The Compassion, the Empathy, and Shira Glezerman’s Apocalypse // Yuval Saar
Portfolio Magazine, 1.5.18
Photo credit: Revital Topiol
Translation: Yael Nussbaum
In “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, Shira Glezerman presents apocalyptic scenes in large-scale black paper cuttings. “My art reflects world views and moral standpoints,” she says, “this is not some enchantment by images of catastrophe, although there is something mesmerizing and aesthetic about them.”
In her solo exhibition “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, which shall open on Thursday May 3 at the P8 Gallery in Tel Aviv (curator: Ravit Harari), artist Shira Glezerman presents a wall installation comprising large-scale black paper cuttings that look like silhouettes that interweave into a surreal panorama that wraps around the space of the gallery. The installation, based on images from the media, refers to Hieronymus Bosch’s iconic triptych as a conceptual point of departure and creates a panorama on three of the gallery walls as an echo of the triptych. It portrays various apocalyptic scenes of natural disasters resulting from climate change, from floods to forest fires, and other scenes of global ruin, which are the direct or indirect result of destruction and environmental pollution caused by man. However, among the images of disaster and ruin are also images of compassion and hope that ask the viewers to consider their consuming habits and raise questions about responsibility and choice.
Yuval: Hi Shira, how are you?
Shira: Good, I’m excited about the opening, of course. How are you?
Yuval: I’m good too. Is everything ready? All of the paper cuttings? That sounds like a lot (an incredible lot) of work.
Shira: It really was a lot of work. More than I imagined, because I have never done something like this, but yes, everything is ready.
Yuval: Nice. Can you tell us where and how your interest in paper cuttings was inspired?
Shira: It’s something I did as a child. I abandoned it for many years when I focused on oil paintings and drawing, but I always felt some sort of longing for it. Now I’ve returned to the paper cuttings in this project, as well as my previous project “Lonesome George” which I presented at the Rosenfeld Gallery, dealing with animals that have become extinct as a result of human activity. The knife I use today, by the way, is the same knife I used back then when I was 13.
This technique, which is traditional and is associated with something clean and precise as well as folkloristic art, and is less direct in its portrayal, allows me to deal with issues and themes that would sometimes seem too blunt or direct in other techniques.
Yuval: Do you think? Because this is not the first time you have dealt with issues that are blunt and direct, and also very current and relevant.
Shira: True, it isn’t the first time, my content is always pretty harsh. I meant that paper cuttings enable me, because of their flatness and lack of detail, to delve into those issues in another manner. I deal with this subject, the ruinous encounter of humanity and nature, man’s exploitative treatment of his surroundings, quite often. I think that art is not supposed to be pleasant or easy to look at, but when I paint a stuffed animal or an animal preserved in formaldehyde, people sometimes want to look away. Here there’s another way of approaching the issue. Maybe a softer way.
Yuval: So just before the content in general, tell us what you’re showing in your current exhibit at P8 Gallery.
Shira: I’m showing a wall installation comprising large paper cuttings that wrap around the entire gallery space. The viewer enters the work and does not observe from the outside: there’s something claustrophobic about it, some sort of entrance into a surreal land that is enticing at first look but is also very apocalyptic. The paper cuttings depict various scenes of natural catastrophes and environmental ruin which are the results of human activity, and they are all based on images from the news – things that happened and happen all the time.
Yuval: I know there’s no single magic response to this, but where do we draw the line in this case between being charmed by the technique and the impressive gallery installation and the content you present? Aren’t you afraid it might be lost?
Shira: Can you be more specific? Do you mean how I work or how the viewer perceives it?
Yuval: How the viewer perceives it.
Shira: It’s clear to me that people are impressed by craft, especially when it’s very aesthetic, but I think it’s pretty hard to miss the narrative. Maybe not at first sight, and that’s great by me, because I find works that are immediately deciphered to be much less interesting. I also don’t think that every scenario depicted will be clear to everyone, and that too is intentional, because it’s not a formal documentation, it’s something more open – different people will recognize different things, and it won’t all click together at once but it will click. And the general sense of a world in ruins – that gets through.
Yuval: So let’s talk about the issues you choose to work with: can you explain what leads you to make your art about current affairs? Catastrophes? Wrongs?
Shira: I think the art I create reflects a world view and a moral standpoint in which I believe. There is no enchantment, not by me at least, with imagery of catastrophes, though there is something mesmerizing and aesthetic about them.
Yuval: So you wish to make an impact? To draw your viewers’ attention? Or do you create your art and put it out there for anyone to do as they please with it?
Shira: A little of both, I guess. I do want to make an impact, but not in the sense that I want to tell people what to think. I just want to create a discomfort that provokes thought. I ask questions, hoping that people will ask themselves those questions, but I don’t give the answers. With and without connection to concrete current issues, I am very preoccupied with questions of compassion and empathy, and this naturally is expressed in my work.
Yuval: Totally. I can say that personally I always have some trouble with your work (in a good sense). There’s something very seductive about them, but once I understand what I’m seeing, I can’t always handle it. Just like a disaster where you close your eyes but still peek out of the corner of one eye. There’s a series of works I keep going back to, your pencil sketches showing the hanging of young homosexuals in Iran. Of course I’m more personally invested there, but I can relate to what you said in your last answer – compassion and empathy. Two things that are very much missing in our surroundings.
And yes, I know there’s no question mark.
Shira: I’m really glad that’s how you feel when viewing my work, and the series of sketches you referred to was indeed very difficult for me. I hung the photos from that execution in the studio, they surrounded me as I worked on it, and it was almost insufferable. I felt a personal grief for people I didn’t know. And working on the current exhibit was also very hard, because in the process of collecting the images for reference, I kept watching events that cause me sadness and despair, of baby elephants beside their dead mothers, of stunned people facing the ruins of their homes. And it’s endless.
Yuval: Tell me honestly: don’t you ever feel like doing something happy? Fun? Pink unicorns and fireworks?
Shira: My next exhibit will be about Care Bears.
Yes, sometimes I do, but that doesn’t drive me to action. And I need a narrative. When I studied with Hershberg, I wanted to acquire the tools for academic drawing and sketching, and I am moved by good landscape drawings, but in my work I need the narrative. And I say “drawing” because although these are paper cuttings, I still feel like they are drawings, just in another material.
Yuval: You’ve changed quite a lot of techniques in your career….
Shira: I think they are connected to each other. I think the tools I learned from Hershberg, about lines and spots, about negative and positive spaces, helped me a lot in creating the paper cuttings. It’s all part of the language of drawing in my eyes.
Yuval: Absolutely. Anything to add before we finish?
Shira: I would be really happy if you came to the exhibition!
Yuval: That’s the plan!