Cosmic Field. Shlomi Brosh
Fascinating and diverse artist Shlomi Brosh lived and worked in Jerusalem from the 1970s until his death in 2014. Brosh was attentive to zeitgeist and passionate about materialism. His work is graphic, formational and precise. He worked with wood, metal, oil paints, stone, terracotta, and everyday objects. Using a wide range of techniques – pasting, chiseling, painting, etching and welding – he created his own personal version of the Israeli ethos. His artwork contains constant tension between a concrete sense of belonging to this land, formalistically expressed in quasi-Canaanite features, and questions on life and death, love and human suffering.
Brosh’s art is undeterred by powerful symbols. Crucifixes, prayer shawls, cacti and hay – the themes in Brosh’s work seem to come from conflicted worlds, but are all similarly intense. They are all iconic symbols that, to some extent, are all religious too. Not only the crucifix and prayer shawl (Tallit), but the cactus and hay, that come from Israeli farming – the religion of the new Jews.
At times Brosh seemed to desecrate holy symbols. For instance, when he lay down on a huge crucifix with his arms outstretched. It is a personal reference to a religious symbol. But Brosh does not really desecrate these icons. A more precise interpretation would be that that they infuse him with power. He personifies and plays with them not in an attempt to destroy them, but rather to create new powerful symbols out of them. Religious symbols are not only signifiers, but actors, and Brosh boldly responds to their call, acting upon and working with them.
The Horizontal Crucifix displayed in the exhibition recreates a performance by Brosh from 2006. Brosh used the crucifix as a platform for introspection. He built a three-meter-long wooden crucifix, and lay down on it as if he were crucified, using Christian crucifixion as a point of departure for referencing general human suffering, making sacrifices, death and deification. At the same time, this exhibit is also a humorous tribute to crucifixion. It depicts crucifixion as an act of narcissism centering on the self, relations with others, self-sacrifice and total love.
In Crucifix and Bird from 2009 Brosh used plain wooden boxes painted black to create a crucifix taller than an average man, at the top of which he placed a black crow. Taut wires connect dozens of rusty nails at the top of the crucifix, marking a private or collective via dolorosa. A black crow and crucifix: religion and superstition resonate one another in a sense of impending disaster. The black bird gazes down at the observer. The plain steel nails are reminders of the crucifixion, yet are clearly part of the here and now. A mixture of religion, patriotism and Israeli landscapes.
Brosh’s interest in the crucifix fits in comfortably with his focus on Jewish and Israeli symbols such as the prayer shawl (Tallit) and sabra. In the series entitled The Prayer Shawl (2005), sanctity and poverty are interchangeable. The artwork is made of discarded corrugated iron that Brosh found in the street, and framed using plain iron frames. The corrugated iron, often associated with poverty and found on old Jerusalem structures, is raised by Brosh to a holy level.
The hay blocks entitled Cosmic Field are part of a large installation consisting of dozens of blocks of hay made from thin, golden wires placed on a sizeable coordinate network. The exhibit was displayed at the entrance to the Jerusalem Theater as part of the Israel Festival installation sculpting exhibition in 1995. The aluminum wires replacing the hay stalks render the blocks futuristic-looking. Technology is replacing agriculture in the Israeli mind that turned the high-tech nation into a reality. But this is also somewhat of a return to the beginning, as farming played a significant role in Zionist thought as well, marking from its inception a release from the Jewish past and a look toward the future.
In Sabra Totem (2006) time moves in reverse. The cactus is a conflicted symbol, referencing the new Jew, but borrowed from Palestinian village landscapes and often appearing in Christian paintings from the Middle Ages. Brosh builds it a totem: simple wood painted black with rusty nails jutting from it. It calls upon a pagan religion to invite the Israeli native Sabra to create.
In Cosmic Field at Artspace Gallery we have chosen to recreate the Horizontal Crucifix performance, and encourage visitors to lie down on the large wooden cross. Brosh is a Jerusalem artist in the deepest sense of the word, a city where the crucifix is a daily part of urban and human landscape. That is precisely why his images are relevant in a new way in Tel Aviv of 2019. In this secular modern city, the cross may not be a source of fear, but are deterred by it as those wearing it are mostly foreign workers or refugees. Against this backdrop, Brosh is offering us a new sense of pluralism. In Tel Aviv, pluralism means nothing is sacred. But perhaps pluralism actually means that everything is sacred? The prayer shawl, crucifix, hay and cactus.
Curators: Tamar Eisen Goldstein & Sivan Finesilver Yuran
Shlomi Brosh (1939–2014) graduated from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and was the Mayor of Jerusalem’s art consultant while Ehud Olmert was mayor. Over the years he also served as the chairman of the municipal sculpting committee, chief designer in city events, and head of the plastic art department in City Hall. In addition, Brosh promoted and supported young artists, and was on the Jerusalem Prize for Art recommendation committee.