“Metasex 94”

Bat-Yam Museum of Art

After the various “Bad Girls” shows last year and similar shows such as last fall’s “Sense and Sensibility” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it has become clear how contested the notion of “the feminine” is within contemporary American and European art—and how difficult it is to address this highly charged issue in a coherent and responsible way. “Metasex 94: Identity, Body, and Sexuality,” which was originally presented in a somewhat different form at the Museum of Art in Ein Harod, views similar issues from a distinctly Israeli perspective. Organized by Tami Katz-Freiman, an independent curator, and Tamar El-Or, an anthropologist, the exhibition brought together a wide range of work by younger Israeli artists and succeeded where other such exhibitions have failed, managing to avoid reproducing old stereotypes while purporting to critique them.

In fact, this work for the most part disclaims an overtly critical stance just as much as it disdains cheerleading. The positions are more subtle, partaking of various mixtures of humor and pathos. Among the most emblematic works included was a piece by the exhibition’s sole male participant, Nir Hod—a photorealist self-portrait as glamorous woman soldier. In this context, the apparently essentialist or naturalist stance of Anat Zahor’s video installation Urination, 1994, (the title tells you all you need to know) seemed strangely out of place. Between Hod’s enraptured transvestitism and Zahor’s nostalgic nakedness stood the playful balancing act of Hila Lulu Lin’s video No More Tears, 1994. As with Zahor’s work, the camera remains fixed on one zone of a woman’s body—unclothed as far as we can see. Rather than performing the most natural of actions, she uses a symbol of nature and fertility to enact an absurd artifice: holding an egg yoke in one hand, she allows it to roll slowly down her arm and onto her shoulder, whence she sucks it into her mouth in order to gently discharge it on the other shoulder. From there it continues its journey on to the next palm, and then back again, to begin the endless loop again. Lin’s control over her body would appear to be as complete as Hod’s over his self-image—and the same would be true of her control over meaning, which remains as slippery, fluid, and self-contained as the yolk itself.

Contrasting Lin’s buoyant trickery is the claustrophobia of Arianne Litmann-Cohen’s Interior, 1994, a sterilizer (normally used in beauty salons to disinfect scissors and other implements) containing objects redolent of personal identity—objects that are gradually being drained of color, rendered ghostly by the ultra-violet light and heat that is sterilizing them. The melancholy of this work brought out the grave undertone in an exhibition that valued playfulness, a light touch. In her catalogue essay, El-Or traces a shift in emphasis within feminist-inflected anthropology, away from analyses based on the binary system of male/female toward those based on the more intricate systems of kinship. In contrast to other recent exhibitions of women artists, “Metasex 94” avoided mere negations or parodies of a putatively male “code,” registering instead the particularities of individual experience.

Barry Schwabsky