Curiosity killed the cat

Biennale, Israeli Contemporary Art

 

Gal Weinstein is the enfant terrible who played with fire. The rebellious artist is preoccupied with showing the viewer the truth of the material, demonstrating, in the most as-a-matter-of-fact way, images of the unfiltered reality. The “betwixt and between”-ness of Weinstein’s application challenges the distinction between the authentic and the artifice. The artist toys with this visceral tactile desire and beckons the viewer to lick the flame.

Moon Over Ayalon Valley (2017) sets a grandiose tone on the mural of the Israel Pavilion for artist Gal Weinstein’s Sun Stands Still presentation for the 57th Venice Biennale. One cannot shake the Biblical reference of this work and the title of the exhibition under this painterly demonstration. To our surprise, the scrupulous appearance of pointillism is, in fact, achieved by steel wool, a material in which the artist is exceedingly well-versed. Weinstein’s fascination with such materials borrows its origins from the modernist view on object-hood and self-referentiality of an artwork. Steel wool, though in nature not organic, possesses a proximity to human physicality; and owing to this fact, the artist plays with our natural affinity to familiar objects, creating ambiguity and tempting viewers to touch his work.

 

Fire Tire – Photo by Viktor Kolibal

 

Attraction and disgust, the function of materials in Weinstein’s work is more paradoxical than perhaps Richard Serra’s minimalist considerations. On the one hand, the artist is concerned with demonstrating the true identity of the material, devoid of external interpretations or meanings other than the fact that they are objects. No amount of dye or any other substances influenced the already multicoloured carpets or the industrial look of the MDF used in the works in the exhibition Backwards (2016). However, Weinstein also seeks another direction in his treatment of materials, making an imitation of the original through organic reactions. From the series Looking the Same (2011), the artist experiments with the nature, even denature, of steel wool in its physical response to Diet-Coke and regular Coca-Cola respectively. The reaction is no doubt chemical, but as the steel rusted, the two self-portraits give a fundamentally different physicality in terms of colours and shading.

The artist’s hand is absent in this process. The transformation is apparent due to this singular mutation of the truth of the material in contact with a liquid. This element of imitation of the original is all the more illustrative in Jezreel Valley in the Dark (2017). The mould formation in the coffee dreg re-carpeted the landscape and, in essence, the image of Weinstein’s previous work Jezreel Valley from 2002. The reasoning behind this reiteration is in a way multifold yet, circular. The Jezreel Valley in Israel is revered as one of the most iconic landscape, a symbol of the nation’s agricultural background and often an argument in the ever-present territorial conflict. Weinstein, instead of revisiting the actual location after fifteen years, modelled his new work after the image of an image. This convolution directs the focus not to the symbolism of the land but back to the imitating agent.

However, Weinstein also seeks another direction in his treatment of materials, making an imitation of the original through organic reactions.

To Weinstein, the mould, in itself, as well as its formation beg the question: is its existence organic or has it been applied on? It is the chicken or the egg causality dilemma. “It is an unnatural process because if you think about Israel, the state started from modernism without going through an organic evolution of history.” The artist is not here to make any conclusions just as his purpose of alluding to well-known stories whose core has been manipulated by different parties to fit their political agenda in his presentation during the Biennale.

Jazreel Valley – Photo by Illit Azoulay

 

His art and the process of questioning himself the identity of the material surpass beyond the decortication of symbolic images. “For me it is interesting to take images that is associated with my work and trying to work out an evolution from it because what is symbolic is also dead, it is not living.” Many of his pieces look at Israel as the agricultural motherland or the media-mythed battlefield in a way that transcends references by giving them a new existence in a physical presence. Such is the reason to experience Weinstein’s installations, especially Sun Stand Still, with our somesthetic senses. The whole journey is constructed to work as a pavilion inside a pavilion. The mould raising from the floors and within the walls alongside the playful yet oppressive sculpture El Al (2017) contain the viewer’s activities within the confines of Weinstein’s defined spatial paranoia.

There is a constant push-and-pull struggle in Weinstein’s work. The artist exercises his ambition to control in the conception and the choice of medium yet, becomes completely helpless as the subjects take over his creations. On the flip side, he dominates, once again, in the completion of an exhibition, always taking pieces from the set of a previous work to allow new existence in a new reality as illustrated by the MDF-made, fully functional kitchen in his 2016 Backwards exhibition. Weinstein recognises the futility in deciphering the idea of a symbol, which is why he would rather chase after fire.

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