Artist Statement





ORIT ISHAY


My work relates to past and contemporary events, as well as to socio-political questions which affect the structuring of our identity as individuals and as society as a whole. My practice includes still photography,  videos and neon works, all of which are usually accompanied of an ongoing theoretical research with which I examine the interrelationships between humans and places, spaces and times.

I think of my works as echo chambers for a cultural-political discourse driven by images. I choose to present reality, as charged and horrifying as it may be, in a seductive manner while I conceal my irony and critical perspective behind the initial attractiveness and beauty of the images. The works, which may appear simple at first, reveal their depth upon a more prolonged observation. This sustained viewing renders more lucid my personal point of view.

My interpretation of different elements as meaningful agents of social construction, capable of inflicting our behavior patterns and shaping our self-perception as a collective, is established through my selection of subject matter, its location within a social space and its framing within a temporal context. In Public Domain (2007-2009), a series of photographs of public bomb-shelters, I directed my gaze to the somewhat peculiar phenomenon in which nearby residents paint these severe concrete structures in a lively seemingly innocent colors, as if to camouflage their real function. In Terribly Pretty (2014), a series of photographs depicting mourning bouquets, I chose to highlight the objects’ sensual quality by relinquishing color from the images, as well as by deconstructing and re-assembling them into the final  piece. My aim was to make the contiguity of beauty and horror, life and death, visible. Fire Zone (2008) is a series of portraits in which the gaze is turned towards young, light-skinned, genuine redheads. The photographs seek to illuminate and point to the concept of “the other” and its perception in Israeli society.

In recent years my work leans towards a more abstract approach to photography. I do this mainly by means of a formal emptying-out of the still image, either partially or totally, rendering it into a seemingly narrative-less object. In Sea Land Air (2016) a series based on the uniforms worn by different military corps in the I.D.F, I cancelled-out any identifiable unit characteristics. Leaving only the color templates extracted from the various fabrics the works converted the attributes of militaristic power into innocent-looking, abstract color fields. Similarly, in The Management (2018) a photographic documentation of a wood and metal railing of a staircase led to a series of photo-etchings of abstract and enigmatic patterns, removed from the original context.

My video works, too, deal with myths, historical events and mundane occurrences, in an attempt to extrapolate from them their significance in constructing a local sense of identity. Distancing myself from a straightforward documentary approach while opting instead for a more experimental one, I can react and interpret in a critical manner various socio-political phenomenon by means of irony and humor. Through a wide gamut of artistic decisions which manipulate the work’s overall aesthetics, its color palette and soundtrack, and by inserting archival materials and animation into my own footage, I try to blur the distinction between reality and fiction while examining the tension between the documentary and the staged. In Golden Ring (2017), for instance, I invited Jerusalemites to sing karaoke in my studio. In editing the footage I replaced the words of the well-known songs with the participants’ personal texts which ran as subtitles, reflecting their true feelings about the city and its reality. Similarly, Oz 21 (2016) came out of the specificity of Arad, located in Israel’s Negev desert, as well as from an influential novel by Amos Oz. In this piece, which I made during an artist residency program in the city, I collaborated with members of several generations of Arad residents. I fashioned my own personal interpretation of the dialectics of past and present of the place using the juxtaposition of choreographed dance sequences, text and edited imagery.

My work with Neon light has its roots in my personal biography, as my father owned one of the first factories in Israel which manufactured neon signs. I created my first neon work many years after the firm closed down, and it was, naturally, nothing like what my father had produced. My neon works alternate between conceptual abstraction and figurative depiction. In all of them I ascribe light with the importance of being both a material and a subject-matter, as there is no photography and no neon without light itself. In works such as Shalom/Chalom (Peace/Dream, 2008) and I Can/ I Can't (2010), altering one letter in the word changes its meaning. In White on White Cream on Cream (2011) I produced a Rothkoesque color field by using a white and off-white neon placed on different backgrounds. The work Hands Up (2018) relates to a Disney WWII animated propaganda film.

Recently, since mid-2019, as I've been battling a severe illness, I started to re-edit photos which were categorized until now as ”too private”. Someone Has Been Sleeping in My Bed (2005-2017) for instance, is a group of intimate images taken in a variety of different rooms, each with its unique aesthetic. In all of them there is a male figure lying down, where it is unclear whether he is dead or merely asleep. I took these pictures of my partner during shared trips. He never knew I was photographing him. For a long time he has been disinclined to show them in public, but in the last year he gave his consent when he realized how important it is for me at this point in time to work with the margin between life and death. Similarly, I am re-visiting a series of photographs depicting flawed, deformed sculptures, which I took over several years in different locations around the world. Once labeled as ”too personal” these images are now congealing into a new body of work I call “A Thin Line”.

Orit Ishay Ⓒ 2020