Flash Art International

Vol. XXXVI, No. 229, p.110-111
March, 2003

By Brian Sholis

Memory is the matter of much art by expatriates. It is a complex subject that mixes not only past with present, but also fact with fiction and experience with imagination. Memory sits at the heart of “Black Soil,” Israeli-born photographer Ori Gersht’s New York debut show. The artist, now a dozen years removed from his homeland and a London resident, recently returned to Israel to explore, through new photographs and two videos, places of personal and historical consequence. 

Two medium-sized photographs, Red Light/White City No. 2 and White Light/Red City 1 (both 2002), look down on the Arab village of Iksal from the hills of the Jewish quarter in Nazareth. Long exposure times magnify the ambient light on the village streets, giving the peacetime scenery the sinister appearance of being looked at by night-vision goggles. Similar imagery became part of Western collective memory when, a dozen years ago, nighttime bombing lit up the sky over Baghdad. In our imagination, the violence of those images fastens itself to these, amplifying the political tension permeating the landscape. Yet the scrub brush in the foreground of each picture reminds us that these are not military flyovers and that these places have meaning for individuals. Two large photographs depicting blackened and trampled earth show that Nature, here scarred by the military exercises in the Golan Heights, records our actions perhaps more fastidiously than the camera. 

The videos exploit the mechanical nature of cameras for dramatic emotional effect. Dew (2001) begins by focusing on drops of water collected on the lens. Over the course of several hours, here condensed to a few minutes, the water evaporates until the auto-focus mechanism brings the background, a Bedouin camp in the Negev desert, into relief. Lyrical desert beauty becomes harsh reality. In Neither Black nor White (2001) the long-exposure view of lksal is dissected, with half-second clips spliced together to create an eight-minute reconstruction of sunrise. At first, the twinkling streetlamps set against the darkness evoke stars until, as sunlight overtakes the lens, the imagery is washed out in ambient white light. John Berger wrote, “The camera relieves us of the burden of memory : with this exhibition, Gersht reminds us that cameras, memory, and imagination are inextricably linked, and that even images fixed by a lens can float away like memories of a past long ago.