Israeli-raised artist Miriam Cabessa hasn't shown her work here in eight years, but she is back with an impressive solo exhibition at the experimental Tel Aviv art venue Rothschild 12 that manages to be both sexy and conservative.
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The exhibit includes a 35-minute performance-art video installation that shows her painting with a squeegee and rag, among other tools, then erasing the work and painting again. It was first shown in New York in 2004.
Each painting in the installation starts off as a leftover from something else.
"The rapid work process is composed of separate units of stop-and-waits that produce the image, through systemic and infinite movement," writes curator Noam Segal in the accompanying text. "Her slow movement along the canvas creates an image and erases it, through the repetition of this action many times. The painting, the final product, is the result of stopping and waiting." The performance of creating and erasing proves that neither one alone is responsible for the final product, which comes about due only to the paradoxical combination of the two actions.
In the video, Cabessa, who lives in New York but was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and attended Kalisher Art Academy in Tel Aviv, stains the platform on which she is standing by using circular movements to push the squeegee and floor rag. She draws, then wipes away the excess and partially erases her work. But the paint is not totally gone; it just takes on a different pattern. That pattern is also a drawing, which at first looks abstract and random.
Because the performance is filmed from above, the angle intensifies the effect of the movement. But it's too bad the video is screened in a brightly lit section of the venue, which reduces the quality and intensity of the video.
The camera doesn't move, and there are scenes in which Cabessa is outside the frame, or a hand or other limb suddenly appears from an unexpected place and gets back to work.
The viewer is watching the creation of art in real time, including the decision on how and where to start, how and where to continue, how and where to end. The randomness of all this is revealed.
But this installation doesn't just make the creative process look somewhat arbitrary - it also makes it look sexy. Cabessa caresses and massages a variety of tools and shapes in her work, and uses a range of rhythms and power on the smooth surface. There is also an intimate element to watching an artist engaged in what is often a solo, private activity.
In one part of the video, she holds a tool in both hands, like a sculptor, moves it slowly across the surface as if at a seance, and extends the circular impression it leaves, creating a trail. Cabessa also moves the paint with her hands, and with her entire body. It looks like a deep tissue massage.
The video ends with a crawl, a kind of strange slow-motion dreamy full-body swim across the surface. Cabessa moves sideways across the length of the painting, leaving behind a white trail of erasure marks, like the ooze left behind by a snail. Cabessa's body is dragged along - not like a naked brush, as the French artist Yves Klein did with his models, but in a snakelike slither in which the artist somehow finds the power to move from within.
The work is post-Klein and, given that Cabessa replaces Jackson Pollock's confident masculine splattering with painting-by-squeegee, also anti-Pollock. Here, the anonymous model is the artist.
This crawling is also reminiscent of U.S. artist Chris Burden's 1973 work "Through the Night Softly," in which Burden rolled on his stomach for 50 meters over glass shards with his hands tied behind his back, as passersby watched. Given the history of performance art, which includes displays of women who are unaware they are being watched while doing housework, there is an element of negotiation in Cabessa's contribution to the genre.
A separate section of the exhibit features some 30 small drawings on paper - finished, charming, semi-surrealist works. Some are in black and white, like her early work. In these, the image emerges at the end of the brush stroke, like a word that manages to be expressed at the end of a long stammer. In one, two hands emerge from formless chaos. Some are very colorful, scenic almost - cloud-covered mountains or nuclear mushroom-shaped blasts.
This is not a surprising exhibition of great turning points; on the contrary, it shows that Cabessa has acquired an understanding of the boldness of consistency. This is stubborn, non-trendy, slow progress.
Cabessa is an expert in creating great tension with small changes in nuance. It is a type of great loyalty to self and a sign of her commitment to continuing and developing her artistic processes. This can certainly be perceived as conservatism. However, in this frenzied era, even if this quality of persistence is conservative, it is conservative in way that does not give a damn.
Miriam Cabessa, Rothshild 12, Tel Aviv. Opening hours: Tues.-Thurs., 11 A.M. to 7 P.M.; Fri. and Sat., 10 A.M. to 2 P.M., through January 14.