This article was written on 20 Jun 2013, and is filled under Performance.

Iva Kafri in Tel Aviv

Iva Kafri’s first solo exhibition in Tel Aviv (RawArt Gallery, curator: Noga Davidson), recently closed, was given a peculiar title for such a fascinating project in which performance, installation and painting intersect. The title of the exhibition is “Solo Exhibition”, while in the gallery we hardly meet the convention of ‘the exhibition’ (at least by the critical modes we regard it, following thinkers like Bryan O’Doherty or Bruce Ferguson). What Kafri calls ‘installation-painting’ offers an environment in which raw materials from DIY stores mingle with abstract graffiti work and large plain wallpaper, all strike the viewer with phosphoric colors and shiny patterns. Nothing more than an environment, in the way Allan Kaprow coined it in the early 1960s, an environment to move through or to perceive through movement. We penetrate a rather concrete picture made of pieces and scraps and strokes and spots that bear no identifiable shape, yet not absolutely abstract. What is exhibited, however not so much in the form of ‘an exhibition’, is not ‘solo’ either, but rather a combination of the acts of a single artist and the countless acts of viewers.


Iva Kafri, “Solo Exhibition”, RawArt Gallery, Tel Aviv. Photo: I. Kafri. Courtesy of the artist.

Prior to opening, Kafri worked for a month in the gallery, at the heart of the industrial area of southern Tel Aviv, bringing along with her what she had found outside: rolls of wallpaper and tapes and paint buckets and stickers and broken mirrors. The ‘environment’ here, in the very tradition of Kaprow and performance art, begins somewhere on the way to the allocated space for exhibiting art, where it actually never ends; the ‘place’ of Kafri’s exhibition is only one register of indeterminacy she brings forth. Is this environmental art? The place from where Kafri draw her materials and images and that which she creates as a representation of the former are nearly the same place. Urban space produces urban matter that simulates urban space. Nothing is organic in her materials; nature, in the strict sense, is nowhere to be found. All plastic and metal and nylon and Perspex, and not as trash but as totally clean artificial matter, which highlights the only organic ‘matter’ here, namely, human movement. Evidently, the wallpapers and colored boards and spray-color on the floors all reflect the limits of the artist’s body-movement in the gallery, during that month-long work, and the effort to reach beyond these limits. One twinkling paper-wrapped object is stuck to the ceiling of the gallery and can be better seen through its reflection in a broken mirror on the floor. The eye movement of the spectators is also challenged yet controled.


Iva Kafri, “Solo Exhibition”, RawArt Gallery, Tel Aviv. Photo: I. Kafri. Courtesy of the artist.


Color, too, which is the most striking quality of the whole piece, is not of the sort we usually find in that narratives of both environmental and conceptual art; Kafri’s work is not fantastic or mystical or Poppy like Robert Rauschenberg’s or Yayoi Kusama’s or Ian Davenport’s  or the earlier Neo-Dadaists. There is something quite brave about the honesty with which Kafri explains “the pure, initial passion to purple”, for instance. On the other hand, unlike the spirituality of Rothko, Kafri seems to be primarily concerned with whatever happens outside painting and outside the painter. We then understand that for her, what is ‘raw’ about the materials and colors she stages around visitors in the gallery, is not to be found in the fact that these materials were taken up for artistic use prior to their transformation into finite products, but rather in the fact that by Kafri’s performative visual articulation, these objects and materials demand that we perceive them beyond human-use-orientations and interests, that is, as mere color. These are not to be taken as ‘readymade’, as objects re-territorialized into the supposedly independent field of art and its institutions, but rather as what otherwise would still be the hidden ingredient that covers almost everything we touch in our everyday lives, the pigment.


Iva Kafri, “Solo Exhibition”, RawArt Gallery, Tel Aviv. Photo: I. Kafri. Courtesy of the artist.

Color seems also to function here in the context of urban landscape: if shapes take figurative connotations in Kafri’s work, it is generally of the kind of vocabulary known to us from Walter Gropius and the prioritization of simplified geometry over excess and complexity in what serve the modern conceptions of public and private spaces. However, grid and rational proportion seem to collapse in Kafri’s work, mass-production is met with individual artistic creativity at the price of turning the space where this takes place nearly dysfunctional. All is gay, though, and that ‘total collapse’ communicates not apocalyptic imageries but a futuristic playground. Purple wallpaper is cut into the corner of the gallery, thus making a roof-shape which draws the visitors onto a path, also marked by tape and colored wrapping-paper, which seems unfamiliar but navigate-able. Once the artistic task is not the enforcement of a certain representational mode onto a specific medium, then the Marinetti-like rhythm of shapes and gradients works even better as a three-dimensional space rather than on early 20th century square canvases.

Thus, Kafri’s installation can be characterized as ‘performative’: the work says ‘color’ while acting as color, in all its references, either as an effect of seeing which can only be loosely agreed-upon by different viewers (rather than indexically determined), or as event of making shapes distinguishable. But beyond the speech-act of Kafri’s work, the residue of the artist’s bodily presence and action in the final installation dominates much of the experience of visiting the gallery. If Jackson Pollock’s spontaneity and accidentalness were, for some, markers of the performative trace in painting, Kafri belongs to a different strand, where the movement of the artist anticipates the movement of the viewer through the gallery space, while both movements differ in their required attention.


Iva Kafri, “Solo Exhibition”, RawArt Gallery, Tel Aviv. Photo: Yuval Chai. Courtesy of the artist.

Yet, this somewhat careless comparison brings us back to the more cumbersome question here: is it still a painting? Is it, beyond Kafri’s emphasis on the process of painting, of applying color and line to a (complicated) surface while aspiring to retain the preliminary open-endedness of her hand-movement in the final work, is it still a painting? Guarding the boarders of artistic definitions of media and genres is, naturally, not the case here. Kafri’s work challenges the viewers with exactly this question by the direct choice of setting up an abstract environment of mere colors and de-objectified materials. This is also the political stance of the work—how to expand the boundaries of our concepts rather than replacing them with new ones (out of the desire to keep the economics of ‘the new’ forever marketable) through questioning the moment we perceive something as ‘a thing’. Painting, as a medium, does not transform here to a different medium only because it is a canvas blown up to a three-dimensional piece—that convention had already been shattered, rather ultimately, by Duchamp and his followers, a century ago. Kafri’s work, apparently devoid of any reference to the current political issues that shape Israeli and Middle-Eastern identities and conflicts, is yet a reminder that identities become political issues once they are doubted or threatened. For the visitors in Kafri’s exhibition, the question ‘is it still painting?’ seems to accompany the question ‘what is it, then?’, and lead towards the impression of ‘what could painting possibly be?’


Noam Gal

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