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Esther Naor

A f t e r m a t h


Esther Naor

A f t e r m a t h


Esther Naor A f t e r m at h

Stux + Haller Gallery, New York 24 Februar y – 26 March, 2016


Esther Naor: The Raft of Memory By Michaël Amy

Esther Naor writes with images. The art of writing arises in my mind when the artist tells me that the present display of works of art is to be envisioned as the conclusion of a trilogy of recent exhibitions — a format that brings certain literary works, or movies to mind. This type of construct introduces ideas of continuity and change over time — including the time it takes the artist to re-think her position, as she builds her next body of work on top of the metaphorical shoulders of the previous one, and the time sandwiched between the exhibitions, which dims the memory of the earlier ones, for the lucky few who were able to witness these. Exhibitions are ephemeral, unlike many texts and many works in film. The latter allow us to return to the preceding parts to remember what was stated and to see how we can tease out new meanings as we seek to reinterpret the completed work. A cycle of exhibitions that is to be understood as a totality — in a way that a chronological succession of exhibitions by a given artist most often can not — does not allow such freedom. Indeed, most of us will need to rely upon reproductions of the works included in the earlier exhibitions, catalogue essays, press releases, lists of images, exhibition reviews, and/or eye-witness accounts, in short upon the interpretation of others, in order to obtain an understanding — which will be by definition incomplete — of an exhibition conceived in three installments. Thus, Naor’s trilogy poetically evokes the cycle of life — namely youth, maturity and old age. We can no longer retrieve the former once we have reached the latter. We rely upon others, or upon other resources than the aging heart and mind — such as letters and photographs — to fill in the gaps; but the longer we wait, the thinner the thread becomes. Memor y is central to Esther Naor’s enterprise. This artist’s work engages — like the work of, say, Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, Magdalena Abakanowicz, William Kentridge, Doris Salcedo, and Walid Raad, to limit myself to recent expressions in the visual arts — with the challenge of living in a time of crisis. As a Jewish person of Iraqi descent who was born and raised and who lives and works in Israel, Esther Naor is something of a connoisseur when it comes to crisis. In her recent body of work, she looks at the responses of anonymous individuals to moments of maximum duress, a subject defying time and place. As the span of our memories is quite short, we trick ourselves into believing

that we must be living in the worst of times, though an ever so cursory glance back at, say, 20th century history suffices to remind us that our age is far from having a monopoly on horror. This is one of the reasons why the past matters so much. The past can serve as a corrective. When we think that we cannot go on, history tells us that yes, we should and can go on. Today, however, tragedy comes to us far more rapidly, and in more formats and variations, than ever before, thereby giving us the impression that we are engulfed in catastrophes, when we are not pelted with nonsense. Today, everyone who carries an I-phone around is a potential photojournalist, and anyone who has access to the Internet can become a self-publishing commentator on a seemingly worldwide scale. The last volume of Naor’s trilogy includes color photographs, shot in close-up by the artist, of people who are turned into themselves or are hugging others while in a state of considerable distress. Over these compositions, Naor superimposed a diaphanous image of a thermal blanket, before printing the whole on top of bright rectangular sheets of aluminum (all but one of which are horizontal). The distraught individuals who are depicted in these works were photographed by the artist moments after they were separated from the young men and women who were to begin their long and hazardous service in the Israeli army. The thin, wrinkled surface of the thermal blanket — which object is used to cover and protect trauma victims — and the pale palette of the seemingly underlying imagery of heads, limbs or clothing, lends a delicate and ephemeral quality to these compositions. Time flashes by. The mostly young men and women seem prematurely aged. The parallel lines in the blankets, running across the entire width of the panels, give these the appearance of charts upon which the ebb and flow of life will be recorded. We project meaning onto these truncated images filled with drama, gleaned from the information we have been bombarded with in recent weeks: Yet another shooting, yet another terrorist attack, yet another war, yet another ecological or industrial disaster leaving physically wounded and emotionally traumatized individuals behind, or causing people to be displaced to other areas, which will inexorably lead to new tensions and more incomprehension and, inevitably, additional waves of violence.


