Liquids in Contemporary Art

Exhibited artists


In the era following World War II, sweeping changes transformed the way people live and created new social needs and challenges. The Polish-born sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (b. 1925) coined the phrase “liquid modernity” to characterize the new global reality as opposed to the “solid” modernity that preceded it.1 In the new reality, the borders between countries have been breached, leading to mass migration between them: walls have been pulled down; totalitarian regimes have fallen and others have sprung up to replace them; mass communication and the consumer culture have facilitated dialogue and mutual fertilization – and thus, a hybrid global culture was created. Psychological teachings formulated at the beginning of the 20th century impelled modern individuals to rethink their place in the world. In a universe where everything – institutions, information, technology, economy, communications, science – is in a state of constant movement and flux, then individual existence also becomes liquid, momentary and vulnerable. From this perspective, artists also began to reexamine their role in society. In the liquid modern era, artists tend to avoid serving ideals or social structures (which became liquid and unstable) and instead focus on individual exploration and personal creation. This exhibition examines how contemporary artists give expression in their works to the liquid age in which they live. The works on display relate to varying aspects of the liquidity of modern existence: emotional, gender or social liquidity, which on the one hand, is threatening, and on the other, enables genesis, healing and consolation. Yifat Bezalel (b. 1975) presents a richly emotional inner world, which finds its place as a reflection on the floor. She is seeking a different frequency, of nature saturated with water – and its rarity in Israel, the land where she dwells, leads her to reinvent it, over and over again. She creates an image of a clear and complete reality by means of an academic sketch, but then she severs it and transforms it when she reflects it into a black puddle or a black hole. There it becomes elusive, amorphous and liquid. The Czech artist Vaclav Cigler (b. 1929) creates in glass and as he it, he catches in the raw material traces of its existence as a liquid. In his glass work, Optic Round Panorama, the gleam of the optical glass produces an encounter between light and the viewer’s visual abilities. It seems like the glass, which reflects everything that’s going on around it, becomes the image of both the material’s liquidity and the liquidity of the viewer’s existence. As in a movie, Tal Frank (b. 1973) freezes inscrutable and mysterious scenes. This installation produces the illusion of a black liquid spilling onto the floor – a wounded and bloody pool that conflicts with the beauty of the snow-white swan, made of folded paper. The image from life is presented in a frozen installation, which hints at borrowed time: a liquid black as crude oil, spreading over the sea and polluting humanity’s life source. Kate Gilmore (b. 1975) is an American installation and performance artist. The stories she builds examine symbols and behaviors related to femininity. In most of her video works, she appears as an obsessive, almost tragic, figure and this is the case in Built to Burst. This documents a performance in which she smashes containers full of paint in a room and does not let up until she shatters the last of the filled vessels. The entire room fills up with the resulting colors and with the sounds of the powerful and violent acts that run counter to the feminine stereotype. It seems as if Gilmore is taking part in a tribal ritual, whose result is an outsized, spontaneous and strikingly powerful painting, in the style of the American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. Dudi Hasson (b. 1981) chooses to photograph the sea during the hours when it appears that the sea is hiding behind itself. The emptiness of the photographed landscapes and the location of the lens across from them create a sense of existential loneliness. The earth, the sea and the horizon interconnect until it momentarily appears that the liquidity seeped into the earth and the sky and conquered them. The ambiguity of the hour at which the photograph was taken causes us to perceive even time itself as liquid. The American artist Marilyn Minter (b. 1948) is occupied with sensuality and life’s pleasures, using imagery taken from the glamorous world of New York – from stiletto-heeled shoes to photographs of nude women. Minter places a glass divider between the camera and the photograph’s subject, and shoots in slow motion. Thus, she creates a liquid world of images that are colorful, sparkling and rich. In the work Play Pen, babies are filmed in close-up as they roll around in silver and gold paint, tossing it around in every direction and filling the screen with lustrous liquids. The video is suffused with innocence, along with the mature recognition that such unrestrained, genuinely innocent enjoyment is possible only in the world of childhood. The video work of the American artist Martin Murphy (b. 1982) deals with the effects of the consumer culture and is itself influenced by the world of cinema and advertising. In very brief scenes, he focuses on the act of erasure and destruction of the image. An abstract painting instantly turns into an image of burning, which itself immediately disappears. As in the advertising world, the image is powerful yet fleeting; the artist creates a new reality, in which there are liquid transitions between situations that are momentary and variable, between a paradoxical “before” and “after.” In his video works, Uri Nir (b. 1976) examines the interaction between people and animals. He injects human blood into a jellyfish and films it as it spreads through the creature’s veins and infuses it with life. The video (like many contemporary works that deal with the link between the world of art