In the past eight years I have been using steel wool as material in my work. The works are created on a glue surface (paper or wood), in a similar way to the process of using wax to remove hair from the body, only in reverse. The glue is the surface onto which I glue the material.
The presence of the steel wool creates the feeling that the image has grown through the course of time, not in the sense of came into being, but rather that it has organically grown from the surface, much like stubs of hair or grass. This raises a question, does the material grow from the surface or is it glued onto it? The question conveys a distinction between different aspects of presence: authentic (stemming from the surface) or external (added onto the surface).
I’ve noticed that when viewing the works, people often ask how much time they take. Perhaps it is the strangeness to the process of the particular material that brings about this question. Or it might be aimed at the causal relation that we generally draw between time and result. Namely, how long can one stall in time without a result in the horizon? Sometimes the word time is replaced with patience, such as how do you have the patience, or why do you do that when this is faster (alluding to drawing or photography).
The work process takes time. I think of time as something that contradicts my somewhat ironical approach to the sources from which I obtain the images for my works – didactical illustrations that aim for our rationalization of events. The way in which the surface of the works is experienced brings about another source of doubt. Are the works an imitation, exaggeration or disguise of charcoal drawing, or of the graininess of old photographs? Or do they create an authentic experience in and of themselves?
My installation of Huleh Valley (2005) was based on images appropriated from Peter Merom’s historical album of photographs, The Death of the Lake (1960). The book, which produced some of the visual images that acquired a mythological status in the Zionist narrative, was highly popular in the 1960 and could have been found in any Israeli household. Merom documented in black-and-white photographs the attempt to drain the massive Huleh Lake in order to make it fit for agriculture. This ambitious enterprise turned out to be a failure which interfered with the area’s natural balance, and in 1993 the project of restoring Huleh back to its original state was set in motion, including flooding part of the dried area.
The first part of the exhibition, on the entrance level, is based on a photograph of cracked mud: a large-scale floor installation simulating cracked earth. The second part of the exhibition, on the second floor, includes wall pieces that reconstruct with steel wool six photographs from Merom’s book on a large scale.
The floor piece consists of MDF boards that have undergone processes of scraping and chiseling. One of the associations of the work was Walter de Maria’s Earth Room, except that unlike de Maria’s installation, I did not use actual earth. Instead, I created the work from condensed wood that is industrially made to be later used for the making of cheap furniture, to be covered by other materials. In this work, the “covering” of the surface is chiseled from the material itself, creating the appearance of cracked earth. My work in a way originates from a modernist point of departure of remaining true to the material, and working to expose its direct materiality. Here, the covering of the material is the material itself which gives the illusion of being something else.
The imagery of cracked earth involves a change that occurs in time, desiccated water turning from liquid to solid. The use of industrial materials to represent a natural process brings about a question of control over time. Viewers of the exhibition could walk on the piece and could therefore feel the experience of the unchanging surface. I’m not sure what is more disorienting – drowning in mud or walking on a solid surface that is supposed to be soft, thus contrasting what you see and what you touch.
While working on Huleh Valley I stumbled upon an article that was written by Danny Rubenstein (Haaretz, 1993) during the refilling of the Huleh Lake. The writer met a tractor driver that had participated in the 1950s in the draining of the Lake, but this time, as a tractor driver, he was hired to do the reverse action of hydrating the dried swamp. Rubenstein asked him what his response would have been if someone had told him that in forty years he would be hired to undo all his previous work. The man replied that at least he would have known that he would live another forty years. This story exemplified to me what it is about the Huleh Valley that fascinates me as a place. In the Fifties, the drying of the swamp was motivated by a strong ideological belief of working and settling the land. But forty years later the desiccation of the lake was deemed inept, and the decision to refill it in a way meant to go back in time.
My interest in the place does not involve seeing the original endeavor as a wrong that had to be set right again, but it rather stems from understanding both the actions of drying and refilling as actions that were true to their time. That they turned out to be ineffective does not mean that they were a mistake. In a sense, the attempt was to turn back time in order to right the wrong. But on the other hand, by artificially reworking the scenery, the action was very much the same as it was before. Once again, an action interfered with nature in order to reverse its layout. What was seen as a given, concrete ideology has faded in time and changed its course.
I recently shot a video work that relates to a series of a series of drawings of mine depicting forest fires. The drawings were based on a sequence of photographs that document the chronology of a forest fire. The video work attempted to create a sequence of time within the drawing with a real fire that is spread throughout the surface of the work but does not consume it. The real fire is used as material but also as imagery. It is no longer an external force that is analyzed but it is absorbed into the drawing and functions within it. But how is a concrete action in time embedded in a drawing? Does it bring the work into life or does it turn reality into an image?
(In an earlier work of mine, Jezreel Valley (2002), I also incorporated an action from life into the work. This time, the installation consisted of wall-to-wall carpets that simulated land in the form of patch-work. While my assistant and I were vacuuming the carpets, the action was documented in photography, drawing an analogy between the motion of vacuuming and the motion of cultivating the land.)
The didactical attempt to analyze forest fires by illustrating its chronology is in itself a paradoxical effort. The images aim to help our understanding of the chaotic force, by breaking down its process into sequential stages. But at the same time, the images act as a diversion, drawing our attention away from the essence. In a way it is like trying to understand World War II through dates.
(Translation: Tamar Margalit)