The photographs as light as watercolor surround a statue of a man who is hunched over as he strides forward, holding a thermal blanket over his head, shoulders and back, as if shielding himself from the rays of the sun, or from a downpour of misfortune. This figure’s pose is drawn from Goya’s painting of the Witches’ Flight in the Prado. Goya, a painter and draftsman whose profound humanity still strikes us with awe, is a universal artist — a man for all seasons. The figure he has invented remains, sadly, forever pertinent: A man in flight, pursued by despair. Esther Naor creates ensembles in which works in different media reinforce one another across time and space. Thus, the three levitating figures in the top half of Goya’s picture appeared in Naor’s previous exhibition titled A Sudden Dark Breeze Over My Uncovered Skin (New York City, April-May 2015), as pale, life-sized, levitating acrylic plaster female nudes, with tall white cylindrical hats, opening up at the top, crowning their heads. Two of the women hold an orange ready-made stretcher and the third, somewhat farther back, an actual buoy. The latter work is titled There Wasn’t a Man, Woman or Child I Could Lift a Finger For (2014), which sculpture coupled with this title brings to mind the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East who cross the Mediterranean Sea at great peril to reach Europe, a supposedly safer place where possibilities for peaceful existence are — hopefully — more plentiful. The leaping and striding and forward-leaning solemn women bear instruments of rescue. The title of the work cited above informs us, however, that they are ultimately powerless. The other composition, comprising the women who hold the empty stretcher, is titled How Far Would You Run With a Piece of Lead In Your Heart? (2014). In a video featured in that same exhibition, the artist appeared hunched over under a white towel, thereby evoking the man moving diagonally across the bottom of the painting by Goya. The emotional tenor of the third installment of Naor’s trilogy is increased through the links that are established within the cycle itself, as well as beyond it, namely with the world of culture and the more heartrending chapters in contemporary life. A series of small works comprising photographs of saucers stained with spills of thick black coffee, printed smack in the center of square orange fields like bull’s eyes set up for target practice, is titled Any Minute Something Can Happen (2014), thereby heightening the level of dread. The act of enjoying a sip of coffee seems br utally interrupted; the spills of dark matter may allude to the loss of blood.

Café culture constituted, for a long time, a vital way for people to interact with others and exchange ideas in the public sphere. That too is disappearing in too many places in this age when people sitting opposite of each other at a table cannot stop checking on everyone who is not there, via social media, as they ignore the person within arm’s reach. Significantly, it is gathering places, including cafés, that are often chosen as targets for attacks — for the larger the number of victims, the better, and the more pleasant the circumstances, the more distressing the outcome, by contrast. But why should I bring up attacks as we go over Naor’s trilogy? The reason for this is to be found in the tormented expressions of the men and women in the artist’s most recent body of work, and the repeated use of the image of the thermal blanket, which insulating device we associate with people who are being tended to shortly after being struck by disaster 1. The final volume of Naor’s trilogy colors everything that precedes it. My Worry Beads 1 (2014), a significantly over-sized rendering of a band of worr y beads, the elements of which are continuously flicked across a short distance of string or chain by fidgety fingers, hung nearby the female nude holding a buoy clasped against her torso, in the exhibition of 2015. Naor lets us know that she is anxious about what lies ahead. She is not alone. You Are All Red, and So Very White (2011) is the germ from which Naor’s trilogy sprung forth. The image of blood-loss is explicit in that installation, with its clumps of coagulated red matter seeping through suspended lengths of white gauze, like coffee dripping through paper filters. This macabre, process-oriented work, which pulls certain relics of Vienna Actionism into its wake (think Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Günter Brus), was followed by a set of melting, white, black and grey wax female heads, with the eyes and mouth closed, as if asleep. The latter compositions suggest injury and gradual disappearance into the formless puddles spreading at the bottom of the heads (I Am Forever Fog, 2012), a motif inflected by Surrealism. The softening of the facial features in these dissolving configurations brings the vir tuoso carving of the Late Baroque white marble Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmar tino in the Sansevero Chapel in Naples (1753) to mind, in addition to other 18th century veiled figures in marble sculpture by the likes of Antonio Corradini and Innocenzo Spinazzi. The motif of the veil takes us back to the image of the thermal blanket, and the dead Christ — who shed his blood, as the Bible emphasizes — to the


