Yael Davids

The Israeli artist Yael Davids stages provocative performances in which the participants’ bodies become extensions of ordinary objects that have been altered or manipulated. For her recent show Davids staged three claustrophobic actions involving a table and chairs, an aquarium, and a mattress. In Table (all works 1997), the prop was covered by a cloth made from a number of stitched-together white shirts. Where plates might normally appear, one found instead four large, oval holes cut into the tabletop, lining up with the collars of some of the shirts. In the brief ritual Davids staged, the performers didn’t sit at the table, but instead crouched underneath it so the backs of their heads could be seen through the openings. Since only a portion of each person’s scalp appeared, it couldn’t be determined whether one was looking at the head of a man or a woman. One could glimpse the participitants’ legs underneath the table, but which leg belonged to whom could no longer be distinguished; it was also possible to confuse the human legs with the legs of the table. Rather than a casual meeting place, Davids’ table became the site of obscure and surprisingly strenuous activity. Any conversation took place in secret, while the vaguely erotic movements of the performers’ bodies underneath the white cloth suggested some mysterious form of conjuration.

Aquarium was another physically challenging work for the participant. The performer’s head was enclosed in a small glass container filled with water, and his face—pale and distorted when viewed through the water and glass—took on the appearance of a monster in a horror film. Connected to the outer world only by a small breathing tube, the performer may not have been in danger of drowning, buthe was reduced to silence, forced to stare out at the spectator like a trapped animal. In another work, entitled Mattress, a participant wedged into a partially hollowed-out mattress was also obliged to breathe through a tube, a startling arrangement detectable only through the sound and movement of the person’s breath.

After Davids’ actions have been completed, the objects that remain can be seen as provocative sculptures rather than mere discarded props. The hole in the aquarium, the outline in the mattress, and the apertures in the dining table all transform these ordinary items into absurd symbols whose provocative resonances elude rational interpretation.

Frank-Alexander Hettig

Translated From the German by Diana Reese.