an alternative look at life
(photo credit: NIR BRAININ)
Seemingly reams upon reams of articles and more academically themed papers have been spawned by this ongoing pandemic predicament. Medical essays, political and sociopolitical write-ups and all sorts of associated scripted tidbits abound. Indeed, sometimes it is hard to remember what was around, in the media and elsewhere, before the virus wreaked havoc on our fragile planet.
Naturally, the “new world order” is continuing to impact on the way we go about our daily business, and our social life, and also severely impinges on our cultural opportunities. But, thankfully, we can still toddle off to some exhibition or other with museums and galleries up and down the country, somehow, managing to stay afloat.
A novel and intriguing showing opened recently at the New Gallery at Teddy Stadium. The layout in question features works by final year photography students at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. And a varied and searching offering it is too. Untroubled by commercial considerations, students often produce highly worthwhile artistic renditions, with their hearts firmly planted on their young sleeves.
The exhibition goes by the suggestive and pandemic pertinent title of “The Eye Longs for Happiness,” under the steady curatorial hand of lecturer and writer Ilanit Konopny. She posits that, even in a pre-coronavirus era, life involved maintaining a delicate balance between inward and outward endeavor. “The home is our most elementary world. Whether real or virtual, it weaves our dreams and memories into a universe of our own. It is the primary grounds for our explorations of intimacy and inwardness; it is the image of the body and soul we inhabit. The home also conjures a dialectic between interior and exterior, open and closed, here and there.” All of the above, and more, is referenced in the works of the 19 young exhibitors who leave it all out there.
As the students embarked on their fourth year projects some time ago the global health crisis was not part of Plan A. But, as the virus emerged and started to eat into every walk of life themes of isolation, introspection, alienation and, indeed, what “home” means to us soon began to inform the way the young artists went about their creative business and how their portfolios developed.
The exhibitors include couple – in life and studies/work – Yul Shif and Nimrod Landsman’s “Since We Are Never Even Here” video creation, which digs deep into the recesses of the Internet. But not just the non-corporeal realms of the online domain. They say the project grew out of the experience of the virtual expanse, fed by “a special interest in the multidimensional geography of the Internet and the potential for interaction and collaboration it comprises.”
In fact, Shif and Landsman decided to investigate the parameters of isolation well before the pandemic began to leave its telling pockmarks on life on terra firma. They suggest that the yin-yang dynamics between the physical and Internet worlds comprises “a universe of private and heterogeneous spaces in the tangible world, and which are interconnected in the infinite virtual networks.” They go on to say that, in reality, the two are detached and remote, and that the chasm between them remains unbridgeable. That may or may not be the case, but “Since We Are Never Even Here” is clearly the result of a loving relationship and a desire to dig deep into the psyche and the soul.
Konopny also points to the power of imagery, particularly when venturing far from home, and witnessing events with our own eyes, can be a no-no. “These days of quarantine, of isolation and social distancing, of people voluntarily or forcibly withdrawing into their homes, have demonstrated the power of the photographic image to swiftly respond to a disorienting reality, to corroborate events and perhaps also bring about social revolutions.” Political content abounds. “What would have happened if a passerby’s camera hadn’t captured George Floyd being strangled to death by a policeman’s knee pressed up against his neck? What if the event had been captured by official cameras?” The same goes for tragic developments over here. “Perhaps, as was the case in the shooting of Iyad Halak, security cameras would have allegedly been out of operation at the time and location of the incident?” Konopny suggests. “And what would the camera of press photographer Tomer Applebaum have captured, had he not been assaulted by law enforcement authorities while filming a legal demonstration?” One can only surmise.
The spread of works in the exhibition run an expansive gamut of emotions and thoughts. Alienation is certainly in there, as well as the titular pining, nostalgia and daring emotional and physical exposure. Yael Eshel’s “There Is Grace To It” is a stark case in point as she leads us through some of the procedural and emotional stops along her way to recovery from breast cancer. She lets us in on some her most intimate situations as she clearly ponders her predicament and the curve ball life has thrown her.
As soon as she learned of her ailment she reached out for her camera, not only as a means of documenting the unexpected journey she was setting out on, but also for support. “In the past year I experienced photography in a new way,” she notes. “The camera became my best friend, thanks to whom I became a superheroine.”
