Alon Segev Gallery
January – February 2011
The border line of the gaze
"Death is the phenomenon of the end, all the while being the end of the phenomenon."
- Emmanuel Lévinas, God, Death, and Time (1)
At first glance, Maya Gold's new works appear as landscape paintings; intense paintings, crammed and emptied at the same time, featuring cloud-stained skies, bare mountain slopes, snow-clad mountaintops, extended seascapes. Each work in the series seems to freeze a given moment in time; although it is a transient moment, it appears lifeless, static, as if the attempt to suspend the memory of the specific moment has left it without restraints. Thus, the landscapes revealed in the works—recurring in various manifestations, reversed, duplicated, or with minute alterations—turn out to be impossible landscapes. Something about the scale, the layout, the points of convergence between water and sky, clouds and earth, attests that they are not real, that the topography revealed in them is entirely subjective, that, to a large extent, these are landscapes of yearning, of seeking something which hadn't necessarily occurred. Even fragments of an identified, familiar reality embedded in the works, eliciting a fluttering sense of closeness, are almost immediately dissolved and converted into a scorching insight of alienation and foreignness. In fact, an overview of the entire series exposes an ongoing process of nullification, a process which assumes a different appearance in each work, culminating in the black works which dissolve into darkness, into the void.
Gold's practice over the years has maintained a profound affinity with photography, not only in the mode of structuring and the accumulation of the images in the works. If in earlier series the link was based mainly on the use of photographic perspective, such as that of aerial photographs, in the current series the link with photography is manifested with respect to the temporal dimension, to the way in which the freezing of time preserves and deadens it at the same time. In many respects, observation of this series calls to mind Roland Barthes's description of the photographic image as one "which produces Death while trying to preserve life,"(2) since "not only is the Photograph never, in essence, a memory (whose grammatical expression would be the perfect tense, whereas the tense of the Photograph is the aorist), but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory."(3) Indeed, the tension between the movement of life and the sense of death in Gold's works is intense. It evolves in the space that opens in their midst, in the void revealed within them, and it is also closely linked to the distancing of the gaze. It seems that Gold’s works are always painted from a distance, depicting the world but not really belonging to it.
In her early works, the point of view was dependent on the longitudinal axis; it extended from a very high vantage point downward, to the ground, the road, or the sidewalk. In the new works the gaze is located much lower, and extends horizontally into the space—yet still located at a great, imperceptible distance. The process of emptying and nullification is also discernible in the fact that the early works emphasized the figures' action, whose presence seemed to generate the painting, whereas in the current works there is no direct human presence, there is no clear occurrence. The scanty human presence in the new works is revealed only in the reflection of the city lights on the water, or in the view of the buildings on the bank of the lowest place in the world. Thus, whereas in early works the painting was generated by the human presence, gathering leaves, scattering oranges, opening and closing umbrellas—acts which organize the space, creating an imaginary frame of time and place—in the new works, the ridge line, the rhythm of the trees or the density of the reflected stains on the water, replace the figures' actions, becoming the organizers of the composition, the generators of the painting.
Each of the works in the series has an inner lateral axis, around which the painterly process evolves and by which the built-in surreal dimension crystallizes—a process based on time-space relations which produce impossible hybrids, such as evergreens in the desert, clouds reflected on the ground, etc. This lateral axis is modeled as a sharp, absolute line, which is not the horizon in the distant, imaginary intersection between sky and earth or sea, but rather the real line of convergence between the water and the mountain ranges appearing in the works which block the gaze, preventing it from penetrating, from moving on and probing. A systematic perusal of the works in the series soon reveals that the horizon is always blocked in them, concealed, and that the inability to extend the gaze is not only topographical or physical, but primarily emotional or mental.
Gold's work consists of combination of various work modes and distortion of their customary cultural divisions. The process of work on the paintings is methodological, rationalistic, structured, conscious. It demands great dexterity and utmost precision in the application of paint and construction of the works' surface. The painterly result, however, has a momentum; it is emotionally jolting, lyrical. In these works, Gold seems to transform the emotional intricacy into a formalistic issue, a painterly problem.
In this context it is interesting to examine her work against that of renowned German artist Gerhard Richter, especially with respect to the principle which informed his work on the extensive series of paintings he created in the late 1960s based on photographs, among them Alpine, Clouds, and Seascapes. Founded on existing photographic images, these series reveal an ongoing process of duplication. For Richter, the significant element is not the content of the images, but the process involved in their appearance in the world, both in the phase of their presentation in photography and in the phase of their representation in the painting. Gold, in contrast, is not occupied with the issue of presentation or representation as such. Although she delves into the question of painterly appearance and distorts the dimension of representation, she does so in order to complement a mental process; in other words, she does not engage in conceptual deciphering of the images' appearance in the world, but in conscious manipulation of the act of painting ultimately intended to refine an emotional stand.
The title of the exhibition embodies several referential strata which project on the exhibition as a whole. The word echo(4) denotes a sound produced by the reflection of sound waves from a surface after the original sound was heard. The repetition, which is a reflection of the original sound, attests to it, but at the same time transforms it into an independent entity. The use of the word "echo," however, also suggests the common Hebrew abbreviation of "echocardiogram" (electrocardiogram or ECG)—a medical examination investigating the action of the heart by using ultrasound waves translated into a graph which appears and is registered on screen or, if necessary, on a paper roll. The outline of the medical graph, which, in many ways, represents the "line of life," is marked in Gold's works by the line flickering amidst the mountain ridges or the tree reflections, with their peaks and troughs: a line hiding the horizon, dissolving into the space. The border line of the gaze.
1. Emmanuel Lévinas, "Time Considered on the Basis of Death," God, Death, and Time, trans.: Bettina Bergo (Stanford, California: Stanford UP, 2000), p. 50.
2. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans: Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1980), p. 92.
3. Ibid., p. 91.
4. The word "echo" originates in Greek mythology: the talkative nymph Echo was persuaded by Zeus, King of the Olympians, to distract his wife Hera with her chatter in order to keep her from noticing his seduction of other nymphs. Upon discovering her husband's infidelity and Echo's scheme, Hera punished the nymph, condemning her to repeat others' words, and never express her own.
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