Regarding the Place & as After Action 5 1979-2015
B&W pigment print on archival. Fine art paper 83x60 cm, artist'scollection.
Regarding the Place & as After Action 4
1979-2014 B&W pigment print on archival. Fine art paper 30x40 cm, artist's collection
From the Body Art Series, 1980-2014
Pigment print photo on archival. Fine art paper, 80x40 cm, artist’s collection
I find the second Body Signature in the positioning of the hands. The palms are touching each other, always forming a somewhat full-closed circle. Often there is an object being held. There are also variations in this position: the hands may be close to the body or next to the chest, or at a distance, extended straightforward similar to the shape of an “arrow”. This Body Signature is portrayed in the series of works that we already saw and in the following pieces from later periods as well such as: “As Deep as the Silent Waves” (2001), and “Dreams Material” (2007). A similar position is found in the lower limbs, when the feet face and touch each other, thighs turned outward, or alternatively, knees are touching and close to the stomach. This is seen in “Regarding the Place & as After Action 1” (1979) and in “Thoughts Forms-Clarity” (2003).
Dreams Material, 2007
Digital print, 60x50 cm, private collection, NY, USA.
As Deep as the Silent Waves, 2001
Digital print, 150x75 cm, Shari Arison collection, Israel
The Third Body Signature identifies the way the position of the body is always seen from the front or the back. Sometimes one can just see the torso, or the entire body. However, we will never see it from the side. This is a Body Signature that exists throughout all of Dorit’s works. I will show them though these pieces: “Self Portrait Hawk” (1979) and “Self Portrait in Cup Phylacteries” (1979):
in Cup Phylacteries, 1979-2014
Pigment print on archival, fine art paper 87x40 cm, Nava and Ronny Disenchik collection Isreal.
Self Portrait: Hawk,
Pigment print on archival, fine art paper 87x40 cm, artist’s collection.
“Regarding the Place & as After Action 3” (1979), “Infrastructure for Alienation” (1980) and also in later works such as Life Line (2011) and in “Installation: Trapped in it in my ever-forming memory along with her” (2014).
The Fourth Body Signature is a body without a head. The head is absent, or for the most part, is hidden by an object of sorts. This is a typical signature of early works, such as “Body Art Self Portrait: Honey” (1978), “Body Art Self Portrait: Ficus” (1979) and “Leda and the Swan” (1980).
Body Art Self Portrait: Ficus (1979),
Cibachrome photo, 30*20 cm, Hani and Ofer Laron collection, Israel.
Body Art Self Portrait: Honey (1978),
Digital print, 60x50 cm, private collection, Tel Aviv, Collection of the SIP, Shpilman Institute of photrography Israel.
The fifth Body Signature focuses on the eyes and the gaze. In early works, the gaze is turned downward completing the curved position of the body and hands. In “Infrastructure for Alienation” (1980) –the hands and the eyes actually create, an additional sub-signature, which repeats itself later on.
Overt and Covert by Light, (1999),
digital print 60x50 cm,
collection of Orna and Avi Udvin,
Infrastructure for Alienation (1980) combined technique on paper, B&W photos, 65x36 cm, artist’s collection.
Flesh Crowned by Light, 2006,
digital print, 60x50 cm, Sheila Perl Zonnenshein collection, CA, USA.
In “Overt and Covert by Light” (1999) Dorit's eyes are exposed for the first time. I will address this later on. In later works, such as “Flesh Crowned by Light” (2006), the gaze is directed straight ahead but hidden by matter (water), same as in
“Installation: Trapped in it in my ever-forming memory along with her" (2014). In “Vision Moves into Grasp – In Place” and “From the Eye’s Level” from 2009, the eyes are looking straightforward. I will address this as well later on.
The sixth and final Body Signature is the floating body, usually presented weightless upon water, faced down. For example in “As Deep as the Silent Waves” (2001), in “Delving into the Depth of the Shadow” (2013), in “Delving into the Depth of the Shadow” (2013) and in “Mapping through the Consciousness Levels” from the same year.
Mapping through the Consciousness Levels, 2013,
pigment print on archival fine art paper, 80x100 cm, Orna and Erwin Weiss collection, Herzliya.
Delving Into the Depth of the Shadow, 2013
pigment print on archival fine art paper, 90x100 cm, artist’s collection.
Unfolding Streams, 2001,
digital print, 150x75 cm, artist’s collection.
A reversed float facing up can also be seen in “Dreams Material” from 2007 for instance, in “Unfolding Streams” (2001) and in “Thoughts Forms-Clarity” (2003).
