Participating Artists: Yiftach Belsky / Yael Yudkovik
The exhibition Wild brings together the works of two artists – a man and a woman – who examine conventional myths and representations concerning masculinity and the relations between man, animals and nature from their unique perspectives. Both artists present tough, "wild" male figures struggling to survive, while alluding to underlying experiences of fear and loneliness and to a search for some kind of refuge.
Yiftach Belsky's photographs often capture actions performed by the artist, which may be read either as performances enacted in front of the camera or as sculptural interventions in a "stage set." The resulting images vacillate between documentation and fiction, while the extent of the artist's intervention in the photographic setting remains unclear.
This tension between reality and fantasy, and the blurring of boundaries between documentary and staged photography, form the underlying basis of Belsky's works. In his earlier series, and especially in those created while he was living in New York, Belsky retreated into the domestic sphere, where his obsessive and suspicious gaze was directed at neighboring homes (Ikonostasis, 2009), the stairwell in his own apartment building (Room, 2007), or surveillance cameras in public spaces (The Panoptic Suspect, 2007); in these works, he appeared to be protecting himself by retreating into an interior space or attempting to defend himself in an unfamiliar and estranged urban environment. In his latest series of photographs, Belsky emerges into the world and sets out to confront various natural forces, yet the claustrophobic sense of threat has not entirely disappeared from his photographs. In the series of actions he performs against the mountainous landscapes of Ramat Hagolan, in the north of Israel, Belsky appears as a tense and solitary figure captured in flight. He sets out for a hunt and returns with his catch in his hand, places handmade traps, wallows in mud or is caught in a tangle of thorns, crosses streams and builds bonfires. Over and over again, he is seen crawling into dark passageways – protective spaces he creates himself, tunnels inhabited by wild animals, or bunkers that appear to have been constructed in anticipation of a disaster or in its aftermath.
It is no coincidence that some of these images appear almost familiar, since Belsky frequently refers to cultural myths: stereotypical representations of male figures in film and in the media, religious myths and art-historical quotes. Scenes from war and disaster movies or Westerns in which a suffering, solitary male figure struggles to survive while battling with natural forces or a real enemy are fused with familiar media images from various war zones and disaster areas. The decision to photograph this series in the battle-scarred region of the Golan Heights infuses these images with military elements that lend the artist's figure the aura of an invincible hero of the kind associated with the myth of the Israeli soldier. Yet rather than radiating a sense of absolute power, Belsky's male hero appears as a vulnerable figure under attack, longing for some form of solace. His arms reach out of a pit in the ground as if pleading for help, while his mud-covered feet, barefoot and unprotected, stocl out of the opening to a narrow tunnel. Over and over again, he is captured seeking refuge in dark caves and tunnels, like a child unconsciously attempting to return to the warmth of the womb.
In the installation The Hunters, Yael Yudkovik pursues her earlier interest in representations of masculinity. Like Belsky, she too is concerned with male myths and archetypes; her works, however, are distinguished by a somewhat humorous tone, and are created from the perspective of a woman. For this exhibition, Yudkovik built a group of upright wooden structures – totems of sorts that feature various prints, drawings and objects. Her sculptures include bones, animal skeletons, and horns resembling hunting trophies. Yet these objects were in fact foraged in nature – an activity traditionally associated with women; they were later cleaned, cooked and sewn together in a labor-intensive process that alludes to traditional female chores. They appear alongside sharp work tools borrowed from the world of "male" labor, which protrude outwards out like weapons raised in the course of a battle, hunting implements, or phallic symbols. These totems, into which the artist has stuck knives and sharp bits of metal, make reference to pagan rituals, and raise questions concerning extreme forms of "wild" male behavior, hunting, the struggle to survive, and the relations between men and animals. Her sculptures also include ink prints that call to mind black, abstract Rorschach inkblots, signs marking a trail, animal tracks, or the imprints of hunting weapons – an implicit allusion to the traps set by Belsky and to the dead animals that appear in some of his works.
These sculptures are exhibited alongside drawings from a series featuring men wearing animals masks (Acting Characters, 2005–2011) – modern minotaurs engaged in semi-erotic relations. At first glance, these drawings resemble innocent illustrations for a children's book. Yet the juxtaposition of the animal masks and the naked bodies underscores the existing sexual tension, and the protection afforded by the disguise allows for a sense of liberation from restrictive conventions and for an expression of the erotic relations between the two figures, while calling to mind pagan and tribal rituals. In this manner, Yudkovik undermines conventional perceptions of masculinity, and alludes to an androgynous sexual zone that exists beyond the traditional distinction between definitions of "masculine" and "feminine."
Belsky's photographs similarly contain traces and signs of wild animals moving through a natural terrain, and lead to a reflection on the reciprocal relations between men and animals. Much like Yudkovik undermines the clear distinction between masculinity and femininity, so Belsky undermines the traditional hierarchy between ruler and subject, hunter and prey, the strong and the weak. He too engages in a kind of masquerade by covering his body with mud masks or with a felt blanket, a clear allusion to Beuys' enigmatic figure in the installation I like America and America Likes Me(1974) .
At times he appears as a threatening hunter setting handmade traps on the ground or returning from the hunt with his catch – a dead bird or the head of a wild boar; in other instances, the heroic human figure is itself transformed into a wild creature burrowing into the earth or crawling into tunnels inhabited by animals. Belsky performs the roles of both the perpetrator and the victim, man and animal, while camouflaging himself as different personas and attempting to connect to the archaic, primeval urges underlying the creative act; in doing so, he seems to be directing the arena of struggle inwards, in a manner that alludes to the struggle taking place in the artist's own psyche.