Israeli Artists Shatter the Myth of the Perfect Wedding

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From Natasha Caruana’s series 'Fairytale for Sale.' Identity-concealed victims of an unknown disaster.
From Natasha Caruana’s series 'Fairytale for Sale.' Identity-concealed victims of an unknown disaster. Credit: Natasha Caruana
Galia Yahav
Galia Yahav
Galia Yahav
Galia Yahav

The group exhibition titled “What’s Too Painful to Remember, We Simply Choose to Forget,” at the Herzliya Artists Residence – the first there under the directorship and curatorship of Ran Kasmy-Ilan – offers a light, albeit biting, look at the myth and reality of weddings, in Israel and everywhere.

“Over two million couples get married in the United States each year. In Israel, the number exceeds fifty thousand,” Kasmy-Ilan writes. “Over half of them will no longer be married after the first decade, but the significance of the ceremony remains undiminished. Its power stems from the force of the promise it entails. Wedding days are still ‘the happiest day of our life,’ still ‘the day every girl dreams of.’”

The artworks on view undo the holiness of the ceremony, its saccharine harmony. The image of happiness is translated into behind-the-scenes practicalities or crashes against the rock of reality; the virginal-creampuff symbolism disintegrates or fades into the light of common day; fantasizing is exposed as self-deception.

Yaara Oren, a real-life professional wedding photographer, shows “Me/Weddings/Toilettes,” a series of dozens of typological photographs taken at different places and different times. She documents herself in front of the mirror in the washroom of the banquet hall or garden, before the guests arrive and after they have left. The frames are repetitive: Oren stands in front of different mirrors with her camera, not in glittering attire and unsmiling. The frame exposes not only her framed, mirror-truncated body but also the diverse designs of the mirrors and of the rooms in which they hang, as backdropsof magnificence and abundance.

'The Groom,' a paper sculpture by Elisheva Levy. A drooping mega-groom.Credit: Courtesy of Herzliya Artists Residence

In contrast to Jeff Wall’s famous photographs, which depict cleaners in affluent, purified modernist mansions or in anonymous hotel rooms, here the woman who is supposed to blend into the scenery like a chameleon, as one who sees but is not seen, steps forward frontally to document herself as a working woman, a non-bride.

In Natasha Caruana’s series of about 200 frames, titled “Fairytale for Sale,” the faces of the brides and grooms are blotted out. Caruana collected the shots from websites on which women sell their wedding gowns for a variety of reasons: they need the money, they have no room to store the gown, they are getting divorced. There is something grotesque about the collection of almost identical images of uniform dress and affected poses, ludicrous posturing, synthetic and theatrical, amid a flourish of white satin and lace.

Bride on a wharf, thrusting her face into the wind and holding her veil like a fisherman’s net. Bride on gray concrete steps, a brick wall behind her. Bride and groom in the shadow of a tree, their faces covered by black scribble. Bride with parasol in a black-backgrounded studio shot. Bride who looks like she’s on amphetamines, her face pixelated like a victim. Black-and-white shot of bride sitting, hunched over a high-heeled shoe, her other foot bare, like an over-the-top meeting of an Impressionistic painting and the Cinderella story, the black strip over her eyes turning her into a kind of missing person.

Bride with pink floral wreath standing under an almond tree, her face hidden by a pink blob. Group photo of bride in white with gaggle of pink-clad maids-in-waiting. Bride whose face is hidden with a huge blot that is disproportionately large for the body. Bride and groom who wrote the word “balloon” on the face blot. Shot of a gown from the back. Many frames with the upper part cropped – a beheading effect.

The only human, creative element lies in the use of Photoshop to conceal the women’s faces. One chooses a black square, another a white one, there are ellipses and emoticons and more, creating a bizarre tribe of spastic gestures, a band of deleted nothings, identity-concealed victims of an unknown disaster.

'The wedding of Yaakov and Samira, Lod 1949' by Dor Guez. Credit: Courtesy of Herzliya Artists Residence

On the floor in the center of the gallery space is a paper sculpture by Elisheva Levy, which with thin shell-like material imitates an ambitious hyper-realistic sculptural work. The sheets of paper are imprinted with different textures; joined together, they form a folded, wrinkled figurative effect of credible representation, something like Claes Oldenburg in a Chinese lantern version. “The Groom” is a sculpture of a man lying smilingly on the floor, a large, ridiculous cake rising from his loins – not exactly a hard phallic erection, but margarine and sugar represented on paper (white paper is actually an empty document, tabula rasa) – with a knife stuck into the cake. This castration drama – unconsummated revenge because the knife, also made of paper, slices only air – is one of both principle and concreteness. The figure is a drooping mega-groom, a paper tiger.

Documentary evidence

Dor Guez’s contribution consists of two digital scans from the Christian Palestinian Archive, which he founded. They show the wedding of Yaakov and Samira; she was from a Christian family in Jaffa that was, the curator writes, “evicted to ghetto Lod” in 1948. This was the first wedding celebrated there after the expulsion. In one image, the bride (Guez’s grandmother) is positioned in the center, veiled and surrounded by maids of honor; in the other, a procession of men leads the groom to the marriage ceremony. The photographs, which lay for decades in a suitcase under the bed of Guez’s grandparents, become documentary evidence of the life of a community of DPs.

Orr Menirom’s video work “Homewrecker” is divided into three parts. The first splices footage from wedding clips, in which the bride throws her bouquet to hysterical single women, with stones being thrown by masked demonstrators. The visual comparison is both surprising and successful, carefully preserving the photographic continuity of the motion of hands and of objects hurtling through the air on both sides of the promise of a new order. A second visual equivalent develops between the smoke on the purple-pink dance floor and the smoke of teargas grenades in demonstrations. We view the bombing of Gaza to the accompaniment of a kitschy soundtrack. The effect is appalling.

From Natasha Caruana’s series 'Fairytale for Sale.' Credit: Natasha Caruana

In the second part of the work it turns out that the plot revolves around the fact that the bride has forgotten her wedding – the memory has been erased from her mind – and she embarks on a quest for documentation, witnesses, reports about the event. However, no one in her milieu remembers or knows anything. An allegory of Israelis’ unknowing-knowing about the conditions in the territories? Possibly. In the third part of her work, Menirom distorts the extended arms of the brides and of the stone-throwers, turns them into octopi, and launches reverse play: the hoses used to disperse demonstrations recede, the black smoke that rises from buildings contracts and evaporates, the fire goes out.

With the aid of the wedding spectacle and its material and visual signifiers, together with the documentation and the souvenirs the artist creates, various hidden themes arise: The wedding as an apparatus abounding with stagehands who work behind the scenes to create a concrete-like fantasy. Issues of status, possession and ownership. The dubious reliability of documentation. The lack of separation between religion and state, which rules out marriage between Jews and Arabs.

This is the perfect exhibition for those who want to laugh at the wedding season, to deride human stupidity and conformism, be convinced of the ponderous yuppie ugliness of the wedding-ceremony aesthetic, and along the way, confirm to themselves that this, too, like all the rest, is political.

Herzliya Artists Residence, 7 Yodfat St., Herzliya (09)-951-0601; Mon., Wed. 10.00-14.00; Tues., Thurs. 15.30-18.30; Sat. 10.00-13.00; until July 2.

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