Petach Tikva (Israel)Petach Tikva Museum of Art
June 7 – September 29, 2018
Being the daughter of a disabled Israeli Defense Force (IDF) veteran, injuries and prosthetics were a typical element of Israeli artist Yaara Zach’s landscape. She spent many of her childhood Saturdays with her family at Beit Halochem’s (“A Warrior’s Home”) swimming pool in Haifa, a sports-rehabilitation center for disabled IDF veterans and their families. There, she would swim in the recreational pool while prosthetic arms and legs rested on the edge.
When entering Zach’s debut museum solo show at the Petach Tikva Museum of Art (curated by Hadas Maor), you can easily stumble upon objects spread across the floor. In this installation, Zach explores the pain and trauma related to life in Israel and beyond, through her unique personal experience. Like the bodies she was introduced to as a child, her sculptures seem to come together and fall apart, both individually and as a collective setting. Each piece is singular and created from ready-mades: black metal crutches, black leather whips, and clear PVC bags filled with dark calligraphy ink. The artist’s use and manipulation of ready-mades is not new to her practice. She refers to variations of her past works as “Surviving Objects,” which are objects that are self-contained, can transform, adapt, and reassemble, as well as terminate themselves—an interesting concept which captures her point of view.
Yaara Zach, Unreasonable Doubt, installation view, Petach Tikva Museum of Art, 2018. Photo: Lena Gomon.
There is a sense of cold suspension in the exhibition space, a kinky, hospital-like, and industrial feel. The objects are black, the floor is concrete gray, and there is no sign of human presence. The works are divided into small groups, each with a slightly different characteristic and posture: upon entering, objects lay on the floor to your left; to your right they hang from a rack. Further into the space crutches and whips lean on a wall on the left, and then on the right they lay flat on the floor again. There is great tension in the room provided by the combination of the different materials, as well as the movement of the body in relation to the objects.
We are accustomed to thinking of crutches as an apparatus for the disabled, whether for temporary or for permanent use, and they often expose our natural fear of weakness, lack of control, and ultimately death. The whips on the other hand, represent sexual pleasure and a sense of power. They seem to be used to play with our anxieties and reverse the effect of pain. The crutches represent a need, whereas the whips are used out of free will. That being said, both objects act as extensions of the body, and the merging of the two enhances their differences as well as their correspondence.
Who is weak and who is strong? Who is the controller and who is the controlled? It is easy to propose such questions not only to the complex state that Israel finds itself in and to consider the trauma that travels from generation to generation in this region, but we can also look at society at large. Our definitions of strength and weakness are dictated by our cultural inhibitions. The recent evolution of the feminist agenda enables us to reconsider what is weak and what is strong, who controls and who is controlled, and to redefine these terms.
Zach’s works represent a body while also interacting with the viewer’s body. The question of control remains as the viewer seems to be leading but is actually led: the viewer is forced to moderate the body when walking around the objects, trying not to step over them, and has to bend in order to view them. Like many great artists, Zach uses her strengths to reevaluate the complexity and depth of our being. Zach quotes Rebecca Horn’s body extensions while creating self-performing objects that eliminate the body; she also refers to Louis Bourgeois’s fascination with death and the subconscious, as well as to Meret Oppenheim’s surrealism and fetishism.
The liquid bags which are connected to some of the crutches and whips in the installation resemble hospital infusion bags. They, too, represent the body and its boundaries or lack thereof. In one of the installments, Untitled (2018), the bags hang from a rack and evaporate. Very slowly, throughout the duration of the show, the liquids disseminate and will eventually leave only a mark in the bag. The liquids add a truly poetic moment, creating softness and ease to these hard, dark metal structures. Each bag is unique in its geometric structure, and each is left with a different trace of liquid, a memory of its existence.
Zach’s work is inherently conflicted, relying on fragmented memories and on her understanding of these memories. As much as Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Tirs” (1961 – 1963) were a release of tension, Zach’s works maintain a tension, and ask of the viewer to absorb it. It goes without saying that our society is full of tensions, just as our psyche is full of tension. Zach’s work positions the contradictions of our being in a place of coexistence.