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“Leviathan”, Dana Yoeli’s sculptural installation examines the position of modernism in Israeli art

Written by Dr. Smadar Sheffi


The Conceptual scope of "Leviathan", a sculptural installation by Dana Yoeli exhibited in Kav 16 gallery in Tel Aviv, is impressive. Yoeli examines the Israeli modernistic tradition in the face of the secular traditions that pushed the other into cultural oblivion and continue to pervade it.

the Contrast is located in the aesthetic level. Yoeli refers both to Brutalism, an architectural style that developed in the 1950s, and to the heritage of the porcelain figurines, a legacy of the bourgeoisie of the 19th century, that  has become a symbol of bad taste with the rise of modernism in the country. Israeli context is the struggle that contains the negation of violence and exile deleting past, subjects that started to rise in early 20th century and received a shocking tragic aspect after the Holocaust.

Yoeli, born 1979, finished the graduate program at Bezalel in 2010, expresses this broad horizon in the small space of kav 16 Gallery. Since it’s opening, Kav 16 community gallery raised the banner of social activity. The gallery is located in Kfir neighborhood, a place that embodies the failure of  the architectural modernistic idea.

Opposing the Israeli statehood

a wall divides the gallery space. Its facade is gray and made as a relief. This is the Pastiche of what appeared to encounter the Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem (designed by  Lipa Yahalom and Dan Zur), wall sculptures and architecture of Dani Karavan and of Ram Karmi; that is, symbol of statehood and ideology in Israel, mainly public memorial sites and monuments, places of indoctrination of identity. The power of these icons was challenged from every possible direction in recent decades. In sight of this, another gray wall, the separation wall between Israel and the occupied territories, is the inevitable connotation.

On the other side of the wall an arrangement of "columns" of plywood, those seem like museum display pedestals that are missing their Plexiglas cover, so the exhibits become vulnerable. On top of them stand Miniature porcelain-like figures in various finishing stages: some not yet burnt and unglazed, some glazed others colorful and bright.

Yoeli creates a contrast between the "cute" and kitsch first impression, and the closer look that is revealed on further viewing. This observation reveals that instead of romantic images, absolutely not realistic, of shepherds, peasants and aristocrats Yoeli sculpted scenes of catastrophe and cruelty, scenes of death and destruction with a mythic quality. Body parts stumps, predators, collapsed pieces of clothing and architecture are depicted in the small statues that wish to be subtle in terms of making them. The technical aspect is far from perfect. Greater refinement and precision that were closer to that grand tradition of European porcelain (the ancient Chinese porcelain imitation much) - would make the show a lot stronger. Yoeli relies on similar artistic entries, which is clearly the work of the brothers Dynus and Jake Chapman. The Chapman Brothers, exhibited in Israel in several group exhibitions since the ‘90s and are known for their taboo shattering, iconoclastic sculpture.  The best example is “Fucking Hell” (2008), a sculpture consisting of nine grisly scenes that are a combination of mythical religious narratives and documentation of concentration camps. About 30 thousand miniature figures, mostly in Nazi uniform, used them to create apocalyptic scenes (Ironically, an early version of the work went up in flames in a fire that broke out warehouses collection Saatchi in 2004). Yoeli's work doesn’t contain the feeling of “Apocalypse Now” such as the work of the Chapman brothers, but the sense of a collection of specific disasters; there should be a moral to them, but it remained vague. It is also unclear what the justification for the use of feminine nudity, much like the genre of historical painting (and later historical films and television series) that was in fact pornography in the cover of artistic acts.

Beautifying and Coverage

As a whole the installation succeeds in creating an impressive transformation in the contemplation and thought on modernism in Israel. While In the past, the hegemony of modernism in Israeli culture was taken for granted, during the last two decades, with a renewed perspective on the disintegration of the modernistic project, this perception has changed. And so, For example, after Tel Aviv and  UNESCO praised the “White City”, the International Style , continuing the automatic affirmation of everything in the spirit of the past  it was the turn of the eclectic style to  become the subject of conservation.

This duality is also evident in the exhibition: Yoeli uses iconic symbols of modernism that are part of the Israeli collective memory in a way that they all relate to power; porcelain, however, represents a world of deformed values ​​and acts as a cover story.

The exhibition title, "Leviathan", refers to the artistic internal debate - a question of artistic modernism and other concepts in the history of local art. "Leviathan" was the name of a group that operated in the middle of the 70s (established by Michael Grobman and Abraham Ofek) and expanded the art of fantastic sources of Jewish content to contemporary art. Yoeli’s Leviathan is not an extension of these themes, but an Ironic statement on to types of content and memory. The European past, what many perceived as “cultural” and turned out to be disappointing lie, as well as what was thought to be the Modernistic truth. 



Haaretz, Galeria, 29.3.2011

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