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In quest of place: memories of a nomad

Talmor’s exhibition investigates three types of places: nature as the site of God, in the sense of the given world; architectures— man-made places—established but also demolished or abandoned by man; and finally, photography and etching as supports for language, as sites of representation. I say finally but I could also say initially, if we stand as perceivers before these images and take the inverse course to that taken by the artist (from her first encounter with the real, before she frames it with her camera, and long before she con- fronts it in her etching).

In Talmor’s work, distinct acts are tied to the idea of place: the act of discovering the spaces that exist in the real; the reproduction of specific geographic sites as well as others liberally imagined; the recognition of enduring domains of history and of its symbols; the construction of new domains in art. Lihie Talmor remembers spa- tial experiences, but also spatial ideas and words, like those of the Israeli poet Shaul Tchernichovsky: “Man is but the form of the land- scape of his homeland.” Standing before the Indian topographies that comprise these photographs, she “recognized” the biblical landscapes she imagined as a child, uniting thus the instant of discovery of the present-real with the intimate fantasies of childhood, while at the same time summoning mythical universes only approximated in books, folktales, sacred histories. Thus she integrates her individual percep- tions with collective memory, as member of a vaster community, of humanity. She says: “I don’t like to have a map when I arrive some- where. Later, yes, but at first, I like to begin by imagining the con- crete places through which I pass...”

There are then in this project a natural nature as well as a cultural one. One of the present—a two-fold present: her with her camera con- fronting the landscape, our own confrontation with the photographs and prints. And another from times past that the artist glimpses and brings to fruition. Thus, distinct time periods deposit the layers of an aesthetic crucible, like strata of a palpable density.

Recall that Lihie Talmor was born in Tel Aviv. She comes into the world and is formed in Israel, a country with a powerful will to construct, to achieve acres of fertile territory, as seen in the planting of pines on Jerusalem’s arid slopes, in the Negev desert. Her childhood and youth were immersed in those habitats, those ways of being, that sig- nification which having a place always had for her people: the secu- rity of settlement, the persistent urge to cultivate an emplaced cul- ture, but also one that could be carried (with both oral and written traditions to guard an ineradicable history of customs and legacies, that could accompany Jews to any diaspora, to any resettlement).

The etching series Password materializes Talmor’s most political, con- temporary vision about the border between Israel and Lebanon as well as memories of an adolescence in a country defined by limits and warnings, wars and scars (“a life in a nation of euphemisms, which calls conflict zones ‘security belts’ and ‘good fences,’ a whole life reading signs of ‘danger, border nearby’ in Hebrew, Arabic and English, fantasizing about the possibility of moving myself through those obs- tacles”). An artist realizes her work as she constructs her own life. And so, these early fantasies become reality in her adult life as a cosmopolitan woman fluidly moving between continents, from ancient Galilee to this Caribbean that connects the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern, building a life for herself between Jerusalem and Caracas. Are there two more contrasting cities than these, the one venerated and maintained for centuries, the other always making and unmaking itself? (More recently, Talmor splits her life between Cara- cas and Adamit, a kibbutz that overlooks the border with Lebanon).

It would appear that her destiny is the journey, or that, in her, the Jewish people’s need for place seeks to break down barriers, becom- ing a more encompassing desire for places. “I suffer from circular nostalgia,” Talmor says, and recalls the way a friend describes her: “You are not from here or from there, you are from the way.” Change is her permanence. But if this is so, how does her language (that other essential mode of settlement) hold that desire for place—for places—and the permanent transit between them? How does that spirit of mobility reinvent itself each time without setting aside the permanent and stable elements of the self—the belonging to her time and generation, to being a woman in the world, the mastery of and self-knowing through particular languages—Hebrew, but also etching—in short, the continuity of consciousness that unifies a per- son over time?

