Tel Aviv

Yifat Bezalel

Inga Gallery

“Ulysses-Alices,” the double title of Yifat Bezalel’s recent exhibition, was a summons to numerous travels, calling on the epic and fantastic voyages of Odysseus, Leopold Bloom, and Alice in Wonderland. But unlike her sources, penned by male authors, Bezalel’s work is given over entirely to the itinerant female psyche.

The exhibition’s strongest works were the two large drawings from Bezalel’s ongoing “Alices” series, begun in 2002, which show the heroine’s plunge down the rabbit hole. While You are my sister III and Ulysses (each 2008) both visualize this passing between realms as the paramount event, neither depicts it mimetically. Rather, by manipulating the tensions between the paper’s white expanse and her delicate renderings of the character in blue pencil, Bezalel shows Alice uncannily suspended in space, refracted into multiple though identical personae yet without any clear ground as existential ballast. Pinned to the wall and unraveled on the floor, the works and their mode of display further dramatize this fragile sense of self. But the real action occurs at the level of penmanship: Bezalel reveals a sensitive understanding of chiaroscuro and cross-hatching as expressive tools. Her masterful handiwork unmoors Alice from narrative structure, however fanciful, and pedagogical purpose, however subtle; instead, it positions Alice within an illegible space that, if we follow the artist’s gallery statement, represents the unconscious. In the context of this psychoanalytic interpretation, then, Alice would presumably be Bezalel’s alter ego.

Beyond such biographical readings, Bezalel’s work engages with larger questions of feminine identity, evident in the artist’s foiling of the romantic fairy-tale ending. Much as she attenuates Alice’s descent into the void, she foregrounds another state of limbo in One Death, 2008, a group of drawings of Snow White lying in her glass coffin after biting the poison apple. The leading lady’s temporary withdrawal from waking life, which may be mistaken for death, is disrupted by its depiction—the replication of her face and body so that they hover above her prostrate corpse at various angles. As Snow White’s fate remains uncertain, the climactic wedding to the prince is perpetually delayed.

In the video Richard and I, 2002, Bezalel continues to explore the connections between popular imagery and the formation of the feminine. In this case, the artist had herself filmed in front of a television showing a movie with the young Richard Gere. Whenever the heartthrob smiles, Bezalel returns his affection by seeming to touch his lips or leaning in close as if to kiss him. While there’s something endearing about writing, directing, and starring in your own infinitely looped love story, the protagonist’s affair with the glowing charisma of the media image can also seem quite tragic. But the work doesn’t flesh out the darker side of this fascination and never reaches the same level of psychological complexity as the drawings.

In rewriting these master narratives, Bezalel tries to complicate the experience of femininity. In the video, she manipulates the clichés of Hollywood happiness to provide herself with a golden finale, but the drawings offer no such hope. These latter works suspend fairy-tale femmes in moments of vulnerable ambiguity—the metaphorical rabbit hole—as if to insist that their thoughts, too, might wander into distinctly human territories with no possibility of enchanted redemption.

Nuit Banai