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Entre Chien et Loup

Entre Chien et Loup

Finalists Exhibition, the Gottesdiener Foundation Israeli Art, Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Curator: Ellen Ginton

Photography: Elad Sarig

Special thanks to potter Rachel Elimelech Urbach



Map of the Galaxy: On Maya Attoun's Works

Hemda Rosenbaum


The surface presents a duality: Maya Attoun's works, which are, by and large, parts of installations—installation in the sense of a whole processed setting—focus on the double message inherent in the surface, in the surface's assumed face. They appear like textures, masquerading as surfaces and facings of the domestic interior. A closer look reveals, however, their constituent elements: the cornerstone, the basic unit which is repeatedly reproduced, may be one of the body's internal organs put on display for decoration and beauty. In the work Entre chien et loup [Between Dog and Wolf] (2007), the anatomical representation of blood vessels, with the arteries and veins in blue and red, unfolds into an elliptical form against the backdrop of reed vegetation in black and white— decoration à la Art Nouveau, if it weren't for the flora's implied resemblance to bones. The image appears at the heart of a black triptych, three boards hung on the wall, ornately symmetrical. In her MA graduation show in 2006 ("Salame 006," Bezalel Gallery, Tel Aviv) Attoun presented a setting whose walls were covered with a pattern generated by duplication of a skull—a non-innocent wallpaper, a silent reminder of death coded into the room's décor. In that installation, where Attoun generously employed both real and fake wallpaper, there was no respite from the malignant association between vital bodily organs and vegetal scrolls ostensibly made to lure the eye. They recurred in the elements framed on the walls—grafts of drawing and wallpaper in vertical rectangles, typified by an asymmetrical internal Golden Section division; and in decorations of floral wallpapers from which the artist created a collapsing structure of a ribcage. Elsewhere, in the installation SoulSeek, presented that same year at the Art Gallery, Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, skulls surfaced and rose from the floor which was covered with hardwood-style linoleum. They were cut into the material of the floor covering, and subsequently folded into their three-dimensional form, as if according to a leisure-time papercut diagram. The skulls sprouting from the hardwood floor teamed with murals to form a domestic scene interrupted as if in a dream: the paintings depict a window and a bed with black contour, with a woman, the artist's counterpart, hovering over the bed.

"Entre chien et loup" [Between Dog and Wolf], the title of Attoun's current exhibition (as the title of the aforementioned work)—is a French expression denoting early morning before sunrise, or alternatively—twilight—a time when vision is blurred and we might mistake the predator for a domestic pet, or suspect the faithful dog of being a wolf. It denotes an intermediate state of indecision which introduces horror and fantasy, allowing for deviation to settle in. Implicitly, the expression also connotes the border between the domestic interior and the exterior, between the familiar and identified, and the menacing and uncanny, which is better avoided. This intermediate state and the boundaries whose existence we assume—indeed on which we depend—set Attoun's work in motion, as she masterfully sketches those borders by introducing visual apparatuses which both weave and unravel them. The anticipated, longed-for threshold of the home naturally applies primarily to the body's border, to the skin which is no longer capable of separating interior from exterior. The border is breached precisely as a new cycle is completed, classifying and distinguishing body parts and organic vegetal forms according to a different regularity, one of aesthetics.

Various lattices and grids, which emerged in Attoun's past work in numerous variations, recur in the current exhibition (among other instances) as a light blue projection on the

walls of the space, as a mural opening onto a distinctively non-domestic space—onto outer space. Extending over several adjacent walls, this painting is entitled Moving (2009). It is based on a line drawn freehand on the walls—a one-off act which outlines a unidirectional route; the result of a momentous contingency, which ostensibly sketches the movement of a star cut off from the other celestial bodies and their regular elliptical orbits. The movement of the drawing hand introduces a certain measure of randomness into the system, whereas the other parts of the installation, decorated chinaware attached to the walls in points thus rendered strategic, pull one back to the domestic situation. White porcelain discs are attached to the wall at their center, like exclusively decorative plates, apparently flattened by the impact of an exaggerated centrifugal force, now resembling vinyl records. They must, however, bear a decoration (the ornamentation is always there, whether we notice it and its details or not, as often happens). The drawing line is light blue, like the intergalactic route on the wall or as in Delft ceramics, for example. The embellishments present several elements: sailors' knots, convoluted tangles, or the pattern of a traditional mariners' tattoo. Another plate, broken in half, is placed on a turntable, bouncing the needle at a fixed rhythm heard on the loudspeakers. The needle creates a closed loop which is the basic form of all knots, or more accurately—of all the knots studied in mathematical knot theory.

A steady pace, flow and beat. The regular sound emanating from the loudspeakers is congruent with the work hanging on the opposite wall, Transfusion (Homage to Mary Shelley) (2009): a heavy red rope heaped on the floor haphazardly, its two ends linked to two china cups whose openings are attached to the wall, as if to close a circuit. The work is discernibly based on toy walkie-talkie system, yet here the system ostensibly infuses blood between the two foci (the two cups). English writer Mary Shelley (1797-1851), who at 21 published the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, was known to have preserved throughout her life the remains of her dead husband's heart, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, after he drowned at sea near Italy in 1822. The gesture of heart-to-heart infusion is as romantic as it is clinical. The work also alludes to the ambiguity that has become associated with the name Frankenstein, commonly mistaken for the name of the creature, while it is in fact the name of the Swiss scientist who breathed life into it. The confusion may have also stemmed from the novel's plot, which places protagonist and antagonist in a cycle of mutual persecution, such that it is hard to distinguish persecutor from persecuted. In a broader sense, Frankenstein, which is considered the first science fiction novel, has been a source of inspiration for Attoun's work, in that it colors the ambitiousness of science with the dark neo-Gothic colors of late Romanticism: it heralds the suspicion of technology and progress, one of the distinctive characteristics of this genre.

The group of works of which Transfusion is a part assumed the color red, alongside the black and the white. In the group Moving, as aforesaid, blue is the dominant color. As in the triptych Entre chien et loup and in another work in that series, Habitat (2007), the red and the blue indicate the two major conductive vessels in the circulatory system, the veins and the arteries. Blood is transported in them in one direction only, from the heart through the arteries to the body's organs; following the distribution of oxygen to the cells, the blood returns through the veins to the heart. Only rarely does an unveiled anatomical depiction appear in Attoun's work. Habitat, a type of vertically-extending triptych, contained a realistic portrayal of a heart in the chest of a wolf-woman figure. In Attoun's current installation the hearts are either hinted or hidden, but their presence is nevertheless powerful, gradually cumulating: this is true of the series of drawings Stag Horn (2009) where the heart shapes are based on the contour of an earthen pot; or of the mural Vessel (2009) which outlines the general structure of the veins and arteries with massive twine; it is also true of a lover's blood transfusion to her dead beloved, or to the gramophone needle continuing its work.

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