Efi Gen Art Curator
"Everything was possible, nothing was possible…"
During the last six months Ruth Orenbach and I corresponded via e-mail. Meanwhile The series of the works "We had everything before us, we had nothing before us …" continued developing. Our conversation its interpretation and its meaning is quoted here as it was.
Once I heard about an Indian tribe who looked only to the past with their back is turned to the future. Extend past an endless field in front of them, and the future always comes up behind by surprise. Am I being nostalgic? Longing for place? For a static point on earth that I was suddenly torn off from?
Cultural researchers tracked an Aboriginal wandering tribe in Australia. They have noticed that without any regularity the tribe stopped wandering and waited. The researchers could not figure it out. At one point, the anthropologists turned to the Chief and asked for an explanation of the custom. Their Chief replied: "Whenever we advance a good part of the way , we stop to let our souls be able to reach'."
This story explains the incessant need to connect the spirit, soul, heart to the body, and this daily activity. It is highly mentioned in your exhibition, similar to your story about the Indian tribe - Past …forward with continuous present.
The future came up behind me by surprise at the age of ten and a half. I tried to retrieve everything that was taken from me then? The language, my home, snowy mountains, forests and the howling wolves. My School uniform, rigid black dress decorated with lace collar and starched white apron. My favorite books including Pushkin's poems, Star-shaped pin stamped with a portrait of Lenin which I was wearing near to my heart like a precious jewel. It was the only object that shone in the gray and stiff reality. The reality of scarcity and whispering behind doors.
In recent years you dredge up past memories in your work. But the series began in a rather trivial way...
My creative process started two years ago, after long observation at my first grade photograph. School children seated, shot by camera, marked with Lenin stars, holding flower bouquets, in between seated our firm teacher and myself with a scared look trapped in time and space.
I thought about the process you go through when you paint. When I first saw Marlene Dumas painting - "Class" at the Modern Tate in London, the children in painting called 'Red', are sitting, hands folded, legs together, just as they should be. Marlene Dumas references the body language, the tension between individual and group, your painted faces are not a photographic reproduction.
My paintings are based on a photograph. The photograph is a starting point but you can not find in a photograph a trace of a hand, the patches of color,' Pentimento' - the repair operation carried out in the painting . The common aspect between all those faces is the camera exposure. Marlene Dumas's characters are looking straight at the camera. Most of my characters are not facing the camera.
In the beginning of the process The first portraits I painted were true to the original photography. The process was long and Sisyphean. I increased their faces, I imagined colors. After several attempts I stopped, not wanting to be a "camera". I started painting a la-prima imaginary children, focusing their eyes in order to capture their souls.
Marlene Dumas says:" My Fatherland is South Africa, my mother tongue is Afrikaans, my surname is French. and I do not speak French. My mother always wanted me to go to Paris. She thought Art was French, because of Picasso. I thought art was American, because ARTFORUM. I thought Mondrian was American too and that Belgium was a part of Holland. I live in Amsterdam and have a Dutch passport. Sometimes I think that I am not a real artist, because I'm too half-hearted, and I never quite know where I am' "
"My homeland is the Soviet Union. I do not speak Russian. My mother burned our red passports soon after we immigrated to Israel. My first name is Israeli. Until I met my art teacher, I did not realise that what I was doing is called art. In the USSR I never heard of Picasso and art in Paris. I was exposed only to propaganda films sang the Internasional and worshiped our leader. I used to paint portraits of young Lenin again and again. I always dreamed to travel to Moscow, visit the Red Square, the Kremlin and the mausoleum, to watch the mummified body of Lenin, the dream of every Russian child. I am divided into thirds: Israeli, second generation to a Holocaust Survivor, Russian ... and after all these years I still do not know who I am…"
You start by holding a small photo, looking at the image, you try to reveal, you research, until you capture the 'details'. I expect that during your 'work', you will recall and manage to raise feelings that were part of everyday life of a Jewish girl in Russia after the terrible war.
True. As the series increased rubashka shirts were added, Soviet symbols, military shirts (Red Army? Or maybe Wehrmacht uniform?). Snowflakes started to appear in the background, cherries and flies.The author Ola Groisman, born in the Soviet Union, wrote short stories inspired by a number of portraits, identifying with the same feelings and memories.
The series brings together both fun and seriousness. You pass a process with each child portrait. At the beginning of the process, picturesque images were 'normal'- expected children's portraits. The uniqueness is your chosen colors. Slowly, it seems that you allow yourself to unravel the threads of logic, to enter the 'childish mind'. You almost speak their language. Unexpected to what a photographer and teacher would allow. You add to the class children you did not know and 'trigger' your memory and make it active and alive.
The series is an expression of a process of memory and time, I am using the expression 'present continuous' which means to me - no one cutting between past and present. These are not 'opened memory drawers' but a complex system of then and there, and here and now.
When I started painting the portraits I forced on myself and on the painted children the same stiff Soviet discipline, but over time they began to rebel and so did I. I started to work against all the rules of portrait painting .Upon the surface of the canvas began to appear distorted faces of children, sticking out a tongue. I added a compassionate Vladimir Putin portrait as a boy, a black wolf pup, Pinocchio dressed in red army uniform, on all its significance. I have given each painted child a name: Anna, Genia, Sasha, Luba and more.
My self portrait appears in several versions. The girl with the eternal bob haircut or the face I polished with sandpaper, especially the star surrounded by a yellow halo.And to another self portrait I added an Israeli simbol - Popsicle.
Lets refer to the red color. It began to appear in your previous works, as a choice of base color on which you start your painting, declaring : " I start my painting not on a white surface, but seemingly colored, full with vitality". But the red color is hard., it decorates and bleeds in the same time. Everything painted near it is in contrast, it hurts the eyes being so red ... so Russian.
The red color is used as 'Under Painting'. Additional colors are black and white. Those three colors together symbolize the 'Third Reich'. Recently and intuitively I added the green militant color. As time goes on I realize that I am a mixture from being a Second generation to a Holocaust survivor with Soviet roots. Some portraits of the children are damaged on purpose. Their eyes sometimes serious with tears, some are smiling, others grim and other rebel. I wonder, do those faces look like the Bolshevik Revolution? Absolutely. Those faces reflect the period and so do mine.
It was easy to choose the name of the exhibition - The immortal quote from the "The Tale of Two cities" a book by Charles Dickens .It was no coincidence that you started to read prior to the exhibition the book trying to re-examine its association.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
We did not discus about detachment and complex biography that we are made off, about our past and our present, and we did not mention our painful tattoos which connect us together - being a second generation to the Holocaust. Because of all these reasons others may connect to your red paintings…
 Charles Dickens "The Tale Of Two Cities"