Past Exhibitions

Dissolving Landscapes

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi

The exhibition “Dissolving Landscapes” unfolds a selection of paintings and photographs depicting landscapes which are not identified with specific places. It sets out to present a different type of gaze, conscious of its limited ability to capture reality. The participating artists share an engagement with the empty space between the visible and the invisible landscape, between presence and absence, between memory and oblivion.

Gersht Ori

In his book Eye and Mind, Maurice Merleau-Ponty sheds light on the fascinating relationship between the artist and the visible: the gaze is, in fact, a mental movement which unfurls and inhales the world. “We must take literally what vision teaches us: namely, that through it we touch the sun and the stars, that we are everywhere at once.”1 The sense of simultaneity and the unity of space are the vision of the spirit. According to Merleau-Ponty, without the eye that sees the beauty of the universe, the human spirit could not have dwelled peacefully in the body’s prison. The body, existing in one place and at one time, serves as an anchor for the spirit from which it takes off on its journeys to the unknown via observation: “Seeing is not a certain mode of thought or presence to self; it is the means given me for being absent from myself.”2

Dror Auslander

The artists in the exhibition embark on a journey into absence, to the boundary between the imaginary and the real. Each of the media—photography and painting—has a different point of departure. Photography usually chooses to represent the given reality at a given moment. The photographs of Hanna Sahar and Ori Gersht stretch the moment beyond its bounds. Sahar observes the darkness via slow prolonged exposure, whereas Gersht encounters his family story during a fast train ride in Poland. Both challenge the boundaries of the medium. What can be seen in the dark? What can be seen during a fast ride? What cannot be seen? Can one photograph that which has dissolved and disintegrated?

Fanya Pines

Dror Auslander’s and Fanya Pines’s paintings create an imaginary reality by means of the gaze. Like explorers, they sail out into the open. Pines renders internal landscapes, soft touches of ink with vast realms of silence in between them. Auslander exposes hidden landscapes on an ostensibly empty plywood board. The landscape evades the grasp as if it will soon disappear again. Are the landscapes really there or are they mere illusions? The sight and the beholder become one. The landscapes echo into the soul, from where they are revealed anew in the painting.

Hanna Sahar

A similar perception may be found in the depiction of landscapes in Chinese art from its very outset. Chinese landscape painting does not purport to render the landscape as it reveals itself to the eye. Rather, the painting represents the great powers in nature; it observes the landscape from a changing point of view that hovers over it. Mountains emerge from the mists and disappear in an infinite space. All the picture planes are visible simultaneously.
Chinese scholar Shen Kua (1071) writes: “If one paints as one sees, one will show only one peak; one will not see layer upon layer of mountaintops, nor will one see what goes on within the valleys… ”
The freedom from realistic representation and the abstraction typifying Chinese landscape painting from a very early stage are based on the perception that the painting is intended to express the spirit via form. The likeness to reality is but a means to express nature’s true essence. The mountain and the water, for example, represent stability versus flux, a harmony of opposites according to Taoism. The ink brushstrokes are, at once, line and stain; they outline and model a form which dissolves into the void, into the empty space, into the place where it become formless. This is where all forms originate.
The selection of works by Israeli artists which correspond with this perception elicits broader questions regarding the landscape as a representation of the elusive reality which we strive to freeze. W.J.T. Mitchell undermines the naïve reference to the landscape: “Of all the media and genres of imagery, landscape is the one that makes the constitutive blindness and invisibility of the visual process most evident. … So what are we looking at when we look at the view? Everything and nothing.”4

Can One Look into Nothingness and Find Everything?

Ori Gersht alludes to absence in a series of photographs taken during a train ride from Kraków to Auschwitz. The photographs were shot on the day of the winter’s first snow in Poland, and the white that covered the scenery erased that which was buried underneath. That ride, sixty years after the Holocaust, also delved into photography’s very ability to document that which was erased and forgotten. The photograph is largely white, with signs of life bursting forth: buildings, trees. The fleeting, invisible landscape serves as silent evidence of the pain which cannot be photographed.
The swift train ride blurs the sights. The trees fuse into one another; scratches and tremors across the photograph accentuate the passage of time, which interferes with the ability to notice things, to know. In an interview, Gersht disclosed: “When I was on the train, it struck me that it was the same train that took the prisoners from the ghetto in Kraków to the death-camp in Auschwitz… I was thinking about the people travelling in those trains 60 years ago who couldn’t look outside because they were in cattle trains.”5
Where does the transition from naïve landscape to one which carries memories occur? A blind spot, which is both a place and an ongoing movement from past to future. “When I started to process those films in London,” Gersht adds, “I was very surprised and excited because I realised that in those photographs I was capturing the absences—which in turn captured the real experience I had in Poland.”6
The video work Neither Black Nor White features flickers of light in the darkness, until the gradually bluing dawn exposes the houses of the Arab village of Iksal. The blinding light of midday erases the sights, leaving only a thin drawing line which hints at the village. This work, too, presents the reality which eludes us in radical states of light and darkness. Gersht suspends the experience of observation in the intermediate realm between vision and identification, between a familiar place and uncertainty. The gaze acknowledges its own blindness, its inability to discern that which stands before it.