suffering of man. I Am Forever Fog also establishes links with the Symbolist blurred heads, modeled with wax over plaster and coming out of Impressionism, of Medardo Rosso (late 19th century), and Janine Antoni’s self-portrait busts, one made of chocolate and the other of soap, titled Lick and Lather (1993-1994). From this sequence of works of 2011 and 2012 emerged the first installment of Naor’s triad of exhibitions, titled Side Effects (Tel Aviv, November-December 2012). Be a Good Girl (2012) depicts seven times the same bald yellow female head, namely that of the artist, with softened facial features, with the eyes closed and the lips made bright red, arranged in a circle one behind the other on top of a table with a rotating circular top. A rifle filled with capsules of medicine is pointed towards the heads. The repetition of the exact same head, the little tail at the base of each skull, and the yellow and red palette evoke rubber ducks bobbing about inside a stand at a fair ground, and ready to be taken out. Are we all sitting ducks? The exhibition aptly titled Side Effects touched upon illness, which constitutes yet another threat, by way of the body of the ar tist — rendered bald, with yellow skin tone, and with eyes closed in Be a Good Girl. Naor had re-presented herself in an earlier exhibition wearing wigs in disguised photographic self-portraits, including as a blonde (2005), and as the celebrated American artist Kiki Smith (2006), with her abundant head of silver-colored hair. In the context of Naor’s developing oeuvre, the wigs hint at mortality instead of vanity or religious observance, as wigs — which constitute protective blankets of sorts — are frequently worn by people who have lost all of their hair after undergoing treatment for cancer. A work in Side Effects featuring syringes is tilted Stabbing (2012), and a video installation is titled Controlled Release (2012), bringing once again treatment for cancer to mind, which powerful subject connects with the bold, in-your-face work of the feminist ar tist Hannah Wilke. A heavily protruding polyurethane rubber stomach, sticking out of a wall, is titled Neither a Boy Nor a Girl (2012), thereby suggesting that the swelling is caused by illness, as the title of this work tells us that we are clearly not looking at a pregnancy. In I Love Mom and Dad (2012), large furry cubes were placed in a heap in one corner of the gallery space, with a different black and white photograph of the artist as a child printed upon fabric upon one face of each cube — a collapsed memorial to a happy existence, now long gone, within the sheltering capsule of the family. Life resembles

a game of dice, of which the outcome remains uncertain. This idea takes us from the beginning to the conclusion of Naor’s trilogy, which touches upon the difficulty of living in difficult times. The figures appearing in the photographs on aluminum in the final volume of this trilogy constitute a silent chorus of mourners. Goya reminds us that the sleep of reason produces monsters. By citing the Spanish master, Naor seems to be condemning, through her own work, intolerance of every stripe, which, like a terrible illness, destroys life.

