The world will not stand still
In Japanese garden art, there is a method known as "borrowing the landscape" (shakei). The idea is simple: the garden's designer treats the garden not only as a "here," divorced from its surroundings, but takes into account the entire range of vision from a certain point in the garden. He treats everything visible as being in an ongoing state of continuity with the particular point at which he is situated. Thus, a distant ridgeline will become an inseparable part of the garden, if the designer places a few rocks or plants a few bushes which will be a miniature imitation of the far-off hills. Inner and outer, in the Western sense, are annulled, and instead of a fence that marks the garden's boundaries and creates it in opposition to the world, you are hurled by the garden's singularity and its otherness, at the horizon, and the horizon comes to you. The landscapes Gilad Ophir photographs - exhibited at Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv last June - are very different from those any Japanese garden will contain. They are the utter, absolute opposite. They are ruins, but ruins that lack even the romantic grace of the ruin, the grace of times past and crumbling greatness. These are Israeli landscapes, an architectonic dance of skeletons, structures merely of skin and bone. Still, there is one way in which they resemble what sometimes happens in Japanese gardens: they borrow the distant, built-up landscapes and become an integral part of them.
In some of the photographs a simple, powerful and immediate parallel - albeit very muted in the photograph's composition - is created between ruin and horizon, between photographic motif and supposedly indifferent background: a pole that is posed opposite a distant electricity pole, a flat pile of boards and tin that "copies" the line of the horizon, and in the photograph that appears here, an empty water bottle is thrown toward us, and some distance away is its stopper. This is exactly the relation between the photographed ruin and the city in the background: a relation of acquiescence, of mutual aspiration, of unity. Every bottle has a stopper, every city has a ruin. A vertical rod almost touches the turret of a distant mosque, breathes down its neck, breathes down our neck. The ruins of these photographs have been removed from the city. They are not the Roman ruins that are present here-and-now in the city, but an imagined architectural leper colony, which Ophir's camerawork reveals. But he does not make do with revealing these outcasts; by the very act of photographing them he hurls them back to the place where we are ensconced. In one fell swoop, the photograph weaves together ruin, place of settlement and viewer. As I stood in the lovely Gordon Gallery, I imagined that I heard the walls fracturing and the glass door cracking. These ruins, and particularly the one that is photographed here, are a fusion of architectural order (straight, diagonal) with chaos and death. To see this fusion is to understand instantly that the photograph does not exist isolated and alone within the picture framework. It has a direction. If the far horizon is a representative of the built-up order, and the part close to us in the picture is "the middle of the way," then the next stage, the third stage, the stage of absolute destruction, takes place in the place where we, as readers of the catalogue or viewers of the exhibition, are situated. In other words, these pictures do not fade into the horizon, into the vanishing point, but lurch forward from the horizon, in our direction. Try to think of them as trucks hurtling toward you, a moment before impact. The horn, the screeching brakes - that is the effect of these works.
The Japanese haiku master Masahide (1657-1723) wrote: "Barn's burnt down / now / I can see the moon" (translation: Lucien Stryk). Something similar happens in the photographs of Gilad Ophir: the body of the structures disappears and enables revelation, a clear view. But unlike the haiku, what is seen after the destruction of the house is not the moon, or any other thing, but the nature of the house itself, the burnt or destroyed barn itself, or the destruction-prone nature of this place. But in the new works there is also a different type of hope and of view. In other photographs, Ophir's camera sees how this destruction, which is rushing toward us, is only one episode in a larger process. Out of broken heaps of dust springs forth, as though out of no-place, grass. In one of them, a kind of unclear wire connects a hillock to itself like an artery, transforming it instantly into a living organism. Even shreds of orange nylon suddenly look like a blossom. The forsaken and the destroyed are just one moment. The world will not stand still. On the horizon of the green wisps of grass that thrust into the sky loom a few cypresses, verdant; on the upper end of one of the rusting poles, like the reverse of leprosy, ultramarine flowers out of the nothingness, a deep blue that the earth drinks, as with a straw of iron, from the sky. Dror Burstein's most recent book, Harotzhim ("The Murderers"), is published by Babel Ltd.