Nelly Agassi

No Stepping Outside the Lines and No Stepping On the Floor -Two Exhibitions

Camera Obscura Gallery, Tel Aviv + Borochov Gallery, Tel Aviv

October 1999 - December 1999

Red is the color with the longest wave in the spectrum of visible light and the most extreme in the rainbow of colors. Red is the color with which a woman paints her face, sometimes even certain parts of her body, in order to emphasize her femininity. Red is also the color that serves as a warning, the color of war, the modernist masculine color, the archetypal feminine color.

Red is also the color of blood, and the dominant color in the works of Nelly Agassi.

The red of lipstick, of nail varnish, of wool, of embroidery. Of blood.

The blood circulation which flows inside the body, dynamic, but closed, sealed and imprisoned, bearing and conducing the interiority, the intimacy, the pain. Touching upon essence. The blood circulation which constitutes the wound, even before it bursts outwards through the skin barrier, into the atmosphere, to the oxygen which will combine with it, form a compound with it, and change its color, its form.

Except that the blood itself is not visible in the works of Nelly Agassi.

The installation in the gallery space at Camera Obscura is composed of one video work and a series of large-scale objects that encompass the space - cascades of red wool that stem from the wall and pour downwards to the floor, monumental, total, abundant.

In the video work Agassi is seen painting her lips with red lipstick, then continuing towards her neck in a direct diagonal line, going around her neck and painting more and more red choker loops, tighter and tighter, until she finally completes the circle at the other side of her mouth. A completion which closes the choker loop entirely, yet creates an additional mouth, vast, wide-open, crying out. An outcry remaining in the space, reverberating silently among the hundreds of threads of wool which hang there, bleeding.

In the gallery space at Borochov, drawings done with small, economical, minimalistic lines, and objects of various kinds are exhibited. Nipples with hair or blood dripping from them, never milk. A small foot, based inside salt at the bottom of a box, with large, rough needles stemming from its ankle. A veiled feather, dark red, with a tiny baby wrapped in cloth tied, sewn, pressed to its base. A small tin box, with wrapped metal scissors lying inside it, as though buried in its bed.

Works revolving around a cyclical axis of life and death, inside and outside, containing and vomiting. Works which touch the dark areas of consciousness, invade the distanced regions of thought, break up the loop of the family, and bear a certain, imaginary, transparency, which is eventually revealed as a screen of darkness. Works which are interwoven with repressed, saturated, very present violence, but one that is by definition, not articulated.

Agassi's work process is full of obsessive, repetitive, sisyphean actions, which function as a gripping point, as a sole possibility, as a connection to reality, to safe ground. In a performance held in the display window of the Studio at Borochov, on the day the exhibition opened, Agassi sat on a chair in the middle of the display window, wearing a long white dress and holding her legs pressed together, with a heap of rolls of red wool beside her. From this heap she cut threads upon threads and tied them in loops around herself, over and over, cutting and tying, until she was completely covered with loops from her feet up to under her arms. When the act of winding was complete, she began unraveling the loops, one by one, scattering the threads around her.

The open, ostensibly public, display window, serves the artist as a closed laboratory which enables her simulated exposure, yet preserves, absolutely, the separation between her (and her body) and the public watching her, prevented from coming closer, perhaps touching her.

The two exhibitions, which carry a mutual name, complement one another and encompass the same feminine body of consciousness. The works in the gallery space at Borochov touch upon it in a more immediate, emotional and intuitive way, while the installation in the gallery space at Camera Obscura deals with it in a more intellectual, conceptual way.

Agassi's split, double choice of ostensibly opposed action strategies, emphasizes the fact that her work represents an important and fascinating transition in the feminist thinking and practice of the nineties, a transition from a declared engagement with feminism to an existent engagement with femininity. This is, to a large extent, a post-feminist stage, which entails an engagement with the private and the intimate, not from the starting-point of social immobility or of weakness, but from a starting-point of privilege and of choice. And thus, Agassi's works do echo the traditional, domestic, women's crafts embroidery, sewing, knitting but her use of these materials is not conventional, certainly not functional, and accumulates a different resonance that stems from the sober awareness of the moment of choice.

No Stepping Outside the Lines and No Stepping On the Floor is the name of a common children's game. The framework of the game sets rigid rules, arbitrary in essence but obligatory in their definition, which dictate to the participants in the game how to conduct themselves in space, and demand concentration, accuracy, strategic planning and increasing performance abilities. This is a game which is not limited in time, and which ends, by definition, only with the failure of one of the participants, that is, only when one of the participants is no longer able to remain within the permitted boundaries. No Stepping Outside the Lines and No Touching the Floor thus constitutes a symptomatic model of the impossibility of conducting oneself within the bounds of the arbitrary law, of the private, human victory, that is embodied in the moment of public collapse.



Nelly Agassi

No Stepping Outside the Lines and No Stepping on the Floor

Camera Obscura Gallery, Tel Aviv + Borochov Gallery, Tel Aviv
English Text
Hebrew Text