The Spirit of Time, 1991
Arad Cultural Museum, Israel
Essay: Rachel Sukman
Early in this century, Paul Valéry wrote that radical changes could soon be expected in the venerable industry of the production of beauty. In every art, he stressed, there is a physical stratum, which can no longer be related to as in the past, and cannot be fenced off from the influences of modern science and modern technologies. Material, space and time are no longer what they always were, and we must prepare for the eventuality that these far-reaching innovations will transform the techniques of all the arts, thus influencing the nature of invention itself, and perhaps, finally, most miraculously transforming the very concept of art.
Artists combine different types of reality in order to pose the question to which there is as yet no answer: which of these types of reality is the real one? The need to construct new realities led Picasso and Braque to the use of paper paste-ups on their canvases, and this was interpreted as the introduction of reality into a totally illusory world.
Dorit Feldman constructs a reality of her own, and gazes from a satellite-eye view upon something like fields of energy, oceans and spheres of light. Her objects are composed in aluminum and masonite; they are constructed of solid materials and industrial product that cast doubt on any absolute value of formal syntax.
The works are based on a synthesis of diverse materials, which creates a harmony between the rational and the sensual, the industrial and the organic, the original and the recycled.
Feldman detaches sights from their natural setting – for instance, she takes materials from a geological or industrial source, joins them onto the base of the work, and gives her composition the new illusory reality of a painting by her use of color. Her palette of colors is oriented more and more to metallic blue with all its rich tones, extending to deep green. This kind of coloring invites a meditative gazing into the abyss of oblivion, and it is only natural that one should feel drawn to enter the depths of this sweeping color, like someone standing on the deck of a ship on the open sea.
The encounter with Dorit Feldman’s works at the present exhibition is a proof of the co-mingling of spheres of art and the blurring of the boundaries between them.
Since she started out as an artist, Dorit Felman has been developing a distinctive language of her own with respect to material as an artistic object, and as part of the work’s contentual statement. In 1984, Amnon Barzel wrote: Dorit Feldman’s materials are the color photograph, the natural stone, ceramic sculpture and painting. The detailed processing of each of these components in a single integrated work is aimed at emphasizing the concreteness of the means she uses.
Dorit Feldman devotes thought to idealistic dialectics, which links development of thought and ideas with development in the life of the material; she as it were conducts a dialogue with the extra-visual reality, which finds expression both in the union of contraries and in the transformation of matter. The tension between image and abstraction creates a dynamics that integrates into the total configuration, and makes possible an aesthetics of diversion.
The contents deal with cosmic and solar systems, and mainly with the flow of information through sophisticated means of communication which allow the viewer entrance into a hidden world of mysticism that draws its sources from the Kabbalah and from the artist’s own inner world. These ideas and contents are expressed in an unalloyed or ‘net’ sculpture that has an affinity to Russian Constructivism, in three0dimensional wall-related objects, tactile works and works on paper.
Apart from the sculptures, all the other works incorporate techniques of staged photography that reflect a personal grasp of nature-reality. Some of Dorit Feldman’s works in this exhibition relate to the desert landscape.”I bring what I have in me,” she says. “I love the landscapes, but from above, with an extended view from a distance.” This project was actually built in Mitzpeh Ramon, not in Arad. The photographs that appear in the works are sometimes copied from satellite photographs, and sometimes they are staged, like the view through a round iron lens from which we see the Ramon Crater. A dialogue is created between the control station situated on a distant tell and the total desolation of the crater which functions as a moon pit. The connection between the quiet uninhabited place and technology dies actually exist in reality, and looks contradictory at first, but when one is studying the structure of the planet, one needs absolute quiet in order to arrive at the truth.
Dorit Feldman relates rather indirectly an inexplicitly to trends that have marked the modern period in the twentieth century, from Cubism through Futurism to Constructivism. She comes to the architecture of Mies van der Rohe through the camera lens and photographic paper, and gives it expression in the sealed glass buildings that appear out of a metaphysical blue. As in a cultural kaleidoscope, in her works we see spread before us the information stations of a world that supplies illusion and truth in real time.
