Tel Aviv

Eran Shakine

Gallery 39 for Contemporary Art

Forty-two years after the publication of Robert Morris’s Notes on Sculpture in these pages, the reception of Minimalism and post-Minimalism remains a live issue, so it is not altogether surprising to witness the reappearance of these idioms as mediated through motifs of Judaism. While Morris probably did not envisage the permutation of his “unitary forms” into anything like Eran Shakine’s sagging, handcrafted, toxic-hued Orange Menorah (all works 2008), such an extension into a culturally and religiously specific context may be an inevitable outcome of their engagement with the phenomenological body. Likewise, the implied spectator who emerged from the identity politics of the 1980s here seems to be reconstituted as Jewish.

What complicates Shakine’s concretization of Minimalism and its aftermath—which might otherwise have remained a mere folksy citation of Judaica—is his engagement with the dynamics of power that courses through the contention between Israelis and Palestinians. This is eloquently articulated in The Hill Boys, a floor piece composed of knit skullcaps and Acrilan fabric, which resembles the undulating contours of the area commonly known as the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, or the Occupied Territories, depending on one’s affiliations. In an uncanny fusion of precedents and politics, Shakine reenacts the collapse of the modernist sculptural object into the physical and psychic register of the horizontal plane while clearly alluding to the followers of the religious Zionist movement (many of whom, identified by their kipa sruga [knitted skullcaps] have settled on the region’s hilltops). This elision of corporeality and contingency points to the feverish libidinal economy that operates in the contestation of these lands.

Such cultural contextualization is also evident in Sabbath Match, a soccer ball composed of a patchwork of black and white silk skullcaps. Here, the nationalist fervor of the religious right wing is likened to the zeal of the soccer fan. While both types of partisans may be provisionally empowered by fraternity with others of their ilk, Shakine suggests their inherent impotence: The limpness of the ball renders it useless, at best a child’s toy—a surrogate for the condition of plenitude associated with suckling on a mother’s breast. As Theodor Adorno maintained, it is within this structure of power-powerlessness that the authoritarian personality type emerges and becomes susceptible to fascism.

Shakine’s work thankfully avoids didacticism through his sensitive exploration of the psychosexual drives and implications associated with the Occupation in both the Israeli and Palestinian imaginary. His graphite, tempera, varnish, and cotton drawings Untitled (Living Room) and Untitled (Bedroom) are a case in point. In the former, the Separation Wall that Israel has erected to isolate the Palestinian territories is transposed into a familial interior, cutting off a green sofa (alluding to the Green Line delineating the border between Israel and the territories) from direct view of the television set on the other side of the room. The latter depicts a large cube, its face divided into two triangular zones, white and green, deposited on a half-made bed. Shakine suggests that the anxieties of the political situation have embedded themselves in the most intimate spaces of Israeli and Palestinian life. Curiously, he stops short of representing the full psychological fallout that such a crisis must generate. Its horror may very well be unthinkable—an eruption evoked yet aggressively kept at bay.

Nuit Banai