Khen Shish’s Pink-Black Theology or the Visual Presentation of Un-naming
Text by: Ktzia Alon — 2008
From the exhibition "Nerves Sing" at "Alon Segev" Gallery, Tel-Aviv.
Khen Shish cuts the gallery space with large-scale paintings, a partition made of construction planks, and flattened cardboard boxes in an installation consisting of a work table and a “boat” which is, in fact, an upside-down table. Shish’s familiar symbolism, a poetical dictionary of painting-drawing constantly attempting to shield exposed nerves, to consolidate something ceaselessly gnawing from within, seems to have taken on a life and a three-dimensionality, in a highly detailed repertoire that makes up a private universe. The painted eye is turned over, becoming a boat; the boat from the painting I am a Sinking Boat is anchored to the gallery floor, tied with a rope to a table; the antenna from Fidgety Portrait with an Antenna protrudes from a six-pack of mineral water; the painted portraits transform into a sculptural figure made of onions, newsprint, and empty bottles, in an architecture of teardrops and masking tape.
The image generator at the libidinal bottom is closely bound with theological-political1 concepts. Shish creates a “black religiosity,” a register of world-profaning acts: blackening, lowering, and uglification. The carriers of sanctity of the “decent,” “bourgeois” world are crushed with a brutal aesthetics: the body and the face, the space framed by the desk, the chandelier emitting luster, the decorative porcelain plates, the maritime vehicles, and of course – painting. With “piercing” aesthetics, Shish presents agitated performances of the “Theater of Cruelty.” Her face is mutilated, her eyes are gouged out; her body becomes skeletal (Fidgety Portrait with an Antenna; the three self-portraits with the fingerprints; the figures at the TV foreground; the figure suspended from the grotesque chandelier), the plates are painted black, the boats sink, nooses dangle about, and only wings are left of the angels (Flying Pink; the sole wing attached to the television). The angel emblem is intertwined with the various works in a visual praxis reminiscent of the materials from which Yona Wallach’s poetry is comprised: “When the angels are worn out / we fold their wings / ever so gently / prepare the whip / when the angels start / we cut them through / until the dew floods the earth.”
Wallach’s transgressive poetics is also linked to Shish’s universe through the economy of color representation. The sickeningly saccharine sweet pink is the backdrop for the fall, the decline, the crash: “When I came to take her from the clouds / she was already adorned / the sounds of cuckoo and owl/ burned in her ear / pink Julian left / us with tortuous chill / I knew she would fall / but I tried / I tried/ and pink Julian wove around me / cellophane with red ribbon.” Whereas in her exhibition “I Was Kidnapped by Indians” Shish presented “an uncanny, overwhelming typology of the powers of horror,”2 now these powers have been set free to wreak chaos in the world, to collide with and crash into “normative” material culture. Shish seeks redemption through “destruction.” The exhibition “nerves sing” appears to be the target of a teleology whose beginnings were written and sealed many years ago, in an act of self-constitution and re-creation, which symbolically culminated in auto-naming. The act of un-naming cannot be reduced to a temporary impulse. Its meaning dissolved and was absorbed into the texture of Shish’s artistic history. The position of the dissident subject generated by Shish formulates an eternal, permanent unraveling of the world. The overt cover offered by the exhibition is but a part of a mutilated objecthood, introduced to be charged with a range of new meanings. Thus the exhibition becomes a peek into a segment extracted from a whole universe, from an infinite lexicon.
On the use of black as carrier of protest political baggage in Shish’s work, see: Dalia Markovich and Ktzia Alon, “Demons,” exh. cat. I Was Kidnapped by Indians (The Art Gallery, University of Haifa, 2006), pp. 66-63; curator: Ruti Direktor.
Ibid., p. 66.