It is no wonder that without wanting to, post-modernism has become a kind of autarchic framework that sustains and nourishes itself, and that the familiar boundaries between reality and art and also between criticism and are becoming more and more blurred. The moment we understand, with Baudrillard, that the story is the message, that we are ruled by codes of communications, and we consequently stop seeking in art for what has long ceased being there, the apocalyptic experience will turn into a positive one.
The work’s base turns into a microcosm laden with readable signs of a communicational world. In each work too, there is an attempt and a desire to understand the wisdom of the Creation and of human creativity. Or, as Paul Klee once asked: What artist would not want to live in a place that is the focus of life? …at the root of the depths of the Creation? Where the secret key to the All is concealed?
The more one contemplates Dorit Feldman’s works, the more one understands that more is concealed here than revealed, and that an investigation of the ‘order’ of the world would be an endless task, like the endlessness of the universe. Jean-Paul Sartre defined this condition well in his essay, ‘The Quest for the Absolute’: The qualities of real space overshadow the qualities of imaginary space. In Dorit Feldman’s conception of art as a means of expression for her innermost feelings, or what Kandinsky called ‘the inner necessity’, there is a longing to reach the unattainable, to investigate the universe, and at the same time to be a part of it.
The profusion of means of expression reflects a profusion of meanings. The sensitive use of collages of materials entails a complexity of contents, and in this Feldman approaches Klee’s dream: sometimes I dream of a world with the broadest span possible, that includes all the spheres – the elemental, the concrete, the conceptual and the multi-colored. This will always remain a dream, but it is nice to imagine the possibility from time to time, or to strive towards it.
The visual wealth in Dorit Feldman’s paintings, sculptures and three-dimensional wall-related objects makes the viewer want to approach them close enough to touch them. The ‘picture’ calls you to come, but then you find yourself in need of a dictionary of terms so as to decipher the artistic map.
The use of diverse kinds of reality makes many kinds of material participate in the melody composed on the aluminum or masonite base, but the more the complexity demands a slow reading of the work, the more we find in each object, each motif, or each drawing, is included because of the necessity to complete the message: there are no formal considerations that conduct the message; on the contrary, Feldman deals with the content-message by aesthetic means. And thus we find aesthetic relevance in non-aesthetic spheres of activity.
The unmediated connection between the artist and the material leads to the thought that inspiration comes as a result of encounter with the material. Michelangelo, who said, In every mass of stone a figure is hidden, and I must bring it out, raised the question of whether art is merely actualization of potential. If it is, then there is justice in the academic approach, which claims that you have to be a good craftsman and learn to work well, or that as you work, your self-image as an artist becomes crystallized. Since Aristotle, there has been debate about the internal image, which makes one wonder: how does the artist make a creation?
Winckelmann emphasizes the artist’s traits, which allow him to see the beautiful and the spiritual. The artist, he says, must sense the power of the spirit within himself in order to imprint it in the matter. Although he does not say so explicitly, we can sense that Winckelmann grasps the artist’s soul as a kind of reflection of the transcendental value of the beautiful.
The use of stones taken from nature-reality leads Dorit Feldman to a landscape that is the subject matter of geography. The involvement of geology requires a thinking in terms of time, and a relating to a layer of stone as a reflection of a geological period. Feldman’s connection to the earthly and to the metaphysical will be realized on two planes: the tactile and the conceptual.
For the tactile, she chooses slate, which has a stratified structure. She uses it directly and organically as an object that becomes an image of reality within a visual statement. One could call this transferring of real material into the world of illusion an organic quotation.
On another level, the slate can function as an image of the spirit of time and of its meaning in a historical and geological context. The endeavor to locate and know each period finds expression in the geomorphic structure of the stone. At times, Feldman casts a model of the slate in aluminum. The recurrent castings create a double simulation, for the figure of the stone is an illusion of the stone cast in the material. The term simulation appears in Baudrillard’s writings as an image of the world where images of reality replace reality itself. For Baudrillard, in a world which is a reflection of order (divine order, the order of nature or simply – discourse), where things are representations, charged with meaning and transparent to the language that describes them, artistic creation remains satisfied with description.
