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The temporary house of the image

by Elizabeth Plessa

A house may be the first thing one paints following the figure of one's parents. The minimal representation of the association of a square and a triangle with a rectangle jutting to the side, adequately embraces whatever the meaning, the memory, the dream of home may mean for each person. Artemis Alcalay has managed to house her overall work in this archetypal image.

In her current exhibition and in an almost jubilant mood, she is presenting a large number of constructions of stylized houses of identical dimensions, cut on wood bases, lined with different materials and processed with varied techniques. These are works initiated in 1999-2000, autonomous visual suggestions, which however at the same time refer to various milestones in her work as well as the fundamental obsessions pervading it.

Everything: the representation in painting and, later on, the photographic mapping of the fabrics-landscapes through the folds of Alcalay’s family ties with the cloths and their colours; The sculptural approach of these same fabrics, creased and stiffened with starch on their way to turn into reliefs and move on to the world of sculpture; the puppets of papier mache as well as her costumes and set designs for theatre and dance – three-dimensional versions of her painting; the shift to the texture of the fabric itself through the weaving tool par excellence, the loom; the inevitable step towards embroidery and the discovery on the spot, in the canvas pieces, of the basic motif of her work, the little figures; the identification of the stitch with the digital image pixel; the whirling red ribbons-thread of life and blood; the photos of human limbs of presence and absence as well as those of the digital merging of photographed sections of a woven cloth; life stitching and death unstiching; the labyrinth and the spiral having moved contrary to the horizontal and vertical plane of the loom; the carpets building a contemporary visual composition through their traditional weaving; the primary relationship with natural materials and their processing; everything in Alcalay’s work tends toward the 'inter-knitting’ of nature with culture, of handicraft with technology, of the past with a present that she has found a way and a site to establish: ‘The house becomes my loom on which the image is being woven’.

Painted, photographed, upholstered, framed, bound, packaged, wrapped, covered with canvas, cloth, photo paper, yarns, rugs, embroidery, with paper-pulp limbs functioning as votive offerings, these houses whose interior one can only guess are situated in the inner space of a gallery; a green wall to wall carpet–green grass turns this into exterior space while generating a sense of homely warmth. The standardized surface of her houses becomes her personal canvas through which the artist takes a head-on approach to her entire work.

Whatever Alcalay has undertaken so far has almost always been a pretext for her to deal with favourite materials and techniques. In the current works, which have not lost their childlike attitude even though they have combatted the difficulties of constraining an infinite picture in the finite and all too familiar figure of a symbolic dwelling, the house has now become the final destination. Everything is there to serve its absolute outline – an outline that has at times run the risk of becoming a concept, or of enveloping the sterile abstraction of an detached repetition, that has however overcome this risk, because the material enveloped has itself become a house. The uniqueness of this material is struggling against the self-evident banality of the home-shape it has covered and is revealing the simultaneous struggle of the boundless image against the limits imposed upon it, the intensity of its temporarily subjugated freedom.

Elizabeth Plessa


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