As a young artist, Dorit was inspired by the Feminist Art Movement, especially by Body-Art and installation art of the 1960s and 70s. In her seminal book “Overlay” (1983), art scholar and activist Lucy Lippard describes the search and yearning of female artists at that time, as a period where women were able to formulate a history and mythology of their own(2). A typical and central discourse of the time in sociology and anthropology as well as in the arts, is found in Sherry B. Ortner’sֿ(3) key article from 1974: “Is a Female to a Man as Nature Is to Culture?”. The article includes an intense discussion on cultural observations of the body, women, and nature and on how they are positioned in dichotomy to mind, men and culture. Heated arguments between feminist artists looked at the female body being shown as “nature”, raising questions such as: Does the body, as nature, represent power? Is this an act of reclaiming historic (or pre-historic) matriarchal strength? Is this an ideological standpoint, which places the female body as part of an eco-ethical feminist discourse? Alternatively, does presenting or representing the female body as "nature" –weaken it, surrendering it to the problematic argument regarding “natural” differences between women and men and reproducing them?
Dorit joins this argument early in her career with her bodywork. I will argue that she challenges it to a great extent. She develops unique artistic tools of her own, and creates a complex inter-textual visual language, which is largely based on the strategies of Reenactment of Body Signatures. How does she do it? Dorit creates her own work techniques based on producing series of ritual acts which include practices of preservation, citation, transference, transformation, and reenactment of Self-Body Signature imagery, while at the same time, she changes their form, matter, texture, and media. By doing so, a specific Body Signature can transfer from being processed in photography to drawing, to painting, to sculpture and then again be re-photographed in a new format.
This mechanism makes use of typical artistic processes of preservation and revival of body imagery in the form of Reenactment. The practice of Reenactment is based on a mechanism of repetitiveness, and therefore turns infinite. Each time, it produces sets of performative actions, which enter the imagery archive and are then reconstructed moving from "REARCHIVE to REENACT"– in the words of dance theorist Andre Lepecki(4). From this perspective, I propose to view Dorit’s Body Signatures as coordinates, that perform as references to her physical and metaphorical motions, formulating her creative process in time; thus, moving back and forth like a laborer building a living archive of her body materials and images. The accumulative assembly of this body of work (in its double meaning) demonstrates not only the uniqueness of the signatures as an embodied performance, but also shows how over time, the signatures are always at the foundation of the creative process which results in chains of archetypical images and symbols.
Here are a few examples illustrating how Body Signatures are being processed and transformed from one media to another:
Embodied Signature and Reenactment in the Archival Body-Art of Dorit Feldman, 2017
Essay: Yael (Yali) Nativ, Ph.D
Translation from Hebrew:
Embodied Signature and Reenactment in the Archival Body-Art of
A lecture given at the the Women and Gender in the Arts in Israel Conference, February 2017, the David and Yulanda Katz Faculty of the Arts, Tel Aviv University.
Disclosure: Dorit Feldman and I have been friends for many years. More than 30. When we met, Dorit had just graduated from the H'amidrasha College of Arts (then) in Ramat Hasharon, and was a budding artist. I too had just graduated from the Dance and Movement program at the Kibbutzim College and was seeking my path as a performing dancer, choreographer and mostly as a teacher. Over the years, we have had many conversations, opportunities to share ideas and we have also collaborated on several occasions. Thus, for this conference, we had an opportunity to re-connect our worlds again. Based upon our friendship I refer to Dorit here on a first name basis.
Dorit’s main artistic medium since the late 1970s has been photography, incorporated with 3D sculpture and painting. One of the main motifs in the core of her work is her own body, as a self-portrait. A few months ago, we looked at her work from this point of view and I suggested to do a reading of selected works through two theoretical concepts: Body Signature and Reenactment. Both terms are taken from a theoretical discourse on dance and performance, but each in its own way and in a different context.
The term Body Signature was devised by Hodel Ophir(1) a few years ago in her ethnographic study on dance teachers. Observing them teaching in the studio, she sought to characterize their unique embodied practices and modes of performance. Ophir views Body Signature as a subjective physical act that repeats itself and marks a unique embodied presence, which reflects a unique and performative imprinted-in-the body identity. Following her model, I looked for Dorit’s own Body Signatures and their characteristics in her work. I tried to map her body’s unique performances, the way she uses them and to examine which of the signatures recur, in what ways and in which context, and what kind of meaning they create.
