Enjoy Nature! I am glad to say that I have entirely lost the faculty.
(Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying: A Protest)
Gal Weinstein is not comfortable outdoors. Nature is hot, bothersome, too open. Although he is seen as someone who deals with the great myths of Israel, and many of his works, especially Jezreel Valley (2002) and Huleh Valley(2005) deal with nature, he carefully takes two steps back from it. The first step is his use of an image of nature (photograph, sketch or diagram) as his source – that is, “secondhand,” mediated nature; the second is his choice of materials – steel wool, MDF, carpets, Plexiglass – all of which are synthetic, industrial, anonymous, emotionless, “minced matter.”1
In the new installation, Cross-Section, this kind of mediated nature again appears; but unusually, in contrast to his other works, a figure has been placed within it. The situation depicted in the installation is incongruous – a golfer completely absorbed in the swing of his club is standing on land that is breaking up, quaking and collapsing under his feet. What is the origin of these two disparate images, and what emotional standpoint motivates this coupling?
Weinstein’s immediate source is a textbook illustration captioned “Examples of Fractures” – different forms of fractures in the layers of the earth’s crust.2 The book’s clear, graphic diagram has been given a third dimension and become a kind of sculptural wall that traverses the gallery space. The geological layers of rock have been given volume and texture: layers of masonite, MDF, chipboard and plywood. Above them, at roughly eye level, the khaki green wax golfer is positioned on artificial grass, holding a club and bent over, completely focused on aiming the ball into the hole. Although the golfer is a “real” figure, he is also fashioned like one of the standard small figures that appear on sports competition trophies or like an overgrown toy soldier – he therefore becomes a kind of human prototype.
There is something illusive in the installation’s ratio between surface and sense of depth. The golfer’s “grass” is seemingly the surface, but the cross-section that is supposed to represent what is happening depth-wise has become a surface in itself. Thus a simultaneity is produced in the point of view of the two perpendicular planes, like an intercity road that cuts through rock, slicing a hill in half.
In contrast to the majesty of the broken rocks at a crater’s edge in, for example, the Negev, the synthetic layers of Cross-Section are devoid of the romantic sublime. However, any comparison between Weinstein’s works and nature is in fact quite beside the point, since nature is not his point of reference. If there is any sort of “nature” in Weinstein’s work it is actually the urban landscape around his studio – Tel Aviv’s Ha’Aliya Street, which is lined with shops selling flooring, carpets and wallpaper. This is where the infinite that fascinates him is actually situated. The layers of Cross-Section are therefore taken from the urban environment that surrounds him; hence they replicate geological layers yet also look like strips of flooring/parquet laid out for display, one above the other, like a floor that has climbed up the wall.
The mimesis that exists in the work is, however, more fundamental than just a precise copy of the fractured units; also locked within it is a deep loyalty to the essence of the diagram: it is always objective, apathetic, impersonal, timeless and lacking an artistic history. This core is retained in Weinstein’s materials – bland materials with no emotional temperature.
Despite this cold practicality, there is a disturbing emotional tension in the situation created by Weinstein, caused by the complacency of the golfer, who is unaware of what is happening beneath his feet. Golf is a foreign sport, un-Israeli, a sport for the rich. With its rolling well-kept greens, it offers its players a pastoral experience. Underneath it, the earth quakes. The tension is heightened by the unique position of the spectator, who sees what the golfer cannot. The spectator as “all-knowing.”
There is also a fourth dimension – the dimension of time: the golfer’s act of aiming for a putt, expected at any moment. Measurable and immediate time. Earthquakes also happen in seconds, in the blink of an eye. Yet in front of the regular and organized fractures it is not clear if we are looking at the result of something that has just occurred or at earth shaken in some unknown past. The answer to this question is critical to the spectator’s interpretation of what is seen: anxiety and identification with the golfer whose world is about to crash around him, or sharp irony, a joke at the expense of the golfer who has chosen to play on such an absurd site.
There is a gap between the work’s subject matter – with its inherent potential for drama and emotion – and Weinstein’s attempt to emotionally sterilize it by using “bland,” unexpressive materials and visual sources.
