In the presence of a work of art, sometimes we feel that what is visible is only the “tip of the iceberg,” sensing that the artwork continues on to some other space beyond the gallery wall or underneath the floor, not immediately accessible but visible to the mind’s eye. The painting continues to be painted, the installation sends out tentacles to the underbelly of the gallery, while the sculpture drifts away, its face visible but most of it sunken down, as if an entire art world is taking place beyond the gallery space.
The exhibition proposes a close look at the seamline between the “iceberg” as a focal point of impending disaster likely to drown us (the Titanic comes to mind) and between the amazing natural, impressive phenomenon of a diamond of vast dimensions comprised of clear, fresh water.
Perhaps this is correct not only about artworks of all kinds, but in general as referring to familiar daily reality often abruptly revealed as only one ninth of reality, as it were, the sudden recognition that what we thought was obvious up to now is only a thin layer of something much more meaningful. Dreams, literature, religion, art, intuition all tell us something about the great unknown - the huge amount of information of which only a thin shell is visible.
In the topographical model Freud formulated, the mind is depicted as an iceberg: consciousness is its revealed part; the pre-conscious is underneath, containing easily accessible and retrievable information as needed; while the lowest layer is the unconscious, comprising all that is threatening, repressed, and concealed.
There are times and people who try to see and touch upon only the overt layers of reality, and perhaps of art, as well, but many can sense an artwork’s internal presence. Perhaps, as Walter Benjamin argued in his almost mystical approach to art, it is precisely due to the presence of the here and now that the aura of the artwork is revealed, its soul. The psychological approach to viewing an art work holds that it is a partial expression of what is going on in the artist’s innermost being or the viewer’s reaction. Through extended viewing, analysis, and discussion of the work, its “soul” is likely to reveal itself and become clear.
Ernest Hemingway used the iceberg as his model for a proposed literary practice that can be relevant to all art, whether abstract or minimalist. He argued that when the writer knows the entire “iceberg,” he can write just a bit and the reader will still sense its concealed presence as the subtext. If the writer has not thought out the story in depth yet nevertheless uses a small portion of the information, holes will remain in the narrative, and the plot will not hold together or be convincing. It is interesting to examine whether in the visual arts a slight amount of information will hold the vast “story.” What and how much is needed for us to sense the “iceberg” without seeing it?
The exhibition displays five installations and sculptures which gently and poetically hint at a more expansive, deeper, concealed reality.
Nadia Adina Rose, in her wall installation Exit, transforms a typical Russian wool blanket into soft forest clouds disseminated across the gallery wall. As in fairy tales, in the midst of the snow-filled forest stands a door, beckoning viewers to pass through it into a different universe. The handle awaits a turn, but the door cannot be opened as it is swallowed up by the gallery wall. What kind of a world is concealed behind it? We can only imagine. The exit sign acts as a concrete handhold grasping contemporary concrete reality, but it seems that the imaginary forest that begins in a nighttime dream underneath the blanket begins to conceal the option for exiting. The minimalist distribution of the forest turns the wall itself into expanses of infinite snow, extracts the wall from its “wallness” and turns it into cold landscape somewhere else, displacing the wall.
The pink fluorescent reflection from the wall adds a contemporary dimension of warning, but also provides a touch of a fantasy atmosphere to the illusionistic landscape picture, taking the visible one step further away from here.
In her installation From Anywhere, Rose acts in a dream-like space, creating an object that is at once feasible yet troubling. This is a hybrid landscape comprising a framed, stretched canvas on the wall, a kind of minimalist picture of a snowy scene from which what seems to be a human body proceeds into the gallery space. The figure is covered with a white sheet, but it is unclear whether it is resting or dead. The installation moves between flatness and volumetric, the aesthetic and the grotesque, human and alien, symbolic and concrete.
Like Christo who wraps cliffs, inviting a renewed look through concealment, Rose proposes a peek into the foreign landscape that immigrated with her to Israel many years ago, hinting at the existence of an entire life comprising culture, style, language and climate, an experience remaining distant and invisible. It was replaced by a hot climate and a want of aesthetics. She transforms the landscape into a question of bodily presence in time and place. Does the person whose head is beyond the wall with the rest of the body concealed by a sheet, emerge from the landscape into the gallery, or is the figure swallowed up by the quiet, eternal snowfall, frozen in time?
Haimi Fenichel’s installation Anthill suggests that we are looking at the entrance to an anthill that opened up from the thick layer of earth underneath the floor into the gallery. The ants are unwelcome guests in a gallery and in the home, tiny creatures that energetically shatter the proper order of the city without consideration for anyone else. But what is visible is not only the exposed end of a huge underground colony, but the revealed edge of an extended complex process by worker ants, laborious ant-like work in which the artist creates a new mixture from earth, which he crumbles, binds, and sculpts.
Although the ants are absent from the installation, as in Hemingway’s iceberg model, Fenichel has used the absolute minimum of information to indicate a wide-branching, large presence, a threat to the building’s foundations, referring to culture’s lack of control both in general, and specifically to the impossibility of control over nature and live creatures by a cultural institution such as a gallery.
In certain areas of South America, shamans refer to large anthills as a gateway to an encounter with the universe and as a focus of universal information. Anthill opens a slight entrance into the gallery floor and into visitors’ consciousness, leading to an unexpected encounter.
Shomit Etsion’s sculpture of a white wolf, sunken in a glistening black puddle in the installation Wolf, Wolf raises its head to howl. Is this the cry of a wounded animal, or a wolf’s howl of longing? The artist touches upon her existential experience as artist and mother. This is a courageous look into the journey of the lone wolf conducted far from the eye, parallel to the daily functioning of earning a living, raising children, and running a household.
The wolf sunken in a black bog appeared to Etsion as a dream image in our preliminary conversation on the theme of the exhibition. In the installation, the image, material extracted from the pre-conscious, here reveals nameless pain and power. If the howl were given a voice, would it be a call of loneliness to the absent moon? Or is it a howl of pain due to a wound or the fear of sinking completely? Perhaps it is a false alarm, as in the parable of “The Boy who Cried ‘Wolf’” and what we are seeing here is just a celebration of the unrestrained wildness of a beautiful, splendid predator independent of society and societal consensus, exhibiting the same unrestrained vitality reserved for the studio practice. The black puddle can be water, blood, or a symbolic liquid, the dark matter of the imagination from which images suddenly emerge into overt reality.
On the Precipice is a floor piece made of cast concrete tiles with random moving trembling, a thin layer of less than two meters square delineates an entire life displaced to here. The installation evokes earthquakes, mental upheavals, approaching disasters, vitality likely to challenge the proper order, monsters under the floor, and thoughts about immigration.
Along with all of the above, Etsion poses a sculptural question through a minimal segment: What is the “what,” the material of the work, and on how much material does it depend? How is the sculptural process similar the creation of the universe, which is a thin layer suspended over nothingness in the space.
Despite her minimalistic approach, the artist creates a sensation of an endangered house, threatening the viewer and threatened by external events. This is a generic house without time or place. It contains no furnishings or objects that can tell something about the residents or their taste, yet it still seems a fragment of a home and not a sterile group of tiles. This is a house moving between the concrete, symbolic, and surrealistic.
Anxiety tends to become more intense at night or when lonely, to the extent that for a few moments it feels that the floor is trembling, the clothing on the chair is a demonic creature, and the carpet pattern turns into strange faces. The fragmentary installation in the well-lit gallery space enables a compassionate or humorous gaze at the existential anxiety through exposing the mechanism of making the art, telling something about the mental mechanism enveloping a thin layer as the tip of an iceberg.