From Corpus to Light, 2009
Artists’ House, Tel Aviv
Essay: Rivka Bakalash
1. “For the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3: 5).
2. PaRDeS = Pshat (literal meaning), Remez (allegorical meaning), Drash (homiletic interpretation), and Sod (mystical or esoteric meaning). “The ‘pardes’ into which the four ancient scholars entered, thus come to denote speculations concerning the true meaning of the Torah on all four levels”; see: Gershom Scholem, On The Kabbalah and its Symbolism, trans.: Ralph Manheim, New York: Schocken Books, 1971), p. 57.
3. Roland Barthes, “The Theory of the Text” (1973) in Untying the Text, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981); for an interesting association between written text and visual text, see Prof. Hanna Scolnicov, “Intertextuality, Anachronism, and Interdisciplinarism: The Case of Tom Stoppard,” Alpayim 17 (1999), pp. 79-90 [Hebrew].
4. H. N. Bialik, “Revealment and Concealment in Language” (1915), trans. Jacob Sloan, in Modern Hebrew Literature, Robert Alter (ed.) (Springfield, NJ: Behrman House, 1975), pp. 136-137.
5. “Whether to celebrate it or to mourn it / I cannot write it / and cannot imitate it / for I am from it and in it. // That which is out of reach / even in an imagination now inert / carries discourse and speech / with the heart writing by hand” (free translation).
6. Model for a primal atom, from: Edwin D. Babbitt, The Principles of Light and Color (New York: Babbitt & Co., 1878).
7. “And the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open” (Numbers 24: 3-4).
8. The work is a vertical triptych. The photograph of the seagull in the uppermost “panel” was shot from the television screen, documentation of documentation. The lowest photograph features conches, a sculptural element reminiscent of a bud, and the artist’s hand. The middle color photograph portrays an overview photograph of a ceramic box; its bottom is green, and the lid bearing the sculpted dove—pink.
9. Bialik, “Revealment and Concealment in Language,” op. cit., p. 133.
10. Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale UP, 1988).
11. Rivka Bakalash, “Duchamp’s Given as the Paradise of Light and Delight,” MA thesis (Long Island, New York: Hofstra University, 1991), p. 30.
12. Plato, “The Banquet, or On Love,” The Works of Plato, vol. III, ed. and trans. George Burges (London: Bohn, 1850), p. 508.
13. ” And I will surely hide my face in that day” (Deuteronomy 31: 18). On the one hand, God’s hiding of His countenance (hester panim) was a punishment for the Jews’ sins; on the other hand, it was intended to test them, whether they choose and preserve the right path.
14. Bakalash 1991, op. cit., p. 24.
15. Bialik, “Revealment and Concealment in Language,” op. cit., p. 137.
16. Bialik, “Should an Angel Ask” (1901), in Ch. N. Bialik, Selected Poems, bilingual edition, trans.: Ruth Nevo (Jerusalem: Dvir & The Jerusalem Post, 1981), p. 52.
17. Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans.: Ronald Gregor Smith (London: Continuum, 1958), p. 13.
18. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. MTH Sadler (New York: Dover, 1977).
19. Moshe Barasch, “Introduction,” in Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 1977), p. 13 [Hebrew].
20. Dahlia Ravikovitch, Hovering at a Low Altitude: The Collected Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch, trans. Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (New York: Norton, 2009), p. 67.
21. Buber, I and Thou, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
22. Uriel Reichman, “Unexpected Continuums: An Exhibition by Artist Dorit Feldman,” lecture at the opening event, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, March 2008.
23. Ch. N. Bialik, “The Pool,” in Selected Poems, op. cit., p. 120.
24. “The two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?” (Zechariah 4: 12) – the pipes channeling the oil to the lamp.
25. Chaim Nachman Bialik, “If You Would Know” (1898), trans. L.V. Snowman, in Poems from the Hebrew, ed. L.V. Snowman (London: Hasefer, 1924), p. 49.
26. “An Interview with Dorit Feldman: Questions to 1970s Graduates of HaMidrasha,” Studio 40 (January 1993), p. 41 [Hebrew].
27. Michael Sgan-Cohen, Sketchbook 25 (1980), p. 157.
28. Diagram of the Jewish Temple based on Newton’s description, see: Peter Pesic, Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), pp. 124.
29. See: Ayval Leshem Ramati, Isaac Newton and the Temple: Between Science and Kabbalah (Raziel, 2005) [Hebrew].
30. Ibid., p. 121.
31. See, for example, Feldman’s work Transmutation of Aleph (Merkavah) (1995).
32. See: Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: Schocken, 1996).
33. Plato, “The Allegory of the Cave,” in The Republic (book VII), trans. Benjamin Jowett (4th ed) (New York: Modern Library Classics, 2001).
34. As described by Bialik in his poem, “The Pool.”
35. As the title of Feldman’s exhibition at James Gray Gallery, Santa Monica, California, and the accompanying catalogue—Lucid Contexture.
36. The Ardon Windows, ed. Ilya Gildin (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, 1986).
37. Amitai Mendelson (curator and ed.), in cat. Michael Sgan-Cohen: A Retrospective (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2004).
38. Rivka Bakalash, “Self-Portrait as an Image of One’s Homeland: On Michael Sgan-Cohen,” Dimui 25 (Spring 2005), pp. 92-95 [Hebrew].
39. Yehuda Amichai, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Why Jerusalem?,” in Open Closed Open: Poems, (Tel Aviv & Jerusalem: Schocken, 1998), p. 144 [Hebrew].
40. Chaim Nachman Bialik, “Take me Beneath Thy Wing,” trans.: Helena Frank, in Poems from the Hebrew, op. cit., p. 13.
41. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, Likutey Moharan, Torah 63: 71.
42. Ibid, Torah 225.
43. Yehuda Amichai, “My Son was Drafted,” in Open Closed Open: Poems, trans. C. Bloch & C. Kronfeld (New York: Harcourt, 2000), p. 157.
44. Bialik, “Peeked and Died” (1916), trans. Joseph Dan, in Joseph Dan, The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002), pp. 253-254.
From Corpus to Light, 2009
Artists’ House, Tel Aviv
Essay: Rivka Bakalash
Dorit Feldman: Three Decades
The best works of art have been and will be codes and intercodes.
