Arts & Antiques

In Perspective
July, 2011
Still Life in Motion

 Sarah E Fenson

ORI GERSHT, WHO WAS born in Tel Aviv and has been working in lOndon for the past two decades, is known for his innovative manipulations of film—both still and motion-picture—and his ability to create abstraction with photography, a medium typically valued for its true-to-life accuracy.

“Ori Gersht: Los in Time” will be running at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art until September 4. The exhibition is a culmination of five years of work and contains 28 pieces by the artist, including a trilogy of films—Pomegranate (2006),Big Bang (2007), and Falling Bird (2008), and related works inspired by 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century still life paintings by Juan Sánchez Cotán, Jean-Siméon Chardin, and Henri Fantin-Latour—and two new series shot in Japan, Night Fly andOut of Time.

The philosophy behind the still life is cruel; like Hades dragging Persephone down to the underworld, artists rob their subjects of their ability to grow or ripen so that they might live forever. Paradoxically, Gersht, using Harold Edgerton’s technique of shooting a bullet through an object and photographing the result in stroboscopic stop-motion, brings these art-historical still lifes back to life again by killing them.

In the film Pomegranate, a bullet sails across the frame, striking and obliterating a dangling pomegranate in a scene inspired by Spanish painter Juan Sanchez Cotan’s 1602 Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber. In Big Bang flower petals fly frantically like shattered glass.

Flowers and lifecycle come into play again in Gersht’s series on Japan cherry blossoms, on view simultaneously at SBMA and Los Angeles’ Angles Gallery in the exhibition Falling Petals and Will You Dance for Me(until July 9). In Japanese culture the fleeting cherry blossom, which flourishes every spring for only two weeks, symbolizes both a celebration of yearly renewal and the fact that the words “alive” and “ephemeral” are practically synonyms.

Gersht shot images of the blossoms in the spring of 2010 at the Buddhist temples where cherry trees were planted centuries ago and at the war memorials in Hiroshima and Tokyo where trees commemorate a history of loss and destruction. The poignancy of Gersht’s photographs, many of which were shot at night and have a haunting, powderly quality, is even greater now, in the wake of Japan’s recent history of destruction, April’s earthquake and tsunami.