That, she says, allowed her to observe the treatment she underwent and the concomitant psychological and emotional upheaval somewhat more dispassionately. “The camera turned me into both the photography’s object and subject as I displayed my sick body in front of its lens.” The result is a curiously and surprisingly fetching layout devoid of emotional blackmail.
The objective-subjective pendulum swings energetically elsewhere in the exhibition, and there are some charming, definitively positive offerings to be enjoyed too. I found Yael Zalman’s 9-minute video work a delight and, time permitting, I would have been perfectly happy following the storyboard unravel its way out a few more times.
Essentially, Zalman is telling the tale of her own family, and clearly conveys the warmth of her feelings. There is gentleness to the video which evolves like a moving comic book, as frame follows frame – sometimes side by side, and other times in isolation – with captions appearing after the viewer has had a second or two to take in the new visual content. It is as if Zalman is allowing us to make up our own mind about the framed pictorial – still or video – content before adding her original textual explanatory element.
It is all about the way we perceive what’s out there. “My photography is closely related to ontology,” she notes. “I photograph reality as I am able to perceive it – its life, its emotions, its unfolding events.” It is very much a two-way street. “I explore the nature of things in the world and their interconnections, while metaphysically rewriting both my perception of reality and the way my consciousness relates to the latter.”
Context is a salient brick in Zalman’s creative structural continuum, and the personal and impersonal balancing act also comes very much into play. “I can take a picture of a flower, for example, and you are free to feel whatever you want when you see it. I don’t try to portray it as the definitive flower. It is something very general but, at the end of the day, it is also something very individual. It is about how you feel about the flower.”
For Zalman, documentation also offers some remedial benefits. “I have short range memory problems,” she states. “For a long time I have contended with trying to retain the thoughts I have in the long term. It is a sort of rewriting of memories.” That can reference actual and/or imagined events or, at least, events that did actually occur but not necessarily in the way they are stored in our memory banks and subsequently resurface in some form or other. There are some Chinese Whispers machinations involved here. “You recall something, and you talk about it. Then you talk about it again and you lose sight of where it all began,” Zalman says, bringing the conversation neatly back to the seesaw contextual side of the tracks.
Like her comrades in academic pursuits, Zalman says the pandemic left its imprint of how she approached her final year assignment, in logistical and surprisingly beneficial terms too. “All this corona thing has been a blessing, from an artistic perspective I think. We suddenly had all this calm and quite around us, and we could suddenly hide away and really get into our projects.” It’s nice to hear someone finding a silver lining to the apparently never-ending global crisis. “I could sit down in front of my computer – night turned into day, and day turned into night. For me, all this time has been very inspirational.”
The lockdown shenanigans also got Zalman thinking other stuff. “I ended a relationship then, and I think it was like a wakeup call for life in general. I took it all in a positive light. Yes it was tough, but I found vitality in the suffering. Suddenly your survival instinct comes out, and you cling onto life.” There is plenty of life, and love, in her work over at the New Gallery.
Other contributions of note in the exhibition include Michael Tzur’s singular take on isolation, alienation and having a quiet moment to oneself. His “Looking for a Place” spread, he says, “was born from an insatiable urge for adventures and travels, and a desire to get to know my immediate and distant surroundings.” That sounds both ideally suited, and entirely at odds with a post-corona zeitgeist. “The world fills me with inspiration,” he continues. “I step out with my camera and collect pieces of reality from diverse locations: photographs of landscapes, cities, people and interiors.” All that, and more, is on display in Tzur’s section, with some palpable pathos betwixt the documented forms and characters.
Konopny’s thoughts on one’s true domicile are also apparent in Nadia Adler’s “The Distant Voice of the Cuckoo” project. Russian-born Adler came on aliyah with her family at a very young age. As such, she does not have clear memories of whence she hails, but she delves into the nether regions of her accrued personal data to try to reconnect with her faded childhood experiences. “I carry with me the weight of memories from another place,” Adler explains.
They may not be instantly retrievable, but those far-flung days inform who Adler is today and, no doubt, her pathway ahead. She notes that her “recollections [are] embedded in the body more than in the min: places and landscapes that follow me into every stage of life like an echo or a shadow, stubbornly coming back to me with every step in this foreign land.”
The impressive student showing may not spell out the way home but it certainly gets you thinking about it.
Eye Longs for Happiness closes on August 31.