In the series “Nightwatch,” Hanna Sahar explores the limits of vision. The photographs were taken at night, via suspended exposure. According to the artist, “at night you can create a different world, beyond reality, beyond the existent.” The gaze becomes slower and more attentive, as if Sahar’s prolonged sojourn into the deep recesses of night has enabled her to absorb darkness into herself, after which she can once again spread out into its mysterious depths.
Discussing this series, Sarit Shapira writes: “Sahar photographs that which is barely visible at night, as if she were trying to photograph the night itself.”7 The landscape emerges from the darkness like shadows gradually being identified, but darkness reunites them, disregarding their divergence. The softness of the landscape and its disappearance carry a secret and an invitation. The distances can no longer be estimated. The dissolved power of vision when the distinction between things becomes blurred enables one to devote oneself to the deep silence of night as well as relinquish the reassurance furnished by knowledge.

Dror Auslander’s works are empty and minimalistic. The surface—stained paper or plywood—becomes a landscape. In an interview with Yehudit Matzkel in his catalogue “Works 2006-2009,” the artist says: “I see a correlation between the theory of Zen, essentially striving to transcend thought, to look inward, and to foster direct awareness of existence, and my prolonged staring at the empty plywood boards, until reaching the moment of the ‘longed-for revelation,’ following which they become art works.”8
A watermark that has expanded amid the plywood’s winding paths transforms into a cloud through which a flock of birds flies, while a smoke-covered helicopter pops in the skies of another work. Auslander explores the boundary between abstraction and discernment of a familiar reality, the void which contains a potential for several scenarios. The changing imagery reinforces the illusive deception innate to the tranquil landscape. Observation of the plywood board brings images imbued with memories from the tense Israeli reality to the landscape. The fear of the dangers lurking in the open spaces blends with the beauty they embed.
In one of the plywood boards, which is broken in two, a pair of tiny tanks emit white smoke, as they progress toward one another along the paths in a desert vista. One of them stops, and is reflected in the waters of a lake generated by the wood’s ring-like pattern. The fissure in the board prevents the battle from starting. Two other works allude to a close-distant landscape at the margins of the field of vision of Israeli consciousness. One portrays a mosque’s minaret protruding from the darkness with soft round light, surrounded by clouds; the other presents the silhouette of the city of Gaza as a thin strip at the bottom of a scorched sheet of baking paper, while a single stain glowing in the dark calls to mind an illuminating bomb. The texture of the material becomes a charged space for the tiny images contained in or moving on it. Their modest dimensions place them far in the depths of the imaginary landscape. The distance is also a mental one. Auslander observes reality from a distance which provides him with the leeway needed to contain and contemplate it.

Fanya Pines revisits her childhood realms in China. She adopts the tradition of Chinese landscape painting in ink, in which the gaze sails and reveals sections of landscape, while others disappear in the fog. Pines was born in China and raised in Dairen (Dalny) by a Japanese nanny. In her childhood she did not paint at all, but the Chinese landscape remained etched in her consciousness: the magical Chinese garden which surrounded her house, the obfuscated mountaintops, and the rivers—all these have found their way into her paintings only at a later stage. At 63 she began painting in Jerusalem, and trained herself in the method of drawing on the right side of the brain.9 When the brain is not bound by observation of given forms and fixed vision, a new encounter with the world may take place.
Pines paints the empty space, the space in-between: between imaginary realms and the memory of her childhood. Her travels to these landscapes are made with soft, gentle brush strokes that generate them but at the same time dissolve their realness. These are infinite landscapes where the spirit may wander between past and present. Time stands still. Tranquility.
4th century Chinese painter Tsung Ping (373-474) writes: “Mountains and water have material existence that reaches out into the spiritual domain. While the spirits may be untraceable, they nonetheless reside in physical forms… If a painter describes this cleverly, he will be doing all there is to be done…”.10 The act of creation carries us to those dissolving landscapes beyond the boundaries of vision and consciousness, opening the inner eye, the eye of the spirit.

Notes

1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” trans. Michael Smith, in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, ed. Galen A. Johnson (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2007), p. 146.

2. Ibid., ibid.

3. Wen C. Fong, cat. Images of the Mind (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1984), p. 47.

4. Mitchell delves into the development of landscape painting in Western culture, discussing it critically as an expression of imperialism and colonialism. He notes that Chinese landscape painting has existed continuously for centuries, whereas in the West the landscape was manifested in the Hellenist and Roman frescoes. Western landscape painting reemerged as an artistic genre only following a millennium-long interval, after the Renaissance. See: W.J.T. Mitchell, “Landscape and Invisibility: Gilo’s Wall and Christo’s Gates,” in Sites Unseen: Essays on Landscape and Vision, eds. Dianne Harris and D. Fairchild Ruggles (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), p. 35.

5. “Katharine Stout in Conversation with Ori Gersht,” cat. Afterglow: Ori Gersht (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2002), p. 139.

6. Ibid., p. 140.

7. Sarit Shapira, “Seeing in the Dark, Hanna Sahar Nocturnal Landscapes” Assaph Studies in Art History,13-14 (2010),” p.427

8. “Curator and Artist Converse: Yehudit Matzkel and Dror Auslander,” cat. Dror Auslander: Works 2006-1009 (self publication, 2009), p. 36.

9. Drawing on the right side of the brain is a method developed by Dr. Betty Edwards intended to train one in spatial perception in order to enhance creativity and release oneself from fixed vision.

10. Tsung Ping, in Images of the Mind, op. cit. n. 3, p. 22.