Avi Yair
You Are Here

June 3 - July 3, 2010


The phrase "You Are Here" is often associated with maps, indicating an exact location and orientation which refer to a purpose, pinpointing a place in time and space. All this is undermined in Avi Yair's work within which organization turns into doubt and orientation disintegrates until the very validity of the phrase is questioned. In this exhibition, Avi Yair deals with the intricacy of the individual's life as it is entangled into the place's reality and history. He does this through found objects, collages and assemblages, which create a humorous and playful language, bearing critical and ironic undertones.

The motifs found in Yair's previous work – the cypresses, the birds and the lying man, as well as the wood boxes which connected the various elements and echoed Josef Cornell's objects – have now been transformed. In his present work, the motifs have become smaller and are intertwined in the various pieces without defining them. The themes of mourning as well as those of the tension between autobiographical memories and the history of the region continue to appear. Now they serve as grounds for experimentation with both materials and symbols. Yair chooses to work with a mass produced product in the form of the tuna can, designating it to act as an aesthetic space. Alongside these, he works with maps of the world and of Israel which he cuts, reassembles with tuna cans, draws on and paints over. The world in his hands is anything but Eurocentric, and instead of Europe, Africa, the poles and the oceans are in the center. Israel becomes an island or a black all-devouring hole. Into these he implants tiny characters of women, men and children, amongst which archetypal characters such as explorers, colonialists, tourists, and even that of President Obama, as well as dolls of animals, such as the shark, all appear. These readymade dolls, usually used in models, allow in these works for an ambivalent sense of familiarity and estrangement. They represent the gaze of both the artist and the viewer in search of the celestial and the earthly in existence.

The tuna cans have appeared in Avi Yair's work over the past three years and some of them were shown in his solo exhibition "Tuna Cans" curated by Ori Drommer at the Zimmer gallery. Drommer: "The cans function as a closed hermetic world – objects of secret memory beyond the concepts of time." Indeed Yair does use the cans in a virtuosic manner as a continuously changing space, as a surface for a drawing, as a vessel to hold clods of paint/earth, and as a "magnifying glass" allowing a closer look at human actions hidden behind the symbolism and abstraction of the maps. At the same time, he creates an homage to Pop artists such as Rauschenberg and Warhol who chose tin cans as materials and images in their works. The connection he creates between the readymades and the maps as scientific, historic and political devices, is clearly a postmodern one in its denial of the possibility of only one reading. However, he does not relinquish the emergence of the individual's poetics.

Maps are a common artistic and conceptual platform in modern art, especially used since the Conceptual Art Movement of the 1960s and onwards, which Yair was exposed to during his formative years. Maps are two dimensional visual aids used daily and in research to direct, to document and to depict the known and the unknown, yet they are at the same time an abstract representation signifying ideological, utopian and mythical systems. Today's artists have found these to serve as an endless platform for creativity and reaction, as Katharine Harmon writes in her book The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography: "Is there any motif so malleable, so ripe for appropriation, as maps? They can act as shorthand for ready metaphors: seeking location and experiencing dislocation, bringing order to chaos, exploring ratios of scale, charting new terrains." (Princeton Architectural Press, New York, p. 10)

Cartography has, side by side with its scientific aspect, always related to art as a visual image of the world. Yair consciously uses this connection in his series based on Bunting's World Clover Leaf map from 1581. In this allegorical map, Jerusalem is situated at the center of a world in which three clover leaves represent the three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa – while America, the new continent, is partially shown at the bottom left edge of the painting. Bunting saw the world in the shape of a clover, the symbol of his home, Hanover. The homage Yair pays to Bunting's map when he redraws it and connects it to the tuna cans in which the grim reaper appears in one work, or a soldier in another, questions the possibility of objectivity and usability of the maps, as well as depicting them as expressions of a world view and of yearnings. The choice to use the ultramarine blue in this series as in many other of his works, echoes its use as an expression of the divine and celestial in Christian art of the Middle Ages. It was then that visual images, including that of the map, were always spiritual symbols and not representations of reality. The gold in the series of drawings of the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee continues his tribute to the representation of the sublime in the Middle Ages, as well as to the unification of image and idea by creating a map which is reminiscent of a living organ.

In his story Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Lewis Carroll satirizes man's effort to represent reality through the means of map making, by telling of a map of a country seeking to be so accurate that it is made on the scale of one mile to one mile. However, since it covers the entire land, it disrupts the very possibility of living, so it is decided to use the country itself as a map.

Avi Yair criticizes man's attempts at possessing the world in reality and in imagery, yet he doesn't give up on the possibility of observing, laughing and dreaming .

Irena Gordon
May, 2010