Iris Nesher’s ‘Out of Time’ exhibit documents an extraordinary love

“It would have been such a beautiful place to shoot the final photo,” which was planned for when Ari turned 18.

AN OFFERING from ‘Out of Time’ by Iris Nesher (photo credit: Courtesy)
AN OFFERING from ‘Out of Time’ by Iris Nesher
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Crowds have been lining up around the block at the Herzliya Museum for the video art show Out of Time by Iris Nesher, which consists of photos of her late son, Ari, sleeping in museums, from age six to 17.
“It was very intense on opening night. It was the first time I viewed it through the eyes of other people,” said Nesher about the show, which opened in late September. It is breaking all attendance records for the museum and runs until January.
Ari Nesher, who dreamed of becoming a doctor and who had begun acting and making short films, died on his 17th birthday a little over a year ago after he was in a road accident. These photos are beautiful – he was extremely handsome – but they are not just a mother’s snapshots. They are extraordinary pictures that are intricately composed and they tell the story of a life and a relationship between mother and son that was tragically cut short. The drama in each image is arresting, and the cumulative effect of seeing them set to music by Ian Post is extremely moving.
“The show was planned for years,” Nesher said a few days after the opening, sitting in her apartment in Tel Aviv as her dog and cat nuzzle each other like something out of a YouTube video.
“The photos show Ari from age six through age 16. It was meant to go up to 18,” she said. “It shows the process of me watching him growing up.”
The family often visits museums, both in Israel and when they travel, and when Ari was little, he would often fall asleep. Nesher remembered bringing him exhibit of her work in Poland when he was five to watch her prepare the gallery, and he dozed off. After that, she began snapping photos him every time they went to museums. The photographs in the show were taken at the Israel Museum, the Tate Modern in London and half a dozen other museums around the world and feature art from every era and style.
“I took pictures of him all the time. There wasn’t one week of his life when I didn’t take photos. He was such a great subject. There was something charismatic about him, so beautiful and expressive... every little thing has a meaning and expresses emotion.”
As Ari grew up, the two began a “playful dialogue” where he would pose for photos, joining her in the process of composing the pictures. “His gestures are like a piece of art,” she said. “The photos are a dialogue between him and the art behind him.... If I had sculpted Ari, I couldn’t have made anything better than what he did naturally. ”
The video ends with an arresting still of Nesher, standing in front of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, with the words, “Time is Out of Joint,” a Shakespeare quote from Hamlet, written on the museum steps, as statues of lions – Ari means “lion” in Hebrew – decorate the steps. A dark shadow of a motorcycle juts between her and the steps. More than any words can, it tells the story of Ari’s death and its effect on his mother, her grief and her determination to share his life. Suddenly, without anything else in the image moving, her eyes open.
In the notes that accompany the exhibition, curator Aya Lurie writes, “The tension between the frozen stills and the motion of the woman’s eyes, resulting from the screening, as they fleetingly open and close, captures the nature of photography as a medium capable of freezing time and preserving what is transitory.”
The picture was taken at a time in her life, a few months after Ari’s death, when “I was not functioning” but was persuaded to accompany her husband her daughter, Tom, an aspiring filmmaker, to a film festival in Rome. “I took along a box of Xanax and went to the festival. Everyone there was so well-dressed. They looked so good and then Avi and I walked in, so depressed and sad.” During the screening of his film, they went for a walk and chanced upon the Time is Out of Joint show at the museum. Tom took the photographs of her mother, one with her eyes closed and one with her eyes open, which were melded together in such a startling way.
“It would have been such a beautiful place to shoot the final photo,” which was planned for when Ari turned 18.
The show will travel next to Rome’s MAXXI Museum - National Museum of 21st Century Art, housed in a building was designed by Zaha Hadid. In March, the Out of Time exhibition will be part of a larger exhibit of Nesher’s recent work on a subject she calls “the dark matter of motherhood,” portraits of women describing their feelings about motherhood, as part of a still unnamed show at the Nomas Foundation in Rome.
As Nesher looked over the photographs from the show in her living room, she stopped at one picture in which Ari sprawled on a couch next to a Barbara Kruger screen print featuring the slogan, “WHO OWNS WHAT?”
Nesher pondered the question. “If we buy a piece of art, are we really the owners? If we have a home or a child, are we really the owners of the child? If we own something, we like to feel we are in control in our life. But it’s an illusion.”