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CRUST Anna Hayat and Slava Pirsky

Crust exhibition at Jerusalem Artists’ House by Anna Hayat and Slava Pirsky at February – March 2011

Catalogue design: On the cover: Anna (detail), 2010, Polaroid type 55 (positive/negative) All works: 2001-2010, Polaroid type 55 and type 665 (positive/negative) © All rights reserved, Anna Hayat and Slava Pirsky, 2011 |

CRUST Exhibition by Anna Hayat and Slava Pirsky Catalog text by Shani Nachmias Like an image resurfacing in a vague memory, enveloped in a crust of oblivion, the photographs in Anna Hayat and Slava Pirsky’s exhibition exist in an enigmatic, faceless space. The landscapes and portraits occur in a place that is no place, and a time that is no time, therefore constantly in motion between the tangible and the supposed. Hayat and Pirsky have been working and living together for ten years. Their affinity to the aesthetics of the Renaissance of the Low Countries manifests itself in the use of soft and dim window light and gestures from Christian iconography. The portrait collection in the exhibition shows family, friends and house pets – a couple of Sphinx cats and a Sighthound, all depicted poetically and nostalgically, taking the viewer back to the early days of photography in the 19th century. It seems that the artist duo is deliberately shaking off the dictates and language of contemporary art, claiming the pleasure of explicitly dealing with beauty. The artists associated with the Pictorialist school of photography in the 19th century strived to “create works of poetic beauty through photography”1. Photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron, and later the rest of the Linked Ring2, reserved the privilege of creating “beautiful” images without being categorized as tasteless. In our time, the creation of beauty for the sake of beauty is considered obscene and contemptible. Viewing Hayat and Pirsky’s portraits raises the issue again. At first glance, the poetic nature of the works is off-putting – it feels as if we are falling into the trap of the hollow beauty that is only meant to give us pure but shallow pleasure. A closer look at the works teaches us that the blinding beauty is a fleeting impression. Underneath it we find the sense of awe at how the works simultaneously contain conflicting messages: on one hand, the softness of the figures sculpted in the window light, the delicacy of the gestures and the feeling of intimacy they create. On the other hand, the reproachful and disturbing look in the eyes of the subjects, as if rising from the depths and demanding to restore a certain truth. They are separated from us by a transparent but impenetrable screen, which turns them into an assembly of ghosts whose presence alternates between tangible and imagined. Looking at them, we cannot help wondering: are they alive or dead? Hayat and Pirsky’s affinity to the early days of photography is also expressed in the photographs of landscapes from Jerusalem and the Judean Desert area. In the 19th century European photographers first ventured to photograph the places mentioned in the New Testament, such as Bethlehem, Valley of Jehoshaphat and Beth 1. M. Frizot (ed), A New History of Photography, KÖNEMANN, 1998, p.306 2. An association of photographers established in London, 1892, with the purpose of promoting the medium of photography as a fine art.

Anya. The feeling of religious-romantic excitement at the sight of Israel’s desolate desert landscapes rises from the works even when Hayat and Pirsky photograph unknown landscapes seemingly lacking any historic importance. In many of the photographs the division of the frame leaves more room for the sky than the land, thus suggesting a heavenly presence and giving the photographs a mystical and spiritual dimension. Yet, in the vast and seemingly virginal landscape, tiny buildings or rows of trees planted by man appear, as an evidence of earthly life. The meticulously executed photographs are charged with the weight of history, as if about to buckle under the weight of the cultural baggage they embody. By comparison, this redundancy emphasizes the mostly barren, anonymous landscapes, as well as the meagerness of the portraits with their casual clothes and their even, dark and undistinguished background. The disruption of the time dimension is further enforced by the technical aspect of Hayat and Pirsky’s work. The photographs are created using a Polaroid film containing developing liquid. In a few minutes two images are formed: a positive and a negative. In order to print from the negative in the future, the remaining liquid must be removed from it by soaking it in another liquid. Sometimes the artists chose not to remove this liquid completely, and thus random spots are created on the negative, resembling stigmata – wounds that were left on the body of Jesus from the crucifixion, according to the New Testament, and are today considered a divine sign. The traces of developing liquid and the net of dots marking the edges of the photograph appear on the margins of the pictures as well. These marks, along with the marks of disgrace on the flesh of the subjects, reinforce the feeling that the photographs had been made before the appearance of the industrial photo film, back when the photographers had to make their own photographic plates. When Polaroid Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2001, Hayat and Pirsky purchased a supply of film, stored in their home. In fact, every photograph they produce reduces their stock, and brings them closer to the day when they are left with none. According to the artists, when they run out of film they will turn to methods of making photographic plates such as Daguerreotype and Calotype3 – as the pioneers of photography did. It can therefore be said that the progression of Hayat and Pirsky’s work is occurring on borrowed time.

3. Photography techniques common in the 19th century. Because photographic plates weren’t sold commercially, the photographers were forced to prepare the plates themselves and therefore required knowledge and skills in chemistry.


Exhibition catalogue