- David Avidan, “No,” 1969
The deciphering process of the code of forms in Dorit Feldman’s works traces a spiral. Her spiral—secular-free and religious-traditionalist— quest is, at once, anarchaeological journey in time toward (el ever, אל עֵבֶר) the past (avar, עֵבֶר), in search for that which lies beyond (me’ever, מעֵבר), while unearthing encoded forms, and ajourney in space to locate sites both near and far, in search of the place (Makom).(1) Her ongoing, endless journey, however, is a voyage to no-time and no-place, to the light marked by pining: “From the body of the world to its light I yearned” (Bialik, “Splendor” [Zohar], 1901), from the body to the seeing and documenting eye (ayin, עין) which observes nature, and—through and from it—to Ein Sof (אין-סוף), Infinity. The eye (ayin, עין), which asks the ultimate question, from where (me-a’yin, מאין), is metamorphosed into a spring (ma’ayan, מעין), the spring of knowledge, the Jewish as well as universal bookcase, whereby she inscribes her personal-cultural identity, on growing levels of awareness, in her striving and yearning for the light. For the sake of comparison, one may recall the spiral quest for the light of artist Bruce Nauman, who in a 1967 work wrote in neon lights: “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.”
Feldman defines her artistic language neo-conceptual. Indeed, her works surrender sensual visual notions alongside verbal narratives which together generate a uniform texture, challenging the viewer with a unique encounter. Breaching the boundaries of the artistic language typical of her work is a liberating, critical act that has given rise to an authentic, autonomous artistic language, a one-person doctrine, so to speak.
The PaRDeS (orchard)(2) principle—the four levels of scriptural interpretation—may well be applied to the interpretation of Feldman’s stratified, multi-dimensional artistic language, as well as the visual and textual codes embedded in her work. The idea that a work of art should be “read” as a text corresponds with Roland Barthes, one of the originators of the theory of intertextuality.(3) Every text is a unique combination of letters and words. Their conjunction generates meaning and aesthetics. In a visual text too, it is the totality that lends the meaning. Thus, an attempt will be made in the following paragraphs to construe Feldman’s messages by “reading” the elements comprising her work and deciphering the dialogue which the different works sustain amongst themselves. Moreover, the visual images in many of her works, which are entwined with texts, are taken from Jewish and Israeli culture: the Bible, Kabbalah, and Hebrew literature. Hence, the interpretation of her works will be underlain by the encounter of the written and visual text with the PaRDeS principle, its various layers and depths, and will be applied to both the medium and the message.
A special place in Feldman’s Judeo-Israeli and general bookcase is reserved for poets, poetry, and poetry books. Hebrew poetry plays a pivotal role in shaping the works’ visual metaphors. A formative status is reserved for Bialik’s poetry, and for his essay, “Revealment and Concealment in Language” (1915), in which he explains the secret behind poetry’s impact and power: “The masters of poetry are forced to flee all that is fixed and inert in language, all that is opposed to their goal of the vital and mobile in language. … Long established words are constantly being pulled out of their settings, as it were, and exchanging places with one another. Meanwhile, between concealments the void looms. And that is the secret of the great influence of the language of poetry.”(4)
Likewise using words, poetry is nevertheless distinguished by its ability to expose through words, if only momentarily, the existential reality which words habitually conceal. Feldman’s oeuvre is interspersed with multiple references to poetry: whether direct references, such as quoting entire poems, or latent allusions, as a source of inspiration. Amir Gilboa’s poem, “I Cannot Write It,”(5) whose words Feldman used in a 1999 work by the same title, may facilitate an intertextual reading and decoding of one of her recent works, Written in Light (2009).
The yearning for the transcendent, that which cannot be attained and conceptualized, is shared by Gilboa and Feldman. The formative line, “with the heart writing by hand,” was given a metaphorical expression also in the work Golden Path – Milky Way (2009), whose artistic language encapsulates its message: exposure of the light from the body, from the gray matter. From the ashes within the atomic scheme(6) rises the spiral of effulgence in the structure of the golden heart muscle as the wheel of the sun in its might, like the phoenix in its revivification. At the bottom of the work is a gray-rocky substance with horizontal veins reminiscent of spiral heart muscles, from which a square pattern is ostensibly hewn, outlining vertical streams like the wind; gathering thereinto the sparks of light which are channeled into streaming light, rising and intertwining in a crowned sphere of light. The presence of the third, loftier element eliminates the tension and contrast between the circular and the square, shifting the clash to a time which is beyond them, to the sublime, to the Zohar.
Through the heart image at its core, the artist “writes” her work, and from it she rises and transcends onto the sphere of light crowning and surrounding the process whereby the image of the heart undergoes color transformation from gray through brown to the heart of gold. This is yet another journey of the artist toward and after the light. Being “from it and in it,” she writes like a singular copyist of the Scriptures not in the flesh (or, עור) but in flash, in light (ohr, אור).
The Eye/I between Concealment and Revealment: Self-Portrait
A self-portrait encapsulates the artist’s personal, artistic, and cultural identity. In a portrait photographed by Ugo Mulas, Marcel Duchamp peeks from behind a screen at those viewing him, straddling the line between concealment and revealment, between the physical and the metaphysical. Feldman’s self-portraits created in the course of thirty years of artistic practice, sketch a three-stage voyage between concealment and revealment: from concealment through concealment- revealment to revealment. These self-portraits constitute a quest, both secular and religious to that which is beyond time and place, toward the light of self consciousness and personal-cultural determination. The journey moves in a spiral, from intimate works presenting the artist’s body, through intimacy with the local landscape, the desert scenery and Jerusalem, to the broadest extra-bodily, extra-personal system, the infinite space, the cosmic sphere where nature and culture fuse into a universal, grand unified theory. Standing open-faced and open-eyed,(7) the artist makes her way back from Ein Sof (Infinity) to the eye, to introspection, to the private inner definition on the one hand, and cultural definition, on the other, shaping her personal definition through the reconciliation of opposites. In each cycle the artist engages in self-definition via self-portraits, all of which are dominated by the dimension of fusion, reconciliation, and union of ostensible oppositions.
Feldman’s portraits from the late 1970s are all faceless: whether her face is turned away from the camera, her body is cut by the picture frame, and her face is concealed by screen and mask, or whether she inserts her hands alone into the picture.
DEFIANCE - CONCEALMENT
Feldman’s conscious artistic language in her body works from the late 1970s and early 1980s was formed in the spirit of the contemporary feminist Western art of the time, much like the work of woman artists such as Cindy Sherman and Rebecca Horn, but the iconography and covert message of her work in that period constitute the artist’s cultural baggage, unconsciously drawn from Western cultural and Jewish tradition, where she would arrive years later following a journey of Jewish and Kabbalah studies. While for Sherman and Horn the key message is defiance of the chauvinistic social structure and the other sex, Feldman’s work is dominated by the motif of hiding and concealment; “the king’s daughter is all glorious within,” concealing the absence complex, or, as Freud calls it, penis envy, and encoding the yearning for union with the other sex.