MICHAËL AMY is a writer, lecturer, curator, critic and art historian with a Ph.D. from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. He is Professor of the History of Art in the College of Imaging Arts & Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology. He is the recipient of many fellowships, grants and awards, including from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Belgian American Educational Foundation, and works in Renaissance, Baroque, modern and contemporary art. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Burlington Magazine, Apollo, Art in America, Sculpture, tema celeste, CAA.Reviews, DITS, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, the Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (New York, 1999), Michelangelo Buonarroti: Leben, Werk und Wirkung. Positionen und Perspektiven der Forschung (Frankfurt am Main, 2013), Santa Maria del Fiore: The Cathedral and its Sculpture (Fiesole, 2001), and the Nieuw Tijdschrift van de Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Additionally, he has published numerous exhibition reviews, catalogue essays and interviews with artists. He is the author of One to One: Conversation avec Tony Oursler (Brussels, Facteur Humain, 2006), Michaël Borremans: Whistling a Happy Tune (Ghent, Ludion, 2008), and Hiroshi Senju (with Rachel Baum as co-author, Milan, Skira, 2009), and is a frequent contributor to the magazine Sculpture.

1. Full disclosure: The artist sent me as reference material to assist me in writing my essay, a photograph of one of the victims of the November 2015 attack in Paris, standing with a cellular phone to his ear, a thermal blanket thrown over his shoulders, and his white T-shirt stained with blood, as well as a reproduction of the painting by Goya.


AFTERMATH 2016


Untitled 1

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 2

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 3

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 4

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 5

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 6

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Dark Clouds over the Valley 2016, mixed media 63 x 42 x 88 in (160 x 106 x 224 cm)


Dark Clouds over the Valley (Detail)

2016, mixed media 63 x 42 x 88 in (160 x 106 x 224 cm)


Dark Clouds over the Valley 2016, mixed media 63 x 42 x 88 in (160 x 106 x 224 cm)


Untitled 7

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 8

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 9

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 35 x 53 in (90 x 135 cm)


Untitled 10

2016, dye sublimation on Chromaluxe metal panel 53 x 35 in (135 x 90 cm)


A Sudden Dark Breeze over My Uncovered Skin 2015


There Wasn’t a Man, Woman, or Child I Could Lift a Finger for

2014, acrylic plaster and ready-made life buoy 90½ x 31 x 25 in (230 x 78 x63 cm)


Installation view


Whenever Wherever Whatever Has Happened Is Written Down on the Waters of Babel

2014-15, tin, aluminum, paint and coffee grinds 13 x 16½ in (32 x 42 cm) each (variable depth dimensions)


How Far Would You Run with a Piece of Lead in Your Heart? 2014, acrylic plaster and ready-made stretcher figure A: 94½ x 22 x 26 in (240 x 56 x 65 cm) figure B: 75 x 21¼ x 37 in (190 x 54 x 93 cm) stretcher: 81 x 18 x 5 in (205 x 46 x 13 cm)


Three Days under the Pillow 2014-15, video, 2:50 min


My Worry Beads 1 & 2

2014, ready-made fishing net floats, linen rope and polypropylene yarns 102 x 20 x 6 in (260 x 50 x 15 cm) and 87 x 16 x 4 in (220 x 40 x 11 cm)


Installation View


Any Minute Something Can Happen (White)

2014, digital print and wood frame 16 x 16 in (41 x 41 cm) each


I Do Not See the Sky

2013, wood, paint, glass, soil and brass 65 x 35 x 3 in (165 x 90 x 7 cm) each and

Any Other Place

2015, soil, wood, plastic tubes, silicon, programmable logic controller and air compressor 59 x 67 x 51 in (150 x 170 x 130 cm)


Installation View


Side Effects 2012


Installation View


Be a Good Girl

2012, mixed media installation, variable dimensions


Be a Good Girl (Detail)

2012, mixed media installation, variable dimensions


How Can You Contribute to the Success of the Treatment? 2012, mixed media 106 x 51 x 17½ in (270 x 130 x 45 cm)


Queen Esther 1 & 2

2012, mixed media 7½ x 67½ x 92½ in (19 x 172 x 235 cm) each


Installation View


I Love Mom and Dad

2012, synthetic fur, printed fabric and hollofiber, variable dimensions


Neither a Boy nor a Girl

2012, polyurethane rubber 14 x 11½ x 4ž in (36 x 29 x 12 cm)


Do Not Touch Me (Detail)

