Immediately behind Herz’s tower we encounter Blaster, a mosaic by the Israeli artist Gal Weinstein, which stands out against the lawn with its bright colors. Looking toward the synagogue, we note a second work, Space Harrier, different in shape but equally colorful. The idea is to forge a relationship between a virtual archeological object and a real archeological site. The virtual image, two bomb craters, is by its very nature bodiless, immaterial and provisional. When made up of ceramic square-tiles, however, it acquires not only physicality but also memory and thus historical dignity and breadth. As Weinstein explains, “The object behaves like a parasite or chameleon. It tries to assume the identity of the place by changing its skin and acquiring ‘body’ through the use of real material”. In other words, the synagogue – a place steeped in history and memory with floors rich in mosaic decoration offers its own identity to an image that has none.
Conversely, the abstract drawing of the bomb crater produced by computer in this place and this historical moment becomes dramatically real and evocative, the symbol of the destruction of the same identity and memory that it assumes in order to exist. Strictly on a formal level, the jagged profile of the craters is surprisingly echoed in the shadow of the trees surrounding the synagogue. The work thus walks the tightrope between abstraction and figuration, form and substance, sculpture and painting. In the passage from the virtuality of the image to the reality of the object, the artificial colors give way to the bright hues of the ceramic squares and the immediacy of technological processing slows down in the laborious process of crafting the mosaic.
Rooted in the difficult present day reality of Israel, The Valley of Jezreel, produced for the LandEscapes exhibition in Philadelphia and now updated in the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, takes the opposite course from reality to artifice. Reclaimed from the swamp in the 1920s, the Valley of Jezreel is a symbol of pioneering Zionism that has inspired generations of Israeli artists. The same valley is today a disputed area and place of conflict. By dismembering it to form an immensely complicated jigsaw puzzle of moquette pieces in colors echoing the original ones, Weinstein shatters the myth, reducing it to a surrogate and moreover, one seen from above.
Disorientation, contamination and perceptual ambiguity are the ingredients feeding Gal Weinstein’s work. Balloons (2000), for example, poke ironic fun at abstract-geometric painting. Standing out against a square pattern of different color, the five-pointed star is repeated incessantly along a wall as though it were a fresco wallpaper. It is no coincidence that this is a recurrent motif in Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, devised by the artist and painted by his assistance to ensure that no manual contact on his part contaminates the original idea. Weinstein responds to the rigor of these works, however, with an image that is apparently painted but actually made up of countless balls of colored cotton and steel wool, materials associable with the body or operations connected with it, such as removing makeup.
While steel wool is used in Balloons to contaminate the purity of an abstract motif, in Friends or Lovers in the Forest (2001) the same material instead tautologically reinforces the hairy, animal aspect of the subjects portrayed. Like the Valley, the Star and the Bomb crater, these are taken ready-made from books available on the second-hand market teaching the ‘ideal’ way to draw animals. At first sight, the horses, lions and owls appear from a distance to have been drawn in pencil with surprising verisimilitude. On closer inspection, the realization that they are actually traced out in steel wool generates attraction and repulsion at the same time.
Weinstein studied at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem with Nahum Tevet, an artist known for his vertiginous assemblages of tables, chairs, boxes and wooden boards positioned in space or on walls, objects that are ready-made but used as though they were modules. Weinstein takes this post-minimalist sensibility as his starting point, but sets out to destabilize, contradict and desecrate it. He made his debut between 1998 and 2000 with the Untitled series of cubes and blocks whose formal definition is variously contradicted by a sort of fringe decorating the bottom edges, by strips and rolls of cardboard, plastic and PVC, or by countless plastic cords giving a shaggy, spiky appearance. As the critic Tali Tamir notes, “A new entity is created that causes increasing doubt as to its architectural nature: thick black fur on the sides, flaccid skin that has lost its elasticity (…) The structure turns into bleeding flesh, reawakening strong, evocative sensations or a human or animal body infiltrated and assimilated into the architectural cube.”
Close to the Ground and 4 Men induce a different form of disorientation. The first is an exact replica of one of those ordinary roofs of red tiles found in Tel-Aviv but also in kibbutzim and in suburban setting in general. Weinstein’s roof does not cover and protect a space, however, but lies prostate on the floor, covering it completely from wall to wall. In the new version produced for the Sao Paulo Biennial of 2002, where Weinstein represented Israel, the same roof even protrudes from the glass edifice housing it, almost as an ironic comment on the neoplastic tendency to place the structure outside its transparent shell. “More than a sculpture in space”, as Tali Tamir observes, “this is a real object represented in detail, torn from its natural setting and dropped as a fragmentary, disproportionate object into an alien situation.”
Maniacally exact and hallucinatory duplication is also involved in 4 Men, this time of a football table that, however, proves quite impracticable. The “field” is not in fact the classic rectangle but a sprawling, zigzagging expanse. The “men”, generally operated in quick skillful movements by the players, are made of brittle china and hence cannot be used to kick the ball, which is in any case missing. While their arrangement in parallel lines again evokes minimalist poetics, the striped painting of Frank Stella to be precise, the large number of men and their fixed array conjure up the sinister image of a mass rally. This authoritarian aspect is radicalized in Anthem, where the same men are arranged in a single line, ready to sing the national anthem or set off for war.