Rebecca Horn’s performances and their photographic documentation have had a conspicuous, conscious influence on Feldman’s self-portraits from the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the early 1970s Horn created several photographs in which her face is covered with a mask of feathers. In Cockfeather Mask (1973) she puts on a cock’s mask, standing close to the face of a man; it is a cockfight, face-to-face, with the man-cock. These works convey a defiant, provocative and empowering, aggressive feminist message. In Feldman’s works, on the other hand, the hester panim (literally, hiding of the face, referring to God’s hiding of His countenance), draws on the ideal of restraint at the core of European culture, and on Jewish tradition, which demands modesty. Furthermore, these values are among the basic values in finding a match and the union with the other sex.
In a work from the series “Body Art” (1980; collection of Tel Aviv Museum of Art),(8) the seagull’s eye in the upper right corner functions as a substitute for the artist’s eye; a type of deep, black hollow well. It is echoed by the artist’s palm, which creates an eye-like oval silhouette in the bottom photograph. This work is also characterized by a reconciliation of opposites. The upper part features the seagull, the swan’s counterpart (alluding to the myth of Leda and the Swan), whose masculine origin is underscored and blackened, whereas in the bottom feminine panel—ovum-like conches are juxtaposed with the artist’s hollow palm. Both unite in the hermaphrodite, androgynous sculptural element which appears like a woman’s curves as well as the head of an elongated phallic object. The ultimate reconciliation occurs at the center of the work, when nature and culture unite in the ceramic dove, ostensibly constructing her family nest—her home—and hatching her eggs.
SCREEN AND MASK
In some instances, the hester panim is a refuge from the perplexity and insecurity, as noted by Bialik in his aforementioned essay: “Averting one’s eyes is, in the final resort, the easiest and most pleasant means, although an illusory one, of escape from danger; in situations where keeping one’s eyes open constitutes the danger there is really no securer refuge.”(9)
In Self-Portrait – Ficus (1979), Feldman hides behind a double screen. She assumes a double mask, coloring her hands in a green glove-like garment, covering her face with three large ficus leaves, which resemble pricked-up ears. In this work Feldman assumes the masks of camouflage, threat, and intimidation. Against the threats of nature and society, she adopts the elements of nature and bestiality. In another body work, B & W – Ficus (1979), Feldman quotes from the previous work, this time covering her face with contours (instead of ficus leaves). She stands in the foreground, her raised arms holding a sheet of paper which conceals her face. It is interesting to compare this work with Raphaelle Peale’s After the Bath (1823) where the figure is veiled by a white sheet, calling to mind either a genre painting, or a painting centered on a mythological theme—a modest version of the Birth of Venus. This duality of depicting both a mundane scene and a mythological event, also holds true for Feldman’s self-portraits behind screen (masakh, מסך) and mask (masekha, מסכה), which simultaneously contain explicit folklorist dimensions and an enigmatic personal myth.
My Body, Myself—His Body, His Self: The Androgynous
Some of Feldman’s self-portraits from the late 1970s combine sculptural elements, at times as photographed objects, at others, as sculptural objects next to the work. In all of the works these are androgynous objects, fusing projecting masculine elements with feminine orifices and cavities.
In a work from the series “Body Art” the artist is photographed holding an elongated object between her palms. The photograph is deliberately “double-faced,” and may be construed as either a frontal view or a view from the back. The object itself is also characterized by du partzufin—a Kabbalistic notion referring to the androgynous nature of Adam(10) (“male and female created he them,” as written in Genesis 1: 27). The object is held above what appears like a rounded, feminine lotus flower, craving to receive the phallus.
In another work from the same series, an ibis-like object hovers, its “beak” directed at a cavity in the fresh snow. The other end of the object is suspended towards a floral-vaginal painting, reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s erotic flowers. This resemblance to O’Keeffe’s flower is also true of the center of the sculptural object, where a pistil protrudes from the hollow.
In their elongated form, Feldman’s art objects call to mind Marcel Duchamp’s Objet-dard (Dart-Object) (1951) based on a mould of the underarm of the female mannequin in his Etant donnés (Given). In Duchamp’s work it is a penetrative object with phallic elements reminiscent of a javelin, whose form is akin to the rib from which God created the woman. According to the Biblical story, Eve was created from Adam’s rib, by way of inversion; Duchamp, on his part, created a symbolical “Adam” from the rib of the feminine figure.(11) Closer scrutiny of both objects reveals that the similarity is not merely formal. Duchamp’s object—and Feldman’s, correspondingly, albeit the artist was not aware of that similarity when she created her object—is androgynous, combining phallic and vaginal elements.
The elongated masculine-feminine objects recall man’s origin as an androgynous creature, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1: 27). Similarly, according to Plato’s The Banquet, the origin of man is: “In the first place, there were three kinds of human beings, not as at present, only two, male and female; but there was also a third common to both of those; … It was then [one] man-woman, whose form and name partook of and was common to both the male and the female.”(12)
In another self-portrait/body work from the series “Body Art” the artist is seen leaning forward, a patchy pink burden on the back of her neck, holding a fish in her hands horizontally. In the work of Sarah Lucas, a feminist artist who would emerge on the scene years later (in the late 1990s), the fish functions as a vertical, elongated phallic symbol, hanging like trophy-catch on the hunter-fisherwoman’s shoulders. In Feldman’s work the fish is served horizontally, like a sacrifice, alongside a consoling offering which appears like a laundry tub in a rural genre painting depicting the motif of a woman going down to the well. Years later, the spring will evolve into the spring of knowledge of Jewish wisdom and the Kabbalah.
Feldman’s self-portraits from the late 1970s, typified by hester panim, conceal more than they reveal, in terms of the enigmatic quality of both the image and the messages encoded behind the screen/mask (מסך/מסכה). The curious viewer attempts to draw them open, and decipher that which is hidden and encoded. These works allude to the tradition of concealment which originated in ancient Greece. In her hester panim, however, the young Feldman, still unknowingly, touched upon the roots of Jewish tradition of which the notion of hester panim is a theological landmark.(13) In this context, the artist’s hester panim may be read as an act of soul-searching, tikkun, and a quest for identity and consciousness.
Between Concealment and Revealment
A self-portrait created twenty years later attests to a process of self-discovery and a gradual uncovering of Feldman’s face, identity, and messages. In Overt and Covertby Light (1999), a cyclopean eye observes the viewer, a single eye, centered and focused. The rest of the face is covered with crisscross netting which resembles the silhouette of the grid facilitating the construction of scientific perspective. This time, however, the cloth blocks the field of vision, leaving the viewer and the viewed with a pointed, brilliant and illuminated one-eyed view, the product of a long, open-eyed exposure, in yet another journey toward unearthing a coded truth.
