Tel Aviv

Talia Keinan

As the winner of the 2007 Nathan Gottesdiener Foundation prize, the most prestigious accolade given to an Israeli artist under forty, Talia Keinan has finally come into her own. After a few years of uneven explorations in video, installation, and drawing, she delivered an offering whose starts and stutters are an integral part of the work. Key to this coming of age is a motto Keinan has inscribed on her drawing book: “I had union with my closed hand, I embraced my shadow as a wife.” Taken from the Egyptian myth of creation, this cryptic sentence points to Keinan’s deepening insight about her own artistic process. Despite its brevity, it points to the paradoxical dimension of conception, symbolized by the impotence of the artist’s closed hand and the impossible desire for physical entwinement with one’s immaterial silhouette. Echoing these contradictions at the crux of creation, Keinan has begun to embrace the instabilities, interruptions, and doubts that once seemed to stand in her way and internalize them as generative elements.

For the viewer, this approach translates into a dynamic that alternates between expectation, frustration, and reconciliation. In the video installation Village, 2007–2008, for example, Keinan presents a grouping of small concrete structures that resemble industrial building blocks. A projector housed within one of these casts a black-and-white image of a forest onto a vertical plank positioned on the other side of the gallery. The idyll of a summer’s day is disturbed by the gradually mounting sounds of a galloping horse. The noise becomes louder and louder; with it grows the viewer’s anticipation of the horse’s passage. This event, when it ultimately occurs, is over so rapidly—one barely glimpses a silhouette traversing the horizon—that it can easily be missed. Keinan revels in such anticlimactic moments, both visual and psychological, through which she interrogates the power dynamics ingrained within an aesthetic encounter.

In Organ Lessons, 2007, a video projection of Arabic script winding its way from left to right on a wooden log, Keinan directs her critique at linguistic mastery and the power relations it maintains. Since no translation is provided, the work poses a challenge to the local, mostly Hebrew-speaking public: If they wish to enter into complicity with the piece, they have to consent to a certain degree of incomprehension and helplessness. The implications of such a choice transcend the aesthetic, affecting the viewer’s sense of subjective security in the face of an inscrutable, stereotypically threatening alterity that demands both institutional and discursive representation.

Keinan’s drawings, often a combination of pencil and felt-tip pen, reveal another facet of this exploration of mastery, enacting an abandonment of aesthetic control and savoring the resulting transgressive pleasures. In Guy with Lights, 2006, for instance, a bearded young man lounges nonchalantly on hastily rendered grass. This laissez-faire attitude toward depiction is one of Keinan’s signatures, and here it is complemented by the awkwardly rendered necklace of whiteout stains that decorate the subject’s sweater. Keinan’s forfeiture of technical expertise suggests a growing awareness that aesthetic experience is a shifting, often unequal combination of subjection and control.

Nuit Banai