Monday, June 06, 2011

Ori Gersht: Falling Petals

[“Will You Dance for Me” (2011). Dual channel HD video projection with sound (13 min. 45 sec.). “Hiroshima Sleepless Nights: Never Again” (2010). Archival pigment prints mounted on dibond (diptych). “Hiroshima Now: Motoyasugwa River to Cross” (2010). C-type mounted on dibond.]

Ori Gersht’s creative process—beset by and engaged with awareness of memory, experience, and embedded history—converges in “Falling Petals,” his recent series of images up at CRG Gallery through June 25, 2011. Comprised of images garnered from April to May 2010 during a trip to Japan, “Falling Petals” is culmination of his travels to cities affected by World War II (as well as ancient locations in the western part of that nation). In the latter locations, Gersht examined the evolving symbolism of the cherry blossom. Initially associated with Buddhist concepts of renewal, the celebration of life, and good fortune, the cherry blossom was reappropriated during Japan’s 19th century militarization and colonial expansion. Once celebrated as a healthy and abundant flower, the falling of the tree’s petals came to symbolize Kamikaze fighters. In contrasting cherry trees planted before the war in remote and relatively unaffected areas against those planted in Hiroshima’s post-nuclear soil, Gersht explores interplay between life and death.

In using digital cameras to allow for capture of images under extreme light conditions, Gersht questions photography’s very ability as a medium to convey a singular truth or story. His digital process—which presents documentation of assumed and exact locations—allows for questioning the veracity of light and color. By extension, viewers may interpret the “history” of such locations. Thus undermined are defined relationships engaged by photography. Such an understanding of film’s chemical and physical limitations, allows Gersht to more fully push the envelope in terms of the medium’s resonance. What results is Gersht’s highly dimensional vehicle portraying meaning through time, light, and other phenomena—and exposing human memory’s capacity and limitations.

Unlike previous series focusing on geographic journeys (Walter Benjamin’s following the Lister Route in Gersht’s “Evaders” of 2009 or “The Forest” of 2006, in which Gersht’s family found an unlikely refuge from annihilation during the Holocaust in the Ukraine), “Falling Petals” offers imagery conveying past and present without a specific and linear narrative. Gersht’s photographic process—in this case—implies passage of time without providing starting or end points in what he depicts. [In “The Forest,” the camera panned a lush, primeval forest. Shot deep in the Moskalova woods spanning Poland and the Ukraine, sound alternated with silence and suddenly a tree fell to the ground with a thunderous echo. Gersht’s departure point in doing that work came out of the adage: “If a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Yet a host of other existential questions emerged.]

Additionally, this show will debut Gersht’s new film “Will You Dance for Me” (2011). The film opens to a close-up of an old and fragile woman in a rocking chair moving backward and forward meditatively—drifting in and out of focus. Slowly this woman—Yehudit Arnon—fades completely out of the dark scene as snow falls from the sky. Eventually, the rhythmic falling of snow and the rocking chair give way to a virginal, white landscape.

Arnon—a native of Komarno (Slovakia) and veteran of Hashomer Hatzair—was an inmate in the hellish precincts of Auschwitz concentration camp. During her confinement there—at the age of 19—she was ordered to dance at the Christmas party of an SS officer. When Arnon refused, her punishment was to stand barefoot in the snow all night. At that point, Arnon resolved to dedicate herself to dance should she survive the ordeal. Upon her release, Arnon moved to Budapest and began study with Hungarian dancer Irena Dückstein (and disciple of noted German choreographer Kurt Jooss). In 1948, Arnon and her husband emigrated to Israel and settled at Kibbutz Ga’aton in the Western Galilee, where she still lives with her family. In 1962, Arnon created the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, which drew emerging talent from around Israel (such as Hedda Oren, Oshra Elkayam, Ya’acov Sharir, Flora Cushman, and the acclaimed Rami Be'er) and toured throughout Israel, the United States, Europe, and the Far East. In the following decades, she attained international recognition in the arts—culminating in 1997, when she received the “Distinguished Artist Award” of the International Society for the Performing Arts in recognition of her contributions to the dance world.

“Will You Dance for Me” springs from this specific, preexisting, and inspiring personal narrative. Within the cadence of Arnon’s rocking chair, Gersht’s construction encourages viewers to absorb the absence, presence, and persistence of her life of dance now in cessation.

In this show at CRG Gallery—including as it does, a series of large-scale photographs and an arresting video projection—Gersht’s work yet again encourages viewer reflection on the power of natural beauty affected by human intervention. Through such coinciding forces one finds powers of resilience.

Ori Gersht is represented by Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art (Tel Aviv), Mummery+Schnelle (London), Angles Gallery (Santa Monica), and Brand New Gallery (Milan). Born in Tel Aviv in 1967 (and now located in London), his work has been viewed in such venues as the Tate Modern (London), the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), the Hirschhorn Museum (Washington, D.C.), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Centro Andaluz De La Fotografia (Almeria), and MARCO (Vigo). A signed edition of 100 C-prints entitled “Come and Go” (2011) by Gersht will be available to benefit the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund (via the Japan Society).

“Falling Petals”
Ori Gersht
Through June 25, 2011
548 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011

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