The portrait is duplicated inversely like the princess card which complements the canonical deck where the prince is devoid of a female counterpart. In this card the artist launches a tikkun, offering a feminine statement at once personal and collective. This portrait appears on the lid of another work in the form of a box (Multidimensional Self-Portrait, 1999). Once opened, three engraved words are revealed inside the box: gesher-sheger-regesh (גשר-שגר-רגש; bridge-message-emotion). The element of sheger—an intellectual message unites with the element of emotion, together generating a philosophy underlain by a reconciliation of opposites, the fusion of love-emotion and wisdom-intellect, which yields the potential for a bridge.
Another work from the same year (1999), Rounding the Square in its Course, is likewise characterized by a reconciliation of opposites: union of the square, the straight line, the cold accurate line of the intellect and the soft rounded line of emotion. The union of the rational worlds of the West and the emotional-intuitive worlds of the East is, according to Feldman, the key to a bridge which is both horizontal—a bridge between the hearts, bringing cultures together, and vertical—a bridge between worlds. The philosophy which the artist has reached in the course of her pilgrimage, the result of a preoccupation with the self-portrait and delving into her cultural sources, has brought her closer to the virtue of self-revelation and consciousness.
The self-portrait/body work Flesh Crowned by Light (2006) manifests the phase of self-consciousness and self-revelation. According to the artist: “The ritual bath (mikveh) depicted in the work transforms the shadow of the branches into roots of light, as a metaphor for deciphering of the secrets of cause and effect. The figure’s assuming a body of light awakens the corporeal body to refined thought and action, thus allowing for a process of revelation of the inner light.” With its “golden water, brilliance, and lure,” the glistening pool in this painting-photograph invokes Bialik’s depiction of the pool in “Splendor.”
In this work the artist bathes in springs of light showered from above in what appears to be a bounteous rain of gold from the heavens. Despite the differences in genre, style and content, one is reminded of a diptych by Feldman’s teacher, Michal Na’aman, Trees of Light and Golden Showers (1993), a work which juxtaposes the light of the transcending seven-branched candelabrum with the gravitational golden shower with its triple meaning: the urination of the wolves perched in the tree, the shower of gold—Zeus’s semen, which descended from the heavens impregnating Danaë, and the Gold Rush—materialism and matter which subjugate man’s soul.
Knowingly or not, Feldman inverts these meanings. The pagan meanings change their skin and assume the context of Jewish heritage. The artist yearns not for gold and silver, but rather for purification and “revelation of the inner light,” as she attests. The poisonous liquid in Na’aman’s work has “transformed” into a pure and purifying ritual bath in Feldman’s work. She performs a tikkun for the sense of Greek mythology, and the shower of golden coins assumes the sense of showers of light, ornamenting the skin, or (עור), reinstating it with its primordial essence—being light, ohr (אור). According to the Book of Zohar, when they were created, Adam and Eve were clothed in garments of light, and the celestial angels used to come to enjoy their effulgence. After the Original Sin, God made them coats of skin, for the body, but not for the soul (Zohar 1:36).(14)
In the context of the history of art, accidentally or not, the cascade of light in the photograph assumes a painterly, van Goghian quality and the “brush” strokes in shades of yellow-gold-orange recall the light in the golden fields which van Gogh sought in the south of France. Feldman directs a gaze at the viewer. Open-faced, open-hearted, and open-eyed, she ostensibly contracts her eyes vis-à-vis the great light bestowed on her from above. Thus, the artist’s head in the photograph becomes crowned with a pillar of light linking heaven and earth.
In Flesh Crowned by Light, the artist’s face is bathed in rivers of water and a shower of light. The self-portrait journey which began with “covering” and physical as well as metaphorical “concealment,” gradually reaches—through the phase of partial exposure, the revelation of the single eye, and the transformation of the fabric’s substance into the spirit of yearning—to the phase of exposure of the face (panim) and insides (pnim), in what appears as willingness to dare direct a gaze at the gap between the words, at the “void,”(15) on the one hand, and “heaven’s wide expanse,”(16) on the other, and embrace the presence of light. Feldman chose her own body and self-portrait to serve as a ritual object in her pilgrimage to the light, on her way to carving light and flash from flesh.
From I/Eye to Infinity
This chapter in Feldman’s work draws its inspiration from Marcel Duchamp’s La Bagarre d’Austerlitz (The Brawl at Austerlitz, 1921), a “semi-readymade” reminiscent of a window. On each of its glass panes Duchamp painted the numeral 8 in white, which on closer look turns out to be the infinity sign. Hence, through the window, which is akin to “the four walls of the house,” Duchamp sends his gaze-eye to infinity, in an infinite journey from the physical to the metaphysical.
The infinity sign also appears in Feldman’s work, Written in Light (2009). At first sight, a transverse landscape scene of fields and trees on a river bank, with a round sun either setting or rising above, it soon turns out to be an image which leads the eye to a vanishing point, with a spiral mandala above it. The mandala focuses the gaze on the heart of infinity sign which leads the viewer’s eye, mind, and soul to realms beyond.
Feldman goes out to nature for an authentic intimate Buberesque I-Thou interaction, in keeping with the affinity of “our life with nature.”(17) Going out to the landscape, to nature, she begins with the eye, opening her eyes to capture the place which conceals and encodes secrets in the pupil of both the eye and the camera. These secrets are decoded in the course of her work on the photograph-painting, until it becomes the product of her carvings, which transform the real place (landscape) into the non-objective, non-objectal work. The work process oscillated from pshat (literal meaning; פשט) to abstraction (הפשטה), or, as Wassily Kandinsky described it, from matter to spirit.(18) She distills the landscape and the objects from their materiality in a process of abstraction and simplification until reaching the essence, the concept, the crux, or, to quote Moshe Barasch: “The illumination of the work process by the light of wisdom reflects, possibly even realizes, the revival of the kingdom of the spirit.”(19)
Feldman says that her works are “the moulds of a landscape of consciousness, striving to trace thought processes occurring in the brain itself.” A landscape of consciousness is an intuitive landscape, originating in an external vista which the artist encounters during her travels and quests, a scenery which enchants her, from where her thoughts and reflections are carried, into other realms, in an attempt to decipher the codes of the setting and nature in her search for senses and structures, for a unifying meta-theory.
