“In fact, it is a misunderstanding that cameras are tools of representation; they are at present tools of disappearance. The more people are represented the less is left of them in reality.”
Hito Steyerl, “The Wretched of the Screen,” p. 168.
The exhibition “What Did You Say?” was born in the days of Zoom over the passing year. Days in which communication between people relied more than ever on bandwidth and the ability to focus on human expression beyond signal interference. The exhibition explores blurry and fragmented messages, mistranslations of emotions and intensions mediated by screens, and technology that has become the undisputed “tribal campfire.”
In the De Fleur Model of Communication* as a circular process (in which the transmitter becomes the receiver, and the receiver in turn becomes the transmitter, and so on), communication disturbance, or noise, is defined as an element that can occur at any stage in the communication process. Noise can be the result of stammer in the transmitter’s speech, technological failure to complete transmission, or a poor mental state that diminishes the receiver’s ability to comprehend. Communication breakdown, in its different stages, is present in a myriad of ways in the featured works.
Some of the images in the exhibition were randomly culled from the internet or family albums. The images were processed by the artists in manual mediums like oil painting or charcoal drawing into works in which the represented images are blurry, overexposed, and the figures in them merge with the light or with the mountains and the sky. Some of the images concern human or artificial sensory organs and mechanisms, like eyes or antennas. They produce tears that hinder vision, or are made of soft and decidedly nontechnological means, and are therefore completely incapable of receiving or transmitting any messages. In the only photograph presented in the show, while the artist’s mother appears in focus and clear colors, she is hidden behind a billowing blanket and the viewers do not know what her face looks like. The poetry book in the exhibition is a book of poems erasure, where the poet erases his poems and leaves only a few words, the last survivors joined to compose another poem, born from the ruins. In all of these, the artists challenge technology, which effortlessly bridges vast distances and makes it possible to produce phenomenally high quality and high-definition image, but at times disintegrates the intimate and the human. And perhaps that is an iconoclastic challenge of culture as a whole, bringing forth the demand to clear ourselves a quiet place with one or two people who are close to us, if only for a few minutes, in the face of the torrent of images and words.
* The De Fleur Model of Communication is based on the Shannon-Weaver Model, one of the formative communication models of the 20th century.
Spherical Creatures, 2021, five ceramic casts, water pump, water, latex tube
Spherical Creatures is an installation comprising five ceramic eye-like objects, based on Jorge Luis Borges’s story by that name. The story draws a formal link between the eye and the planet on which we live. The eyes that Aylon created are ten times their natural size, in an attempt to go up a level between the terrestrial and the celestial. At the same time, the disembodied eyes, with the constant tearing of one of them, are deprived of their function as receptors of visual messages, and perhaps even become autonomous entities just like the planets.
Alex Ben Ari
Water Water, erasure poetry book, 2021, Home Press Publishing , Video editor: Yotam Michael Yogev
Alex Ben Ari’s poetry book Water Water was created by erasing poems in a poetry book he wrote a decade ago titled Hidden Days. Ben Ari erased letters, words, and symbols from his poems and the book’s title, juxtaposing the erased poem with the original poem, which is also printed in several techniques meant to present it in a hazy, blurry manner. Ben Ari transforms the erasure, which could be seen as a communication interreference, into movement that generates life in the form of a new poem and book.
Yarden’s Sinai 5, 2020, oil on wooden panel, Hadar, 2019, oil on plexiglass
Each one of Ron Chen’s two oil paintings features a figure in a classic portraiture composition. Both paintings are blurry – the woman (Yarden) seems to be behind milky glass, while in the painting of the man (Hadar) the colors melt and seep into one another. At the same time, the subjects of the two paintings and the sunlit landscape that surrounds them are clearly discernable. The visual-communication interference produced by the artist allows the viewers to project on the paintings figures they know, leaving room for personal and intimate interpretation.
Mother, 2008, color print
Mark Yashaev consistently photographs interiors of houses. While his photography style has changed greatly over the years, the environment always stays indoors, between walls. In the photograph featured in the exhibition, the artist photographed his mother in a domestic scene of shaking a blanket or a tablecloth in the living room. The everyday scene is familiar to all of us, but the figure of the mother disappears behind the fabric, and so, at first glance, we feel as though something is missing. However, the tablecloth-blanket, which is covered with illustrations of pagodas and cherry trees, stands out in magnificent gold and blues against the brown sofa and plain floor tiles. As in a magic trick, the mother makes the mundane everyday reality disappear and unfolds a new fairytale world right in the middle of the house.
Raft, 2015, charcoal on paper, Void Fraction, 2015, charcoal on paper
Hillel Roman’s charcoal drawings featured in the exhibition, Raft and Void Fraction, depict images that the artist found online. Raft portrays the deck of a ship after shark fishing, the blinding sun abstracting the figures’ details in the aftermath of illegal killing. Void Fraction depicts a porous molecular structure of a material as seen through an electron microscope, but in fact the viewer has no way of knowing its scale: whether this is a backdrop, a piece of jewelry, or a few molecules that cannot be seen with the naked eye. “This is an image deprived of depth, yet not entirely flattened. It is impossible to enter, but it also doesn’t come out towards the viewer, it remains flickering in its own here-not-here, in its own there-not-there,”* writes Merhav Yeshoron about the drawings, as if they are a part of a faulty model of communication in which the receiver and the transmitter fail to communicate.
* Mehav Yeshoron, “Charchoal World,” Universal, Sternthal Books, 2015, p. 138.
Will Antennas, 2021, rope constructions
The two sculptures that Avinoam Sternheim created for the exhibition are comprised mostly of ropes, and bring to mind antenna towers. The simple and light materials, which also include wood scraps and broken mirrors found on the street, stand in contrast to the technology that the heavy metal antenna towers are supposed to sustain. And indeed, one antenna tower was placed upside down, with its base by the ceiling, while the other wanders aimlessly through the exhibition space on wheels. The play on scale is important – not very small (like the small antenna sculpture in the gallery display window) and not large enough. The distorted scale gives the appearance of an effective communication apparatus, since the towers are taller than the visitors, and only at a second glace do we discover their inability to transmit and receive.