Negation of self before the Infinite
The Artspace Gallery, Tel Aviv
Curator: Dr. Guy Morag Tzepelewitz
"Before You" is Arik Weiss's bold, challenging examination of the place of Man and the human body through Jewish rituals in which humankind faces God or the Infinite. The presence of the body performing these rituals, is mostly repressed, not discussed, or considered unimportant, because it is pushed aside when a person comes face to face with the intensity of the religious experience. Weiss calls upon the body to return from its enforced silence, reminding himself and viewers of its symbolic role in the physical state of worship, with all of its sensations, meanings, passions and fantasies. He provides the body with a voice, vocalizing it to reveal the mechanistic aspects of the interaction with the sacred.
Three realistic, life-size ("Weiss-size") sculptures stand at the center of the exhibition, looking as if they were chiseled of marble. They are actually made from scans of the artist's body printed in plastic, using the new technique of 3-D printing, a medium that links memory of the past and Classical art with the contemporary. The three positions of the sculptures, We bend the knee-bow down-give thanks (as in the Aleinu prayer), demonstrate the absence of self when facing the Divine, the Infinite, by a chain of actions and movements. What happens to the person during this process? What takes place in the body and soul, and how does their relationship change? For Weiss, the cyclical movement which can be interpreted as a metaphorical act of love with the Creator, brings the believer into a dialectical state of existential plenitude along with physical discomfort. The desire to give of oneself exists along with the yearning to be swallowed up, as the worshipper strains to put limbs into position and arrive at a situation beyond pain, meditative or robotic.
Another artwork simulates an operational chart with technical blueprints using typography and simple graphics to refer to the subject of the exhibition in a verbal-associative-geometric-numerological way. Weiss attempts to play with words and letters to find their deeper meaning. In the piece Ani-Ayin ("I-Void"), Weiss examines the link between the ego and its elimination, raising questions on the essential human need to recognize something greater than the self. Another work shows iconic signs of universal acts, hinting at the sexual level that may be concealed in the relationship between Man and God.
Through the work Whoever is behind me, near me, in front of me, and above me, is the One Who Stands (similar to the declaration before beginning Israeli Hide-and-Seek) Weiss interrogates the playfulness characterizing the relationship between human beings and the Creator through embroidering with golden thread on white silk, alluding to the Sanctuary curtain, merging the sacred and the mundane.
Here, as in many of Weiss's works, the artist uses his own figure as the central object, deliberately blurring borders between personal and artistic. This is part of a long art historical tradition, impacted mainly by contemporary artists such as American photographer Cindy Sherman, who features herself in numerous personae in her works, from historical to pop figures; Orlan, a French artist who modified her own body through surgery and facial prosthetics; and Marina Abramovic, whose performance art always revolves around her body.
Arik Weiss (b. 1966) is a multidisciplinary artist who frequently refers to Judaism in his artworks -- both to Halakha (Jewish Law) and its directives and to the symbols and ideas comprising it. The visual connections and innovations Weiss creates in his own unique way, corresponding with conceptual art, art history, design and other elements, open charged issues up to a broad discourse touching upon the human being's existential state and place in the universe.
Dr. Guy Morag Tzepelewitz