Clearly, the memory that strengthens her as much as the nomadic condition that moves her profoundly shape her creative dimension. It is on one of her journeys, this one to India, that she encounters the immense views of snowy heights. She says, “As an artist who has lived between two countries, Israel and Venezuela, and recently for a short period in India, my view of the political expresses itself in the following dualities. I am interested in the opposition between distance and proximity, inside and outside, the embraceable and the unreachable, represented by alternate spaces, cohesion of scales, topographic reminiscences, and the superimposition of contradictory angles and perspectives. My constant moving forces and enables me to view the world in these terms.”

If Talmor’s structures have paid tribute to more fragmented spatial modalities, as in her previous series Password, Aguariacuar, and Horowitz, or in sculptural installations such as The Creativity of Evil, in the period following her voyage to India, the relationship to space has expanded visibly. If previously, tight close-ups and medium shots filled her work, now, in the face of this imposing nature, she has had to shift to dealing in immensities, to a new orientation of the gaze, the soul, technique. Following her pilgrimage through the mountains, new needs, new modes of language, emerge: she confronts these views with wide-open takes—the long, wide shots which the vast mountains demand.

Before, her work frequently explored semi-closed spaces: the edifices in Collective Memory, which inhabit the ambiguous space between that which is raised and that which is falling into ruin, the inner work- ings of music boxes in Turangalila, or the uncovered manholes, those perforations in the urban fabric—which the artist registered as hol- low, tiny but dangerous emptinesses—lying in wait for the pedestrian, of The Creativity of Evil. Now, vast panoramas shape the artistic plane. Those past interiors have given way to the shimmering mountain range, that ultimate image of outside. But in this passage to the vast- ness of the world, to landscape, Talmor also would be approaching a form of transcendence: this is nature as elevation, as grandeur. The majesty of the summits that these photographs record for the bedaz- zled gaze thus contrasts—spatially, but also attitudinally—with the intimate mystery of the earlier work. Something has changed in the artist’s relation to space.

According to the Italian philosopher Paolo D’Angelo, “Landscape in the aesthetic sense is not the beautiful view, not merely the pano- rama. Rather it is a distinctive character of places, which therefore belongs to these same places, even if, as is obvious, these places are perceived by the observer: in a word, we come to think of land- scape as the aesthetic identity of a place.

These summits do not offer only vastness, beauty. The artist is not drawn by a touristic motivation for the perfect view. The gaze trained for years upon close-ups and interiors has not abandoned her com- pletely, but here it materializes in details, aspects, zones. In Ladakh then, at an elevation of five or six thousand meters, we see how varied are the snow’s reflections and textures. For snow does not homogenize these images, and Talmor qualifies the different ways of being snow: the ways it exists, appears, disappears. A world of sur- faces comprises this imaginary, whether the watery layer is concen- trated or diluted, when it lets show the looming vegetal substrate.

Even though whiteness imposes itself here (for these color photo- graphs at times take on a black and white aesthetic), there are always areas expressed in tone, in grades. In these regions of dis- colored color—pale gray, dissipated ochre, as dimensions of white— one sees hints of a green river, traces of a blue sky. But what pre- vails is a certain tarnishing, a snow that is never purely snowlike because it seems contaminated, not only by other materials but also by being spacelike, in an environment where the greatest rain and extreme drought interchange qualities. These are images of the arid but simultaneously of the wet majesty of the shrouded range.

Testimonies of an imposing immensity, of huge expanses that unfurl, these landscapes nonetheless are contained by the frame. Some of the photographs suggest a closed universe, which at the same time

projects itself. Immensities concluded by the meeting of rivers and ridges—of the liquid and the earthly, of that which flows and that which sediments—contain a trace of light in their depths, through which the artist recognizes that this hugeness is inconclusive, unfin- ished, while she goes about building the structure of her open work.

