Surface Currents – Group Show

Part of Elyasaf Kowner’s video artwork Reminiscing, 2013


Surface Currents

Liat Elbling, Uri Gershuni, Anna Yam, Itamar Freed, Elyasaf Kowner, Roi Kuper

Curated by Yham Hameiri

May 30 – July 5, 2013


The attributes of the sea, its vast expanse of water, that causes bodies to behave physically in a different way than they are known to do on dry land, provides it with miraculous features, and its environment is perceived as enigmatic. The mystery and the almost religious ritual aura that have encompassed the sea, its sailors and boats, exist from the dawn of history until the present. The surface currents of the sea are those which drive the ships, create storms, and change the face of the sea in real time.

It is seen from a distance, long before arriving, a light, blue haze still confused with the sky. But gradually it is condensed, as you advance towards it, until it takes on the color of the sea….A mighty wave whose momentum increased, was as though forcefully arrested above the sea, which grew quiet all at once. Still nearer, almost at the gates of Tipasa, here is its frowning bulk, brown and green; here is the old mossy god that nothing will ever shake; a refuge and harbor for its sons, of whom I am one. At noon I observed the sea, that aside from a loose mist that appeared on it, was totally silent at that hour, and I quenched two thirsts, that whoever ignores them for a long time, his existence will dry up:  the thirst of love and the thirst of wonder; for if you have no one who loves you, you are just unfortunate, but if you do not love, that is a tragedy.” (from The Return to Tipasa, by Albert Camus).

Caspar David Friedrich painted the “Monk by the Sea” (1809) in a way that instead of a familiar or specific seascape, the seaside becomes a nearly abstract symbol of sacred nature.  He reduced three elements:  the sky, sea and land into a single natural unity, and raised the scene to a symbolic, primal level.  The monk, who is placed at the tip of a triangle of coast facing out to sea, with his back to the viewer of the painting, is the most important, mysterious element of the composition, despite his tiny size.  He stands, leans his head on his hand, and looks at ‘nothing,’ at the void. A description of external nature, the high heavens imposing fear, is what the monk sees from within his soul, from the experience of observation that belongs to his faith.  The emptiness of the scenery, and the tiny, lonely image of the monk, positions us as though at the edge of the material world.

This painting represents Friedrich’s famous saying:  “An artist need not paint what he sees before him, but rather what he sees within himself.”  Friedrich depicts in the painting the inner feelings of his soul; in his landscape paintings there is a sense of someone who sees the scenery, reacts to it and transfers his feelings to the viewer.

The most significant revival of this sublime concept was ascribed by art scholar Robert Rosenblum to American abstract artists after 1945, such as Mark Rothko.  In Rothko’s “Fields of Color”, the canvas is divided into rectangular areas of color, where the space of the painting is created between them and the frame.

This is a format which imitates the field of vision, creating a nearly organic framework above which we see the remaining elements of the painting.  In this fashion he invites or demands from the viewer direct, intensive interaction between himself and the picture.  Here the viewer himself becomes the “Monk”. In the exhibition’s artworks, the reality of the sea is presented through the language of photography, as caught by the photographer’s lens, in a way that creates a sort of abstraction.  This is by way of expressing an aesthetic concept that moves between immediate sensual pleasure and a basic desire for profound significance and a transcendent experience. Viewing the sea constitutes a type of continuance and projection of an expression of the image’s inner content. Sometimes it is found, like Friedrich’s Monk, within the format, and sometimes in other works – just like in Rothko’s artworks – the viewer is invited to be that same image, and to stand in interaction opposite photos of the sea, as though he stands facing the sea.

The artworks in this exhibition designate a view of the sea that represents — for the observer on shore — a place that is free and as it were “dry” from conflicts.  From this perspective, a profound observation is enabled, beyond the marginal, repressed point of view of the sea – that in fact, reveals the rifts and contradictions of reality.


In the works of Roi Kuper – the sea constitutes a refuge, a source or contemplation and disengagement. The artist, through the camera’s lens, follows the processes of drainage and erosion, the trends of the winds that blow on the surface currents, in an attempt to orchestrate the sea against its constant variability. The view toward the horizon conceals hope for renewal. In the photography of the sand dunes – from the series entitled “Like stars caught for a moment in the sea” (2005) – the artist expresses the totality of the sea through the totality of the sand and the coast.  In the photo from the series “War Situations” (2006), taken on the sea floor, the remains of military ammunition thrown into the sea by the army are seen. In a view from above, the sea appears like a body that conceals danger within itself.

Elyasaf Kowner, in his video work “Reminiscing” (2013), has documented his touring of the length of the coastal strip of Jaffa, in  which he searched for the remains of an Arab neighborhood of Jaffa called “Manshi’a”, whose residents were expelled, and on the ruins of which the Charles Clore Park was built. The work was photographed using a Go Pro Head Camera, which creates a bird’s eye view, with the observer himself being like a wandering partner.  The touring legs are careful not to get wet, but eventually ‘surrender’ to a wave.

In the work “Untitled (2009), by Liat Elbling, the artist grafted a sea photo from the Tel Aviv area, with the photo of a wall from the Tel Yitzhak area, whereby a possible landscape was created that does not actually exist, but is realized in the photograph, and thus also in consciousness. In the photographs of Itamar Fried, bodies of water constitute a kind of continued representation of the image that is at their margins.  In the photo “Dead Sea” (2012), the image requests of the viewer to create a new identity for it, an identity not built on memories, but that exists here and now.  It is created by joining the image with the surface and topography of the Dead Sea – a dry place where oppressive heat prevails – the lowest place on earth that has unique curing qualities, which also kills. As a sea that is actually isolated and surrounded entirely by dry land – the sea constitutes a sort of island, serving as an image for man’s inner awareness and self concept that is filled with extremes, contradictions and layers.  The dead fish symbolizes the pole of life and death.

In “Sisters” (2013), two sisters are photographed, and a youth observing them from afar. The younger sister undresses her older sister, for an implied event about to take place, perhaps for the picture (the photographer) itself, or the fellow sitting and observing, or for the viewer. The artist fashions the story by staging the photograph, thus creating a special mood that expresses the tension between truth and fiction.

In “Sea of Galilee” (2013), a young boy is photographed by the Kinneret, sitting next to a dead pigeon.  Around him – the pigeon’s wing suggests a flower, the empty rock next to the figure, the desert mountain in the background against the greenery and clear waters of the Kinneret, Israel’s body of sweet water, with mythological, religious significance, create tensions between life and death, between myth and holiness and the profane. In this photograph, the artist creates a reality that interweaves past and present, that returns it to the viewer as a reflection of symbolic and metaphorical significance, in a contemporary view.

In the work of Anna Yam, “Untitled” (2013), the artist sought to capture the spirit of Napoli – as she experienced it, chaos and classics, roughness and constant movement. Like a ‘snapshot,’ the situation constitutes a microcosm of the photographer herself, who simultaneously is also visiting a territory that for her is beyond time and place. Thus the image and the sea reverberate the feeling of alienation and belonging and desire to find the familiar in the alien, or the alien in the familiar.

The work of Uri Gershuni, “Untitled”( 2004), is photographed as a snapshot picture, possibly because the image and the sea shore were photographed in the local scenery, that are locally identified or familiar.  Awareness is seduced by the familiar, but the photograph actually transmits the independent significance of the face and the image that was photographed on the shores of the Black Sea; thus the ability to delay on the same general order within which viewing operates.

Yham Hameiri, May 2013