July 4th, 2011
Ori Gersht: Falling Petals and Will You Dance For Me
An exhibition of photography and film by Ori Gersht. Closes July 9 at Angles Gallery.
The images in Falling Petals navigate the significance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture. The ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossoms, which flourish every spring for only 2 weeks, has long been associated with the celebration and renewal of life and good fortune. In Buddhist tradition, cherry blossoms symbolize an awareness of the impermanence of life. During the Meiji Era in the late 19th century, the symbol of the cherry blossom was reappropriated to support colonial expansion and military power. The symbolism of the virginal petals that fall from the trees, prematurely, was used by the Japanese military during WWII to lure Kamikaze soldiers to die without clinging to life.
To produce the series, Ori Gersht visited Japan during the spring of 2010, photographing the cherry trees as they bloomed in cities and in the countryside. In the remote western regions, the ancient cherry blossom trees are planted around Buddhist temples, whereas in Hiroshima and Tokyo, they are planted around war memorials, fed by nuclear contaminated soil. The dichotomy exists in the culture today, between the war-torn history of Japan’s modern cities and the serenity of the ancient landscape.
Ori Gersht’s work pushes the limits of photography, challenging the camera to capture information at the edges of its technical limitations. Many of the images in Falling Petals were shot at night, using a digital camera that is highly sensitive to low light conditions. The camera sensor struggles to interpret the optical information in the absence of sufficient light, which results in image aberrations such as mild pixilation and optical distortion. By coaxing the camera to operate beyond its technical threshold, Gersht draws upon elements of unseen history: the memory of atomic bombs, sacrificed soldiers, and the cycling nature of history and life. Other works in the series were shot with analog cameras, resulting in C-type prints that relate to the tradition of Japanese arts: screen printing, ink drawing, and wood block prints.
In addition to Falling Petals, Angles Gallery will also exhibit Ori Gersht’s new film, Will You Dance For Me. The film opens with a close up on the face of an old woman sitting in a rocking chair. The chair rocks slowly back and forth, drifting in and out of light, surrounded by a black void. As the camera pulls away, the woman becomes a mere dot amidst the black void. At this point, a trickle of snow begins to fall from the sky. The woman in the chair is Auschwitz survivor Yehudit Arnon. When she was 19 years old, Yehudit was ordered to dance at an SS officer’s Christmas party. Upon her refusal, she was forced to stand out all night in the snow. She made a resolution that night that if she survived, she would dedicate her life to dance. Yehudit did survive. She went on to become an internationally renowned dancer and chorographer, and in 1962, she founded Kibbutzim Dance Company. Now, at 85 years of age, due to physical constraints, Yehudit ‘s mobility is restricted, but in the rocking chair, she is able to dance one more time.
Ori Gersht’s works have been exhibited and collected by the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Tate Modern, London, the Tate Britain, London, The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, the Jewish Museum, Berlin, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, among others. Ori Gersht lives and works in London, England.
Ori Gersht: Lost in Time at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art runs through September 4.