Shadow of a Passing Bird | Osnat Ben Dov

Four chambers of the heart

on the works of Osnat Ben Dov

By: Sofie Berzon MacKie

The economy of longing

Some days are long, some are short, and the moon fills and wanes.

Light shines through the window illuminating a table in the artist’s home. On it are things that could be found in most homes at some point – five and a half lemons, two corns, a tablecloth, an old book. These can also be registered as follows:

1. Half of a lemon, somewhat dried-up

2. Bedlinen pleats

3. Pear with a shriveled leaf

4. Egyptian desert roach

5. Ruffles of a book page

6. Eight figs in a bowl

7. An embroidered napkin folded on top of an embroidered tablecloth

The economy of a longing wrapped in cabbage leaves or a single white egg.

The world as a place and as an image

Ben-Dov’s work recounts an extended and intimate act of listening, a long-standing conversation with a still-life set that responds to a life course bringing and removing from her home- a book and a bowl, an insect, a wildflower or a cultivated flower, glassware – tall or low, a napkin or a tablecloth; objects that are related to her personal-familial history, or that have been randomly bound to it. The artist uses light and a subtle harnessing of the sun’s orbit in the sky and the four seasons to record relationships between objects and between the objects and herself. Her poetic work with light invokes within me thoughts of music and breath- a heavy and hot light or one that is cold and clear, the deep sound of a cello echoing in the basement, a single flute trill in the bright attic light, a heavy breath morphing into steam on a window. The smell of time standing still; high notes of bow strings.

Ben Dov’s light on the formal arrangement of objects reveals the Genius Loci* of all that is absent from the photographs yet define its boundaries — her home, with its rooms and openings, time and the changes it dictates in the various spaces, the development and growth of relations between the objects among themselves and how life binds them to her. In its mysterious way and relationship with the world beyond it, photography can stretch around all these spaces and preserve them in matter.

The Polaroid waited for 17 years in the fridge.

Since she gave birth to her son, until removing it from its case so the light-sensitive substance could collect the flowers (strongly deviating towards magenta because time hadn’t skipped over it either). Three frames are collated like quanta which allot every action, emotion, or segment of life, evidence of photography’s most essential raw material alongside light: Time. The time the image was taken, the time we look at it, and all the time that is passing in between.

absentee time is the meaning of the affinity, the bridge on which, given sufficient duration, love can crystalize. The tension and relations between the frozen fish and the refrigerator that froze it, the hand that removed it and placed it on the cutting board. Affinity is the story of the blue window through which light penetrates; the house that circles around the table; the family that will or will not eat the fruit; whether it will rot on the table; the feeling of the grape being cut off the stem; the aging of an eggplant and a book (and a man and a woman and life that ends in death); a flower losing its stature; the journey a folded napkin has gone through until its resting place on the table, and the intention behind binding in white fabrics. In which life situations have we bound like that?


In this small world, time/light are not the only two bodies circling around each other. Beside them, sometimes tangled within each other at some distance, body-mind and spirit-matter dualities circle. These are embodied in and revealed through the artist’s position as a stoically attentive observer, in what civilization might formulate in other contexts as a grocery list on a simple piece of paper. Observing with a vigilant gaze and a lucid mind is a practical act that leads to Ataraxia – unperturbedness, which, for the stoics, meant perfect harmony with the world, a flow of life. Ben-Dov’s work unfolds before me like cloth spread over table, a single thread of thought worded through different perspectives, a recognition that understands itself through the photographic action, an observation deciphering its foundations and slow percolation like water trickeling into the body. The entire ripening of man is illuminated with the nearing-passing ripening of the orange.

According to Marcus Aurelius**, taking the right actions in the present moment, and calmly accepting everything in the present moment, including uncontrollable things.

all a person needs is common sense in the present moment,

taking the right actions in the present moment

and calmly accepting everything in the present moment, including uncontrollable things.


In one moment, a small hook takes hold of the history of things, a letter-in-a-word-in-a-sentence-in-a-story-in-a-house, in a neighborhood, city, country, continent, and civilization. Within a family and within one heart are four chambers: Foundations, a basement, an attic, and the time at which everyone is safely folded inside it.


*Genius Loci: In Latin – the divine being or spirit protecting a place. The West uses this term to describe a place’s unique atmosphere and spirit.

**Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus: Emperor of Rome from 161 to his death in 180 AD; a prominent philosopher and thinker in the later Stoic school.

Sofie Berzon MacKie


More images from the exhibition