Other signifiers of reality that Dorit Feldman uses to construct her works are lead and copper. Lead is a heavy material, but it has qualities of flexibility that enable it to be cut and folded. It also functions like wrapping paper over geometrical forms sculpted from masonite or wood. Its metallic colors allow for an integration, correct both visually and symbolically, of the cold and sophisticated technological world with the blue colors of space. The use of copper in tones of brown and ocher permits the linking of the sandy desert landscapes with the contentual message, as this finds expression in the present exhibition. The cutting of the copper in round shapes is a reference to satellite-relay dishes and radar systems, which constitute a sophisticated and industrialized reality, while the compositional language is communication in a given space.
Still in the sphere of metallic materials, the aluminum has a double function – as a hard material that serves as the work’s base, and as a material that constructs the work. Dorit Feldman’s approach to the aluminum base is like the approach of the traditional painter to his canvas, and like Matisse, who liked to expose his white canvas and exploit its brightness, she exposes the metal to the viewer’s eye. At times it is difficult to notice this exposure, because it is submerged within the variety of the metallic colors. The aluminum also serves Dorit Feldman as a casting material, in which she imprints an iconographic lexicon of images taken from stellar systems and even elusive hi-tech airplanes.
The construction of three-dimensional wall-related objects can be seen in works like ‘Atlantis’ and ‘Fourth Dimension’. The use of aluminum creates two kinds of reflection if the surroundings simultaneously – the one that is reflected in the existing reality of the given space, which at times incorporates the person looking at the work, and the textural reflection of the materials of the work which exist in harmony within the picture-object – the artwork. Wood and masonite are two hard materials that serve a double function, now as a base and sometimes as tactile materials in the form of a frame around the slate, or as width-strips laid down in layers, also producing an effect of stratification. In the works ‘Blue Print’ and ‘Eden’, the masonite strips look like sheets of metal, because of the use of metallic colors and the harmonious way the blend with the subject of the work both in form and in content.
On the conceptual level, Feldman aspires to a statement made by means of drawing and photography. The drawing is done on different kinds of paper stuck onto the base she works on, and also cut on emery paper that is cut into squares that form a textural pattern at the edges of the work. These fragments constitute a symbolic contentual framework for the subjects imprinted into the work, and serve as a decoding chart for the entire subject.
The graduation and the tempo of the sights seen through the squares can be interpreted as a contemporary way of viewing through television screens, computer monitors and lenses of cameras and telescopes. This kind of fragmentation became an accepted artistic language in the work of Alechinsky. A deliberate use of this kind of syntax can be seen in Feldman’s works of the past two years, as in ‘Sun Islands’ (1900). On the understanding involved in sight, or in optical perception, Rudolph Arnheim has written, in his book, Visual Thinking: In the perception of shape lie the beginnings of concept formation. Whereas the optical image projected upon the retina is a mechanical recording of its physical counterpart…
Dorit Feldman uses the physical structure of the eye as one of her iconographic symbols, with the signification of the human point of view, but from a distance, from a height, perhaps from a satellite. The eye also appears as a metaphor for the artist’s viewing of the world.
The human figure as a bodily form does not appear in Feldman’s works, although it is designated by the eye and the brain as representing processes of seeing and thinking. Thinking is individual, Feldman says, it is a human distinction. In Paul Klee’s painting, ‘With the Eagle’, the eagle’s eye appears as an image that aspires to the romantic spirit. Klee, like many Romantics before him, sought to discover the secret of growth, the secret of life, and created a fine dream-like microcosm suffused with Romantic mystery and charm, thus making it possible to see him as directly continuing the work of Casper David Friedrich. In this context, Robert Rosenblum argues that the artwork is a metaphor for the Creation, which reflects the way the universe comes into being, and attempts to discover the divine secret of existence.
The eye as a metaphor undergoes visual transformations in the way it is presented by various artists in the art produced over the past few decades, but it nevertheless retains a similar iconographic meaning.
Dorit Feldman takes the image of the eye as one of the important components in her microcosm, and shows it in an interior cross-section. In one of the works on paper, ‘Scale and Attraction in the Pupil’, there appears to be a black-and-white photograph of a huge stainless steel sphere which is constructed entirely out of hexagons and functions as a cosmic eye. Inside this huge sphere the surrounding urban environment is reflected. At the bottom of the photograph, there is a large drawing of the structure of the eye, which functions as a metaphor for the artist’s sight, and this eye sees the reality of stellar systems and future architectonic structures and rays that radiate light from a sophisticated apparatus.
