The Atlas and the ruins

From Mauritanian eyes to aggressive ink bags, the Petah Tikva Museum of Art opens a season of French culture with a daring exhibition by Tatiana Trouvé

Tatiana Trouvé’s works on display at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art (photo credit: UGUR EREN/LAURENT EDELINE)
Tatiana Trouvé’s works on display at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art
"May I open this book?” I ask French artist Tatiana Trouvé, when examining a book placed next to one of her works.
“You may try,” she replies with a smile, “but I’m afraid it will be quite impossible, as it is cast in metal.”
I try, and it indeed is – a successful trompe l’oeil (optical illusion), one of many set out like traps, or bread crumbs, laid out in her exhibition at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art.
As the staff is busy setting up the exhibition, I ask one of the crew hands how they cracked the floor in such a dramatic way. The walking surface is composed of earth on which slabs of concrete were poured and then broken to create wide cracks and differences in heights, causing the first of many surprises to the visitor.
“It was all me bro!” the man says. Then he explains that the labor involved hammering the cement as well as drilling with heavy machinery.
On this uneven surface, resembling a scene after an earthquake, or a cement-crusted crème brûlée tapped by a giant, various huts are installed. They seem unstable and made from cardboard and tossed-away books, but this is mere illusion; the original cardboard, books and sticks were cast in metal and painted over and scratched to give these makeshift structures a look of impermanence. The truth is they had to be shipped from France and reassembled here.
An adult could crawl into such a hut and be partly sheltered, but it is impossible to kick down – it’s cast metal through and through, even the sticks.
TWO OF Tatiana Trouvé’s works on display at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art.
TWO OF Tatiana Trouvé’s works on display at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art.
When inspecting the huts, one sees year indexes from 1973 and 1976, images from the Spanish conquest of South America, a Universal Time stamp imprinted on the cardboard and a painted scale of alchemical stages and geological ages that ends with white letters on black, spelling: “timeline of the end.”
In the other rooms, the workers are setting up a room enmeshed with various perspectives so that a visitor will feel the usual, comfortable notions of space slightly lose their grip.
Trouvé has been making art for decades. One of her earliest works, “The Bureau of Implicit Activities” from 1997, explored the hardships of being an upcoming artist, and took 10 years to make.
She was born to French-Italian parents and spent her childhood in Senegal, where her father still resides. After spending some time in the Netherlands in the 1990s, she returned to France and is inspired by West African culture, the cultural history of maps and architecture.
“My parents sent me to a French-Arab school where I was the only white girl, because they did not want to live solely among the French community in Senegal,” she tells me, “so I speak Wolof and have experienced racism from the other end, so I know how bad it can be. To this day, I believe culture is made together.”
While discussing her Italian heritage, she tells me of a dish popular in Piedmont called bagna càuda (hot dip) made with anchovies. “But North Italy does not have access to the sea,” she says, “so where did they get the anchovies? They came from Madagascar. So you see, this very traditional Italian food is also the result of cultures meeting and working together.”
I mention something Israeli boxer and four-time WIBF world champion Hagar Finer said – that had she been a man, she’d be a lot better known and have sponsors. Trouvé nods and says that’s sadly true in France as well.
“My friend Aya Cissoko is a boxer who won the world title in 2006 and decided to quit because of that,” she says. “In the art world it used to be the same. In art school there are 80% female students, but only a few women become known artists, and the majority who make it are men, but I think that in the last few years it has been changing.”
“This exhibition originated in 2008, when I first saw works by Trouvé in London,” says curator Hadas Maor. “I felt that there is a very interesting concept of space here, mostly due to the lack of human bodies in it. She is able to cut gaps between times and spaces, which presents us with a new way of being in the world.”
IN THE adjoining space, Israeli artist Ya’ara Zach is working on her own exhibition, titled “Unreasonable Doubt.” On the floor and leaning against the wall are crutches transformed in dark alchemy to whips and medical aids holding large plastic bags filled with dark liquids. Human bodies and aggression seem to have made a comeback next door.
Zach speaks to me while using olive oil to glisten the bags and the leather.
“Some dirt should be here,” she complains, “and some dirt shouldn’t, and the question is how to tell them apart.”
All of these works, she said, are extensions of the body, and all these objects are like a family in which the various members ask the body to pay attention to them; or they try to replace it, as crutches replace legs.
“I also thought about hospitals and how they have bags that take out liquids that should be in and display it to the world,” she said. “As a painter, I use ink; but when I presented these objects in the Center for Young Art in Moscow, the airline informed me it’s illegal to fly ink, so I had to recreate the bags in a mad dash to complete everything before the opening.”
The objects, menacing and lovely, seem to complete and enhance the labor-intensive maps and huts next door, making this exhibition a powerful reason to visit one of the most innovative art museums in Israel at the moment.
“The Great Atlas of Disorientation,” by Tatiana Trouvé, June 7-September 29.
“Unreasonable Doubt,” by Ya’ara Tzach – closing date not listed.
Curated by Hadas Maor.
Petah Tikva Museum of Art
30 Arlosoroff Street, Petah Tikva