Weinstein Gal

Nature a la Weinstein / Ruti Direktor
Site-Seeing - solo show catalogue
curated by Ruti Direktor, 2007


In the beginning were the windows. The high, broad glass windows of

the Art Gallery at the University of Haifa; 14.5m wide and 3.20m high,

divided into nine panels that cause longitudinal striation, overlooking

the spectacular landscape of Haifa Bay. Glass screens, intermittently

transparent and opaque, which form the rear wall of a gallery, and by

their very existence, as windows onto the landscape, are forever embroiled

in latent rivalry with the art presented in the space which they delimit.

This window wall, with its unique dimensions, inspired Gal Weinstein

to create Site-Seeing – black PVC panels that make up a gigantic flat

image of a geological section of the Negev. Wavy strips of geometrical

signs – lines and dots – the arbitrary, yet accepted signs intended to

mark the earth's age strata. The section was extracted from a book of the

country's geological sections found in Weinstein's library. Its neighbors

on the shelf are, for example, 'Geomorphology: the External Structure of

Relief'; 'The Earth: Quick Terminology' (A Thematic Visual Dictionary); 'Atlas

of Israel,' a book about earthquakes. These and other books are replete

with maps, diagrams and graphs. The sections and sketches appearing in

them describe the world through various prisms: earth strata, deposits,

sediments, temperatures, joints, and faults – a wide range of information

that ultimately gathers to form visual depictions; spectacularly beautiful,

one might add. For the professional reader (geologist, geographer), these

are meaningful signs; the layman (an artist, for instance) finds himself

facing a foreign language book, impressed by the colors of the sediment

maps (light pastels), fascinated by the professional definitions of natural

phenomena – ostensibly dull, yet ever-so-poetic (desert striation, dust

crusts, stalactitic crusts, ice caps...), noticing the autonomy of the signs

and their independence of what they signify.

 

The black-and-white section of the Negev is among the graver and

less luring pages in these books. Its appearance is scientific, but the

multiplicity of sign combinations may also dazzle; a closer look reveals

in them a comics-like Pop-art quality. All of a sudden the eye notices the

similarity to Roy Lichtenstein's paintings, with the lines and dots.

As in Lichtenstein's case, the image's clarity is but an illusion. The paradox

of visibility contained in the paintings – the more clearly the figures

are depicted, with sharper contours, the more anonymous and hidden

they are – also applies to the geological section of the Negev, affixed to

the Gallery window: ostensibly lucid and matter-of-fact, the product of

research, but in fact – a hybrid landscape of contradiction in terms (Negev

and Haifa), an image that screens the referenced site.

 

What we see? How we see? Sections of Seeing

In terms of Gal Weinstein's artistic chronology, the window work takes

its place alongside (or, in fact, above) the monumental floor pieces at

the Kibbutz Art Gallery, Tel Aviv (Close to the Ground, 1999), Herzliya

Museum of Contemporary Art (Valley of Jezreel, 2002), and the

Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (Huleh Valley,

2005). These three installations were attempts (both heroic and

pathetic) to realize gazes at a landscape in matter, via visual mediations

and clichés. Close to the Ground was a type of red tile roof that lay on

the gallery's floor; Valley of Jezreel consisted of a thousand pieces of

synthetic materials which formed a colorful landscape fabric, as seen

from a bird's-eye view; the soil of the Huleh Valley was made of MDF

boards with a cleaved surface, which covered the museum floor, on

which viewers walked. Like those large-scale installations, Site-Seeing

also clings to the exhibition space in which it is featured, marking its

boundaries, and at the same time polluting its neutrality, as an exhibition

space, with a synthetic presence of artificial nature (synthetic materials

are always accompanied by a fear of toxicity).