and various scientific fields) admits the viewer into the research laboratory treating biological cells; the transformation of the jellyfish into an artistic creation creates a parallel between the artistic and the scientific process. By means of an act that is imbued with healing attributes, the artist attempts to save that which cannot be saved. In the video work of Eden Ofrat (b. 1979), we are witness to a blazing-hot kiss. The artist photographs the mouths’ space in such tight close-up that it appears to be a niche or alcove. The viewer’s closeness to the sensual event produces a feeling that the whole world comes together within this intimate moment, but at the same time, it also turns the observer into a Peeping Tom. In the act of kissing, the flowing liquidity is a metaphor for emotion; this liquid tastes of love. The whispers accompanying the act add a theatrical dimension. Orlan (b. 1947) is a French multidisciplinary artist and confirmed feminist whose work focuses on her body, her femininity and her sexuality. She has even changed her body through plastic surgery as part of her artistic oeuvre. In her work, she investigates the boundaries between concealing and revealing, and between various ways of relating to femininity. Thus, for example, she presents herself dressed in a robe and carrying a cross like St. Mary, while surrounded by male sexual organs and exposing her body. In 1977, she created a sensation at an exhibition in Paris with her work entitled Le baiser de l’artiste (The Kiss of the Artist), in which she sat behind a life-size nude photo of herself and another photo of herself as the Madonna, and offered viewers the option of lighting a candle or getting a kiss from the artist – for a fee of 5 francs. In its current incarnation, 30 years later, the kiss has been transformed into a liquid, Orlan perfume, which comes in a three-bottle coffret containing Sainte-Orlan, Orlan-corps and a combination of the two scents. Hiraki Sawa (b. 1977) emigrated from Japan to Britain more than a decade ago. The mood of his work is meditative and relaxed, in the spirit of Zen. The naivete characterizing his outlook ushers the viewer into a dream world, and his poetical work flutters, softly and sensitively, between the real and the imaginary. In his video Within, all the objects are in a state of perpetual motion, existing in a liquid surrealistic reality that veers between a realistic world and a dream world resembling a Luna Park. The scene is chaotic and dramatic, on the one hand, and fanciful and lyrical, on the other. Assaf Shoshan (b. 1973) expresses a yearning for the landscapes of Israel in his infinite photographs of the sea and the Negev Desert. In his “liquid” works, he presents the remnants of the day’s washed-up debris he encounters during his nocturnal wanderings along the seashore, or the shadow falling on the sand that hints at the sea behind him, which is invisible in the darkness. The photographer’s gaze focuses on the land and the sea remains as a liquid and intriguing allusion. Merav Svirsky (b. 1981) came to the art world by way of dance and this is reflected in her occupation with the interim states of objects. In a work that brings to mind René Magritte, she places an object in liquid and its languid motion upward and downward, whether it’s floating or sinking, arouses wonder. Like the work of Jeff Koons, who investigated the power relations between liquids and objects in his series One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (1983-1993), in Svirsky’s works, it also seems that the tension that allows the object to remain in the exact center of the liquid – that same perfect balance – is the secret buried within artistic creation. British artist Boo Ritson (b. 1969) chooses the objects in her work with great care and paints them in bright colors while at the same time leaving in place their basic characteristics, and then photographs them. Sometimes she anoints the photographed images with dozens of layers of paint to achieve the depth, the shadowing and the games that produce the desired image – a deceptive image that looks like a photographed sculpture whose paint has not yet dried. These works are characterized by a delicate, confusing and surprising play between reality and its manipulation. Michal Rovner (b. 1957) presents in her video work a tremendous eruption of crude oil – a red liquid that looks like a constantly moving flame, a tornado of fire threatening to take control, while the black liquid resembles the remains or debris from the raw material that works to supply society’s needs. The oilfield symbolizes the brute force of the contemporary world and the economic power contained within it. The beautiful and the threatening combine in an inspirational visual creation that attests to the artist’s awareness of and concern about her surroundings. In Rovner’s other work, a group of people come together in a circle and bathe themselves, in a sort of ancient baptism ceremony, with a red liquid. Chaya Ruckin (b. 1984) places in doubt the standing of the object itself. In her transformation of a woman’s tear into a familiar object – a red bead – Ruckin charges it with a wide range of feelings. She confiscates from a cup its meaning as a container for liquids, as she elongates it until it turns into a tall statue. In her video work I Boat, she turns her body into a boat with a mast and a sail, as her submerged head leads the imaginary journey – a conceptual work filled with humor that deals with the chance to dream that the sea offers to art. The exhibition presents different facets of the concept of liquidity – from a social idea and platform for criticism to a reflection of the artist’s soul and a metaphor for the act of making art. The diversity of the works exhibited here gives expression to the liquid traits of our contemporary age, in which the artist and the viewer are taking part together. It is to be hoped that the liquidity in the art will resonate and permeate throughout the viewer’s consciousness. Marie Shek Curator