Wallpaper, stained glass, light
The Artists house, Tel-Aviv, 2006
Staring at Medusa's Head
by Inbar Dror, Exhibition Curator
Maya Attoun enlaces visual images, media, and textures, weaving an intricate riddle. Biological, organic, and artificial systems are deconstructed, replicated, and rearranged in impossible conjunctions. The artist’s strategy disrupts the coherence of systems known for their manifest order, placing their identity and function in doubt. In an unending process of interweaving, Attoun creates a deceptive dimension of violent beauty, a hybrid mutation touching on the borders of human experience.
Line in Space
The line and drawing occupy a central place in Attoun’s work and serve as the starting point of the exhibition, which is constructed in three layers: the drawing done directly on the wall; hanging sketches on wooden panels, some figurative and others abstract; and rope sculptures hung on the wall and arranged on the floor. The sculptures derive conceptually from the drawings and continue their form. “The connection between the drawing and the sculpture, the play of two and three dimensions," Attoun writes, "reflects the transition between the inner body and the interior of the room.”
The interplay between interior space and exterior space is expressed in Inner Beauty, the central image of the exhibition – a faceless figure with tangled hair from which a hand holding a skull extends. The work makes reference to two major narratives that define the visual representation of the individual’s hidden inner essence and the attempt to reconcile the contradiction inherent in the riddle of existence. The first narrative is that of Hamlet holding a skull and delivering his most famous soliloquy, a man wrestling with the question “to be or not to be.” The second narrative is the story of the mythological figure of Medusa, one of three gorgon sisters whose hair was made of braided serpents and who turned anyone who gazed at her into stone. She was beheaded by Perseus who avoided the curse by looking at her reflection in his mirrored shield.
As Attoun perceives them, both narratives deal with the moment of reflection, the encounter with the self and the “other” self. The narcissistic moment at which Medusa sees her image reflected in the shield, at which Hamlet wonders whether he should suffer the same fate as his dead father, is a moment of fear and terror, much like those in horror films or science fiction movies when the hero discovers he is actually something very different – a monster, a mutation.
The same theme of encountering the “stranger” within us appears in another work in the exhibition entitled Entre Chien et Loup (Between Dog and Wolf). The name comes from a French phrase meaning twilight, the transition from day to night, from domesticated to wild. At the center of the work is a line drawing of a circular shape, considered a symbol of completeness in human society. Here it is formed from a biological system of blood vessels that has undergone mutation. It emerges from a clump of reeds resembling a set of bones. The work is constructed from two systems, the illusory and the ornamental, questioning formal and conceptual definitions. It might be said that Attoun is using the grotesque, a strategy employed to examine alternative states and challenge the concept of classical beauty. If beauty can be defined as “unity in variety,” then the grotesque is “unity and variety,” perceiving both order and disorder in a single gaze. The grotesque enables Attoun to endow the link between the organic and the biological with the powerful potential of a hybrid system that lodges in the internal space and threatens the definitions and borders of human reality.
On the Edge
By removing the body from its natural mapping system and erasing the imagined anatomical borders between human beings on the one hand and nature and space on the other, Attoun creates an alternative space for the representation of the human body. It is a space without boundaries, located on the edge, on the seam between interior and exterior space, between control and lack of control, between organic and biological, between human and inhuman. The destructive violent system she creates disrupts the cultural mapping system that gives the body’s identity its semiotic coordinates. In the resulting chaos, the body and the space appear to open a dialogue, perhaps even marking out an alternative territory in which there is no distinction between contrasting elements. In view of riddle and perplexity Attoun’s creates, I propose to describe Attoun’s works as “excès”. According to Georges Bataille, excess is the product of the individual, enabling one to touch the limits in order to comprehend reality as an experience without existential, metaphysical, and most importantly, disciplinary distinctions. The individual pays a heavy price for this attempt, as the unique and virtually indefinable moment at which one approaches the other truth is also the moment of self-devastation, of madness or death.
The alternative territory Attoun creates in her present exhibition confronts the viewer with the complex and paradoxical state of lack of internal harmony. Forced to look beyond the order and stability imposed on the borders of the self, the viewer feels as encounter the twilight zone of the consciousness, the dusky pathways of inner “otherness.” In an age in which the ecological environment is being destroyed by human hands, in which cloning and replication have become part of scientific reality, in which fatal incurable diseases strike at the very structure of human cells, Attoun confronts the viewer with an unsettling question: Can we still draw the borderline between human and inhuman, between normal and deviant, between Dr. Frankenstein and the monster he created?