Nevertheless, it is clear that if we dig deeper into Weinstein’s “dry” layers we might also find a complex emotional motivation. The cross-section of geological layers is a form of archeological dig, and metaphorically – it can be read – perhaps too directly as digging into the layers of the psyche, as exposing repressed and intense experiences that press up against each other. There is a feeling that something below the surface is not restful – like the pea hidden under the princess’ mattresses – maybe it will be exposed by the excavation and the earthquake. Since Weinstein’s observation into the depth is always as if looking at a façade, one receives an emotionally complex reflection: He builds a wall, he places it in front of us and confronts us with the desire to know what is “beyond” it, but also with the fear of this knowledge, the inability to cross it and the ambivalent feeling toward the wall – an obstacle but also a protective barrier. It is impossible not to think of the separation fence, that artificial, constructed intervention in the natural landscape that expresses fear and perpetuates anxiety.
His Father’s Eyes (1998), perhaps the most personal and revealing of Weinstein’s works, is structurally similar in ratio to that between the layers and the surface. In this early work Weinstein created a photographic collage through a horizontal assembly of the lower part of his face and the upper part of his father’s, like a constructed identity-kit portrait. The collage is an illustration of the trivial phrase relating to family likeness – “He has his father’s eyes” – and he puts it to the test. The process is simple and the effect unsettling. The range of interpretations of the work is vast: from the topic of self-portraits to the way the work relates to the genealogy of Israeli art (with allusions to Michal Na’aman’s The Eyes of the State). But more than anything, it invites a psychological interpretation of father-son relations and questions of identity and separation – with regard to Weinstein in particular and to humankind in general.
Weinstein has not returned to the exposed place of this work and it is apparent that he is creating in his oeuvre a kind of emotional distancing: there is a feeling of reticence, of reservations about being self-referential. His works are not directly autobiographical, and they seemingly face outward, to the “world.” But what kind of world is it?
The subjects of Weinstein’s other works (some of which are new and have not yet been exhibited) seems to have been taken from the National Geographic disaster programme schedule: tsunami, explosions, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes – and even the cracked earth in Huleh Valley as an ecological disaster. At their core lies an undefined anxiety. The outside world is threatening, dangerous and arbitrary and as noted, Weinstein keeps a safe distance like a viewer at home settled in his armchair, remote control in hand, watching the forces of nature rage on the small screen. Nor do his works directly touch the drama, the chaos, the open space and lack of control. On the contrary: he chooses representations of disasters from photographs and organized didactic diagrams designed to make the phenomena understood. The understanding creates an illusion of control, of mastering a chaotic situation.
The gap between the chaotic and the organized is embodied in the emotional chasm that separates the scientific text describing the phenomenon and the novella “Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich von Kleist (1807), based on a 1647 earthquake in Chile. It drives the convoluted and horrifying plot, where in one moment it changes the fate of the hero who is about to hang himself in his prison cell and that of his beloved who has been sentenced to death by stoning: “The greater part of the city suddenly collapsed with a roar, as if the firmament had given way, burying every living thing in its ruins. Jeronimo Rugera went rigid with terror […] The ground swayed under his feet, great cracks suddenly appeared in all the prison walls […] Shaking uncontrollably, his hair standing on end and his knees nearly buckling under him, Jeronimo slid down the steeply slanting floor[…]. No sooner was he in the clear when a second tremor of the earth caused the already shattered street to collapse completely”. 3
In contrast, the scientific text “Fractures and Creases” that accompanies the diagram upon which Weinstein based this work, describes in laconic, simple language the mechanism of movement in the Earth’s crust:
“The continual movement of the plates in the Earth’s crust can crush, stretch or break layers of rock, distort them and create fractures and creases all across the crust. In fact, a fracture is a break in the rock, along whose length there is movement on one side in relation to the other […] fractures open when the rock is susceptible to pressure or stretching […] movement along the fractures is one of the most commn reasons for earthquakes. A crease is a fold in the rock caused by pressure […].”4
Weinstein’s stance in relation to the outside world, as it is reflected in Cross-Section, is one of reservation. He is uncomfortable in nature, but he feels safe in the impersonal space of the scientific textbooks that line his studio. For him, embedded in these neutral representations lies the most meaningful potential for touching reality, even if it is through circumvention and skepticism. The Polish poet Vislava Shimborska expressed this best: “Once, at a literary function, I was asked why, rather than writing about high literature I review popular science books and all kinds of self-help books. I answered then that publications of that kind never have a good or bad ending, and that is what I like best.”5