There is no criticism here, but a kind of utopianism: to see the good options rather than the threatening and destructive ones, in a manner closer to the view of Caroline Christov-Bakargiev: It was an era characterized by a constant flow of images on television and in magazines, haunting us, as was repeatedly suggested by Baudrillard, like vampires on every street corner.
The concern with technological subjects undoubtedly dictates the use of the sharp and diagonal forms that create threatening tensions. Yet the sensation of flow subsists within the work. Like Dennis Oppenheim, who created lyrical machines and combined mechanics and poetics, Feldman creates works that are sensual and spiritual at the same time. She gives legitimation to harmony, aesthetics and order, and makes possible a marvelous combination of spirit and matter.
Since the beginning of her artistic path, Dorit Feldman has adamantly maintained the harmonious side of the art-work, and has thus aligned herself with Jan Mukarovsky’s statement that the aesthetic function has an important place in the lives of individuals and society. Although the tradition of Israeli painting was largely oriented to making contentual statements with sparse means, while stressing what came to be called ‘The Want of Matter’, Feldman, in her individual and consistent way, belonged rather to the small group of artists who stressed and cultivated a materialistic dialectics with the beautiful and the harmonious in their works, without eschewing meaningful and no less important ideas.
The problem of connecting with the beautiful, and of using it in artworks, became one of the distinguishing characteristics of artists of the abstracts. The problematics involved have been well described by the art historian Meyer Schapiro: the aesthetic of abstraction itself has become a brake on new movement. But in the past decade, changes have occurred, which began as an inner process of ‘change of taste’. The aspiration of an increasingly growing number of artists to relate to the art object in classical aesthetic terms constitutes a proof of the art consumer’s ‘change of taste’, whether he be a private individual or a representative of the museum establishment. If in the past, the attribution of beauty to an art work was a shortcoming, of late, good artwork also has to give pleasure in the sense of offering an experience of the beautiful.
The question of what the beautiful is has been a subject for debate since Plato’s time. Winckelmann stresses that the Greeks did not rest content to glean and combine seeds of the beautiful that are dispersed throughout nature, and created concepts and images of beauty and perfection for themselves. In this context, when Jackson Pollock was asked by Hans Hoffmann if he worked from nature, he replied: I am nature.
With the development of aesthetics in the 19th and 20th centuries, the view that the artwork of the beautiful is an end in itself, gathered force. Winckelmann emphasizes the attributes of the artist: The artist’s brush must be dipped in wisdom. These issues are becoming relevant to contemporary art, which expects the artist to be aware of literature, philosophy and science. Thus, we find ourselves returning to the broader Renaissance concept of ‘wisdom’ after a long period of emphasis on the importance of specialization in specific fields.
The eighties were marked by a blurring of boundaries among the arts, and we see many artworks that are difficult to define. The visual wealth resulting from the blending of sculpture, painting and theater, which was a characteristic of the Baroque period, returned towards the end of the eighties. Thus we find that one of the interesting components of the artwork today is the subject of photography, and its use as an integral part of the art object. Walter Benjamin argued that the greatest shock of all to art occurred with the appearance of the first truly revolutionary technique of mechanical reproduction, photography.
With Dorit Feldman, the creative process generally begins from a photograph of something real. If Duchamp’s attitude to the object was, as it were, lacking in any aesthetic emotion, and his choice of the found object was always based on a visual indifference and a total absence of good or bad taste, the photographs that Feldman uses are chosen most meticulously. Duchamp claimed that photography gives us freedom, and the option of a philosophical point of view, which the artist who is too subservient to his materials can hardly even imagine.
Feldman’s staged photographs present urban landscapes from the perspective of a person who is becoming smaller and smaller, as against the size of the buildings that look like futuristic architecture. This calls to mind Walter Benjamin’s insight that the absorption of buildings – occurs in two ways: by the way we use then and the way we conceive them. These buildings, photographed with sensitive film and developed by the Cibachrome technique, are seen in a blue light and are offered as a new reality.
I am interested in the relationship of architecture to the photographic image, says Dennis Adams, who situates the objects he builds out of aluminum in relation to urban architecture. Adams usually blows up photographs taken from archives to immense proportions, which he lights from behind with fluorescent lighting and integrates into constructivist and functional structures, like the ‘Bus Shelter’ he built at the Israel Museum.
