The Garden of Earthly Delights // Ravit Harari

Solo show curator’s text, P8 Gallery 2018

The wall installation The Garden of Earthly Delights comprises large black paper cutting silhouettes, interweaving to create a surreal panorama that envelops the gallery space. The images comprising the panorama are taken from the media and describe apocalyptic scenes that are the direct or indirect results of man-made destruction and environmental pollution, as well as various instances of natural disaster that are a result of climate change – from floods to forest fires. The conceptual point of departure for this installation is Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (1503-04), and the installation spans three of the gallery walls, echoing of that original. Bosch’s oil painting, one of the Dutch painter’s more famous works, describes, among other things, the world that could have existed if not for the sins of man, and the punishment that these sins hold. The notion at the foundation of Bosch’s work is the concept of Christian reward and punishment, but it manages to avoid the familiar iconography of the Christian world of sin and to create an imaginary surreal world populated by strange structures, many animals, countless men and women, and a variety of bizarre hybrid creatures in a multitude of positions and scenarios.

Shira Glezerman addresses Bosch’s work from a secular viewpoint, and deals with the ecological hell man has created with his own two hands. Like the collection of creatures and scenarios in Bosch’s painting, the silhouettes in the installation create images that blend into each other, and various elements merge into ambiguous scenes where one cannot be sure if they really occurred or are fictitious. A variety of animals, dead and alive, float or are laid down, human figures move in acts of rescue and acts of destruction, plants weave their intricate patterns, there are windswept trees, beached whales, drowned vehicles, and boats in unnatural surroundings – all these are inseparably connected in a panorama that envelops the viewer on all sides and sweeps them into its midst. Thus, unlike the observation of a flat image, the viewer is drawn into the heart of the installation and becomes part of the beautiful and nightmarish world it presents.

Glezerman’s works address the history of art and other cultural disciplines such as mythology and literature. In this installation Glezerman offers a contemporary interpretation of Christianity’s classic iconography of the seven sins as she refers to these disasters as the result of modern gluttony, greed, and pride. According to Glezerman, modern gluttony leads to the increased consumption of non-sustainable food, creating industries that are cruel, polluting and harmful; greed represents the giant corporations amassing their wealth and power while causing environmental and social damage; and the modern pride underlying both these sins is reflected in man’s destructive and exploitative treatment of the earth without consideration of the consequences of his deeds. Other images in the installation draw inspiration from Christian or biblical iconography, and address religious concepts of reward and punishment from a secular point of view. Thus, for example, on one of the walls we see four horsemen, which allude to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These figures appear in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation to John, each representing one apocalyptic event (conquest, war, famine, and death). The boat on the right side of the panorama may resemble the Biblical Noah’s Ark, visually but also as an apocalyptic allusion to the destruction of the world as punishment for human sin. While Noah’s Ark was swept away by the flood that covered the earth, Glezerman’s boat is marooned on the barren remains of a dried-up former ocean (the Aral Sea on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan), above which, in lieu of Noah’s heralding dove, ominous desert birds hover.

Identifying as a painter from the onset of her artistic career, here too Glezerman creates compositions that are as clean and meticulously staged as her paintings. She uses aesthetics as a means and not an end, to evoke discomfort and provoke thought. Her choice of the paper cutting technique, for centuries identified with decorative arts in various cultures, allows her to weave an array of images, which are first and foremost beautiful and awe-inspiring in light of the virtuosity of their detail. These create an initial and ostensibly innocent charm, enticing a full and merry surrender. Only upon second look does one decipher the catastrophes brewing under the precisely rendered surface. The choice of paper cuttings as silhouettes also enables the flattening of images, emptying them of identifying features, thus representing an idea that is larger than the sum of its parts.

The use of a panorama of paper silhouette cuttings in contemporary art is identified more than anyone with the work of Afro-American artist Cara Walker, who deals with American South history from a racial and feminist point of view. Her huge installations, comprising black paper cuttings that look like silhouettes and are evocative of illustrations in children’s books and 19th century romantic decorations, also investigate loaded themes relating to race, sexuality, violence, and gender. Like Walker’s works, Glezerman’s installation uses a graphic language that seems simple and innocent. However while Walker embeds parodic depictions of violent sexual horrors in her installations, Glezerman weaves images of compassion and hope within her portrayals of ecological disaster, asking the viewer to examine  their  consuming habits and raising questions about choice and responsibility. Thus, along with its elegiac lamentation of a deteriorating world, the installation reminds us that despite the prophecies of doom, the option for redemption and salvation still exists.