Rona Stern



Hezi Cohen Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel - 2015

Curator: Ofra Harnam

Text by: Ofra Harnam 

'Oasis,' Rona Stern's first solo exhibition at Hezi Cohen Gallery, appropriates historical symbols and monuments that have been fixed in public consciousness. The theme that ties together the ensemble of objects included in this installation is the political exploration of the vestiges of meaning they contain.
Stern's practice is concerned with the deconstruction and reconstruction of iconic images that survived the trial of time, entering the pantheon of contemporary popular culture. In this context, she offers a formal and narrative examination of the sign as simultaneously charged with, and stripped of, its original content. The elements Stern selects are borrowed from her immediate environment, and the observation of her works leads us to wonder, together with the artist, about collective memory's mechanisms of preservation and effacement.
The work 'Oasis' is a silkscreen print on tiles inspired by the triumphal arch that Saddam Hussein built in Baghdad in 1989 in the aftermath of the war with Iran, featuring an image of the ruler's hands holding a pair of swords. Stern attempts to confront the historical role of triumphal arches by creating a blocked, non-functional arch that undermines the celebration of a conquest. Moreover, the tiles used to reproduce the outline of the arch in Baghdad could equally belong on the façade of an Israeli housing project from the 1970s, with its typical stucco coating. The connection she forges between these two spheres blurs the line between what is local, close, and safe and between a distant, threatening "elsewhere".
Positioned at the center of the exhibition space above a faux-stone pedestal is a large-scale figure wrapped in a black cloth and tied with a thick rope, so that what appears beneath the cloth remains a mystery. The destruction of monuments that follows upon the fall of a leader raises questions concerning the enduring validity or loss of meaning associated with the objects and symbols that are left behind. At the same time, these dismantled monuments can also acquire a new identity, becoming components of a commemorative project undertaken by the next leader. The "packaged" figure, which nevertheless still stands erect, is suspended in this ambivalent space.
The use of "low" materials points to the same concern underlying all of Stern's objects, which sheds light on her artistic practice as a whole. The original meaning of the symbols and materials that appear in her works does not seem to be entirely effaced. On the contrary, Stern captures the various incarnations leading to the object's current use. So, for instance, in one of her works, an Egyptian pyramid and obelisk are transformed into a New-Age stand – thus coming to represent a process of appropriation and looting, resulting in the creation of a new decorative object for the house and home.

A Giant Parking Lot, Text by: Danny Yahav Brown

You got to know when to stop. Apparently, Rona doesn't.
Rona is perfect, but then she ruins it completely. Her works always overflows, making a mess out of themselves and their surroundings.
'How lovely,' I think to myself as I stare at this sterile structure of building blocks, placed against the gallery's wall. Such modernity at its best. 'I get it.' But Rona is not done yet, as a Perspex moon shines above the piece. 'What's that?' I wonder, 'Why is she doing this to me?’ it could have been such a work of perfection. Really. 'If only Rona could have stopped when it was enough.' And that's very frustrating, I say, since we all like things that are tasteful. Rona, however, couldn't care less. Beyond any doubt, in her case, we are dealing with a fully structured ideology.
High and low. Yes, of course. Politics as well. It's all there in the works. But that's not where things end, to my understanding. The political in Rona's work is the peak and the fall. Just like the milk that has boiled over, the action and the stain it has caused, the mark. And Rona, she just keeps fanning the flames, on principle.
Rona's works, if so, are not about 'Tyranny' per se (therefore, Saddam Hussein as mere metaphor). Their politics is a sort of nothingness, silence, a last destination. If I was asked to guess Rona's political viewpoint, it is probably on the far anarchistic edge, among those who plan the giant parking lot the world will come to, just before the hard reboot. This stance has something wonderfully romantic about it, and a blessed sense of beginning. And another thing, considering the fantastic light that the mushroom cloud spreads, the Road to Nowhere (i.e. 'Rona's Works') has never seemed more radiant.

Read more Keren Kedmey in Artsy.

Photo: Liat Elbling
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