The most internationally known of the artists in Visionaries, Miriam Cabessa, dedicated her life to painting some 30 years ago. Cabessa represented Israel in the 1997 Venice Biennale. Her work, sometimes mistaken for a computer assisted process, is completely manual. She applies a thin wash of oil paint on a horizontal canvas and then makes physical gestures of movement through this thin paint with her own hands or a simple tool. The gesture can be easily erased, as one would wipe a chalkboard or mop a floor. She might repeat this cycle many times until the painting comes into being. Simple gestures, big thoughts. At Makor, Cabessa exhibited a set of three paintings made with a tool and two square format paintings featuring hand gestures. One of them, featuring a mandala- like pattern, is entitled Chandelier. The size of the canvas at about five feet square required that not just her hands but her whole body became part of the gestures made while the painting was horizontal. Once hung on the wall, it seems to be doing what chandeliers and masseuses do best: gather energy or light, and redistribute it. The chandelier as a symbol of wealth, power, and beauty is multi-faceted, dangerous. Cabessa is very mindful of the destructive side of creativity. The critic Sarah Breitberg Semel, in writing about Cabessa’s paintings, referred to the French philosopher Luce Irigiray’s concept of "mystÃ¯Â¿Â½rique," a compound word for mysterious, hysterical, and mystical.
Ofri Cnaani works in the mediums of video animation, video installation, drawing, and photography. Her work is concerned with paradox and alienation, obstacles to communication, and the distancing effects of cameras and architecture. Three drawings from her "Camouflage" series, in ink on vellum, are in the exhibition. The heads of three women, rendered with a thick brush in a clumsy yet spontaneous way, are adorned with helmets and leafy branches. They are soldiers, yet they also partake of mythic Greek archetypes. Cnaani also has a DVD in the show, which undercuts the high technology of digital media by using it for simple hand drawn animation. During the sequence of still drawings, a woman walking a dog on a leash becomes entangled when the dog spins around her. By the end, she is bound by leash and line, the victim of her own obsessions, as the artist puts it. It’s a witty allusion to the false sense of control we have over our lives.
Cabessa and Ofri Cnaani overlap in themes of bodily presence and self-revelation in the work. They share ideas of uprootedness, a sense of lightness or levitation, and both use repetition or destruction as a transformative process. Cnaani’s video Dungeon, available for viewing at Makor on tape, documents a performance set in a former women’s prison in Israel. The audience watched the actress "inmates" moving around on a translucent ceiling. Unwittingly, the audience had become captive, too, and although they could move around freely, the camera made them into actors. In Dungeon as in other video installations where Cnaani builds special rooms that enclose viewers while they watch the filmed figures behind walls and ceilings, the artist continually and insistently speaks of the distance separating people. The camera is separate from the world it films, the artist is separate from the viewer, yet the work brings each upon each other in an unexpected way.
Cnaani brings to mind the films of Chantal Ackerman who, in the 1970s, brought a fresh and disturbing point of view to film. The camera was often still for long periods, watching women acting alone at their daily tasks without intruding, like a patient child. However, the placid, even tedious surface of Ackerman’s films was fed by devastating autobiographical content. As a child, she knew that her mother had a terrible secret she would never tell — her survival of a concentration camp. When the women of Ackerman’s films die alone by their own hands or resort to murder, it is only after the film has drawn us into the awful tensions their characters managed to suppress while the film unfolded. In retrospect, we come to understand that the tension is broken and the film completed by metaphors for self-revelation, that is from a final, absolute break between art and reality. Like Ackerman, Cnaani uses the camera to explore the fragmentation of the self in fantasy. But Cnaani’s video installations can go a step further by situating the viewer’s sense of unified personality within a parallel mise en scene. Her architectural disposition of the audience turns viewers into a second set of actors, where even the artist is no longer in complete control of the situation.
Cabessa’s work also has been compared to photography, particularly in the soft gray monochromes that register her slightest move and create an illusion of form. Her paintings’ nuances of tonality and emotion resonate with a statement Lemay has written of his own work: "…The rich tones which fill the gray scale between black and white allow me to reduce the forms and structures I am photographing to their essential characteristics without foregoing their most salient properties. And the broad range of tonal shifts allows me to elicit an array of emotional response that corresponds to what I had sought in my earlier photographs of people. In as much as they are incomplete, they invite the participation of the viewer into the process of perception." (from www.eugenelemay.com /BWST.htm, June 12, 2004).
Lemay’s work is presented in the Mizel Reading Room on the 1st floor. Lemay has been pursuing photography for 8 years, and he works in both black and white and color. His subject matter has included the human figure, snow, and forests, often using the camera to turn these subjects into abstract compositions. At Makor, he is exhibiting abstract works wherein the difference between nature and cultural forms is ambiguous; we must decide for ourselves the balance of real and metaphoric in tones that range from graphic black to delicate grays. His technical control yields intense textures of photographic grain, bold forms, and painterly compositions where they interact. In these photographs, the subject is as much that which is not there as that which is.
The theme of what is "there" and what is "not there" can also be found in Raffael Lomas’s work. Lomas is a self-taught artist who began making sculpture, drawing, and photographs about 10 years ago. Lomas has often used the theme of travel in his work, sometimes traveling with his work over long distances around the world. The sculptures in this exhibition, from the Wheel series, continue the theme of nomadic life by exploring its opposite. These old metal wagon wheels from farms in Italy and Canada have been cut and bent into static forms sometimes resembling furniture or a monocular eye. His own nomadic travels with his work – here today, gone tomorrow – contrast with themes of hearth and home in the Wheel series. Here at Makor in the open air sculpture court on the 2nd floor, wooden step ladders from a past manufacturing era are used as open form pedestals complementing the linearity of two sculptures. But the nomadic theme is hard to contain, for it entered his work at the beginning, when he moved far and wide over the earth with his first sculpture strapped to the roof of his car. The wheel of the plow becomes a metaphor for planetary rotation. Lomas’s coiling and wrapping of the iron wheels in other works even suggests the way electromagnetism is generated by coils of copper around an iron core. In fact, electric currents running through the earth’s molten core generate a field of magnetism radiating beyond its surface in looped and straight lines of force that look surprisingly like the spokes cut loose from, yet connected to, the rims of Lomas’s sculptural wheels. These invisible lines of force are free of gravity and make up earth’s magnetosphere – our shield from radiation generated by sun storms. In his drawings, which unfortunately are not on view, Lomas uses the white space of the paper like a gravity-free field for his loops and lines.
Lomas’s intuitive connection to the earth is a quality that Zachary Harris’s work shares. Harris is a painter and sculptor who also makes drawings with traditional media and software, sometimes combining the two on paper. His early paintings were concerned with the perception of color in dense imaginary landscapes. More recently, his sculptural models and drawings often reference the remains of structures from ancient civilizations he has visited all over the world. The symmetrical motifs of Harris’s drawings relate to his travels to ancient ruins in various parts of the world. It has been known for a long time that many of these structures were aligned to cardinal points. But in the 1960s, when Stonehenge was studied in greater detail, its circular form was found to be a three-dimensional model of celestial movement. Its stones are placed to correspond to the earth’s rotation upon reaching its solstice and equinox points during the year. Archaeoastronomy, the interdisciplinary field of anthropology and astronomy, soon revealed that ancient civilizations from China to North American native peoples observed the sky and built structures to mark the movements of the earth, stars, and planets not only for seasonal calendars but for urban planning, counting systems, navigation, and intricate cosmological theories. It seems that people everywhere, in all times, have sensed that we swept up in a great swirl of motion that, to some extent, we can understand and use for our mutual good.