Seeing in Silent Woods | Ittai Bar-Joseph
Curator: Sofie Berzon MacKie
Ittai Bar-Joseph’s solo exhibition is based on a body of work created over the past two years, in response to the Covid-19 shutdowns.
The scene – a forest. For Bar-Joseph, the coolness that the giant prints covering the gallery walls emit is the seeker’s refuge. Responding to the unraveling order, he found what he was looking for among tall trees and waters. In his work, he leans on and responds to a mixture of sources: references from the history of art and painting, film, folklore and legends, myths, music and ballads, and the encounter of all of these with jolting historical events. Each work is painstakingly and delicately woven, layer upon layer, into a mound of ideas, associations, and contexts. Ophelia as a man, lies still in standing water, his image merging with or emerging from his reflection in the water. ‘The wolf lair’ collapsing stone stacks return into the forest like entire civilizations in human history.
Bar-Joseph’s forest was planted by the Jewish National Fund. Despite all the meanings that derive from that, there is still something about it that eludes the grasp of ideas from which it was planted. Some element of it can only partly be restrained or deomesticated, disavowing attempts to control it. It is fertile ground for disturbing the rational order because even in its undisturbed state, there is something perverse and almost unnatural about forests. They digest buildings, human bodies, cultures, stories, and histories. On the one hand, they are a mythical place, but on the other they have almost scientifical rationality; withholding ideas about space, society, order imposing practices, exerting force, or losing control of it.
We perceive the assemblage of trees as an enticing place of enchantment through which dark subterranean currents run, with threatening elements that man cannot withstand. Goethe’s 1782 ballad “Erlkönig,” and “Hansel and Gretel” from the Grimm brothers’ collection of tales are manifestations of this cross-cultural concept. In 1923, Robert Frost wrote: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” and identified the forest as a mystery-spreading force pulling deep, subconscious threads of yearning into its thickets and secrets. The large walls, wrapped in dramatic landscapes, send out to us their roots and slender branches.
The forest is a soft substrate that enables the drafting of dreams, but the forest is what arouses the dreams in its dwellers. It vibrates like a conscious organism, whispering wind in rustling leaves. The tall trees with the climbing ferns accommodate Bar-Joseph, entangling into his being. Some sort of synergy is created between the forestry entity and the artist. Like a troubadour telling a lyrical tale of nomadism, they evoke characters from an unraveled world, wandering or resting amid crude, horizonless landscapes. The world created between the forest imagery and the video work* is time-free, an island of visions. The resting-place of moss-adorned stone barrows and climber plants, amongst them, story like characters reside. Bar-Joseph works like a double agent, rooted simultaneously in the real and imaginary worlds. He’s the thinker, the creator, and the order, but also the guest. He is the one the forest works its magic and requests on, the medium through which history and the forested desires are brought to us. He is inviting us to be swallowed up with him, into the branches and disintegrating leaves on the ground.
* The video work ‘If I were if I could’ was created in collaboration with Mexican-Dutch artist Ana Priscila Rodriguez and musician Gal Dahan.