Helena Rubinstein Pavilion, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art
August 2004 – October 2004
Walking down the stairs into the exhibition space, Alice Klingman's installation unfolds at your feet, consisting of a set of sculptural objects, akin to colorful circular surfaces scattered on the floor, disrupting its order, staining its gray monochromatic tone. These round surfaces were made of various thermoplastic materials, melted and reworked to generate dynamic patches of color and form; embossed, tactile blots that appear at once soft and rigid.
A closer look reveals that the artist has created dense clusters of diverse narrative occurrences on top of these surfaces, using children's toys and various plastic games that were treated in a high temperature, and consequently underwent a violent process of transformation. This process, that caused the objects' partial or full melting, dissociated them from their functional, often childized, playful, and innocent origin, and furnished them with a new state of being. An overflowing, packed, and saturated state; one that is associatively and formally linked with the different facets of our all-too-familiar everyday life, yet gains an explicit dimension of estrangement and critical charge during the work process.
Soldiers, dancers, footballers, dwarfs, and fairies are only a part of the range of figures starring in these pieces. One of the works, for example, juxtaposes a group of soldiers engaged in mine detection with a flock of storks that carry newborn babies in their beaks. Another piece confronts the viewer with a colorful jumble of objects and occurrences that seem to have been heaped and buried under a transparent white veil that has sealed and stifled their existence. Another work presents a delightful bluish surface on which the solitary, radiating figure of a green fairy stands, while yet another features scores of soldiers lying on the ground, drooped and lifeless, as bright green trees spring up from amidst their bodies.
One of the central works presents an assortment of events, all pertaining to recreational activities of sorts. Various figures, better or lesser known, are seen playing, dancing, bathing, singing, and taking photographs. This work presents a type of illusive carnival that inundates the viewer with an excess of color, action, and motion, eliciting the sense of a fast-forwarded animated cartoon that drags and shifts the viewer from one action to another, from one frame to the next.
Thus, despite the luring coloration and the figures' essential appeal, the works convey a harsh and disconcerting feeling, that of a catastrophe, of horror, of total lack of meaning; a feeling of indefinability.
The combined observation of the various works in the exhibition exposes and reinforces the horrifying paradox raging between them, thereby enhancing the grim existential duality that ties together war, death, destruction, and ruination, on the one hand, and the cyclical nature of life, growth, and movement, on the other.
Alice Klingman is a young artist whose work spans diverse mediums, including photography, video, sculpture, and installation. In previous works she addressed questions concerning the representation of body and gender, explored the use of high versus low materials, and engaged in various work practices, while successfully combining rich and compact material articulation with exact conceptual refinement.
In the current exhibition, as in her previous works, her commitment to political and gender-related themes and their various manifestations, is evident. At the same time, however, it is interesting to note the tactic typical of her work, one that chooses to focus not on a specific event (as in Gerhard Richter's 18 October 1977 series, for example), but rather on examining and defining things on the principal level, while engaging in what Benjamin Buchloh has termed “contemporary history.”
Klingman's work thus raises several issues for an acute critical examination simultaneously. Primarily, it touches upon the face of culture and time, on both the global and the local levels. Within this frame, the militarist, belligerent ambience in which we live and operate, “out of habit” so to speak, occupies a central place; an ambience that is enhanced and revalidated by the day, by the hour, both in a direct manner that pertains to the very question of existence, and in an indirect manner that pertains to the irreversible transformation of language, consciousness, and the moral value system of all those who touch upon and are touched by the horror. The work clearly exposes the absurdity inherent in the very existence of the cyclical dynamism of birth toward death, the feeling of futility, the sense of numbness that prevails. The artist's disillusioned, melancholic, somewhat cynical perspective leaves the viewer confronted with a harsh mirror reflection, that in spite of, or possibly due to, a seductive guise of color and form, manages to shake and provoke thought.
Another theme addressed through the work is the mechanisms of social and gender structuring ingrained within the ostensibly normative socialization processes. Survey of the toys and children's games comprising the works instantly reveals the clear dichotomy underlying the division of social roles, a dichotomy that, from a very early age, directs boys toward ”heroic“ military activity, and girls – toward “decorative” recreational activity.
Furthermore, the work also conveys a direct critical reference to contemporary consumerist culture, a concern that will be elaborated below.
Precedents for the use of dolls or doll parts as part of the broader discussion of the changing face of culture over the years, may be traced back to the early 20 th century, mainly to the work of artists involved in the Surrealist movement, such as Man Ray or Hans Bellmer. A more explicit and charged critical context is discernible in the works of various artists who operated from the 1970s onward. Cindy Sherman's work manifests a critical approach to the representation of the female body and its social status; Annette Messager's work undermines a wide range of prevalent ideological hierarchies, both in terms of her uninhibited use of diverse materials, and in terms of the fields of knowledge they represent; Paul McCarthy's work cynically explores the face of American society, suggesting the structure of the patriarchal family as the locus of severe disorder, whereas Mike Kelly's work deals with violent and sexual traumas, mainly those suffered in childhood.
Klingman's work, in contrast, does not employ actual dolls, but rather small, simple, cheap, and expendable children's toys, such as giveaway toys included in meals by fast food chains, or ones intended as one-time cake decorations, or others used as prizes and surprises. These are not toys that accompany one's childhood over the course of years, but rather ones designed to provide immediate satisfaction, and to dissolve or expire quickly enough to keep the exchange chain working. Klingman's choice of such toys draws attention to contemporary consumerist culture that manufactures readily-available objects and replaceable temptations, a culture that leaves its mark not only on the economic level, but also, mainly, on the mental and psychic level.
In this context it is also interesting to mention Tim Noble and Sue Webster who have made sculptural use of domestic waste piles in works such as Dirty White Trash (with Gulls) (1998) or Real Life is Rubbish (2002), and who critically examine the destructive impact of contemporary consumerist culture, which produces such rapid rotation and endless piles of non-degradable waste.
With regard to Klingman's work, however, the reading may be taken one step further to introduce yet another potential argument, that a culture that produces such a high rate of interchange on the material level, produces and demands a similar substitution mechanism on the personal level as well – a radical argument that surprisingly corresponds with the dimension of ephemerality and the brittle definition of life stemming from the ongoing state of conflict in which we live.
And thus, as you exit the exhibition space, the primary formal context of Klingman's works, reminiscent of a strange series of mourning or memorial wreathes, possesses a stratified meaning that goes far beyond the visual dimension.