Remainders of a Ritual
Galia Bar Or
A multi-age group moves from the first light of dawn to twilight and the darkness of night, tirelessly and in a strange, acrobatic movement, leaving behind desert, and sea, and woodland, yet its destination and purpose remain unknown. And even though banners and flags fly high on this journey, and the sounds also carry a ceremonial tone, it seems that the congregation is random, the materials are transient, the tools are improvised, and above all, the contact with the ground is absent.
What does this avoidance of the ground stand for and what does it have to do with the quest’s title: The Israel Trail: Procession? After all, “walking the Israel Trail” constitutes an assertion of belonging through touch, stringing a series of spots to form an identity of a “place.” In the absence of points of contact between body and ground, it seems that what is fixed here is a place of lack. This heartbreaking absence, which erupts as a funny, perennially poignant incongruity, resonates as a key characteristic in the earlier works of the artists, Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi. Indeed, Heiman and Carmi did not know one another in the beginning of their artistic paths, and the affinity did not suggest itself since Heiman comes from photography and performance and Carmi from painting and painting installations – routes that were considered disparate fields at the time. However, looking back, it is clear that this unraveling of order, which rejoices in the transgression of norms, is most certainly present in each of the artists’ work.
In retrospect, the works of both artists convey a sense of freedom that seems to allow the break from the ground, and in its own way undermines the sovereignty of its orders. See Meirav Heiman’s Strawberries – a vibrant blood-red, energetic, and magnificent “big bang” in the middle of the domestic kitchen (1998). And we have yet to mention Heiman’s dining “families” (what seems like familial relations turns out to be random grouping) that leap up into the air – and with them the table and everything that was carefully laid on it, while only the landscape of the town that dreams of reddish rooftops and greens grows smaller on the ground. And see how the women in Ayelet Carmi’s early paintings soar with their nude bodies, feminine, resolute, and hungry for life, discovering cosmic spaces of exploration, ripping a window to the unknow, a world of new possibilities; even the sky does not pose a limit. Carmi’s women will later move to a horizontal format (2004), where they line up for a tongue-in-cheek debate with patently masculine landscape painting, in the finest Modernist tradition. Someone had marked a trail in the painting, but their intensification is gathered through the experience, and they are already carrying flags and practicing aerial acrobatics.
Both Carmi and Heiman, each in her own way, foreshadow the “Israel Trail” that will make its way into their works a decade later. Their starting points are opposite: while Ayelet Carmi creates a painting installation where the figures seem to float in space (2004), Meirav Heiman clings to the ground with a front split (2003). Clad in dance clothes, her legs spread wide, she juxtaposes ground with crotch, thighs, legs, all the way to the ankle, her face and torso facing the viewer. Again and again, she has her photo taken in this pose, settled in the Israeli landscape as though signifying the act of taking hold of the land – to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; a feminine, corporeal, and vulnerable monument. With whimsical hybridity and supposed innocence, she embeds the “origin of the world” in national and phallic codes, while in another piece she marshals a “family” journey of a father, mother, and three kids, who do not stop stuffing themselves with food and drinks while crossing the road between sand dunes (2003).
Here we already encounter the journey motif, which in Ayelet Carmi’s work carries a transformative significance, as in the installation Alexantropia (2008), which manipulates the repertoire of heroic quests into an introspective feminine journey. Juxtaposing, as is her practice, contemporary body language with images from mythological, historical, fantastical, scientific realms, which in turn are also associated with socialist rituals and kibbutz scenery. Both infiltrate the joint work Israel Trail: Procession, whose title invokes a mega structure that transcends locality and crosses territories. This is a timeless journey that sets in motion and uncovers survival energy and associations. It is not a journey aimed at “knowledge of the land”; the place of geology and botany, history and archeology was taken by the flags as the remainders of a ritual.