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Modern Lynx – print and on-line journal on artwork & visible tradition

Following the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s perception that ‘a fantastic thoughts is androgynous’, in her eponymous essay A Room of One’s Personal, the English novelist Virginia Woolf argues that creativity happens in a fantastic union between the masculine and the female, a melding intercourse between two opposites. In Drawing the Waves, a collaborative undertaking between up to date artists Diana Blok (b. 1952, Uruguay) and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen (b. 1969, Israel), Woolf’s experimental and ‘mystic’ novel The Waves (1931), is the place to begin for an exploration of identification present past the Cartesian dualism and gender binary.

Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen

Watery beginnings

Set within the chilly waters of the English coast, nature is a automobile for deconstructing the self in The Waves. ‘We might sink and choose the waves’, Rhoda exalts in one in all six dramatic soliloquies, pondering the dissolving of the self into nature’s make-up. Mythology, so wealthy in allegory spanning the skies and the seas, additionally reveals the artifice of our corporeal borders in its illustrious descriptions of the births of its gods and goddesses. Take for example, Aphrodite’s beautiful beginning; because the daughter of Ouranus (the Sky), her common inception merged the land and waters – sunrises and sunsets, the marked breaking of polar components, are her favoured occasions of the day.

Blok and Helbitz have lengthy turned to mythological archetypes, similar to Aphrodite, to discover the performativity of gender and deconstruction of the physique of their respective practices. After assembly by way of an opportunity encounter with {a photograph} of Marina Abramovic taken by Blok in 1996, the artists discovered a kindred frequent floor, despite their differing places, cultural backgrounds and upbringings.

Blok, a self-taught visible artist and photographer, was born in Montevideo, Uruguay to a Dutch-Jewish diplomat father and a Catholic Argentinian mom. Her cell upbringing spent navigating Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, earlier than arriving in Amsterdam within the early Seventies, performed an enormous position in her exploration of identification. Helbitz, however, obtained a proper arts training in her house nation of Israel. A portray and set up artist, her pursuits within the arts and psychology lead her to carving a tutorial route all through the nation in Haifa, Ramat Hasharon, Tivon and Jerusalem. She at present resides and works in Tel Aviv.

Bearing in mind the above circumstances, in addition to the inconceivable to disregard, ongoing socio-political unrest in Israel, one may simply scale back this collaboration to a binary interpretation. One artist is working from Amsterdam, the self-proclaimed beacon of the liberal west; the opposite, from the authoritarian and unsettled east. Nevertheless, simply as in what Blok describes as an infinite ping-pong of sketches, snapshots, pictures, discovered objects, movies and prints shared forwards and backwards between the artists transcends any linear studying, so too do the artists’ identities and backgrounds resist any reductive labelling. They can’t be pinned down; like ladies in flight.

Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves

Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves

Uniting by way of the determine of the wayward witch

In her studying of Serinity Younger’s ebook Ladies Who Fly: Goddesses, Witches, Mystics and Different Airborne Females, the artwork historian Marina Warner, observes how ‘Ladies who fly wish to be someplace else to remain there; they don’t wish to return to traditional expertise, which they view as captivity. They require us to rethink our concepts about feminine waywardness.’ By their respective inventive mediums, each artists flip to those winged legendary ladies to deviate from standard representations of the physique.

Take for example, Blok’s uncanny black-and-white self-portraiture collection Flight of Folly (1985), which subverts Francisco de Goya’s fantastical beings in flight in Los Disparates (The Follies) (1815-1824). The melding of the curved spines of Blok and her trusted mannequin companion, whereas they straddle a broomstick, references the twisted our bodies that mingle in Goya’s chaotic tableaus, whereas ridiculing binary gender representations. The androgyne silhouette that Blok and her accomplice lower ‘enters a virtually symbolical realm the place duality and social-role taking part in are left behind.’

