Balance 2010-2011

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The world created by Tal Eshed in her solo exhibition explores issues pertaining to the real world via artistic tools. These ostensibly basic questions are among the toughest ever introduced by man about the corporeal and the spiritual; questions which strive to unravel the meaning of reality and the essence of the gaps arising in the attempt to tie aspects of body and soul together.

Eshed’s explosive link between spirituality and art is conscious and challenging. She sets out to take the viewer on a mysterious journey to the gallery’s physical space, from which they continue on a longer and more profound quest in the paths of the spirit. Traversing the space, the viewer is struck by strong awareness of the temporal and spatial dimensions, sensing its impact on him. The exhibition occurs in several temporal dimensions simultaneously: past, present, and future. It conducts a complex inner dialogue with art from antiquity to contemporary practice, as well as with spiritual and philosophical doctrines from both East and West. The resulting narrative does not provide answers; it mainly introduces questions about the affinities between these worlds.

The title of the exhibition, “Balance,” refers to the myriad dichotomies between the various elements comprising the space and the constant aspiration to bring them into a state of unity: darkness-light, matter-spirit, sublime-abject, life-death, natural-artificial. The aspiration for harmony, however, often reinforces their polarity. The utopian yearning for absolute equilibrium and the incessant pursuit of inner serenity are quintessentially represented through the figure of a wax woman sitting in lotus position (drawn from the world of meditation) alluding to the Buddha. Her image fuses the artist’s self-portrait with a schematic figure of a woman in frozen sitting posture, representing a Sisyphean yearning for equilibrium, a yearning which is momentarily obtained only to be violated time and again. The sculptures themselves, by virtue of their being made of wax and the wick running through their midst, symbolize ever more forcefully the aspect of transience. The wick and the wax render present the body’s disintegration, the nullification of life, and the fleeting nature of tranquility. After its consumption, however, the wax is transformed from a figurative mass into a puddle, from which a new image may be created. This act of creation also echoes the link between the motif of femininity and ancient fertility goddesses, as well as the affinities between birth, creation, and art.

The aspiration for balance and harmony with nature reemerges in relation to the theory of the Four Elements originating in antiquity, whose development may also be indentified in later alchemical theories and in various Eastern doctrines. The four elements: earth, water, air, and fire are presented in the space in various modes, alongside the element of metal, which joined them at a later phase with the advent of alchemy, and is considered one of the five elements in Chinese medicine. Representations of these elements recur in the exhibition, as in a repetitive ritual striving to recreate a lost world or to “bring” another mystical universe into the gallery space.

Eshed’s photography also exposes an intricate relationship between man and nature. Different figures are seen underwater or in various spots in nature; some are naked, others are covered by a smooth fabric which resembles a membrane or skin, possibly wrapping them, possibly suffocating them. Rather than individual figures, these are mostly symbolic figures of “humanity,” just as the landscapes offer a generalized representation the notions of “civilization” or “world,” rather than portraying a specific site. The engagement with various elements from the natural world, such as celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars) also alludes to “outer space.” The cloth-wearing figures appear to have hailed from other worlds or, alternatively—from the world of dreams or illusions.

The structure of the space and the mode of installation produce a spiral of sorts, which corresponds with Robert Smithson’s seminal earthwork Spiral Jetty and with the Golden Section relations in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings. The experience offered by the route outlined in the space recalls behavioral patterns prevalent among viewers in contemporary art venues: a silent maze in which the viewer pauses before beauty, pain and passion, yet remains solitary vis-à-vis his own consciousness.

Another fundamental feature of the space is its prevailing darkness, referencing “darkness was upon the face of the deep,” a chaos from which Creation is spawned, and in this case—re-creation of the world. The darkness in the exhibition, however, also defines the lack of light and the absence of the actual reality (it is experienced as a real object due to the shadow it casts), thereby echoing the sense of dream and illusion engulfing the space.

Eshed’s works may be dubbed post-earth art and post-body art; works spawned by a consciousness of the time that passed and the existing body of work in these fields. At the same time, they correspond with other Israeli and international artists, who also maintain a love-hate relationship with the history of earth (land) and body art, among them Bruce Nauman, Anish Kapoor, Mona Hatoum, alongside Eli Gur Arie, Michal Helfman, Sigalit Landau, Adam Rabinowitz, and others.

After graduation from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem (in 2001) Eshed pursued an unusual route, including an MA in art therapy, spiritual psychotherapy, water treatment such as watsu, water dance, and other alternative therapeutic methods, a path whose influence is clearly discernible in her unique work. Today the time seems right to contain Eshed’s rare combination between the artistic and the spiritual language.

Curator: Sari Golan Sarig

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