Battling received ideas

Assembled during the summer social movement, Dror Karta’s ‘Warship Worship’ exhibition is his own protest against the definitions of sculpture and commercialism.

Dror Karta, ‘Warship,’ mixed media 52I (photo credit: Courtesy  Eli Gross)
Dror Karta, ‘Warship,’ mixed media 52I
(photo credit: Courtesy Eli Gross)
Avisit to the exhibition “Warship Worship,” at Florentin 45 Contemporary Art Space, addresses both one’s emotions and intellect. Here, the everyday has inspired art, and the everyday has become art.
“Warship Worship” comprises 10 mixed-media installations created by Dror Karta. One of the most dynamic aspects of the exhibition is Karta’s use of the “found” object, which he enriches with new aesthetic sensibilities. Ironically, out of these rejected parts, Karta has created an exhibition which feels very current and looks very fresh.
Florentin 45’s main gallery space is below street level. By entering this space, visitors are removed from the noise and bustle of the world outside and brought into a receptive state. As a whole, the installations look otherworldly, as if they have been transported from a mythological place, yet their components are easily identifiable.
Worship, the first installation to greet visitors as they enter the space, comprises religious figurines, animals in formaldehyde, medicine cabinets and furniture parts. Worship has the appearance of a disorderly domestic space or an eccentric stage-set, theatrical yet haunting.
As the artist explains, “I tried to make a room which would describe the frustration of being in a woman’s situation, where she carries an unequal share of the burden of survival. The room is like a cage representing oppression.”
The sense of disorder complements the idea of frustration, yet the “cage” is carefully composed, enhanced by Karta’s use of black and white. Against the back wall, a white curtain hangs from the ceiling as a backdrop, framing Worship as a whole while drawing the attention back to the finer details. A small hollow house, painted jet black, sits on the floor slightly apart from the rest of the installation.
It appears as though the “room” might have once been contained within it before being expelled onto the gallery floor by some unseen force.
To move the installations, they would have to be dismantled; they therefore looked trapped in the gallery space.
The dominant, monochromatic scheme of black and white used throughout the exhibition is visually powerful and also symbolic; black represents the masculine and white the feminine.
“It is the differences between the genders that interest me and in particular, attraction and rejection in a relationship,” says Karta.
This interplay between black and white also releases the imagination from the hierarchies we often impose on everyday objects – glass jars, measuring instruments, medical paraphernalia – Karta uses these objects and manipulates what they usually signify. An old piece of plastic becomes a halo, the handle of a jerrycan becomes a tribal mask and old lampshades strung together form a chandelier casting shadows against the gallery walls.
This chandelier forms part of the installation Blue Blood, a large raft-like construction painted white. The base of the raft appears to float off the gallery floor, while an array of plates, cutlery and luggage cases appears to sink into it. Blue Blood looks like a fantastical mode of transportation, which the artist describes as a bride, taking her dowry into her new marital home.
Six of the installations, including Blue Blood, were built in the gallery itself. As such, the gallery space is fully utilized in a way that transcends the two-dimensionality of painting and photography.
The installations are large, and to appreciate their multifaceted dimensions one must view them from various angles. Taking in these works of art requires active exploration of the exhibition space as a whole, rather than passive reception. WARSHIP, A feat of engineering and imagination, forms the crux of the exhibition. From a metal pole attached to two black orbs on the floor, a ship is suspended in mid-air. From the broken mast hangs a large white egg, a symbol of fertility, rebirth and femininity – an ironic twist.
“Warship is a mentality,” Karta explains. “It is a situation where there is no way of escape – it is a battle with consequences. This piece in particular describes the intimacy between partners, as the ship is a metaphor for the relationship; to escape, you have to jump overboard into the unknown.”
Other installations communicate in a more direct manner. Hermes, Hairmess, Hermess, a bronze boot with wings and a mess of black curly hair, is visually rather comic, enhanced by the play on words in the title. However, the minimal use of color and compositional balance gives it artistic gravitas. Purseon, a representation of a scrotum carved by the artist and painted white, hangs on the gallery wall by a chain attached to a metal purse clasp.