 

In other respects, from the perspective of the fascination with scientific

representations, the window piece here accumulates as yet another

layer in the work mound of Tsunami and Kho Phi Phi and Examples of

Fractures – both from 2006, works that directly employed diagrams or

graphs of natural phenomena. Tsunami (first presented in the exhibition

'Mini Israel' at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem) was based on a diagram

published in the press following the deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean

in December 2004. The two-dimensional diagram transformed into a

three-dimensional object: a tall, brown lump of MDF soil, with four green

plastic palm trees on it, and the momentous tsunami covering it, made

of purplish-blue Plexiglas. An awkward object in the colors of a dreamy

holiday on an island, and at the same time – a monstrous enlargement

of the horror. Similar to the way in which the press diagram embodies an

attempt to control the natural forces through our knowledge about them

(with arrows and explanations, and a detailing of the wave frequency and

length) – a pathetic attempt, of course, for the tsunami, which took the

lives of thousands, proved how unpredictable the Elements can be – so the

Plexiglas object towers complacently in the museum with its exaggerated

azure color, sweet and detached. Examples of Fraction (which debuted

at the Ticho House, Jerusalem) was an enlarged model of a geological

section depicting an earthquake, made of multiple layers of industrial

wood. The strata were terraced at different heights, like an all-too-explicit

didactic illustration for the expression and the phenomenon of "shaking

earth," with Astroturf spread on the topmost stratum. The horizontal

earth strips resembled shattered bottles filled with colorful sand, and the

general view was splendidly artificial. A golfer made of wax stood on one

of these fragmented surfaces, about to strike the ball. His inevitable failure

(ensured by the fragmentation of the surfaces) lent the work its elusive

quality along the range between a visual joke and a rueful tribute to the

human endeavors to overcome nature against all odds. Great silence and

concentration above the surface (the moment before the strike), and total

violation of all order underground (the earthquake).

 

The golfer on the green prompts another reading section in Site-Seeing;

let us call it the section of the human figure. In the window piece at the

University of Haifa these are Lilliputian figures of a boy and a girl, located

in the section's upper left-hand side, on the edge of the ridge. The figures

were extracted from a warning sign, and are therefore as schematic as

possible, and yet unsettling: "Caution – children crossing…" The patterned

nature of the image (as always, Weinstein uses an existing image) reinforces

the artificiality of the black landscape section, presenting the instrumental

existence of the children as mere scale-markers. At the same time, the

figures' tiny dimensions and the conditioning of dangerous circumstances

elicit near-panic: the two hold hands, marching away. The dangers posed

by an urban road join associations of no-less than Caspar David Friedrich's

landscape paintings, with their small human figures facing a powerful

Nature. The scientific appearance is interrupted. It is substituted by real

dread (and romance).

 

In any event, human beings and nature do not merge in Weinstein's works.

They maintain relations of penetration, domination, swallowing, terror,

unlike the reciprocal relations between man, industry, and landscape

arising, for example, from the prints of a seasoned artist such as Jacob

Pins. Pins's series of woodcuts and linocutsp. 26 from 1969 is presented

in the exhibition as a reference, a part of the site-seeing route outlined

in the gallery in order to shed light on Weinstein's Site-Seeing. Formally,

the similarity might be deceptive: the black-and-white prints echo the

coloration of the section and the confidence of its black lines. As prints,

they contain a certain dimension of mechanicality. Like Site-Seeing, they

also observe Haifa's landscapes. But in terms of atmosphere, ethos, and

the underlying motivation, Pins represents another world: a robust worker

on a ship, the picturesque Haifa Port at the foot of the mountain, the

impressive Dagon granaries, a ramified system of pipes; power which is

not necessarily destructive. In the late 1960s Pins still observes all these

with admiration, faith, and hope – man, industry, landscape.

 

Ori Reisman, a unique landscape painter in Israeli art, represents a

quintessential oppositionary reference to Weinstein's work: Mountain-

Woman (Hills in the Negev) is a painting of a landscape, a woman, and

their symbiosis. The painting is the only color patch in the exhibition –

yellow-ocher, azure. Its radiant presence presents another, romantic and

erotic gaze at the landscape. The woman is nature, the mountain is a

woman's body, the landscape curves are bodily curves, and the landscape

orientation is a panoramic format. Reisman's Negev Hills are soft and

organic; they contain no pretension or intention to describe the landscape

as it is, but rather as it is translated through the painter's mental and

emotional landscapes. The velvet quality of oil-on-canvas never seemed

softer than when confronted with the black PVC, a material whose makeup

one would rather not know.