I found six Body Signatures. However, contrary to Ophir’s teachers, where they were repeatedly performed in movement in each and every class, Body Signatures in Dorit’s art works are staged and photographed, frozen in a lived performative action, transformed into an image.
In the first part of this presentation, I will show the six Signatures one after another. This gives me an opportunity to present a continuum of a wide array of works that will allow the observers to notice the repetitiveness of signatures in different periods of time and in changing circumstances. For the purpose of analysis, I will present each signature separately, so that it is temporarily detached from its original setting. In the second part, I will address the embodied signature performance techniques and I will suggest that both terms, Body Signature and Reenactment are interdependent in Dorit’s work process, and through their appearances, we can mark her development as a female artist. This will lead me to propose a gender based interpretation to the recurring representations of self-body portraits, which will be followed by a discussion on the symbolism and cosmology that surrounds them and charges them with meaning. Therefore, the reading that I suggest here works on two axis: a vertical axis, chronologic in nature, which follows the body’s performance as a self-portrait from the 1970s to present day; and a horizontal axis, addressing the contextual breadth of Dorit’s world of knowledge and interests that branch out. Here too I must restress that my reading takes a gender point of view, and there may be other readings that are interesting and important as well.
The first Body Signature and most outstanding in my view, is when the body is curved forward, closed, round and often bent down. For instance, in an early series of works from the late 70s and early 80s as the ones below.
In “Regarding the Place & as After Action 4” (1979) the image of “Self Portrait – Ficus” (1979) performs the fourth Body Signature in a form of a paper drawing in the background. In another work, “Body Art” (1980), the self-portrait (in the first Body Signature) is duplicated in black & white taken from an earlier work. Above is a color photo again, a self-portrait positioned in the first Body Signature in which it appears twice.
Additional examples show citations of Body Signatures of the eyes (+ body imprint of hands and a frontal and back body positioning):
Detail – “Vision Moves into Grasp”, 2012
Detail – “From the Eyes Level”, 2009
The logic of this archival action is discussed by Hal Foster as an “Archival Impulseֿ(5)”, and by Lepecki as “the desire to preserve”. It is explained as an act, which seeks to transform knowledge or an historical moment to a present one in the current reality, aiming at creating something new. It is important to emphasize that this act of preservation and recreation does not operate in the usual archival sense. Inversely, it strives to propel the creative process as a key strategy. This brings to mind Foucault's idea that the archive must be perceived as a body of knowledge which is continuously partial and incomplete, eclectic in its perception of time; ready and open to movement of change, and “of things that happen, declarations and statements(6)”.
The main and most prominent feature in Dorit’s work is that the body is always positioned within nature: water, earth, vegetation, or animals. In this sense, according to philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty(7); it is a body that is embedded in the world as a living matter within matter, its boundaries are fluid and its flesh is immersed within. At this point, it could have been said regarding the nature-culture argument mentioned earlier, that the artist, since she positions herself and her body as part of nature – is taking the women=nature paradigm upon herself. But that is not the case. She actually disrupts it.
One of the methods she uses is a visual syntax that uses 3-D sculpting processed objects. These objects are always a reconstruction that uses citation of details taken from pre-photographed images. They appear in the works as actual sculptures, or in an additional metamorphosis or process – as a two-dimensional photo layer, which is embedded in a given photograph, as ready-made.
Such is the case in “Leda and the Swan” (1980): the pink sculpture on the left is remnant of the female genitals. An object that connects two layers of images photographed and placed on top of each other. The images look like two photographed sculptured objects – the first looks like a bird but mimics a ‘baby” in the artist’s arms, and the second is presented as a replacement for the missing head, which also looks like a women’s vagina or like a bird's beak while a duck replacing her head.
From the Body Series Leda and the Swan, 1980,
digital print (restored) and clay object, 60x40x3 cm, artist’s collection.
Alas, what here is nature and what is not-nature? What is the artist’s creation, and what is created by the world? The portrait she presents as her own-self creates in fact a continuous syntax of cultural representations between the natural, unnatural, the body, the object as well as between woman and animal. In an act that can be seen as defying and political, the image makes the “natural” and the "unnatural" to collapse into each other, their boundaries blurred.
Another strategy that can be seen in Dorit’s works is the way she positions herself in relation to the female/male dichotomy derived from the nature/culture question.
For instance, in “Regarding the Place & as After Action 5” (1979), she is seated on the ground with her body bent over, feet touching each other. She is curved over a bowl, which holds a sculptured object from which stems arise. The stems are topped with stamen flowers sticking out of her head. A plump Ficus bush is behind her. Another image is transplanted in the center of the Ficus shot. It is a photographed sculpture of an artificial flower made of clay. In its center, there is something that looks like an ovary and from it stems the “Elite Pole” as an object remnant of the male genitalia.
