TEL AVIV.- Alongside videos, installations and sculptures, Erez Israeli's (born 1974, Beer Sheva) work includes prints in various techniques. His self-portrait prints, made in 2005 at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, were inspired by the idea of metamorphosis and issues of identity represented in Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando. The novel follows changes in the life of a young man from the 18th to the 20th century, through metamorphoses including his sexual identity, transforming from a man in the beginning of the novel to a woman at its end. Dealing with questions of the print's identity is linked with issues of gender, the nature of sexuality and changes in sexual identity and in time and space between countries and cultures. The print's narrative evolves, with a certain parallel between Orlando's tale and the journey of the print in the history of art, and questions about its essence and identityin the tension between the original-canonical and the dynamic-serial.
The underdog narrative and the question of print's ambivalent status in art's canon-dictated hierarchy stem mostly from the ethos of the original-unique work, and from the hegemony in the hierarchy assigned to the original, the authentic, the one-off. Thus, the print is often presented as a research tool and a mimetic parasite, like a means for reproducing the original and disseminating it.
Israeli's self-portrait prints depict delicate heads that are a crossbreeding of the head and the bush sprouting from it. From the frame of Israeli's masculine face, flowers and leaves twist out, linking with the conflict between logic and feeling, between sensibility and sensuality, between death and pleasure. Israeli draws himself adorned with what might be a garland of flowers or branches of a tree breaking forth from his head, originating, he says, from a birthday garland. The thick foliage replacing his hair and growing into indomitable dimensions becomes almost independent, hiding a considerable part of the schematic-stylized face, including the eyes (thus limiting his vision), until the identity is erased. The beautiful, refined heads, resiliently carrying a kind of basket of flowers, are reminiscent of the Zionist myths of the labor settlements [ha-hityashvut ha-ovedet] and its interest in flowers and fields, which serve Israeli as an image of bereavement, memory and commemoration. Thus, for example, are the memorial wreaths cast in cement (the earliest dating from 2001 and 2003, and the 2011 wall sculpture Wreaths, exhibited at the Museum), and especially the gerberas (used in IDF memorial wreaths) which he sewed onto his breast, crossbreeding his body with them, later plucking the petals one by one in a 2004 video film. Manifestations of violent nationality are also expressed in the installation Heads, 2008, which presents terrorists' heads, cast in cement, strewn on the ground. The hacked heads seem at first sight as an antithesis to the heads in the current display.
The prints correspond, among others, with Moshe Gershuni's prints of wreaths (especially in the series "Wreaths and Self-Portrait," 1991) and colorful flowers, as well as with the garlanded head of Bacchusgod of wine and grapevines, linked with cycles of nature (death and resurrection), metamorphosis, wine rituals, madness, ecstasy, drunkenness, theater and masksin Caravaggio's work (some of Israeli's 2008 prints were also inspired by Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit, ca.1593 and Supper at Emmaus, 1601). The garland adorning Bacchus's head becomes a blossoming yet suffocating botanical body, in which Israeli's face (replacing the figure of Bacchus) almost disappears. This duality is also expressed by the very choice of metamorphosing into a tree. In myths, plants symbolize salvation/escape/overcoming death and commemoration, whereas in depictions of Vanitas and Memento mori, plants symbolize the opposite (transience). The self-portrait prints are linked with Israeli's crossbreeding of plant and body. One such example is the joining of his body to the gerberas sewn onto his bare skin. The flowers losing their petals symbolize human mortality and the vanity of life, but they are not withered and dried, as in depictions of Vanitas and Memento mori, but are plucked like lives cut short.
Issues of metamorphosis and humanplant crossbreeding, gender and sexual identity have all appeared and reappeared in Greek and Roman mythology; they have occupied Erez Israeli as they have many artists, including André Masson in two of his prints in the Museum collection: Bosquet de femmes (1969), in which the women merge into a thicket of vegetation, or Mithologie Végétale (1957). One such famous myth is the tale of Adonis, born of a myrrh tree that split open after his mother, the daughter of the king of Cyprus, who had conceived him to her father, became a tree as she fled him (when the youth Adonis was gored by a boar, his blood was transformed into an anemone, the flower that commemorates him). Another well-known tale is that of Daphne, who became a laurel as she fled Apollo. However, while in these myths the women are metamorphosed into a tree or a bush, symbolizing life, like the tree, in Israeli's work it is the man who becomes a tree.
The myth of Daphne is associated not only with the human-to-plant metamorphosis, but also with the subject of garlands and wreaths (for branches of laurel garlanded the heads of the victors in battles and competitions), which occupies Israeli.
In the prints of the stylized poppy fields, that look like documented interweaving or sewing, Israeli continues his preoccupation with interweaving beads and sewing gerberas. For example, in the installation Fields of Flowers, 2005, interwoven with glass beads, the field of green-red flowers seems to enshroud the death seething under it, and interweaving the beads, like the vegetation, serves to commemorate, perhaps combat life's transience, although it is also ambiguous, due to the fragility of glass.
The representations of wreaths and flower fields interwoven with beads serve Israeli, who makes drawings of his sculptures, in creating prints that, to a great extent, reconstruct and reproduce the experience of stylizing and labor typical of interweaving the spectacular-shocking carpets of flowers. Through these representations, Israeli deals with narratives that constitute death, bereavement, mourning and heroism in Israeli culture. The print Asleep in the Meadow, 2008, in many ways represents a joining (crossbreeding) of the two subjects: on the one hand a self-portrait, and on the other hand fields of beautiful-uncanny flowersthe seemingly innocent battle fields or graves, the repose of the fallen.
The print was inspired by Arthur Rimbaud's (18541891) poem "Le Dormeur du Val [The Sleeper in the Valley]," which describes a soldier lying dead in a pastoral setting. In Israeli's red print, the figure lying surrounded by vegetation like the soldier in the poem, is his own figure, and the field echoes the carpet of red flowers interwoven with beads.
Israeli's plants link together beauty, passion and death. The fields of flowers and the vegetation assimilated into the body in the self-portrait prints are depicted at the height of their beauty, a moment before the (plant and human) wilting and death. At this representational moment, the vegetation and the beads ostensibly "beautify" death and present beauty and eternity instead of decomposition and rotting. The language of bereavement recreates trauma through artistic means. The troubling character of Israeli's arta "beautiful" depiction of a wound or a trauma which, with artistic representations, may menace, reopen an old wound or create a new one in the viewerdoes not always correspond with the mythification of bereavement and the socio-political normative ethos which is a component of the constitutive Israeli narrative.