2012, mixed media installation, variable dimensions


Stabbing (Detail)

2012, syringes, water and pigment, variable dimensions


It’s Okay to Stick Out Your Tongue 2012, mixed media video installation 41⅓ x Ø23⅝ in (105 x Ø60 cm)


Esther Naor – Curriculum Vitae

Esther Naor was born in 1961 in Israel. She graduated from the department of Civil Engineering at Haifa Technion Institute, Israel, and the department of Computer Sciences at Tel Aviv University, Israel. Following 12 years of a career in engineering and computers in the high-tech industry, she began art studies at the Midrasha Art School in Kfar Saba and at several artists' studios in Israel. Since the year 2001 she has been dedicating herself to art, working mainly in the mediums of sculpture, installation, photography, and video.

2013 The International Plain Notebook Project, in the framework of the exhibition Not Book, Beit Ha’ir, Tel Aviv

Curator: Guy Morag Zeplevitz

2013 Ready-Set-Go — 100 Years to the First Ready-made, group show, Yanco Dada Museum, Ein Hod

Curator: Raya Tal Zommer

2013 Head, group show, Bosi Contemporary Gallery, New York

Curators: Robert Curcio and Dominick Lombardi

2013 Testing Tools #10, group show, Beit Tami Center, Tel Aviv

Selected exhibitions

Curator: Carmit Blumenson

2013 I Do Not See the Sky, permanent installation, Yanco Dada Museum, Ein Hod

2016 Aftermath, solo show, Stux + Haller Gallery, New York

2013 Awakening, group show, Florentin 45 Gallery, Tel Aviv

2016 Do You Hear What I Hear? group show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

2013 Fragment, group show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

Curator: Anthony Elms

Curator: Gilat Nadivi

2015 The Object Is Present, solo show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

2013 Women Creation, video art group show, 4th Epos International Art Film Festival, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Curator: Shlomit Dror

2015 Yes-No, Black-White, group show, Beit Meirov, Holon

Curator: Guy Morag Zeplevitz

2015 A Sudden Dark Breeze over My Uncovered Skin, solo show,

Bosi Contemporary Gallery, New York

Curator: Lilly Wei

2015 Good Fortune and a Blessing, group show, Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv

Curator: Carmit Blumenson

2015 Transformed Viewpoints, group show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

Curator: Charlotta Kotik

2014 2 on Richter Scale, group show, Florentin 45 Gallery, Tel Aviv

Curators: Gilat Nadivi, Vera Pilpoul

2014 Point of Virtue, group show, Herzlilienblum Museum, Tel Aviv

Curator: Neta Gal Atsmon

2014 Liminal Communities, group show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

Curator: Lucy Li

Curator: Jill Conner

Program Coordinator: Sivan Shlack

2013 Imagination, group show for the Israel AIDS Task Force, Hapoalim Bank, Tel Aviv.

Curator: Li-Mor Cohen

2013 HaMangalistim, group show, Hachava Gallery, Holon

Curators: Anat Cohen and Guy Morag Zeplevitz

2012 Side Effects, solo show, Florentin 45 Gallery, Tel Aviv

Curator: Ilan Wizgan

2012 Tempus Arti Triennial 2012, Landen, Linter and Zoutleeuw, Belgium

Curators: Dirk Lambrechts and Tim Cleuren

2012 Night of Festivals 2012, Moving Image Programme, Nottingham

Director: David Hill

2012 Summer Show, group show, Royal Academy of Arts, London

Curator: Tess Jaray

2014 Ready-Set-Go, group show, Municipal Gallery, Rehovot

2012 Hidden Cities, group show, Koza Visual Culture and Arts Association, Istanbul

Curators: Raya Tal Zommer, Ora Kraus

Curator: Luca Curci

2014 I Do Not See the Sky, solo show, Yanco Dada Museum, Ein Hod

2012 fashionSCAPES, the 7th Festival of Arts and Fashion (FAT), Toronto

Curator: Raya Zommer Tal

Director: Vanja Vasic


2012 Celebrating Kindred Spirits and Strange Bed Fellows, group show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