Beyond the barrier of mountains, she knows, is Pakistan. And the unseeable evokes a broader content: again, here, partition. “Land of high passes,” “Little Tibet,” the locals call these ranges of Ladakh. Behind facades of peace, the mountains hold histories of conflict: closures at the Chinese border, long ownership disputes. Describing the wretchedness of the separation between India and Pakistan in his novel Partitions, Amit Majmudar writes: “How little we will learn, now that all we share is a border.” Ladakh’s beauty, so clearly seen in these photographs, does not weaken these other, less luminous aspects. The mountain, inevitably for Talmor, is weighed down by this conscience, by the shadow of embattled frontiers. The whiteness of these high passes does not make them an angelic territory.

In some of the images, the sky is foregrounded, so that the work’s power stems from the sky’s presence (3147, 3241). Yet in other cases, it is the sky’s total absence that allows us to concentrate on the vitality of the earthen mass (3149, 3242). “I am drawn to green landscapes, to water, but in fact I identify with the arid. That is how I always imagined biblical landscapes. Here in India, there is snow, but still, it is a desert landscape.” A few of the photographs stand out for their (albeit very pale) green, which contrasts with the dawning immensities, the minerality, of the others. These are ordered landscapes, sown into our human dimension, to the site of labor, fu- ture, harvest; or perhaps to an intermediate territory of bushes that binds the wild and the poetic—light landmarks between the eye and a distant mountain range, no longer the protagonist but rather now the background, the end, of the image (2970, 2971, 2972, 2984).

In some of these views, there is a play of superimposed scales, a play off of the ambiguity of natural materials. In photograph 3079 and lithograph 8, we sense a rocky mountain, but also interlocked marine corals. A perceptual doubt rises within us: are these rocks, corals, or soft, dune sand? The artist clarifies: “The internal part of the crater is soft dunes; these are surrounded by rock and earth.” In photographs 3138 and 3139 and lithographs 20 and 22, strange lin- ear designs appear on the terrain, like incised indicators to be seen from the air. They recall the Nazca drawings in the Peruvian desert, so often attributed to aliens landed on earth in an earlier time. Or perhaps the pre-Christian invocatory rituals the ancient Nazca aimed at their gods on high, the only point from which these geometric, zoomorphic glyphs could be read. But the reality of the marks in Ladakh is simpler, less mysterious. These are low stonewalls, volu- metric landmarks that delimit tilled parcels of land. The estrange- ment is only at the level of our uncertain perception, for these photographs, taken from a distance at a sharp angle, translate the solidity of the small walls into fine linear patterns.

In photographs 3112 and 3115, is it a path or a slight branch cross- ing over the snow…we only know because of the minute car spotted along the groove in the related lithograph (15). Yet now that our eyes accept this as a trail, we are assaulted again by an uncertainty of scale: is this a real vehicle traversing its route or a little toy car incorporated into the etching? The ambiguity of proportions, materi- als and objects plays with the thematic contents and sensory stimuli of the work, adding a dimension.

These works are characterized by the scarce presence of beings in these places (2886, 3175, 3179). The photographs sometimes register a traveler, a guide, walking here or there; an infrequent dog or camel represents animal life. When the scarce objects (2832) or distant stopping places (2904) do appear, it is as a trace, a remnant, and the emphasis then is on the past, on the idea that someone was here but is no longer visible.

The accent falls on that marked there, on the site of evidence of the passing of the wayfarer, but also on the weight of what once was. Through the photograph, the artist finds the vestiges left on the natural, the built. These she remakes in her studio, on the one hand reconstituting the sign seen upon nature, on the other, producing the inaugural trace that is etching, that art of the indent, of the bite of acid that leaves the trace. Not even the architectures hold a human presence (as they do in the etchings of Collective Memory and Password), unless it is in the proof left by an absent humankind that half-builds or half-destroys (and abandons). These are transiently inhabited places, en route from being to non-being, as though they belong to a time either before or after the life of those who inhabit them. This is expressed in their half-built, often gloomy nature, which feel either uninhab- ited or not yet inhabited. In other cases, we can only guess at the presence of life in interior spaces unreachable by our gaze (2979).

