The Palaces of Animals

Dr. Irena Gordon

 

The title of Dana Yoeli’s hybrid works, The Animal Palaces, was drawn from Franz Hessel’s novel Walking in Berlin, which describes the municipal zoo as a spectacular prison that has nothing to do with animals. The works consist of animal, plant, and shell elements, inspired by a delicate woman’s hand, which connects a baroque-theatrical world with an empirical-scholarly stance of human observation of nature. The forced connections between the sculptures’ constituent elements—awe- and yearning-inspiring objects—draw attention to the possibility that everything may fall apart at any moment.

Yoeli’s main exhibition space is the Taxidermy Museum at the Zoo, which was founded in the 1970s and seems to have frozen in time. In it, she installs porcelain sculptures—a sculptural process ostensibly antithetical to the taxidermies presented in it, which at the same time also echoes them. The otherness of the delicate porcelain sculptures reinforces the tension between the sense of belonging to the environment, on the one hand, and control over the environment and alienation towards it, on the other. The sculptures lead to an installation, consisting of taxidermy remnants and traces of exhibits, signifying the unconscious of the place and of man-nature relations. Via an operatic-phantasmagoric staging of a tableau vivant, it introduces a burial cave of sorts, inspired by images of shrines, such as the one in Masaccio’s Holy Trinity—a paragon of the deadening frontal logic of the work of art, which simultaneously also remembers its death (memento mori). Concurrently, in one of the spaces at the art museum, Yoeli installs two fountain-sculptures, as mirror images that represent the concept of Paradise—that piece of artificial nature which man designs and cultivates. The space becomes a hall of sanctity and remembrance, beauty and deadening stasis.