The creation of Gal Weinstein’s series of self portraits involves a meticulous work process of gluing steel wool onto the surface of the work and then intentionally rusting the material with a variety of liquid substances. The portraits are based on a single photographic source and share an identical rectangular format so that they give the impression of a copied identification photo. A self portrait is often regarded as a mean of exposure of the artist’s authentic personality and character, but here, Weinstein chooses the cold and schematic look of an ID photo (be it of a passport or driver’s license), whose sole purpose is to enable the concrete identification of the photographed person on a daily basis. Viewed as a series, the portraits seem like a self-conducted lineup.
The work of gluing steel wool is similar to that of a condensed and grainy drawing. The image is built from minute differences in the steel wool’s density in striking illusionist detail. But it is the presence of the material itself – iron leftovers, a crude and industrial material that sticks on the surface in a manner that resembles stubs of hair – that calls our attention back to the concrete materiality of the image, making us aware of the illusion and thus undermines it at the same time.
The steel wool is rusted through the use of various liquids such as apple vinegar, lemon, coke, diet coke, melted Sweet N’ Low, and numerous homeopathic drugs. The process is one of trial and error: the steel wool reacts in different tonality to each substance. Much like the steel wool that is “usually hidden along with household detergents under the sink”, as curator Ellen Ginton notes, the materials that Weinstein uses for the rusting process are taken straight out of the supermarket (or drug store). Using these materials, he adds, resembles the insertion of fluids into the body. Here, however, the liquids leave their mark on the surface as the rust attacks the surface and neutralizes the strength of the metal. At the same time, the steel wool enables the rusting process in the first place. Adopting the modernist notion of the inherent quality of the material, Weinstein’s artistic action originates from the material, and remains true to its physical components.