An Israeli Artist's Struggle Between Image and Written Word

A multifaceted exhibition by Dorit Figovitch Goddard.

Ouzi Zur
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A trinity of goddesses of war by Dorit Figovitch Goddard.
A trinity of goddesses of war by Dorit Figovitch Goddard. Credit: Ouzi Zur
Ouzi Zur

From the fifth floor of the Basis School building in Herzliya, through groves of pine and eucalyptus trees, you can see the Mediterranean. The sea, which was the cradle of Western civilization, is for us usually no more than a background or decoration for Israeli culture. Bound by secularity, relying on the hardness of the written word, we Israelis turn our gaze toward the interior, to the mountain ridge between Israel and Judea.

“Lightly Wounded,” a multifaceted exhibition by Dorit Figovitch Goddard now showing in the school’s handsome gallery space, deals with the innate struggle between image and written word. Here, the artist has created untenable “holy sites,” and, underlying the monotheistic layers, a pagan element seeps into the works’ grotesque elements. Inordinate riches trickle through the structures’ Spartan character. The low-level materials are transfigured.

Curator Shlomit Breuer has succeeded in preserving the chaos of the artist’s workshop in which the items on show were created. In their transition to the exhibition space, these objects underwent metamorphic processes that anchor them in this specific venue. After the exhibition closes, they will reassume their primal form. The artist and the curator have created a kind of serial tale with the different elements of the exhibition. It is both narrative and abstract, and as such leaves room for a reviewer to draw on his own world to fill in what’s missing.

The artist draws on different literary sources – Greek epics and the biblical story – and the contrast between the richness of the former and the economy of the latter is internalized in the show. To this is added talmudic hairsplitting and the labyrinthine work of S.Y. Agnon. On the wall are two groups of pages from Agnon’s works. On seeing them, one feels the silence of the space and its scent and melancholy.

A book, 'The History of the Jews,' cut into two, from 'Lightly Wounded.' Credit: Meidad Suchowolski

Prophecy of mourning

Bathed in the gallery’s light is a trinity of goddesses of war. Like widows risen from the ashes, they are “sculpted” from the sacks of mourning they bear on their elongated bodies. And, like a mute choir, they point to the word “moum” (deformity) which appears at the bottom of a stain of light that’s spread on the wall. The work is like a parchment scroll containing a prophecy of mourning and bereavement, grim and grotesque. The form of the figures creates the heroic asceticism of postwar memorial monuments. In their pockets the artist has inserted coins, which perhaps will facilitate their passage to the netherworld. The work is like a scale of word and image, separated from each other and also mutually fructifying.

At the bottom of the far wall is a kind of “wall relief” in which Achilles is dragging the body of the slain Hector, carved in colored Styrofoam that simulates bronze. Brutal expressiveness that deliberately crushes together Picasso’s “Guernica” with postwar monuments, and this spectacle, which tries desperately to soar, wallows in a puddle of gilded urine. The urine of heroes and the urine of horses.

In contradistinction to the mythological pairing, Figovitch Goddard conjures up theatrically the biblical pairing of Saul and David, and the lust of Achilles’ horses to bite the edge of the Ghost Rider’s jacket that hangs diagonally on the wall above them, like David, who cut off a corner of Saul’s garment, but did not kill him.

Opposite the widow goddesses is the river of Hades, its blackness projected onto the wall’s light. Chalked on the wall are the words “Bridge over the Styx,” and the figure of Charon, the ferryman of Hades, is visible. This Charon embodies something of the image of Jesus as it appears in art (forgiving and judging), a powerful mass that dissipates into the warm light. Charon’s arm splashes slivers from the water, which the artist has created in a retro style, in juxtaposition to the classical purity.

Underlying Figovitch Goddard’s work is her masterly drawing, seen here in a solitary row of preparatory sketches for the sculptures, like flashes of another time, whose vitality and sorrow are bolder than ever. These sketches unite the elements of expressiveness and design into one whole. On the side, alone, is a book “The History of the Jews,” cut into two, the halves placed on a cornice: the essence of the struggle between ascetic Jewish literalness and gentile hermeneutics, between the power of the word and the power of the image.

Along the walls are narrow horizontal apertures made of a sequence of black-and-white photographs of the palms of the artist’s hands in different forms, fragmented, surrealistic, evoking the spirit of East European animation. Some of the hands hold torn notes, like incriminating clues; one is placed on an open copy of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Wayward Bus.” In these sequences the plastic and literary arts are alternately intertwined and unraveled. This is just one story of many that can be woven in Figovitch Goddard’s estimable exhibition.

“Lightly Wounded” at the Basis Gallery, 14 Hamada Street, Herzliya Industrial Zone, tel: (09) 866-3004; Tues.-Wed. 12.00-18.00; Thurs. 12.00-20.00; Fri. 10.00-14.00; until Feb. 21

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