For many contemporary producers, “the artistic act takes on the nature of a wound that marks a particular place, a sign of loss. In this way, the work relocates this absence in a physical dimen- sion, visible and exterior,” states the Colombian researcher Jaime Cerón. In these works of Talmor’s, this work often exposes memory to be a flaying, a trauma. For the Chilean philosopher Pablo Oyar- zún, “trauma signifies wound, infringement. … In an immediate temporal sense, trauma is that past which keeps happening. But at the same time, it is that which never stops belonging to the past.” Nor does trauma belong exclusively to the present, for it sustains itself precisely in the intermediate ambience of the sequel, that other structure of feeling that discharges, and keeps discharging, the past in the actual.

Being in language

We see that Lihie Talmor’s encounter with places generates at one and the same time a discovery, a meditation, a representation, and an invention, united in the now of perception, and later, in their deferral in the invention of the work. In the case of the photo- graphic “take,” the moments of reception and of the image’s inven- tion are almost simultaneous. But in etching there is a different duration, a different process of becoming.

We refer first to the trace man leaves in the places through which he passes, which she has captured in her photographs of India or Israel. This takes us to an art of the mark, the remain, the trace: the natural ( yet nonetheless so artificial) incision that etching, printing, leave behind. The artist has taken seriously the poet’s idea, that man is an image of his native landscape. And when deal- ing with a country like Israel, with the characteristics of place outlined above, the mark is deeper, the trace more ardent. For this is a culture that occupies an inevitable space in a person’s interior, and later in his or her work. This can happen just as easily in liberal people, who do not observe strict religious precepts, in critical, skeptical, or simply non-practicing artists and intellectuals.

The etcher’s work is nourished by that of the photographer, and then by the reflection about the process: “The work—it’s meaning—occurs in stages, or rather, in the disjunctures these stages produce. …Impor- tantly, the inexplicable combination that sparks the taking of the im- age includes things I saw or sensed but did not register. As the work on the etching begins, these enter as through a back door, like the intervals of silence in music or the events that do not make it into histories. In each stage of the process of transfer—from the camera to the computer, from the computer to the transparency, from the transparency to the etching plate—a deterioration takes place—a kind of loss or distancing, perhaps a deviation from the “original” pho- tographed moment—that makes space for my interference and gives the work its raison d’être.” With the etching, her intention “is not to arrange or restore the original image” but rather to explore that which was not captured but which nonetheless constituted the reason for the taking of the photograph.

This exhibition shows the connections between the natural place, the photographic take, the elaboration of the matrix—a metal plate or a lithographic sheet—and, finally, the impression that remains as a trace on paper. And this is due not only to what the transference from natural places to linguistic places implies, but also to the subtleties that slip in between different stages: the not-altogether-seen in the midst of the seen; the deviation-turned-positive image; the need to in- vent within the etching what the real inspired but did not altogether provide; that being able to go, after the fact, beyond the first encoun- ter with places; that small, dear pleasure of going about, leaving breaches of beauty and meaning, fissures where aesthetic invention as well as the creator’s ethic in the face of the world are amplified. We see that in the shift from the photographic to the graphic mode, distinct instances of landscape can become grade, gradation: the vol- umetric can take flight; the paths condense into linear incisions; the descriptive becomes narrative, or, freer still, expressive; the certain of the photograph is transformed into the uncertain of the print, but also, the ambiguous scales or forms of the photographic can become new certainties in the reality of the etching. The mountainous solid lets veined, translucent zones shine through; the dark seeks to make itself light. The photographic graying of the earthen and the mineral at times becomes a more atmospheric gray in the print, but converse- ly, the luminous of the photograph can become darkness in etchings (as we see in the mountain ridges of photograph 3147 and lithograph 18). We can say that photography testifies to the diurnal quality of the real, while etching approaches the nocturnal, or vice versa.