Regarding the Place & as After action 5, 1979-2015,
B&W photograph printed on archival fine art paper (restored), 83x60 cm, artist’s collection.
What is actually happening here? Is the artist self-inseminating? Is she fertilizing herself? Is she suggesting a hybrid gendered representation image – both a woman and a man?
Thirty years fast forward to her 2009 work “At Eyes Level” there is a sequel to this hybrid narrative. Four hands can be seen in the image, as if the body grew another pair. This extra pair of hands is male. When we talked about this work, Dorit explained the “four hands” man/woman through the biblical term “EZER KENGDO which means “helpmeet”."”. I, unlike her, would like to see this action as a direct continuation of the subversive line of work that she has been creating. In this case, she, the woman, standing in the world and facing it with her body erect. Behind her arises the phallic symbol of the Greek pillar, which is of course also the symbol of ancient Greece, civilization and Western knowledge. She is embedded in it, and both are affixed strongly in the earthly sand, literally fulfilling Merleau-Ponty’s(8) words: "I am all that I see. I am an intersubjective field, not despite my body and historical situation, but on the contrary, by being this body and this situation, and through them, all the rest"
From the Eyes Level, 2009,
photo printed archival fine art paper, 150x90 cm. Artist’s collection.
Yet another theoretical quote on this matter can be helpful. Leah Dovev(9), in her book “Man From Flesh” writes: “There is a traditional seniority of the visual perception in Western culture…. a permanent perception of the anticipated arrival from the sensual to the absolute truth beyond…… at the beginning of modern history the gaze, seeking truth, is given back from the godly-space of heaven, to the earthly material body”. From this aspect, it seems that Dorit's message in these last two works is my way of being, of seeing, of experiencing, and of knowing is by being a body, subjected to the materials of the world – in the world of nature and in the world of knowledge.
Incidentally, an earlier but similar act can be seen in a work from 1979 “In Cup Phylacteries” (presented earlier) - when her bare body is adorned with a male representation of phylacteries made out of a chain of photographed images of cups – a distinctive mark of the women’s private space at home.
Going back to the Body Signature of the eyes, I will revisit a significant work (in my opinion), from 10 years ago, in order to understand the transformation of the gaze: “Overt and Covert by Light” (1999). This work was presented as part of an exhibition entitled “Golden Heart”, and it is the only piece in the entire exhibit, which contains a self-body image. Moreover, the eyes are revealed here for the first time. After many series of body works in which the eyes and head, as indicated earlier, were bent down I want to suggest that the one eye that is seen in this work (which is a citation of a previous work) and appears twice upside-down, signals in fact what is about to come in a future chain of reconstructions and reenactments.
The next two works present the sixth Body Signature – the floating body, and both refer to the dimension of embodied knowledge that was mentioned beforehand:
“Unfolding Streams” from 2001 and “Imprints – Inlands Visibility” (2013).
Imprints – Inlands Visibility, 2013,
photo printed on archival fine art paper 25x60 cm, Dr. Tal Dekel’s collection.
In “Unfolding Streams” the body performs itself three times, reenacted and quoted in the first Body Signature position (the round, closed body), the second (closed hands, feet touching, arrow position) and the sixth – floating. Nevertheless, the body here is floating upon a liquid texture signified as a form of brain lobes. The text, which appears in spirals in the four corners of the work (for example, on the top left side), says:
“Running water carries the life force – Chi” – meaning, the body situates itself again as matter within matter. However, this time, it is embedded within the liquid that represents consciousness and knowledge. In this sense, I can point to an element of an additional theoretical challenge,–the challenge of the Cartesian paradigm and the dichotomist and hierarchical way in which Western culture sees the split between mind and body and between spirit and matter.
In this regard, in her book Sensing, Feeling, And Action, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen(10), a somatic movement researcher says: "Energy vibrates and forms patterns in nature. The same patterns appear at all levels of existence. Patterns that exist in the world outside the body exist also inside the body where different tissues in the body register different vibrations.”
Recurring representations of the shape of the brain as an act of Reenactment can be seen in “Imprints – Inlands Visibility“ (2013), when the image of the brain appears as a shadow against the artist’s body floating in another image of the Dead Sea, while holding it in her hands.
This piece also refers to the ways by which the artist situates herself within another dimension, her homeland landscapes (Israel), a typical subject of her works in the last decade. On the left, is an image of the Dead Sea on which an ancient map of the area imprinted – a representation of a coded history; on the right, a processed digital image of an ancient fossil representing a pre-historic nature. Tal Dekel(11) offers an interpretation from an eco-feminist-point of view. She argues that that this work raises a discussion on ecological issues, environmental damage, sustainability and femininity.
Adding another layer of interpretation, I suggest that in these works Dorit connects between landscapes of the body and the brain to forms of knowledge in the world, breaking down (yet again) the barriers between natural landscapes, knowledge, history, and time.
I would like to end this lecture with two recent works from the past two years, which in my opinion embody the entirety of the realms that Dorit explores and within which she works. “Mirror of Time” (Milies Library Greece) (2015) and a work from the series The Signature Still Signs…“Seal-Genetic Blueprint”, (2016).
Mirror of Time, 2015,
photograph printed on archival fine art paper 50x160 cm, artist’s collection.
Seal – Genetic Blueprint (2016),
photograph printed on archival fine art paper, 45x90 cm, artist’s collection.
Both works are constructed from three parts in a triptych format. In the center, the artist’s body looks like it is cited/reproduced in the same Body Signature – once seen from the front, and once from the back. Either looking at herself, or concealing one eye, she is playing with a variety of her historical and contemporary Body Signatures – her image reflecting in the mirror. Behind her, in both pieces, is a processed photo of an archival library from Classic Greece.
In “Mirror of Time”, on the left – is an image of the Roman Girl mosaic (The Mona Lisa of Zipori) taken from the original mosaic in Zipori (Israel). On the right, a poetic text in English written specifically for this piece by author Ioram Meltzer:
“Does anyone remember the girl from Egypt? Perhaps a girl, perhaps already a young lady. A polished mirror the only remnant left to us from her world. A piece of the past entrusted, by chance, to a museum of a period she could not have imagined….”
Both works connect between the young Dorit at the beginning of her journey; her body round, close to earth; and the mature Dorit who's gaze is direct; Between nature’s systems of cosmology and the systems that represent the realms of knowledge, science and consciousness packed in this old library, with the additional processed seal of DNA(12)– all embodied in her. To summarize – Dorit, as a female artist conducts an ongoing dialogue with various cultural discourses in a manner that poses questions on her embodied self-identity. On her multi-layered, dialectic and hybrid images are imprinted her Body Signatures. Over the years, she has produced her own cosmologic worlds and mythological systems; whereas her extensive body of work recurs, creates and recreates transformational, dialogic, and polyphonic perspectives that are not subservient to one authority. By doing so, Dorit applies, in practice, the ongoing creation of an embodied archival of bodywork, which is, if to go back to Foucault, constantly in the process of formulation; open to “structures and transformation of things that are happening.”
Yael (Yali) Nativ, Ph.D
Translation from Hebrew: Debra London
For quotation: Nativ, Yael. (2017) Embodied Signature and Reenactment in the Archival Body-Art of Dorit Feldman. Lecture given at the “Women and Gender in the Arts in Israel” Conference, Tel Aviv University on February 1-2 2017
1. Ophir, Hodel & Nativ, Yael. (2016) Fractured Freedom: Body, Gender and Ideology in Dance Education in Israel. Tel Aviv, Hakibbuzim Publishers, p. 177 (in Hebrew)
2. Lippard, Lucy. (1983) Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory. New York: The New Press p. 41
3. Ortner, Sherry B. 1974. Is female to male as nature is to culture? In M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds), Woman, culture, and society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 68-87
4. Lepecki, Andre. (2010) The Body as Archive: Will to Re-Enact and the Afterlives of Dances in: Dance Research Journal Vol. 42 # 2, p. 28-48
5. Foster, Hal. (2004) An Archival Impulse, The MIT Press Vol. 110 p. 3-22
6.- Foucault, Michel. (1972) The Archeology of Knowledge end the Discourse of Language, New York: Pantheon Books, p. 130
7. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1945) Phenomenology of Perception, London & New York: Routledge
8. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1945) Phenomenology of Perception, London & New York: Routledge p. 525
9.- Dovev, Lea. (2015) Subjecthood in the Flesh: The Discourse of the Body in the Anatomical Corpus of Leonardo Da Vinci, p. 20
10. Bainbridge Cohen, Bonnie. (1993) Sensing, Feeling and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering, Northampton, MA: Contact Editions p. 66
11. Dekel, Tal. (2014) from short articles, interviews with women artists (in Hebrew)
12. in the lower left piece