The beginning of the journey from eye to infinity strives for understanding and insight into the human body, the anatomical structure, and the wisdom of the cultures of East and West. These are revealed in the photographic sculpture, Rounding the Square in its Course, yet another attempt by the artist to look into the eye (עין) which is also a spring (מעין), the spring of knowledge and Divine wisdom. It is an attempt to expose the secrets of super-intelligence, artificial intelligence, a motif recurring in her workBeyond Artificial Intelligence (1998). Super-intelligence is embodied by the synthesis of opposites: the super-intelligence of the supercomputer, the wisdom of the Western world, the wisdom of science and Renaissance rationalism, on the one hand, and the intuitive, spiritual wisdom of the East, represented by the scheme of the chakras and energetic centers, on the other. A similar scheme of the flow centers of the energy of life is also incorporated in The Secret of Circles and Circumferences (1997). The dynamics evolve from the round spot as the beginning of all. The inner circles in the vertical human body expand towards the external spheres encircling the woman holding onto the pentagon, surrounded by sketches of astronomical orbits. On the literal level, the technological concept of “printed circuit” echoes, whereas on the encoded level, the circle of nascence evolves into the cycle of termination.
Many cultures, whether based on religious mysticism or on science and technology, have explored the data encoded in the matrices of magic squares. A square allows a rational organization of signs, as opposed to a circle, which is a multivalent form. The rational Western culture is represented in this work by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man—something that also emerges in Feldman’s The Fifth Element (1998)—to which the artist added notations of the energy centers representing the emotional dimension. The addition of the square-shaped cognitive-rational canon to the cyclical emotional-psychic canon of the flow centers of the energy of life, the spirally moving spirituality, reconciles the opposites into unified insight.
Leonardo ascribed science and rational capacities with the status of a compass, a navigational aid for a mariner making his way. The Golden Section canon, with which he equipped the artist and anatomist, is one such tool. Alongside his rational engagement in science, however, Leonardo sought the dwelling place of the soul, the locus where the information originating in all the senses intersects. Following a series of scientific experiments he concluded that the brain is the most important organ in the human body, and that the soul lies at its core. This was the beginning of the synthesis between body and mind, between intellect and emotion, matter and spirit, square and circle.
In Multidimensional Self-Portrait, the artist created a similar combination between the dimensions of sheger-sekhel (message-intellect) and regesh (emotion), in an attempt to unite matter-body and soul-spirit as a way of reaching the light. The claim that the reconciliation of the opposites regesh and sheger is capable of creating a horizontal and vertical bridge (gesher) between the hearts and the worlds is linguistically “proven” in an attempt to construct a type of grand unified theory, which fuses the ethical and aesthetic cognitive fields into a comprehensive eternal truth, the essence of unified insight to be etched on the supercomputer disc. Feldman’s eye-like sculpture, the embodiment of unified insight, stands in contrast to Rene Magritte’s False Mirror (1928), where the mirror imitates the human eye which sees the external world through the inner, subjective, personal, unique world.
EARTH AND LIGHT WORKS
In the late 1980s Feldman went out to the landscape, gathering stones, crystals, and photographing earthly elements, to create a relief-like collage of earth art.
Comet (1989) combines techniques and materials, photography and painting, relief-like three-dimensionality (black slate attached to the work surface) and photographic two-dimensionality (slate and salt crystals). It blends the primordial (the raw natural stone) with the processed (the brush strokes and color application on the natural stone, and the flashes or reflections of light strings on the object—the photographed slate). The work reconciles the nature/culture dichotomy: the raw stone versus a painterly collage, a type of geographical map of longitudinal and latitudinal lines extending over nature, generating a unified texture of nature and culture. The raw dark materiality of the earth is illuminated, both literally and metaphorically, by the light of the comet, a star which in Christianity heralds salvation. The following lines from Dahlia Ravikovitch’s poem, “Sparks of Light,” may shed additional light on this enigmatic work:
“And this matter so dark is steeped in sparks of light […] / And in this matter so dark there opens a mine of gold / And this matter so dark reveals its depths profound […] / And the dark makes its body a well for the sparks of gold.”(20)
Typified by multiple techniques, materials and contexts, Comet forms unity from plurality, light from corporeality, splendor from matter; light is hewn from blackness.
Mandala (1990) is likewise a multi-materialed (sheet aluminum, oil paints and metal, natural slate, and a Cibachrome photograph), and multi-techniqued (engraving on metal, photography, sculpture, and painting) work. Here too, the unity is formed through the multiplicity by reconciliation of opposites and their nuances. The mandala, denoting essence, perfection or complementation in Sanskrit, is concentric. Like the mandalas prevalent in the cultures of Southeast Asia and even in America, Feldman’s mandala also has a core—agate juxtaposed with salt crystals from the Dead Sea which generate order from chaos, as an act of creation. The drawings in light result from reflections on ultra-thin metallic surfaces which extend and roll, revealing the heart at the center. A textural core hovers above it, rising toward a light-colored aura which deviates from the frame. Mandalas in general, and Feldman’s mandala is no exception, are attributed with ritual and spiritual qualities: ordering and integration of thought and personality in an infinite journey toward the light, toward enlightenment.
The Pool (brekha) and the Blessing (brakha)
In Deep and Secret Glow (2009), Feldman goes out to the landscape, seeking its secrets. Upon discovering these, she is dumbfounded, setting out to perpetuate them, as described by Bialik in “Splendor.” The discovery in the landscape is the moment of insight, exposure of the secrets of Creation, the moment of blessing. In this work the artist soars from the eye, from the spring, “the spring of the world,” to infinity, to the celestial bodies in their spiral motion.
FOR THE TREE OF THE FIELD IS MAN'S LIFE
In her departure into the landscape, into nature, the tree is granted a special place. The artist encounters it as Buber expects us to observe the tree, its totality and wholeness, as a chameleon-like I-Thou encounter, with all its nuances, shades, and unique personality.
“I consider a tree … in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer It. …There is nothing from which I would have to turn my eyes away in order to see… Everything belonging to the tree is in this: its form and structure, its colours and chemical composition, its intercourse with the elements and with the stars, are all present in a single whole. … But it is bodied over against me and has to do with me, as I with it.”(21)
Trees, with their roots and tops, being living trees, symbolize man, as also encountered in Feldman’s work. Some trees are leafy, while others are bare; some are planted by rivers of water, while others grow at the heart of an arid wilderness. At times, a single tree glows against the sky like a painfully beautiful painterly texture. Sometimes their roots are in the ground and their tops in the heavens, while at other times it is vice versa; sometimes an eye observes the trees, and at others—they are within the eye.(22)
The following lines from Bialik’s poem “The Pool” masterfully describe Feldman’s Like a Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water (2008):
“I recall a forest: in the forest / I recall a single hidden pool / … / in shadow of a tall oak blessed by sun / and learned in the discipline of storm. / Alone, she dreams a world turned upside down.”(23)
In this work the tree’s roots draw from the pool’s waters, the spring water, the spring of knowledge and texts, planted within the written words at the bottom of the pool. The tree’s roots are in the earth and the lower waters, and its top is in the heavens, in the upper waters. The tree, like man, links heaven and earth, upper and lower worlds.