The parable of the winged girl and her capability to create new dialogues of the physique is continuously explored in Helbitz’s massive canvas works. In a six by three metre canvas bricolage, Egyptian Magician (2018), a refrain of ghostly sybils emerges from a merging of goauche, inks and ready-made supplies, similar to laundry softeners and tape from her household’s building enterprise. With Helbitz’s distinctive puddles of paint, the ambiguously sexed kinds twist and warp like a Schiele or Kokoshka, dismembering the human kind and distinct markers of gender. Devoid of depth of area and perspective, the phantasms float on the canvas; their weightlessness calling to thoughts Leonara Carrington’s phantasmagorical creatures. Helbitz recollects a how an early childhood encounter with a Marc Chagall portray of a white bride suspended within the sky spurred an intense need of flying inside her. She tells me, “I really like the concept of being above the bottom as excessive as I could be… I had a repetitive dream after I was a baby that I educate folks how one can fly, I even keep in mind the method!” To fly, to develop into a witch, is an intoxicating archetype that challenges gender assumptions. In spite of everything, these mythological beings override and subvert the silencing of ladies that has occurred over the centuries. A girl in flight is victorious over the systemic distrust she has been topic to all through historical past; the grimmest occasion being the observe of burning witches.

Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves

Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves

Rewriting the phrase by way of a performative baptism

It comes as no shock then, that Drawing the Waves started within the air. Its aerial roots hint again to 2021, when Helbitz started drawing on an version of The Waves she was gifted from a buddy, whereas suspended 36,000 ft within the sky. She produced instinctive, sensual pen drawings from snippets, utterances and passages that beckoned her consideration. Anamorphic kinds glide over the uniform black typeface: hermaphroditic seraphs, biblical succubus and bare-breasted torsos, recalling the representations of the physique in mythology, non secular iconography and the classical arts. Sharing these drawings with Blok spurred an instantaneous and intense interplay between the 2 artists. Thus, a co-conspiring waywardness was born mid-air.

The artists share with me the numerous scans, pages of books, pictures and brief movies which kind their cross-disciplinary undertaking. These works took on a performative ingredient, because the artists united within the Netherlands to return the bodily copy of The Waves to its birthplace – the ocean. Similar to the poet Jean Cocteau, who roused Greek mythological characters like Orpheus, from the seabed of the Mediterranean, with the results of works similar to Le Testomony d’Orphée (1959), Blok and Helbitz excavate the roots of Woolf’s work, by returning it to its ontological roots. They bathed the prints that they had created from the pages of The Waves within the salty waters of the North Sea, and later, repeated this baptism of the physique on the Greek Mediterranean island of Milos. The artists labored on an additional three books on this quick, tactile method – the Outdated Testomony’s The Guide of Judith, which additionally occurs to bear the identify of Helbitz’s mom; the Music of Songs, the erotic poem discovered within the Hebrew Bible; and poems by Hafiz, 14th century Iran’s most lauded lyric poet.

Efficiency registration of PochaNostra, 2011

Diane Blok, Mom Portrait of Ricco in Rio

Deconstructing the cult of Aphrodite

The encounter of the pure components of water cascading with ambiguous human kinds on paper produced pleasant and surprising outcomes; muddling mythological archetypes earlier than the artists’ eyes and bringing up to date which means to them. The legend of Aphrodite, continues to draw us, and Blok and Helbitz have equally been fascinated by the goddess and the pearls. When cults of beauty surgical procedure, fad diets, health gurus and clear consuming devotees proceed to aspire in the direction of society’s thirst for the unattainable – of everlasting youth and wonder – the story of Aphrodite continues to be related for deconstructing our ideas of gender at this time.

Aphrodite’s pearls symbolise tears of pleasure wept by the goddess of sexual love and wonder. In response to the traditional Greek poet Hesiod, the goddess was born from the white foam produced by the severed genitals of Uranus (Heaven), after his son Cronus threw them into the ocean. Her identify derives from this ecstatic beginning – aphros signifying ‘foam’. Pearls are due to this fact inherently erotic. In a portrait Diana made from her mom in 1996, a string of pearls drapes over her neckline and cleavage. The passage of time is marked within the creases, jutting collarbones and streams of bloodlines which make their presence recognized on delicate pores and skin. Blok’s Aphrodite problematises societal stereotypes surrounding magnificence, growing old and sexuality, as flesh and bones, reminders of our mortality, dance along with magnificence.

Helbitz additionally visits the determine of Aphrodite to flirt with the borders of demise and wonder in a collection of visceral work of the twentieth century intercourse image Marilyn Monroe, seen in The Guide of Ruth. Not like Bert Stern’s black and white 1962 photographic collection of the actress taken in her last residing months which captures her acquainted Hollywood glamour, right here, Monroe is dismembered by Helbitz’s expressive traces, which strike by way of swimming pools of watercolours on her pores and skin. Our gaze lands onto the pearl necklace trailing from her puffed scarlet lips: an irrefutably phallic picture; just like the cigarettes pursed between the lips of ingenues from the French New Wave. Demise and pleasure intertwine because the twentieth century Aphrodite strangles herself with the chain; pearls are each sexually charged talismans and the messengers of demise. Just like the grotesque attract of Carol Rama’s portraits, or the wistful melancholia of Tracey Emin’s drawings, the bodily kinds in Helbitz’s works contradict any societal conventions of femininity.

Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Drawing the Waves

Gender troublemaking with the androgyne

The figures in Drawing the Waves float in liminal waters: they’re neither male nor feminine. Androgynes, ambiguously sexed creatures and hermaphroditic angels spill over the borders of gender, coming into what Woolf posits ‘a virtually symbolical realm the place duality and social-role taking part in are left behind.’ The early Christian martyr Saint Sebastian maybe most captures this hermaphroditic state, and is a key inspiration for each artists. Irrevocably androgynous, he’s usually pictured tied to a tree, torso skewed in a delightfully camp air. Helbitz and Blok take into account him a key reference for resisting societal categorisations and exploring alternative ways of being.

In an earlier black and white self-portrait from 1992, Blok embodies the enduring determine, throwing her head again in a dynamic style typical of the medieval and Italian Renaissance work of him. The artist tells me that she ‘has all the time felt an intuitive pull in the direction of the numerous representations of St. Sebastian in church buildings massive and small throughout the entire of Latin America, documented a big variety as effectively.’ Certainly, Saint Sebastian additionally nods to the plurality of cultural identification, how totally different cultures and religions diverge and intersect, producing new readings on our bodies.

Helbitz has additionally lengthy been mesmerised by non secular icons and their capacities for exploring identification. Video calling from her house in Israel, Helbitz recollects her childhood fantasy of changing into a nun. She tells me that regardless of being raised in a Jewish household, she was all the time titillated by this risk of changing into – a want that was fulfilled when she was invited to stick with nuns at a monastery in Jerusalem in the course of the pandemic. Faith weaves its means by way of Helbitz’s observe, with frequent references to artwork historical past and Christian iconography. For Helbitz, Saint Sebastian stands for Tikun Olam, the Jewish idea of correction, with regard to sufferer ladies.

Diana Blok, Flight of Folly, 1985 Diana Blok, Flight of Folly, 1985

Revisiting the waters to make sense of the current

Helbitz’s third century Roman Christian martyr is a doe-eyed androgyne, neither distinctly male nor feminine; they occupy an in-between territory. This gender-nonconforming being is nothing new. As a tide of far-right ideology grapples Europe, these within the far-right seats of energy prefer to cry out loud and rage that gender politics is a brand new ideology, when actually, the ambiguously sexed hybrid being has roamed the pages of antiquity. Because the scholar Dennis Younger observes whereas writing about Virgina Woolf, ‘Among the many historic Greeks not solely Hermaphrodite (baby of Hermes and Aphrodite) however Eros too, the divinity of affection, had been in intercourse each feminine and male.’ It’s due to this fact by seeking to the previous, unearthing age-old allegories of the world that Drawing the Waves is smart of the patchwork of identification, the performativity of gender. Following the self-dubbed imaginative feminism of the French psychologist and author Ginette Paris, as people, we’re inextricably linked to the pure world round us, and possess an ontological connection to the ocean:

“will we not really feel, in going to the ocean, a way of return to our origin, to the rhythm of the waves, and to the moist?”

Dipping the pages into the waters, Blok and Helbitz not solely add one other dimension to their residing archive of performativity and the deconstruction of identification, but in addition pressure us to deal with our very essence. I write this from my present house by the Mediterranean Sea; the waves rocking forwards and backwards, returning me to my origins, whether or not I’m man, girl, residing being, or a cluster of atoms swimming within the universe.

Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Snow White, 180 – 100 cm, 2022

Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, Egyptian Magician, 600 – 300 cm, 2018 Ruthi Helbitz Cohen, The Hunters, 180 – 100 cm, 2022

Drawing the Waves by Diana Blok and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen might be exhibited for the very first time as a six-screen video set up on the Museum de Fundatie, the Netherlands in October 2023. Helbitz’s solo exhibition might be working within the museum on the similar time. In the meantime, Blok welcomes a retrospective exhibition on the COBRA Museum, Amstelveen, the Netherlands in 2024. Drawing the Waves will journey to the Ramat Gan Museum, Israel in autumn 2025.