By bringing a humorous approach to the everyday, Karta offers a critique of stereotyped gender roles.
Oh My Madonna, a female figure also created out of disenfranchised parts, looks downwards as if in shame. A small sailboat is wedged between her inner thighs, playing on the phrase, “a ship in full sail” – a reference to pregnancy. She is all white, symbolically pure, except for her bulging belly, controversially drawing attention to notions surrounding the Immaculate Conception.
There is an undeniable, although subtle, theme of sex throughout the whole exhibition. “Art makes me horny, horny makes me creative,” says Karta.
One installation in particular, Untitled, has strong emotionality, enhanced by the fact it is in a small annexed room.
A female figure, morphing into an inflated vessel, tries to row herself across a tar black floor. A sense of inertia permeates the room. On the back wall, one can just make out two lines of poetic text. Needles stuck into the wall with thread woven between them demarcate individual Hebrew letters.
According to the artist, this piece carries an autobiographical element, as an ex-lover privately wrote the words now depicted for all to see: “On the way to you I brought a new image, a sacred image, a woman’s image.”
“Warship Worship” is the culmination of over a decade of collecting society’s refuse objects and ephemeral matter.
“I moved the contents of my studio into the exhibition space – all the objects I have found and collected over the years, and all the installations I have worked on in the past, have gone into ‘Warship Worship.’ I even found a note I had written in Amsterdam in 2003, with ‘Worship’ written on it. It was obvious this would be the name of the exhibition. I spent a lot of energy building and closing the concept, giving it focus and direction. This was emotional process,” says Karta.
While the exhibition is the culmination of many years of effort, the installations themselves were put together during the socio-political tent protests.
As Karta says, “I think I work on instinct and emotion, but looking back, I think this social movement had an influence on my work.”
Visually, the result of this influence is hard to pinpoint, yet there is a general sense of protest within “Warship Worship”; a protest against the definitions of sculpture, the fashion for “new media” art and commercialism.
DROR KARTA is a self-taught artist, a move that can be traced back to when he was shot in the leg during a military operation in 1985, but that, he will insist, “is not a major influence.” However, his immobility and time spent recuperating meant he occupied himself with drawing and artistic expression. Now in his late 40s, Karta has worked consistently and methodically to develop his unique style. In his studio, Karta talks through his oeuvre in chronological order, from minimalist line drawings in black ink on aging paper, to his bold use of color and mixed-media collage. He says that the origins of “Warship Worship” go back to 2002 when he was living and working in Düsseldorf, Germany. There he wrapped up the entire contents of his studio in an installation called Terminal. Now Karta wishes to take Terminal further, “to take the whole collection of a museum, all the objects, sculptures, artworks, and wrap them up... it would put a whole new perspective on how we understand art and objects.” It feels like “Warship Worship” has marked a turning point in this artist’s career. Karta hopes so too; “So far it has all been a question of money – an installation is hard to sell – but I am happy I have had the opportunity to work from an emotional, rather than economic perspective.”
As if by expelling these part-objects from his studio after so many years, he can now see the whole for himself, giving him the perspective needed to push himself further. “Warship Worship” is compelling because you can see the artist has taken a risk, sacrificing commercial viability and contemporary trends for artistic integrity and authenticity.
Dror Karta lives in the artists’ village Ein Hod with his wife and young daughter. When I visited there, I came to realize that his art and life are intrinsically tied. Karta is currently building his own house, a labor of love, which he works on at weekends. His home is filled with works of art as well as the furniture he used to make out of found materials. A practical approach to aesthetic design and a “truth to materials” ethos permeates his home. It is not a gallery, but a lived-in space – an organic work in progress.
AS KARTA continues to experiment along the boundaries separating art and the everyday, he displaces definitions and readdresses received ideas. “Warship Worship” is a testament to the international caliber of “home grown” artistic talent.
“Warship Worship” is on display until November 5. Florentin 45’s Project Room, in the upper gallery space, features Eti Esther “Naor’s You Are All Red, And So Very White,” also extended. Both artists will be giving a talk on November 5. For more information: 050-276-3249.