Reviewed by Gilda Davidian
“Amon Yariv’s photographic works, despite their differentiation from the world, resonate a mode of action basic to any act of photography in the world, even of the most common kind; symmetrical, frozen, neatly positioned and staged, their presence before us dramatizes and heightens times and situations that would not have existed or been remembered had they not been intended to be photographed.”
The catalogue to Harpoon, a series of photographs by Amon Yariv from 2011, opens with an essay by Sarit Shapira titled In Photography’s Cells. The essay is followed by a list of works, and then the photographs themselves, printed on the left side of the page, right side left blank. The back cover mirrors the front but with a different photograph framed by the title, artist’s name, and gallery in Hebrew.
Yariv’s photographs fall somewhere in between Joseph Cornell’s boxes, tarot card illustrations and a Haruki Murakami novel. They are stark reincarnations of scenes stumbled upon in an empty house in a dream state. I caught myself thinking about my old “Choose your own Adventure” books while flipping through the catalogue. Where would the next page land me? In a cell next to a seated man with a bucket over his head? In a room with no exit illuminated by a single, yellow light bulb?
The strangeness of the photographs is intercepted by the formal composition of the images. The lighting is dramatic (borderline eerie) and acts as the predominant mood-setter for the series. The more I looked at the images, the more I thought of mantling and dismantling, closing and opening. The photographed cells are cavernous and play with dimensionality and scale. The compositions of the cells are reminiscent of color film negatives as compartments of preservation compressed with objects, devoid of air. The subjects that occupy them – from brooms, to pig heads, to ceramic owls – feel like apparitions from a different realm. There is something deathly about Yariv’s subject matter, a feeling of isolation, as if walking into a room soon after someone else has left it, and feeling their absence through their recent presence.
Yariv’s images are first constructed as sculptures and then photographed to be exhibited as photographs. After my initial flip-through of the catalogue, I googled installation shots to shake off my disorientation. I needed a sense of scale to address what I was looking at as photographs and not as sculptures. I read Shapira’s essay with its references to illusory space and utopian time. I looked at the images. Shapira reached to far-out realms to address the qualities of Yariv’s work that I wanted to access more directly through the layout of the catalogue. But the catalogue reflected the formal aspects of Yariv’s work more than his attempts to compress dimensions through the use of photography to address a place that was and will not be again.
I flipped the catalogue over and looked at the Hebrew version of the essay. I thought about the catalogue itself as a translation of a thing seen, a collapse of time and space in yet another iteration. I thought about the difference between sheet music and music, about the complications of attempting to access a work through a record of itself. Shapira wrote that Yariv “described his photography as a lullaby-like medium that leads us away from this world and its logical and controlled sites to a private domain of imagination and joiussance.” I wondered what Yariv thought about this version of an afterlife for his images, bound between two covers. I flipped through again, letting the interplays of form and shape and light lead me into their own domain of interpretation.
Amon Yariv, Harpoon, (Rosenfeld Gallery, 2011)
Images from Amon Yariv’s exhibition Harpoon at Resenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv