Critics’ Picks

Pavel Wolberg, Hebron, Purim, 2012, black-and-white photograph, 26 3/16 x 70 7/8".

Pavel Wolberg, Hebron, Purim, 2012, black-and-white photograph, 26 3/16 x 70 7/8".

Tel Aviv

Pavel Wolberg

Dvir Gallery | Tel Aviv
Shoken 27, 3rd floor
May 31–July 4, 2012

Pavel Wolberg’s recent photographs use genre and technique to convey the peculiar bind tying both religious and secular contemporary Israeli culture to historic mandates and the desire for self-realization in a modern nation-state. As large-format, black-and-white panoramas, they stake out a place within the historical genre of landscape, while their rather straightforward documentary mode links them to the immediacy of present-day life in diverse sectors of Israeli society. In these images, located simultaneously in the monumental longue durée and the fleeting moment, Wolberg reveals the often improbable and complex elisions of Israeli identity.

For instance, while Haoman 17, Tel-Aviv, 2008, may appear to be a commonplace scene of revelry, this gay pride party in one of Tel Aviv’s best-known clubs has appropriated the legacy of Joseph Trumpeldor, arch Zionist and promoter of Jewish self-defense, by placing a statue of his symbol (the lion) on the main stage. Similarly, Hebron, Purim, 2012, mixes the religious ritual of masquerade with the current political question of how to approach the influx of foreign workers and refugees. In the image, a young Jewish settler, dressed in geisha costume, can only entertain otherness within the context of a Jewish holiday that asserts the continuity of religious Jewish identity. Another unlikely amalgamation of codes appears in Moses, Tel Aviv Central Station, 2012, in which a group of illegal Sudanese exiles gather around a kitschy mock-up of Judaism’s most important prophet, the receiver of the Ten Commandments.

It is not easy to decode these sociopolitical landscapes without knowing the histories from which they emerge. Yet this process of identification—and, by extension, self-identification or self-differentiation—is also part and parcel of Wolberg’s photographic technique, which positions him as both a historian of and a witness to a landscape rife with contradictions.