ARTICLES - מאמרים
THE SWEET JOY OF LIFE: A SYNTHETIC ABSTRACT
Liora Kanterewicz is engaged in a new, systematic — even automatic — sort of flower arranging. Like the conventional arranger of flowers, who relies on supporting constructions, she builds structures that, in their bareness, resemble ordinary modernist sculptures. Most of her sculptures are worked up from minimalist constructions whose growth is covered by climbing flowers, like wallpaper.
The strict, essentially modernist and non-narrative minimalist construction is buried beneath the tightly packed and coarse cover of thousands of artificial "flowers" made of folded ribbons, of the paste-on sort normally used in gift wrapping. The extreme density of the flowers on the surface wraps the underlying construction on all sides, concealing it entirely. The eye is faced with a dense and colorful carpet of "growth", which clings like seaweed to the structure and emphasizes only its contours. As a result, the individual flower, which seems at first so plain and insubstantial, takes on a powerful and charismatic presence, as though it were part of a coat of mail, shiny and impenetrable. If we were to peel back this surface covering, we could easily imagine that we were seeing a sculpture along the lines of something by Nahum Tevet, or Golombek: a bony conglomeration of wood or sandwich-board designed to look cheap, simple,
and modest, and which seems to be resting on the most basic of supports.
At first glance, we don't identify the flowers. We take in a texture, and reach out to touch it. As we draw nearer, we identify the all-too familiar and banal image, which we have most likely never really given thought to: a decorative, artificial flower. The plastic possibilities and the visual and thematic richness which this anonymous ribbon-flower contains are numerous and profound. The combination of the simplicity of the structure and the sensuality of the surface are persistently troubling: How is it that we didn't come upon this notion on our own? How is it that we didn't discover the beauty hidden in this otherwise rather idiotic blossom?
Part of the astonishment involves the banality of the raw material: the colorful ribbon is a commercial decoration, an utterly inert sort of wart that sometimes travels enormous distances on its way from the gift wrapping-table to the trash can of the gift's recipient. This decoration is always the third link in the gift-wrapping process. First comes the decorative wrapping paper, then the tape, and only then the stick-on "flower" - a concentrated, synthetic abstract of the of life: plastic tape, a mass-produced product which, in being attached to the gift, automatically evolves into a tender emblem of affection - a decorative element that is borne by the gift-wrapped item as though it had always been there. It is unlikely that anyone (Koons and Bleckner apart) has ever given it a moment's thought. Unlikely that anyone has ever looked twice at it the moment before it is crumbled up aggressively and thrown away with the paper to which it bad been attached, like a leech.
It is precisely these colorful, artificial warts, which are added as an afterthought to most gifts, to most bouquets of flowers or cars ready to sweep away a pair of newlyweds, that star as the exclusive raw material of Liora Kanterewicz's work. A third- or fourth-rate hyper-decorative accessory manages to take on in her work a broad sort of aura that goes well beyond the parameters of the original aura of the object.
The artificial flower is a three-dimensional expression of flatness, a condensed concentration and permutation of a line, a strip. Like the best artists who have dealt with ready-mades or the construction of assemblages, Kanterewicz manages in virtuoso fashion to remove the flower from its natural location and context. If Christo wraps everything — from bottles to cliffs to strips of sea coast- Kanterewicz deals with the craft of decoration: she embellishes. The meager and frail appearance of the underlying construction doesn't interest her. She is interested only in the surface covering,
the overlay, or the wrapping. Her intention is to decorate, to enhance ,to impress, to seduce.
Kanterewicz's overlay turns the sculptural object into something decorative and beautiful, something that tempts us to touch it. It also conducts emotion: from a free and liberating delight in beauty to a refined and subtle melancholy. As one prolongs one's gaze at the dense field of ribbons, the field gradually turns into an oppressive burden. The initial delight is replaced by a sense of constriction, and immediately thereafter by the desire to flee this artificial world and return to the open and natural expanse beyond the space of the gallery. No matter how fully this desire manifests itself, it is unlikely to be realized: in the urban context of contemporary life, the notion of an "open expanse" is tantamount to literary cliché, a romantic wish that can never be completely fulfilled. Nevertheless, in relation to the extravagant cluster of "flowers" in the gallery, even the most landscaped and manicured of gardens will seem like a satisfactory natural alternative.
The minimalistic strictness suffocating beneath the surface of the flowers is a fascinating sculptural option. Kanterewicz raises the question of the distance between minimalist-formalist sculpture, a la Judd or Carl Andre, and the decadent rococo sculpture of Jeff Koons. In other words, her work fans the flames of the old argument between what is considered "high" and "elitist" art in a modernist hierarchy, and what is considered "low", "vulgar", "popular", or "mass".
Kanterewicz also makes plain the ease with which she turns rigid, masculine sculptural icons into softer structures that lack all historical responsibility, and radiate a thought-provoking and troubling sexuality. It's easy to imagine what sort of metamorphosis the works of Richard Serra might be put through under the "delicate" touch of an artist like Kanterewicz.
