Sculptor Oz Malul has created a universe out of computer printers at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. Dismantled, defective or broken printers of various ages move in a kind of repetitive, mechanical dance, in time to the sounds they create. They are also attached to other objects or pieces of machinery - for example, a radiator laying on its side, a dilapidated record player, a can of spray paint.
Malul, who graduated from Columbia University in New York in 2008, has been a notable exception on the Israeli art scene for some years now. His kinetic sculptures are made from ready-made materials, which in his hands become futile machines that range from touching to threatening, from amusing to frightening.
This sculptural medium, which can be traced back to the mechanical toys that flooded Europe at the end of the 19th century, is quite scarce on the local scene. Interestingly, Aharon Ozeri has also begun to use it, as seen a year ago in his exhibit "Endless Project" at the Circus Universalis, in which giant egg-shaped objects were moved repeatedly from one tray to another by mechanized metal arms with pink rubber tips. And Shachar Freddy Kislev used kinetic sculptures in works such as "Death and the Maiden," one of the most striking pieces at the 2009 Herzliya Biennial, in which three robots went through the motions of combing someone's hair over and over.
This medium is also associated with several major international artists, in particular the Swiss team of Fischli/Weiss, and perhaps now even more so with Urs Fischer, who is Swiss as well and has recently received broad recognition.
Anxieties become art
The charm of these works is that they touch on anxieties transformed into art. Machines that are supposed to serve us, and make our lives easier and more efficient, turn into the objects of our anger - and sometimes even of rejection and burning hatred - when they stop working. Machines have been personified in different forms and to different degrees. One can imagine charming transformations, such as those undergone in the Disney film "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," or movies based on the question of when a robot will turn against its creator, like such classics as "Blade Runner" and "The Matrix."
Hovering above all these works of art is the short film "Ballet Me'canique" ("Mechanical Ballet" ), made in 1924 by Fernand Leger and composer George Antheil, along with concert performances of this piece, which used mechanical instruments such as player pianos and airplane propellers. The film centers around a discussion of the borders between people and machines.
Malul refers to all of these elements in his own work, too, while creating a new set of rules, due to the printer's significance as a device that gives words a presence in the world, brings them from the virtual sphere to the concrete.
The observer taking in Malul's work witnesses, therefore, the center of a great failure: a breakdown in communication. The printers screech and confound; they are not able to deliver statements and do not belong to any set of accepted logic. It is not clear at first whether the visitor is operating the machines simply through his presence, or whether the machines are trapped in a cycle of endless, meaningless activity. Malul exaggerates this absurdity in pieces containing faulty keyboards which are supposed to operate other devices, like a radiator, or create interactions whose aims are less clear.
In one of his pieces now on display at Center for Contemporary Art, a printer is seen lowering a hollow metal spiral into a plastic bucket sitting on a wooden stool; the cylinder moves when the printer does. There is a visual link here to Marcel Duchamp's 1913 "Bicycle Wheel," considered one of the first modern kinetic sculptures. While for Duchamp, realizing the potential for movement depends on the movement of a hand, for Malul, apparently random mechanical operation means that movement is in fact hampered.
Last twitches of life
Disruption and irregularity are at the heart of Malul's universe of machines; they are completely indifferent to the observer and his existence, in complete contrast to the name of the exhibit, which speaks of fundamental human solidarity: "You Shall Not Put an Obstacle Before a Blind Man."
Malul's show can also be interpreted from an environmental perspective. The waste produced by electronic devices comprises a threat to the environment; the process of collecting them for recycling is still in its infancy. Malul presents us with an apocalyptic situation, the last twitches of life of something which can no longer be used and whose accumulation is becoming a threat.
He devised the space around his work in pathways, giving the observer several ways to look at them. One wanders from the grotesque to the amusing, among absurd combinations of forms and meanings. The artist combines the printers, refined into objects of craftsmanship, so that, for example, a cement spatula moved back and forth by a printer, or a single wheel apparently removed from a work cart, move slowly in space.
When Malul attaches a printer to a guitar with a single string, the connection between his work to the avant garde of the early 20th century - specifically to Futurism - is sharpened. Futurism saw the use of machines for producing music as a sort of purification of what it perceived as an excess of decoration in traditional music, and an expression of the spirit of the times. Today, now that technology is an integral part of music production, the use of machines here is mostly a comment on the place of randomness in creativity.
Oz Malul, "You Shall Not Put an Obstacle Before a Blind Man." Curated by Maayan Sheleff. Through April 8, 2011. The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv.
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