Another link between the upper and lower worlds is obtained via the funnels of plenty, as revealed in Dry-Land Duration (2009). What appears like a storm in the desert, a whirlwind of billowing dust at the heart of the desert expanse, is construed as a spiral structure which the artist plants at the center of the composition, at the heart of the wilderness. The landscape scene is metamorphosed into an elusive site of no-place and timelessness which invokes curiosity and thought. The landscape has become abstract, and the viewer must turn to the level of drash (homiletic interpretation) and to intertextual associations.
The spiral cyclone undergoes metamorphosis, extending like the pipes(24) through which the flux of divine affluence is emanated downward. In the Kabbalistic Sefirotic tree, the movement from the highest sefirah, Keter (crown), to the lowest, Malkhut (kingdom), is described as a spiral motion, much like the structure of pipes in the conch. This concept is at the core of the Friday night Kiddush:
And He shall bestow… plenty, peace, and blessing … via 22 channels from above that are open and emptying plentitude and blessing from the upper blessing, from the head of all crowns.
Feldman’s world is also ingrained in the history of art. In this work, she alludes to Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who operated in the early 20th century. Inspired by mysticist philosophical ideas, af Klint created visual images which invoke spiritual processes. In her Portfolio no. 6 (1920), a spiritual spiral rises up toward the union of the upper and lower rectangles in a hexagram.
FROM MOUNT (HAR) TO LIGHT (NEHARA)
In a pair of works depicting mountainous landscapes: Har-Hara-Nehara (Mountain-”She-Mountain”-Light) and Har-Nahar-Nehara (Mountain-River-Light), both from 2004, the landscapes appear at first sight as landscape paintings, but a closer look reveals them to be metaphors for abstract notions derived from the textual contents. In order to decipher them, the viewer must rely on rich and diversified cultural baggage, to peruse that which is signified in the quasi-realistic landscape. The viewer’s eye encounters sun-bathed desert vistas, and is blinded. Out of the dazzle the images rise, as well as their affinities with the Jewish bookcase. The sun’s luster is revealed as a metaphorical, metaphysical light. In Har-Hara-Nehara, the mountain, the majestic, thunderous and raging, masculine Mount Sinai, held over the Israelites like a cask (ke-gigit), in a reflection of visions, was duplicated, a duplication which generated a sexual transformation from the masculine to the feminine. The matching of har (mountain) and hara (“she”-mountain or pregnant woman) has spawned the nehara (“she”-river) at the foot of the mountain, which in Bialik’s language of visions inspires nehara(brightness) in the heavens and enlightenment for the decipherers of codes in the infinite journey to Infinity, Ein Sof.
FROM EYE (AYIN) TO SPRING (MA'AYAN)
Michael Sgan-Cohen’s painting, Ma’ayan (Spring, 1983), is the gate in the transition between the eye (ayin) observing nature, revealing therein “the forest’s dearest sanctuary” (Bialik, “The Pool”) and the eye observing the library with its Judeo-Israeli and universal assets and secrets, revealing therein the spring from which one may draw spiritual strength, wisdom and insight, or, as described by Bialik: “If you would know the spring whence strength of soul / Was drawn … / Turn to the Beth Hamidrash [House of Study].”(25)
In this chapter in her work, according to Feldman, she engaged “in our cultural inventory, which mostly relies on scientific and technological conclusions, in an attempt to find the line between these notions and the spiritual and metaphysical concepts.”(26) She does all this, while engaging in “reflective painting,” as Sgan-Cohen defined it, an act which sheds light on her work, facilitating its interpretation and outlining its affinity with Jewish sources: “Painting is a legitimate form of oral law and a living form of scrutiny.”(27)
The series commences with wandering, a journey beginning with the Jewish bookcase: the Bible, Jewish philosophy, and Kabbalah, through general philosophy, to a profound reading of old and new science books. From these she draws ideas, texts, and visual images imitating atomic, anatomical, and astrophysical, physical and metaphysical processes, which she adopts as readymades. This is the source, and from here she creates the landscape, the scene, and the vision as a whole. This approach and affinity between the word and the work of art, the latter being a calculated act embroidered in wisdom and interpretation (drash), were adopted by Feldman in her artistic practice, while sustaining a deep affinity between the visual work and written philosophical texts.
This drash of Sgan-Cohen’s “Reflective Painting” can help one delve into the pool and climb the ladder-like Tree serving as a backbone in Feldman’s The Pleasure of Knowledge (2008). From the depths of the azure pool, which continues to flow outside the picture-frame, the viewer observes a spherical pupil protruding, recurrently reflected, per Bialik’s world of visions, in the compositional Crown at the top of the ladder-tree supported by two silhouettes of textural cypresses, an allusion to ancient cypresses or to the pillars of the Temple, Jachin and Boaz. These cypress trees, with their Temple associations, correspond—whether knowingly or not—with Sgan-Cohen’s cypresses. He painted one of these in 1996 on a piece of fabric upholstery with knots in its four corners, like a fringed garment or prayer shawl. The Talit Katan(small four-fringed prayer shawl) has acquired monumental dimensions. It now contains the cypress planted on an aura-cloaked mound (possibly an allusion to Mount Moriah), and its peak is somewhere in Ein Sof, in the heavens, symbolizing a link between heaven and earth, between upper and lower.
Concurrent with the thirsty Sgan-Cohen, who drinks from the spring, Feldman’s spiral-spiritual journey to the Jewish sources continues. In Keter – Malkhut (Crown – Kingdom) (2000) she creates an enigmatic image centered on a DNA chain. Due to the dependence on artistic and Jewish sources and contexts, one may regard the image as a Torah scroll or as the two-lobed Tablets of the Covenant, like the two lobes of the brain. Arie Aroch’s Jewish Motif (1961) sheds additional light on the Jewish contexts of Feldman’s Keter Torah/Keter Malkhut (crown of Torah/crown of kingship), with their Kabbalistic meanings and the recognition that Jewish culture and the Jewish bookcase are her-our cultural backbone, the genetic, natural and cultural DNA, the ladder toward hewing the light.