Since the 1970s, world and local sculpture alike have become increasingly softer, as they incorporated a greater richness of materials and ideology. Think of two group-photographs side by side. In one we see Fagan, Tumarkin, Eshet, Kadishman, Torchin. In the other, standing a line, we see Tevet, Golombek, Domini, Sasportas, and Shachar. In the first photograph there are macho men, exposed, tattooed, hiding behind fashionable sunglasses and impressive welder's masks, beards, moustaches, and work overalls. The underlying ethos: a defiant casualness and lack of cultivation. The second photograph no longer shows that masculine dominance. Gone is the bohemian casualness, which has been replaced by refinement and the scent of aftershave and perfume. The men and women alike radiate a combination of softness and strength. The sculpture itself has become richer, more complex, less dogmatic and angular.
Kanterewicz, too, is a clear-cut hybrid of this now-traditional machismo and the new woman: uninhibited, technically skilful, a kind of local version of Louise Nevelson. Is Kanterewicz, unconsciously, decorating the sculptures of an artist like Judd, Morris, or Smith? Is she obscuring them, burying them beneath a sheath of flowers? Is she appropriating their proven power in a parasitic act of attaching herself to their impressive forms? Or, in the automatic act of her overlay, is she turning their sculptures into pieces of jewelry, into earrings, bracelets, and necklaces?
4. Without the carpet of flowers that covers it, Kanterewicz's sculpture is devoid of meaning. If we strip that away, nothing remains: we're left with an anarchic, even reactionary construction. Only the overlay lends it significance.
Technically, as well, the process of overlay has become the central (even the sole) element of meaning in the work, and as such it has become increasingly compulsive. Kanterewicz doesn't pause, even for a moment, on her way toward her goal, and hardly seems to wonder about the beauty and quality of the surface that absorbs her overlay. The links to art history, which are virtually taken for granted, perhaps concern her at some level, but not primarily. The essence of the work for her is, as we've stated, the overlay. Colorful, glittering, and polished, it bestows a kind of magic upon its immediate surroundings, and draws the hypnotized viewer toward itself, as a bee is drawn to a flower.
The uncontested dominance of the overlay, which dictates the works' meaning, leads one to think that Kanterewicz is in fact a painter, a painter working in three dimensions. For a painter is a painter even when his surface flowers and swells. A painter is a painter by virtue of his unalloyed interest in surface.
Kanterewicz's conceptual approach is that of a painter as well. Her physical, intuitive approach is that of a sculptor. If we take inventory of the stages that precede the overlay—the sketch, cutting, sawing and gluing — we emerge with a sculptor, but in fact all these preliminary steps merely involve a mad rush to the decisive act: decoration. All of the artist's efforts in the end are toward the preparation of the surface for the covering, the surface of painting. This is not a construction that carries a shell, but a shell that carries a construction.
Kanterewicz's sculpture is actually a two-dimensional work that has taken on volume. Her previous work dealt with the same issue in the following way: they are paintings that bear witness to a certain discomfort with the limits of the frame and painting surface. With time, the painting began to take on volume, and eventually it spilled over its clearly defined borders. At first that involved irregularities of surface, bulges and protrusions; later it evolved to full-fledged three-dimensional work. Her work with the flowers was preceded by reliefs that involved the obsessive folding and manipulation of ordinary tape, which created an organic, ornate, vaginal effect. The distance between this work and the discovery of the magical qualities of the decorative gift-wrap flowers was negligible. The adoption of the flower as the central image involves a process that, in retrospect, seems inevitable. When the "flower" is unraveled, it returns to its original state as a flat ribbon, a fancy and colorful first cousin to the bland, ordinary tape.
The moment we leave the sculptural issue behind, and turn to the matter of surface, we see Kanterewicz's painting as a painting of texture, a monochromatic and textured painting. Among the great many artists who are identified with a textural surface — Kanterewicz's greatest affinity is for the monochromaticism of Yves Klein. In Klein's work one gets the sense of a fungus, of an organic, cancerous growth on the skin of the painting's canvas. With Kanterewicz, the texture is much more artificial.
Kanterewicz raises relevant issues about the paint field. She supplies a surface, or perhaps relates to the directions for assembly and folding. That said, she herself rarely asks questions about painting; instead, the viewer asks them. For her, the transition from painting on a two-dimensional surface to painting on a three-dimensional surface is natural and uninterrupted, just as impressionism or cubism are axiomatic for art students today, or exactly as Martha Graham and her revolutionary dance has become part of the basic curriculum for any aspiring dancer. In other words, Liora Kanterewicz's first steps in the world of art were taken within an environment that, as a matter of course, does not understand painting only in terms of its classical, formalist definition. Therefore the transition from medium to medium in her work is also something that should hardly surprise, as it is simply the materialization of what has already been taken for granted.
Basic experiences and issues concerning the nature of the medium are raised quite naturally in the process of viewing the works. Similar experiences and questions are provoked by Jeff Koons's enormous sculpture of a dog: an ornate, decadent sculpture, which conceals a modernist structure. (Is there any substructure or interior structure that is not modernist?) The order and the meaning that Koons imposes have caused the "natural" flowers to seem no less, and perhaps even more, miserable and detached than Kanterewicz's synthetic flowers. Irreparable cracks have opened up within the line of demarcation between the "artificial" and the "real".