a closeup look at a wall

A closeup look  at a wall / Smadar Shefi for Haaretz

Rachel, Spectator
Office in Tel Aviv Gallery / 1994


Spaces and borderlines, in a physical as well as a metaphorical sense, are the theme of Deganit Schocken's and Francis Nordman’s exhibition.

Using curator Rachel Sukman’s tiny office space, Schocken and Nordman employ visual manipulation to take the spectator on a continuous journey during which they exercise their senses of sight and touch, are required to pick up and discover, and occasionally have the privilege to intervene and change the order of things.

The exhibition starts in the glass-enclosed entrance hall of the office.  A sort of screen wall with a top layer of cement is installed on the white entrance wall, and many of the walls inside the office are similarly covered. The face of the concrete has been left coarse, highlighting the roughness of the concrete. This use of concrete is associated with the modernistic “truth of the matter” approach – an approach much dealt with in this exhibition.

Two framed magnifying glasses poke out of the wall in two different spots and invite the viewer to take a closer, more detailed look at the wall, as if to better judge its character. Wearable magnifying spectacles are yet another invitation to a different kind of view of the dozens of tiny elements set in the walls. Among them are baking pans, glued sheets of paper dappled with dried cement, tools related to jewelry-making and household chores alongside Schocken’s tiny ceramics, a small glass vase with water, pearls and buttons.

Most of the items were set in the wall while it was still wet. All are positioned at eye level, making the encounter direct and comfortable.

Upon opening the door of the office, the visitor will first come upon a slanted wall and will then be forced to pass  through a very narrow passage into the open space that is the inside of the office. The white wall is in effect squeezing the viewers out, shaking their confidence, making the entrance an experience of peeking and discovery.

Opening tiny boxes in the wall, reading small notes rolled in little metal tubes, or playing with miniature objects, all reinforce the feeling of going through someone else’s drawers and trespassing on their privacy. At times it seems less like poking around and more like exposing layers of memory within the wall.

Inside the room are a desk and another smaller table, on which lie two pieces of a metal knit, of the kind used long ago for a knight’s armor and more recently for making ladies’ purses. The table is a cube with one white face, its bottom is an iron plank, and the whole structure is held together by chains of steel.

The cleanliness of the design of an object which stands freely, without the need to be screwed to the wall or to the floor is a characteristic of Nordman's and Schocken’s work.

One of the central topics of imagery is the issue of traditional femininity. The baking pans, shaped like bunnies, stars and fish, relate not only to traditional women's work but also to their aesthetic language, which borrows from nature and fantasy.Touching the metal cone-shaped cookie makers Schocken uses one senses the danger of the sharp edges, a hint at the hidden violence of the apparently innocent domestic objects.

Displayed alongside the ready-made pieces are intentionally unfinished pieces which Schocken created.
In several spots there is an imprint of a fish, an ancient symbol of fertility associated with femininity.

Nordman and Schocken bridge two different periods and cultures in this way: the apparently “low” culture - the simple folksy aesthetics of baking, and the apparently “high” culture – an exhibition at a curator’s office.
The small, confined room, the restricted arena, and the reoccurring feeling that the walls are closing in while within them there is an attempt to find a space of the imagination – all further intensify  the preoccupation with the subject of traditional femininity, which is identified with the limits of its own space (the domestic space, mainly the kitchen).

Even though the exhibition is not structured like a story, it is the detailed accuracy and the plethora of objects which create the feeling of a concrete plotline or as Roland Barthes called it in the context of historical writing - “the impression of actuality”.
In another part of the installation there are etched coordinates. A hole is drilled at each meeting point and in it are small objects that look like fake pearls. A pair of tweezers hung close at hand encourages the viewer to pry them out. While doing so, they will find that some of the holes contain tiny sea shells, and not pearls. Thus the question of cheap vs. expensive is raised, and the viewer is confronted with the way they value an object and relate to it.

The title of the exhibition is “Rachel, Spectator” and next to it appears an image taken from a shopping bag of a Swiss lingerie shop: a seated woman, soft, a bird in her lap and a fawn at her side with a ribbon round its neck. This is an image loaded with symbols – both the woman and the fawn represent tamed essences. The title refers to Rachel Sukman,owner of The Office. The “spectator” is the viewer, and though the title doesn’t hint at his/her relation to Rachel, it makes it clear he is a man.

Schocken and Nordman direct the viewer to discuss broadly the male perspective and the effect it has on forming the female image. The attempt to hang the entire exhibition on a single philosophical-theoretical theme as in the title seems futile. The exhibition treads the thin line between art and design, an issue much dealt with in the 80’s. These two artists, who explore in their work the question of lending magic to an object, underlined decidedly artistic elements in this piece: they disregard the functionality of the objects and choose instead the technique of working on wet cement, as used in fresco painting.

Stressing the arty aspect of the work manages to create a somewhat artificial feeling rather than contributing to it. Also, in attempting to tackle such a wide variety of current issues (high-low, femininity, the view) in an articulate but unfocused way the artists detract from the work.

The strength of the exhibition lies in its excellent design, the surprises it holds and the thought it provokes about viewing possibilities.

It succeeds in creating an experience that is not meditative but is slow, sensual, interesting, without being provocative, in a period when clipped, sharp, explicit images are much in vogue.