April - May, 2022
RAW ART gallery, Tel Aviv
Curator: Shlomit Breuer
Once the firmament and earth were separated, a controversy was born.* Be it political disagreement or poetic indecision, either beginning with physical division or ending with subjugation to bounds and limitations, its implicit or explicit conditioning is one and the same – a product of the life of an indigenous person against that of the Other.
Rakefet Viner-Omer says that while working on her painting Golden Sweat, she was absorbed in reading Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s novel The Bridal Canopy. The way of life and routes taken by Yudel, the novel’s protagonist, in the modular and replete with upheavals plot served her as a basis for her fragmentary sequence of events. Nurtured by the word as well as by the image, Viner-Omer brought together a wide range of images, whose arbitrary juxtaposition might be interpreted as an uninhibited gesture rather than an orientation index or a refuge anchor – horse’s heads, skeletons, a rabbit, gold paint, a cross, tombs, disruptive scraps of texts, angels, mixed metaphors,** celestial lights, skulls, and other motifs. These motifs hover like signs around the painted abstract space that the artist has opened between her implied heavens and earth. Colorful, formal, material, and textual signs emerge in the work as a strategy that weighs the capabilities of analogies and the operation of structures, which “resemble” something rather than being the thing itself. In a blurry and teeming space, which intermixes up and down, does not allow any limitation, and denies any perspective of time and place, Viner-Omer concocts a collective whose members gather hastily under a makeshift shelter. The remodeling of the painting’s chapters only assumes an appearance of hermetic, panoramic composition since the occurrences taking place in a fragmentary space such as this are solely the ones transpiring in a given time. As a matter of fact, it seems that each of the work’s parts encapsulates an autonomous narrative, all of which can interchange their places due to the painting’s unbridled degressive plot. As in Agnon’s plot, the question of the work’s temporal metamorphosis suggests horizontal, non-linear choreography. Ghostly stumps of horses, wagons, shafts, etc., are nothing but a tool that calls for a circular movement, the beginning of which starts at its end and its ending derives from its beginning. This movement dictates a forward progression as well as a walk backward to re-value the happening. Therefore, the journey itself is not only that of its fictional participants; they share their back and forth walk with the visitors, who join the trip’s trajectory, indicated by a line of graves that transects the painted space, from one end to the other, and thus stipulates the actualization of the movement. Like Persephone’s circular movement, as she steps up to the face of the earth only to go back to the underworld, the only distinct border in the painting is the one traced between life and death. One may wonder whether this action represents an anti-eschatological stand, or implies a conception of death as the quintessential leveler.
Walking between one border to another is not unfamiliar to Viner-Omer and it seems that her choice of The Bridal Canopy as a frame of reference is not accidental. The reciprocity of the halachic precepts of accompanying a poor bride to the canopy ["הכנסת כלה"] and hospitality ["הכנסת אורחים"] does not end with their Hebrew semantic similarity. It also exists in their ethical meaning, which implies borders, power relationships, rights, and obligations. It is for a reason that the aim of the journey featured already in the title of Agnon’s novel, is easily submerged in variegated practices of hospitality and a social-cultural-economic range of guests, hosts, places, and inns.
In 2010, Rakefet Viner-Omer and her exhibition a happy new year were hosted by Shay Arye Gallery, and the artist, seated on a bed and painting, welcomed the visitors. The hospitality rules were carefully phrased and the visitors were asked to keep them. In that exhibition, she strictly kept the distinction between the unconditional ethical law of receiving guests (offering everyone who came along the same wholehearted and unbiased welcome) and its political meaning that set the rights, restrictions, and obligations pertaining to a “guest.”*** However in the current exhibition, it seems that she is trying to bridge the gap. As she hosts and at the same time is hosted in different kinds of discourses, Viner-Omer blurs their borders and orchestrates an intertextual dialectical link free of hierarchy and exclusions between the abstract and the material, the poetic and the ordinary.
* Bereshit Rabbah, 4:6.
** Including the exhibition’s title, Gold Sweat, which ties together abject bodily secretions and a noble metal, all the more so in the context of the metaphorical meaning of the phrase “working one’s fingers to the bone” as opposed to ostentatious wealth. The gold in Viner-Omer’s painting is also present as an illuminating radius, which raises the question of who in its vicinity enjoys it and who is burned by its heat. Regarding Viner-Omer’s “sweaty gold,” it’s interesting to note that within the Inca culture, gold was revered as the “sweat of the sun.”
*** See Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 147