Curator: Catherine J. Morris

2012 Hidden & Forbidden Identities, group show, Palazzo Albrizzi, Venice

Curators: Luca Curci, Elis Saint Juste

2011 You Are All Red, and So Very White, installation/solo show, Florentin 45 Gallery, Tel Aviv 2011 A Season in Paradise, group show, Florentin 45 Gallery, Tel Aviv

Curator: Irena Gordon

2011 Video projections weekend, Centro Labicano Arte Contemporanea, Rome 2011 Infinite Spaces (part two), group show, Sguardi Sonori festival of multi-media and time-based art, Palazzo Orsini, Bomarzo

Curators: Carlo Fatigoni, Sandro Cecchi

2011 Inter/National Members Exhibition, group show, A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn

Curator: Susanne Altmann

2010

Infinite Spaces (part one), group show, Sguardi Sonori festival of multi-media and time-based art, Museo della Civiltà Romana, Rome

Curators: Carlo Fatigoni, Sandro Cecchi

2010 Solo show, Berliner Liste Art Fair, Berlin 2010 Open Portfolio, salon and group show, Chelsea Museum, New York

Curator: Elga Wimmer

2010 Houses in the Boulevard, open-air group show, Rothschild Avenue, Tel Aviv

Curator: Ilan Wizgan

2009 Tempus Arti 2009, Landen, Linter and Zoutleeuw, Belgium

Curators: Dirk Lambrechts and Tim Cleuren. Artistic Advisor: Jan Hoet

2009 15th Biennial of Cerveira, Vila Nova de Cerveira, Portugal

Curators: Fátima Lambert, Paulo Reis and Orlando BritoGinório

2009 Contemporary Expressions, international photography group show, Pen & Brush Gallery, New York

Curator: Daile Kaplan

2009 The 8th A.I.R. Gallery Biennial, Brooklyn

Curator: Lilly Wei

2008 International photography exhibition on the theme of "Violence against Women", Queen Sofía Center, Valencia 2008 Home, installation, Rothschild Avenue, Tel Aviv. 2007 Bread and Roses, group show, Minshar Gallery, Tel Aviv

Curator: Nir Nader

2007 Mask – Identity, group show, Gebo gallery, Tel Aviv

Curator: Nurit Tenne

2006 Urban Tales, time based installations on Rothschild Avenue, Tel Aviv

Curator: Ilan Wizgan

2005 100 Artists for A Museum, group show, Casoria Museum of Contemporary Art, Italy

Curator: Antonio Manfredi

2005 Unclaimed Luggage, group show, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid

Curators: Klitsa Antoniou, Panayiotis Michael, Melita Couta

2004 OPENASIA, group show, Venice Lido

Curator: Chang Tsong-zung

2004 Nomadifesta / Pack Your Suitcase, group show, Nicosia

Curators: Klitsa Antoniou, Panayiotis Michael, Melita Couta


Published on the occasion of Esther Naor: Aftermath Stux + Haller Gallery 24 February – 26 March, 2016 All works © Esther Naor 2016 Catalogue © Stux + Haller Gallery, New York 2016 Essay © Michaël Amy 2016 Photography: Esther Naor Studio for Aftermath (sculpture only), Srdjan Kalinić for A Sudden Dark Breeze over My Uncovered Skin, Yotam From for Side Effects Design and Publisher: CA Design Printed and bound in Hong Kong by CA Design ISBN: 978-988-8272-10-5

ISBN 978-988-8272-10-5

$20.00 90000

9 789888 272105


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Esther Naor: Aftermath  

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Aftermath, at Stux + Haller Gallery, 24 February - 26 March, 2016.

Esther Naor: Aftermath  

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Aftermath, at Stux + Haller Gallery, 24 February - 26 March, 2016.

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