 

Weinstein arrived at the black PVC after working many years with a line

of man-made materials: steel wool, linoleum, plastic, silicon, MDF, etc.

He first used it to create an enlarged image of his fingerprint. A PVC

fingerprint is a combination of opposites of the type characterizing

Weinstein's works: the quintessential identification mark of each of

us is realized in a prosaic, industrial material. The ultimate proof of

uniqueness, and a material fit-for-any-product, from flip-flop soles

to giant packaging. The use of PVC elucidates the far-fetchedness of

the self-portrait ostensibly embodied in the fingerprint – which is, in

fact, but a factual identification devoid of intimacy, an abstract form

that says nothing about the finger's owner. Black PVC also served

Weinstein in Tremors, a large-scale wall piece created for the Huarte

Contemporary Art Center in Spain (2007) – a graphic section consisting

of a cross between an earthquake and the Thailand tsunami, stretched

across a 40-meter wall. Between the private fingerprint and sections

of natural phenomena, Weinstein's unique man-nature-culture version

takes shape: constant leakage between private and synthetic, between

nature and an illusion of nature – a stain of black paint spreading on

the wall like a fluid ink stain, disastrous yet self-controlled. The chaos

and order of the world, and their embodiment in an elegant, script-like

section, which is at once graceless industrial PVC and a great drama of

life and nature.

 

Nature Engineering

Earth, waves, earthquakes, landscapes, and surface. Is Gal Weinstein a

landscape artist? Most of his works indeed address images of landscape

and nature, but in contrast to the painter or photographer who goes

into the great outdoors – to nature, into the landscape – Weinstein

usually finds his sources of inspiration in the library: in art books, books

of science, newspapers. He peruses them, extracting visual images that

have already undergone some kind of processing, landscapes which

someone observed before him, sights which in one way or another have

already been experienced, conquered, fixed or classified; never a virginal

sight, always an image devoid of the romance of originality. In his studio

library, alongside art books, considerable room is preserved, as aforesaid,

for books concerned with the bequest of knowledge: various atlases,

popular science books, DIY guides, and encyclopedias of flora and fauna.

He purchases the books with the distinct knowledge that one day he will

use them; he is attracted to their poetical-scientific aesthetics as well as

to the type of information they contain. These books and atlases embody

the human attempt to contain knowledge about the world, to decipher

and fathom it; they embody the pride for overcoming nature through its

exploration and comprehension, and by formulating the process in the

clean, abstract graphic means at our disposal.

 

In the window piece Site-Seeing, the image is a consensual visual scheme,

the outcome of knowledge and learning. The section landscape embodied

in it is an internal landscape, a view of the bowels of the earth, generally

unseen. At the same time, unlike Weinstein's previous works which dealt

with mediated, processed, far-removed sights and landscapes, this time

the work inevitably contains a view of a real landscape, the landscape seen

through the window itself. By its very location on the window, the work

points at the landscape, while screening it from the viewer's eyes. The

result is a hybrid landscape, a cross between the schematic, wavy section

of the Negev and the Haifa Bay scenery; a black section suspended on the

gallery window, and the landscape of the Bay seen through the window,

a breathtaking landscape which is, in fact, an eerie combination of beauty

and pollution. Chemical fumes and industrial smog are blended with the

blue of the sea. In addition to all these, as if to spite, the black cross-section

is a section of the Negev. Not that the spectator recognizes the Negev,

but still – had he known of a congruity between the landscape and its

graphic signs, this knowledge could have created conditions for harmony.

The viewing experience summons something else: not only is the viewer

unable to decipher the section, but he also learns that he is facing two

places, two incongruent reference points. Their link is a spiteful one: not

Haifa, but the Negev; the south is affixed to north-facing windows. The

sight is composed from the operation of a drill into the depth (the section)

and a panoramic view seen through the camera lens.

