Curator: Ben-Meir Kobi
15 Mar — 24 May, 2014
The exhibition presents a selection of Naomi Leshem’s works from her diverse photographic series, revealing that the desert is a recurring motif in the artist’s oeuvre. It often appears that, in the desert, time does not obey the laws of physics, as though standing still. Representing primordiality, the desert is the cradle of urbanism, and the site from whence civilization broke away. It is a fluid space that defies definition in terms of its boundaries; and yet, a conceptual barrier clearly demarcates it from the city. Driven by passion, impulse, and desire, this pre-rational space is not subject to cultured logic.
As it offers an unmediated encounter with the irrational, the desert is an ideal site for seclusion, hermitry, and revelation. It is also a place for direct confrontation with the other facet of the divine, namely, temptation, sin, and death. The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years as an initiation prior to their entry into the Land of Israel, and Satan tempted Jesus in the desert for forty days. The number forty in itself represents the fluidity of time: in the Scriptures, “forty years” constitutes a typological idiom that signifies an extended period rather than an accurate measurement of time.
Leshem’s desert reveals itself as an eternal wasteland of ungraspable magnitude. The few young men and women who emerge from the dunes serve as unwilling prophets, forced to face the terror of death. Leshem discovers infinite shades of color and subtle textural nuances within the desertic space-time – which is usually perceived as monotone – turning it into a site of dramatic visual occurrence.
But Leshem’s prolonged contemplative gaze also civilizes the desert landscape. She delimits the expansive space with a uniform square format – a perfect, unnatural geometric shape. Leshem organizes the chaotic space of the desert according to the Renaissance laws of linear perspective, situating the vanishing points along the symmetrical axes. In her photographs, the imaginary horizon line that arises from the observer’s point of view becomes tangible, creating a sharp distinction between heaven and earth. Not only does Leshem’s depiction reveal the characteristics of the landscape, it also imbues them with urban standards, thus transforming the scene into an arena of confrontation between the rational and the irrational.