In Transmutation of Aleph (Merkavah) (1995), Feldman opens the personal and Jewish bookcase to viewers in a triptych whose structure is borrowed from religious contexts. The triptych is revealed as a magic box which offers truth magic in the journey from “its corpus to its light.” In the center there is a photograph of her personal library, containing books such as Sha’are Orah (Gates of Light) and Nathan Aviezer’s In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science alongside Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden and novels by Umberto Eco setting out to touch upon the hidden and transcendent. The fabric folds in the background create rays of splendor imparted from above. The right wing bears a drawing in metal of a symmetrical Aleph, the letter of Creation (also appearing in Mordecai Ardon’s 1967 At the Gates of Jerusalem), bringing together upper and lower, concealing the unified insight, the union of the upper and lower triangles and a fusion of the basic forms: the square, triangle, and circle. The left wing features the Sefirotic Tree, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the ladder (Sulam) of spiritual ascent all the way to the Crown. The Sefirot of Chochma (Wisdom), Binah (insight, understanding), and Keter (Crown) shine in gold, and so does the code of unified insight, whose gold is exposed in the quasi-alchemical scorching of the work. The bookcase and its insights are the link to the highest brilliance with its hidden secrets.
Shrine of Knowledge (2008) constructs a schematic temple of consciousness by means of the bookcase. A manuscript in Isaac Newton’s handwriting extends at the center of a photograph depicting the Rosh Zohar site in the Judean Desert ridge—a page containing text and a sketch of the structure and dimensions of the First Temple, Solomon’s Temple.(28) Newton, a forerunner of modern science, read and deciphered nature as one reads the Holy Scriptures. He sought the encrypted message waiting to be decoded in the natural sciences as well as in theological writings, and found it in a scheme of the Temple.(29) The picture, and mainly the Temple diagram, are bathed in lustrous light, a type of Upper Light, Ohr Ein Sof, the site of the Sanctuary in the desert, at the heart of the picture. Perusal of the secret of the balanced measurements of the Temple is supposed to bestow their power unto the structure of the inner Temple(30) within the heart, the shrine of knowledge.
A unique genre in Feldman’s oeuvre consists of the book-objects she creates, a manifestation and an ode to the book’s place in her consciousness, personality, and self-definition.(31) In the book-object incorporated in the work Yearning for Light (1995), the artist makes secondary use of a found object (a ready-made). Unlike Dada and Pop artists, however, it is not a commodity, a product of the modern world, but rather an inalienable asset of traditional Jewish culture—a book of poems by 12th century Sephardic Jewish poet, Yehuda Halevi, in which he expresses his pining for Zion in the East, where the sun rises, the source of light, the origin of the Torah light, and the light unto the nations, who “walk in the dark,” in the poet’s words.
The book, the found object, was printed in Germany in 1933, on the eve of humanity’s moral-cultural darkness. Once opened, the lead scroll reveals the verbal combinations, the metaphors, in words and pictures of Eretz-Israel. Halevi’s line “Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary” conducts a dialogue, by way of inversion, with the lead which the artist rolled over the work, a poisonous metal alluding to the era of darkness and poisoning by the Nazi regime. This metal was also used by German artist, Anselm Kiefer, in his reference to Nazi Germany. Kiefer’s Breaking of the Vessels (1990) features a library comprised of monumental lead books which seem to have survived a fire, blackened and sooty, and at their foot—glass shards, a reference to the burning of books on Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. The shattering of the vessels in the title of the work refers to the Kabbalistic teaching that in the process of Creation the vessels could not contain the Divine Light, the essence, poured into them, and shattered into countless pieces. This is the source of evil in the world and in man.(32)
Feldman’s Yearning for Light may be deemed a tikkun for the breaking of the vessels in Kiefer’s work. Read from left to right, as Yehuda Halevi’s book is arranged, Feldman commences with a double photograph of a gaze into a cave’s interior, and from there outward—to the expanses of desert landscape bathed in light. This work too, like many of her works, is dominated by a reconciliation of opposites: from the outside in and from the inside out, as well as the striving for the depths versus the yearning for the infinite heavens, to the splendor, to the light. The arid desert landscape, the landscape of the Judean Desert, is, at the same time, a concrete landscape (the Qumran Caves) and a metaphorical landscape—the dry desert vistas that beckon to the prophets on their way to expose the truth, like a source of living water in the desert of routine and profanity.
In this context one should mention Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”(33) Feldman presents two worlds, the one inside the cave and the one outside; opposite worlds:(34) the false-ephemeral world—the world of darkness, and the eternal world—the world of truth and light. These worlds mirror two states of consciousness, and the artist yearns for the high, lucid(35) state of consciousness, for the light.
According to Feldman, “the images of the cave, in photographs taken from within it and from the outside in, were used in the installation Caves of Light (1994), describing a state of dream which goes back to the 1st and 2nd centuries, when the Essenes sought seclusion in the caves of the Judean Desert, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai composed the text of the Zohar in a cave in Peki’in. Out of the darkness of the Qumran Caves arises observation of the soft light of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea, while honing the consciousness of the structures of the Tree of Life.
Another image, a type of cyclopean eye or, alternatively, an image of a journey within a dark tunnel toward the light at its end, is borrowed from Marcel Duchamp’s film,Disks Bearing Spirals made for Anemic Cinema (1923-26), comprising spiral images which served the artist for the cover of the magazine Minotaure. In this context, the giant eye appears as an endless labyrinth, paving the way out into the light. This image—in reference to Duchamp’s declaration that his art is “anti-retinal”—is not intended to be studied with the eye, but rather with the intellect and emotion. Metaphorically, this is also true of the incorporation of images in Feldman’s work, which encode the messages enfolded in them, demanding that the viewer harness his cultural baggage in order to decipher them and weave them into a meaningful narrative.