When one and the same enclave has been transformed by two artis- tic techniques strong in the reproductive capacity (as is the case of photography and etching), this poses the question: what is revealed in each image? For the same natural site can stimulate different states (mood, emphasis, spirit), depending on whether a clear day or the intense overcast that announces a storm prevails in the image. It can even stimulate contradictory states: the weightlessness of a mountain peak, when the graying—mineral or atmospheric—permeates, as if the usual compactness of a mountain were a translucent body. Thus, both solid and weightless, Talmor’s mountains are silent pro- tagonists of a centuries-old mineral world, and simultaneously of the sensorial changes an instant can produce.

There is also the effect of framing, of the decisions to hone in, or fragment, or reconstitute the same place in the world in different ways. In lithographs 11 and 21, the main figure looks like a winged animal (darker in the first print, more diaphanous in the second), with a body that moves—creeps or flies—in any case, that projects itself—toward the extreme right of the frame. Like a being halfway between the animal and the vegetal, like the hybrid formations of geography but also psycholog y, this figure resembles a river delta as much as the ink stains produced by chance in Rorschach tests, which the analyst uses to reveal something of the human psyche. But the reality is simpler, and belongs to the realm of language: the artist has taken some parts of the valley at the foot of the mountain and left others out. This freedom of invention renders only some lines of the lower slope relevant, eliminating the rest and reinventing the horizontality of the valley. The solid mountain of the photographs has been dematerialized in the matrix of the etching. A similar process takes place in the delicately-etched print (14), where mineral hard- ness becomes light in the mountain-turned-medusa.

The experience of texture is central in these works, texture being a theme dear to the etcher, who seems to go about life attending to the foreground of things (this even before having access to a camera, but even more if she has one at hand, when some projection or relief offers itself up to her gaze). But texture is a matter not only of vi- sion but also of touch, or rather, of touch as incorporated into vision (or of a vision capable of feeling—through a mediating sense—what usually only the hand can feel). Thus, doubly, through the visual and the tactile, etchers recognize and produce their material emphases through textured surfaces.

Also powerful is the matter of inversion, which simultaneously pro- duces rupture and connection. What is on the right in the photogra- phic original becomes left in the graphic transformation (as happens to the mountains and the river in photograph 3147 and lithograph 18; or in photograph 3079 and lithograph 8, in which ambiguous forma- tions, between fields and rocks, gaze to one side or the other). This is the particular marvel of the etcher in her studio, where she makes mirror-relations between things, playfully switching the order of things, seizing both bodies and their reflections, getting at the real through the false. This duality of vision—in which the thing is also its other—is accentuated when, as happens here in certain cases, the artist both shows the photographic original and the graphic inver- sion. Two modes of being thus reveal their confrontation and at the same time their complementarity: the originary and the derived, the one facing the other as though comprehending the other, as though interrogating the other.

María Elena Ramos

Taken from the catalog for the exhibition - MAKOM

Caracas, Venezuela, 2012

In recent years, the work of Lihie Talmor has been like a progressive conquest of artistic space: from the two-dimensional plane of the etched page, with its illusionary spaces

Is it necessary to have the proper distance so as to see the full picture? And how does one know what the proper distance is?

In recent years, the work of Lihie Talmor has been like a progressive conquest of artistic space: from the two-dimensional plane of the etched page, with its illusionary spaces

Is it necessary to have the proper distance so as to see the full picture? And how does one know what the proper distance is?

It is not difficult to see in Lihie Talmor's work the expression of a sensitivity in its utmost development, that the artist knows how to communicate assertively

There exist an overriding need to distinguish between the ephemeral and the essential; the ephemeral wounds, the essential yet endures; until the day when the ephemeral will have corroded the essential, will have destroyed its very nucleus, its hard nucleus…

In a country where oblivion is who gathers the remains of the city, where the blanks of collective memory decide about the changes in power and the markets, the work of LIHIE TALMOR functions as a film of the subversive unconscious.

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