Within Walking Distance, soloexhibition, Contemporary Art Gallery, Tel Aviv, 2013. Academic research: Maayan Roichman,
curator: Tali Tamir.
Texts from the catalogue:
"Allenby Blues” - Dudu Geva's comics series from 1980 – reduced urban life to the existential experience of the Tel-Avivian Allenby Street: a lengthy, jaded street, long past its prime. In Geva's comics, the street named after the illustrious General Allenby lives by night, laden with traffic lights and street lamps which shed their light on angular buildings, cheap bars, cars and zebra crossings. People roam Allenby's night-time kingdom: some are elderly, hunched and sunken-faced, carrying bags, some are shapely young girls, scantily clad, and men, their necks strained with desire. Geva's Allenby is traversed by sidelong glances straying from balcony to balcony, from car headlight to wobbling street sign, yet at its center is the human protagonist: city-bred, hungry for love and for human touch, whose eyes, wide open in the glaring beams of light, experience his loneliness.
In Nurit Yarden's photograph “Allenby 41” – one of a series of photographs taken with a cellular phone while roaming the streets – the person has been here and gone, has exited the frame. Seen is a flowery mat which served, perhaps, as a beggar's seat and a cigarette butt, whose ashes have not yet scattered, upon it . The address is written in black on the metal door of the shop behind : Allenby 41. This is the place.
In Nurit Yarden's photographs, which were taken mostly on neighboring Ben-Yehuda Street and adjacent alleyways, no flesh and blood people are seen, only the printed images on calling cards, street posters and random photographs. The pathos of a person's homelessness, whose home is the street, is reduced to the rectangular, woolly mat placed on the filthy sidewalk. Yarden is interested in traces, in the malignant, chaotic tumors of the city, an uncontrollable labyrinth. Yarden doesn't need the melancholy of the human gaze in order to speak of the city – she follows its tracks through the accumulated woven labor of its surface, which bespeaks the true occurrence.
Urban melancholy is also glimpsed in Yarden's three video works which deal with the monotonous inanity of mechanical toys placed on bazaar stalls to attract customers: a rabbit mechanism blows soap bubbles, an animated chicken moves on springy legs, bends over and stands up straight again, and gnarled ginger roots spin atop a circle of grass. Automatic motion, perpetual, mindless spinning, the city's 'perpetuum mobile', a mechanical automaton which cannot say why it exists and wherefore it lives.
And yet, Yarden's photographs are not only melancholic. Yarden is attracted to a ravishing and colorful tapestry, richly patterned and textured, which seemingly contrasts the bleak harshness of the city. The chicken is red, the rabbit is smiling, and the set of nail-polish bottles – beautifully colorful. No, the melancholy does not easily reveal itself, does not immediately give in. It dons a mask of artifice, a comical mask.
Yarden's current series of photographs were taken in the streets around her home. Perhaps they accentuate, above all else, the protective illusion of the home's walls: beyond the wall, right around the corner, await poverty and squalor, shabbiness and decay.
The Streets Lift off Slowly
Nurit Yarden's photographs record, each in a distinct way, segments of city-bred reality, and mediate representations of unsightliness and squalor while architecturally composing surfaces, shapes and colors. In these meticulous photographs, the decaying, covetous content becomes not only a representation of a surface but also an expression of the values on which it is built: greed, objectification and corporate gluttony which dominate a neo-liberal world deluged in merchandise and images.
In one of the photographs, we see a gas station. Water bottles are arranged against placard images of fantastical happiness and functional tools lean on a mural depicting a clichéd utopia. In the constructed reality of the photo, vulgar images belligerently battle each other, creating a kind of impenetrable wall. Beyond the wall, in the upper right hand corner of the photograph, lies, pale, the Real. Another photograph places at the fore a “Parking lot – no vacancy” barrier, and an automatic machine for payment located between two apartment buildings. The public domain intrudes on the private, and makes the home apaid parking spot. The photographs expose a belligerent perception in which everything-street, home, and body-is turned into consumer goods.
In the series of the calling cards photographs, “Call Me and I Will Come,” Yarden zooms into a core of exploitative male control of the female body. The clarity of the frame, the geometric division of the color surfaces and the gentle lines delineated by the choice of angle, direct the spectator to focus on the photographed women. The figures sketched in a fashionable, pornographic “perfection”, constitute a strong ethical and aesthetic contradiction to the perfection offered by Yarden's photographic approach. The absolute identification of the photographed women with the codes they represent, clearly etched into their expressions, embodies their enslavement to the male consumerist gaze, and elicits compassion. The text written on the calling cards, a kind of mute dubbing of the woman portrayed, solidifies the identification between the request and the response.
The neon sign lit in blue and red writing, functions as a connecting word in the conceptual and formal syntax of the entire work, deepening the aspects found in the series of the street and the calling card photographs. The sign illuminates, both materially and symbolically, the approach which arranges lines of light on a background of color and texture. The text that appears here, as is often the case in Yarden's work, is imbued with irony and intensifies the gloomy tension seething beneath the harmonious equilibrium of the surface.
It is the photographic method itself, which enables a gentle and precise beauty, wrapping round a gaze which manages to contain and subject dire elements to its will, so that a healing quality, contrary to neurotic, emerges. If the first group of photographs emphasizes the street as a space exposed to hazards, other photographs of the same reality emphasize values of gentleness, internalization and beauty, drawing their meaning from the visual configuration while simultaneously constructing it.
Using those same somber notes of crumbling decay, Yarden succeeds in arranging layoutsof secular magic through her sensitive approach to light, line and form. Segments of walls, a window, a fence are subtly integrated into a tactile foundation, creating a layered, monochromatic texture harmoniously highlighted by colorful contrast. In a seemingly modernistic maneuver, in which she constructs geometrical compositions, an organized grid and symmetrical segmentation of surfaces, Yarden insists on the flatness of her surface, thereby adopting an ethical stance which declares itself to be a manipulation, from which it draws its force.
In affinity to Walter Benjamin's Flâneur, the unassuming passer-by celebrating the last monuments of an ancient culture of dwelling - affinity also discernible in Yarden's earlier works "Not Just" (2007) and "Visual Diaries" (2002) - The city splits into its dialectical poles: a landscape that opens up and a parlor that encloses.Silence arises from the din as from a surf and the streets are the dwelling place of a restless being that experiences, learns, knows, and imagines between the houses, where glossy enameled corporate nameplates are a better wall-decoration than an oil painting in the living room.Yarden's wanderings are anti-thesis to touristic wanderings in search of monumental historical relics. Instead, they seek out marginal, peripheral, forgotten corners as Boaz Neumann aptly described: “Rather than walking the streets, the Flâneuris led by them.” Yarden's beholder as well is the one undergoing a transformation, thereby gaining the power to bring about change. And yet, even though Yarden's gaze, as that of the Flâneur, is mainly aesthetic in nature, its essence is not non-political urban poetics which sees beauty in piteousnessor a decaying building, but it is rather highly political, aiming to influence and offer an active alternative to those forces which shape our existence.
“The lovely-lovely street will stop in its tracks in the end.
Serenity, hard and opaque, will be cut lengthwise like challah.
And the damp morning will turn into cinders from one flash of lightning, its own.”
- David Avidan, “The Streets Lift Off Slowly”