The page on the right presents the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, echoed at the opening and rear part of the cave on the left page. Despite the rarity of engagement with Jewish themes, let alone Kabbalistic themes and motifs, in Israeli art from the 1970s to the 1990s, one should mention two artists whose work features the Tree of Life, theSefirotic Tree: one is Mordecai Ardon, whose oeuvre clearly manifests his affinity with Jewish texts, Kabbalistic teachings, and the Hebrew letter. In his painting Gates of Light (1953) and in the large-scale stained glass windows he created for the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, The Ardon Windows (1984), the Kabbalistic Tree of Life assumes a pivotal place on the way to the light, to Tikkun Olam (rectifying the world, restoring its unity).(36) The other artist is Michael Sgan-Cohen who, in one of his more enigmatic paintings, Untitled (Tree of Life) (1996), depicted a hand holding onto the Tree of Life, a Tree with ten Sefirot. Sgan-Cohen paints what Amitai Mendelsohn, the curator of his 2004 retrospective at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, called “the unpaintable,”(37) his soul which found some rest in the assets of Kabbalah. (Entries in Sgan-Cohen’s diary discuss interpretations of the Bible and the Kabbalah, cantillation markings, and numerology).(38)
The book-object Yearning for Light is a tikkun, if only minor, which Feldman’s soul found for the rupture in Jewish history, the burning of books, and the destruction of a rich cultural creation. Israeli artist Micha Ullman, son of immigrants from Germany, referred to the burning of books in his memorial The Library (1994), whose below-street-level location and empty shelves illustrate the rupture, the void, the absence, and the dark depths. In contrast, Feldman, whose family also hailed from Germany, chose to perpetuate the book in her work, and to present it as a work of art arising from the dark depths of the scroll of lead and ashes, like the phoenix revived from the ashes time and again, yearning for the light.
In While Healing the Heart (2008), Feldman’s spiral pilgrimage climbs to Jerusalem, “Jerusalem of the middle,” to the spiritual center and focal point, toward tikkun and light. “And I want to live in Jerusalem of the middle, / without hitting my head above and without injuring my legs below,” writes Yehuda Amichai.(39) At the center of the composition, Feldman inserts a schematic depiction of the heart’s arteries enveloped by a woven web of light in the form of a decagonal crystal concealing and revealing ten dimensions akin to the ten Sefirot of the spatial Tree of Life; a tree whose roots, like its branches, extend in all directions. “The ability to navigate in these balanced routes will be gained via a healing of the heart (tikkun ha’lev). The private healing of the heart will effectuate a tikkun in reality.” The Valley of Hinnom, split by the Separation Wall on the left, is transformed in a reflection drawn on the right into a future space underlain by an attempt to eliminate the borders. The concrete documentation is conceptually metamorphosed and translated into utopian images, a flux of glowing waters alluding to the verse: “And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14: 8). The shadow transforms into light, and the stained mass of reality is refined into a contoured drawing.
In this work Feldman creates what she calls “Jerusalem of the middle,” an expression which metaphorizes the yearning to discover the point of equilibrium in a reality of rupture and conflict. On either side of the utopian, rectified and rectifying core, the artist set physical and metaphysical supportive columns, two cypress trees, which alongside the cedars are, in the Biblical context, the wood types used to construct the Temple (Kings I 5:22-24). Here they stand like the pillars of the Temple, Jachin and Boaz. In the prophecies of consolation, the cypresses signify the tikkun: “Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up … for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off” (Isaiah 55: 13). The cypresses are the obelisk of the Judeo-Israeli tradition; they are the “everlasting sign” linking heaven and earth. Another Cypress by Sgan-Cohen (1994) reinforces the meaning of these trees. It reaches the upper triangle, the Upper Light, the Ohr Ein Sof, while a strip of golden flux, the flow of splendor, runs through the well-rooted trunk, from upper to lower. The cypress is akin to a funnel, showering the here-and-now with Upper Light.
Breath of the Wilderness (2009) is an embodiment of “the place where the opposites / become one in their source” (Bialik, “Peeked and Died,” 1916). The work fuses colors, techniques (photography, oil painting, a sculptural element, and metal engraving), materials, and styles to form a grand unity. The black-white-gray acacia at the top of the work is reflected in the bottom section in the extended-sheltering wings in shades of deep gold. The lace-like texture of the wings reverberates in the spiral rising toward the gray acacia at the top, and from it to the tree embracing the colors of the rainbow, the tree of light, the tree of splendor. “For many years I sought a way to transform the shadow into light,” says Feldman. The practical solution is found in the color of the pearl with which the back side of the extended metal wings was colored, like: “O come and take thou me / Beneath thy wing, safe sheltered from all cares. / Thy breast the refuge of my head shall be, / The hiding place of my rejected prayers.”(40)
On new observation, the extended wings are characterized by a lung-like texture, hence the Hebrew title of the work, Kanfei Re’a (literally wings of lung), derived fromRabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s explanation,(41) that mending (tikkun) of the intellect is essentially performed by one’s breath, for the intellect is akin to a lit candle(42)—the brain is the wick, and the soul in the brain is the light. The artist constructs a tabernacle in the desert from the acacia which is identified with the Tabernacle, constructed during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness, where the transformation occurs from ashen (afor, אפור), from ashes (efer, אפר), to light. Shadow becomes light, breath (neshima, נשימה) transforms into soul (neshama, נשמה), and lung—into a rising, transcending wing. This is an apt place to return to one of Feldman’s sources of inspiration at the outset of her career, artist Rebecca Horn. While Horn extended wings of personal empowerment, the lung wings in Feldman’s work are wings of cultural-spiritual power, wings of light.
Transcendence by wings which are supposed to represent the bonding with the Upper Light is also discernible in the environmental sculpture, Wing to Wing (2008). The echelon of virtues in the wings is gradually transformed from earth colors, which are refined into shades of copper and gold. In this work too, in a type of supernatural alchemical process, the earth transforms into gold, and the viewer’s eye ascending in the virtues by degrees, encounters the Upper Light or, as described by Bialik: “From the body of the world to its light I yearned.”
That’s the way to live: to stick your hand into the world’s
infinite outside, turn the outside inside out
- Yehuda Amichai(43)
Insertion of the hand, the artist’s hand, into the infinite outside is tantamount to an attempt to unearth that which is latescent, to experience infinity, Ein Sof, on a level of closeness and intimacy as in an I-Thou encounter, within the four walls of the private abode, the shrine in the heart.
The spiral journey which began with portraits of concealment and hester panim, while inserting the hands, still on the concrete-phenomenological level—prior to the consciousness of the yearning inherent in the insertion of the hands into the “infinite outside”—reaches a conscious level in the video Reading in Dry Land (2008), which visually corresponds with Amichai’s poem.
The body works with which Feldman embarked on her journey have led to “the body of the world,” the world of nature and science, and from it, on an infinite journey of striving to
reach borderless borders, the place where the opposites / become one in their source. // He strove on […] and came at one time to a place — / the absence of time, the absence of place.(44)
* Rivka Bakalash is a scholar of visual culture and art, whose studies are centered on the intertextual relations between written text and visual text in Marcel Duchamp’s work and in Israeli art. She has published various essays on the subject as part of her activity in the research organizations International Society for the Study of European Ideas (ISSEI), International Society for Phenomenology, Aesthetics, and the Fine Arts (ISPAFA), and International Movement for Interdisciplinary Study of Estrangement (IMISE), and in publications of Tel Aviv Museum of Art.