Dorit Feldman’s works touch those of Adams on two levels: in the formal choice of materials – aluminum, photography and the building of constructions; and also in the conceptual approach to the world of today and tomorrow. In Adams there is a social message that transmits the loss of belief in the power of art to transform life, and confirms Milan Kundera’s observation that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. The use of a formal idiom, that draws upon sources derived from constructivism and modern architecture, is one of the important components in Dorit Feldman’s works, for she builds constructions as ‘net’, unalloyed sculpture. But she cannot free herself of the desire and the need to touch upon symbols and images taken from the social memory. Thus the mandala, the eye, rays of light and the structure of the atom will continue being part of the artistic statement.
Robert Longo is a classic example of an artist whose mixing of various fields of art is part of his personality. He says that he is not only an artist who produces paintings, drawings and sculptures, but also a musician and an actor, a film producer and a graphic designer. My aim is to make art which can hold its own against television, films and magazines. He is not afraid of the large number of means that he uses, and, like the artists of the Baroque, he sees himself making full use of the whole range of artistic means at his disposal. This brings us back to Dorit Feldman, of whom it has already been said that her works contain a multiplicity of contents. Longo’s works astound with their combinations of photography, painting, sculpture and performance art. Klaus Honnef says of him that There is no shortage of special effects in his art, which seeks to drown the shrill noise of the mass media… It is as if he were trying to exorcise the evil spirit.
The way that the artists of the eighties make use of complex languages conducts to a reading of art works as ‘objects of art’. This fact raises anew the questions of original/copy, true/simulated, authentic/fake, aesthetic/anti-aesthetic.
Translating the Phenomenon of Time :
Dorit Feldman’s desire to decipher the phenomenon of the spirit of time entails a focus on meanings of spirituality articulated in matter. Time is basically a defined concept, but one that is open to different interpretations. In her attempt to translate abstract ideas into concrete structures, Feldman builds multi-dimensional structures as unalloyed sculpture. The fathers of Russian Constructivist sculpture, Alexander Rodchenko and Naum Gabo, affirmed their desire to grapple with the problems of mass and space. The creation of designed spaces inside the material came to be a common language among sculptors. This approach to the sculptural space was called ‘negative space’, and its influences can be seen in the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, who in the ‘30s was one of the leaders of abstract art in Britain.
Dorit Feldman, who developed a personal syntax in the language of sculpture, is close to the original approach of Naum Gabo when he wanted to build sculptures that contain a flow of space in which the viewer can sense the flow. Space and time are born anew today with us. Gabo sought special qualities in matter, and used to order special, previously prepared materials from factories. These qualities were given expression in a sculpture that he built in the years 1954-1957.
In 1990, Dorit Feldman built her sculpture ‘Shrine’. Its proportions are human-sized and it is made of marble, aluminum and wood. The concept of potential volume begins to become connected to a sculpture based on volumes of space instead of on volumes of mass. In ‘Shrine’, an interesting play of space and texture is produced, when through the actual space there occurs a flow of the landscape that is seen as entering inwards, and as a consequence, the environment that encompasses the object is transformed into part of the viewer’s aesthetic experience.
In ‘Track of Quarks’, 1991, which was built out of arched constructions, the sense of inner volume is expressed in the space that is surrounded by four angled legs that close upwards in an architectural structure resembling a tent. The viewer’s sense of this volume is temporary, for when he moves around, the angle of vision changes, and with it, the ability to see all the sides of the structure. The sculpture is called ‘Track of Quarks’ in the sense of relating to the tension and the field of invisible forces that derive from the sculptural positioning. There is also a three-dimensional drawing in iron of spirals and arrows as explicit signs from the language of electronics, and an engraving in the aluminum of cosmic forms and of the structure of the eye that distinguishes them.
Dorit Feldman’s involvement with ‘net’ sculptures dictates a more concentrated statement, and she tries to emphasize the possibility of greater closeness between the scientific-technological and the metaphysical. She works from an intellectual depth and an awareness of norms of thinking, and bases her work on personal preferences in the choice of landscapes and kinds of reality. Her investigation of the present is based on knowledge, and is offered as a code for deciphering the spirit of time.
Editor in Chief of TERMINAL art journal since 1996, Founder and Chief Curator of 'Office in Tel Aviv' Gallery