 

Weinstein's floor pieces corresponded with iconic floor works, such as

Walter De Maria's Earth Room and The Broken Kilometer, two pieces

featured in the exhibition spaces of the DIA Art Foundation in New York

since 1979. The window piece here appropriates for itself a history of

window pieces, works which by their very essence, share a preoccupation

with seeing and the gaze. Marcel Duchamp is undoubtedly the most

distinctive modern artist as far as window pieces go: The Large Glass

(1915-1923), Fresh Widow (1920), La bagarre d'Austerlitz (1921).

These works, which introduce the window as a surface on and within which

the work takes place, challenged in the early 20th century what appeared

to be one of the most fundamental characteristics of Western landscape

painting since the Renaissance, and in fact – since Alberti, in his treatise

'On Painting' (1436), formulated the affinity between painting and the

window: "I inscribe a quadrangle of right angels, as large as I wish, which

is considered to be an open window through which I see what I want

to paint."1 The perception of painting, and especially landscape painting,

became anchored as a gaze through the window. Duchamp endeavored

to emphasize the ending of the illusory project in painting via a defiant

presentation of the window itself: in The Large Glass he painted on glass,

in Fresh Widow he blacked out the glass panes of the small French window

with black leather. The windows were meant not to see through, but rather

to be seen for themselves. Somewhat like Fresh Widow, Weinstein uses

the window itself, blackening and blocking it. Duchamp sealed the panes

completely, generating an erotic meaning through the wordplay of "fresh

widow" and "French window." Weinstein's games belong in the culturalsemiotic

field: he blackens the window with signs of one landscape that

obstructs another, and at the same time – leaves peeping slits through

which to view it. A similar act of presentation-concealment occurred in

the installation at the San Francisco Art Institute (2001) – a screen made

of silicon in decorative patterns, and a drawing in steel wool on the gallery

window. The duality of visibility-invisibility was supplemented by the

presence of the ornamental pattern, traditionally linked with artistic

directions contrary to the illusory representation of landscape-seenthrough-

the-window.

 

The local dynasty of window works is exalted by Michael Gross's lyricalascetic

shutters and window works. As a painter – Gross's point of

departure in many of his paintings was the landscape, translated to a

minimalist, at times abstract image; as a sculptor – he encapsulated the

experience of observation of nature by presenting the observing object

itself – a shutter or a window. Its closed or semi-closed louvers form

a discussion of seeing and concealment, while generating a formal and

rhythmic presence of recurring elements. An abstract construction and a

reflection on observation.

 

Tsibi Geva's series of shutters from 1993 consisted of plastic louvers painted

black and white. The series was called Blindsp. 30, a title which spans, in the

tradition of Duchamp's puns, both 'shutters' and 'sightless,' once again

preserving the tension between seeing (outward) and shutting one's eyes in

the sense of inner vision. The closed shutters, which became a coloring surface

with painterly qualities, contained a painful dimension of unwillingness to

see, introversion, mourning, introspection. In the Israeli reality, it seems that

shutter-closing is always, inter alia, a metaphor for man's condition vis-à-vis

a political reality which he chooses either to see or not to see.

 

* * *

 

Is Gal Weinstein a landscape painter, then?

As a child, Weinstein used to join his father in his travels throughout the

country as part of his work as a water engineer. Recalling these travels

today, what seems to have been etched in his memory most of all, or, at

least, what infiltrated his works most of all, is the word combination "water

engineer" itself. When you think about it, water engineer sounds almost

like an oxymoron, a figure of speech comprising contradictory terms of the

type that draws Weinstein's attention, like the terms "depth classification"

or "bedrock effects" or "sand accumulations as surface" – all drawn from

atlases and books about our planet in which he revels. An inkling of the

spirit typifying the far-fetched combination of "water" and "engineer"

indeed exists in many of his ostensibly "scientific" works, and certainly in

the window piece at the University of Haifa: the section, which purports to

contain knowledge about the world, vis-à-vis the infinite amorphousness

of the world itself, the university itself, as an institute that represents the

bequest of knowledge and enlightenment, and self irony in view of the

artistic process, which strives to domesticate, or engineer, nature.

 

 



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