Published in Haaretz, Gallery Supplement, 25 Dec. 2011 (Hebrew)
Three screens. A light blue background. A man and a woman stand in all three frames, seen through a thick layer of silvery bubbles. Sounds of water, whispery noises, rhythmic Jazz music. They start to slap one another. He hits her cheek. She hits back with a vengeance. They repeatedly hit each other, and the slapping sounds are clearly audible. Every once in a while, there is a look of surprise on one of the hurt faces, but all in all they seem amused by this violent-sweet chronicle.
At times the slap is seen in fast motion and then disappears. At other moments it is in slow motion, emphasizing the movement as it passes from the palm of a hand to a sideways-jerking head. After several moments of nonstop slapping, the bubbles stir up the water and then everything fades away, the hallucination is over. And despite the visual effects that veil the occurrence, one easily recognizes the woman as the dancer Talia Paz, and the man as the actor Yehezkel Lazarov, who also used to be a dancer.
Both of them participate in a slapping saga that is part of a new video work by artist Lee Yanor, Slapstick, which will be on view next month in her solo exhibition at Zemack Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (open from January 19 to February 28). And just in case you've wondered, the slaps on the set were real, not just make-believe.
"Something took place here that was both quite nonchalant and very exciting," Lee Yanor recounts. "I tried to create a very charged atmosphere, to stretch the boundaries and see how far it would go. It's like pressing a point in your body that is both painful and funny." In addition to this work, the exhibition, curated by Ktzia Alon, will feature other new video triptychs, as well as still photography from different periods in Yanor's career.
The aquatic feel also informs the two other videos, in which Michael Getman participates alongside Paz and Lazarov. In the work after which the entire exhibition is titled, Come Dance with Me, backlighting darkens the participants' faces and bodies, and their silhouetted figures move from screen to screen through the grayish bubbles that envelop them, at times looking like bubbling mercury. The third video shows them under water, in a swimming pool, without any visual effects. The movement of the bodies and their clothes through water is subtler, and the bubbles are formed naturally, in situ.
"I wanted to work with bubbles and with human figures," explains Yanor, "I wanted a world that is underneath something, and that's why I turned to water. The bubbles are there to create a sense of timelessness, so that it wouldn't be associated with any particular place and would remain somewhat out of context." This is not the first time she has gone into deep water. "In the mid-1990s I photographed dancers under water in France," she says, "and some still photographs from that session will also be on view in the current exhibition. It was quite enchanting, so I decided to try it in video, too. It was like a dream."
What is the meaning of the title of the video that also gave its name to the whole exhibition?
"I wanted to create an invitation of sorts. In addition, this video was like choreography. This wasn't the first time that it felt this way, but this time it was done more consciously. So in effect, it's a sort of invitation: I invite people to enter into my works. I would like people to go there and feel. I also think that the combination between stills and video installations allows one to view art more experientially, enabling us to go into the works."
How did you create the silvery bubble effect?
"As a matter of fact, I filmed my transparent electric kettle. I spent an entire day here, in the studio, lighting the boiling kettle in different ways. They are water bubbles, but they seem somewhat like meteorite rain, like the end of the world. The high-definition photography produces a hyper-realistic quality."
While filming is a key part of the process, Yanor explains that the most significant stage comes later, in the editing process, which she also likens to choreography. Together with her regular editor, Mariana Bouhsira, she processes the images she filmed, mixes them together, enlarges, blurs, adds music and sound, and plays with movement speeds. Whatever she deems necessary in order to act on the viewers' senses, to generate in them what she terms "islands of emotion."
"All these things I do are a way of speaking about memory, about something that is lost, something painful, something that is ended and done. Speaking about a feeling," she says. In this context, she refers to French theoretician Paul Virilio. "He significantly changed our perception of nature, of politics, of speed. One of his books is titled The Aesthetics of Disappearance. It is a book about photography, and I feel as if it was written especially for me. This whole book is in fact about photography as an experience. It's not what you see, it's the feeling you're left with. And indeed, when I'm taking photographs or filming, I often seem to feel, more than see."
In addition to photography, sound also holds a central place in your video works.
"Sound is very important. Especially in this sort of work, where you try to create an experience."
It seems to stitch your images together.
"That's right. But I also check whether the works are effective without sound, because I started out as a stills photographer, and it's important to me that the image should have a core, a heart. If an image doesn't have a heart and a body, I can't dress it up with sound and somehow package it to make it live. So as a rule, my videos also work without sound."
In addition to the video works, the exhibition will feature selected photographs taken by Yanor over the last two decades. Some of them are Lambda prints mounted in a shadow box with a voile overlay on which the same image is printed again, generating an interesting depth effect. Among the subjects photographed are French dancer and choreographer Bernardo Montet, a huge octopus (that was screened as part of a stage-set created by Yanor for a performance by Italian choreographer Paco Dècina), Italian dancer and choreographer Francesca Lattuada, dancer Dominique Mercy, and even a fragment from Pina Bausch's Kontakthof.
It is quite evident that you are presently focusing on video. What about stills?
"Nowadays I am in fact more into video, but I'm also constantly taking stills. After spending some time on complex video editing, I need to go back to the lab with some negatives and print photographs, returning to the heart of the image. And when I feel really brave, I print photographs with emulsion on canvas, the way it was done in the 19th century, black-and-white with chemicals, actually creating the photograph myself. I also download stills from the videos, because to me it's the same discipline, and so the video and the stills turn into a single moment."
Yanor, 48 years old, lives in Jaffa with her life-partner, Avi Burla, who has a furniture gallery, and their two daughters. She was born in Haifa, but most of her childhood was spent in Ashdod. "I come from a family that has a connection to the sea," she says, "and in Ashdod there was a newly opened port." After doing her military service, she completed her bachelor's degree in photography at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, during which she initiated a photographic project at the Neve Tirza women's prison. During her studies she also participated in a student exchange program at Pratt Institute, New York, where she created her first film, a 20-minute portrait of the painter Marshall Glasier. In the late 1980s she received a scholarship from the French embassy for a Masters degree in Paris, where she ended up living for nine years.
"In Paris I grew up, I searched for my own language and experienced all sorts of things. I made a lot of short movies. It was a very fertile ground. I created them like stills, a great celebration, with a super-8 camera I bought second-hand. It was very accessible, grainy black-and-white and a three-minute tape that I regarded as a single shot, like a still frame. Then I moved on to 16 mm, and later on I transferred the shots to video by telecinema. The years in Paris were years of experimenting, and of making connections between the various media."
What were your subjects there?
"I took some fashion shots, theater, friends, landscapes. I photographed everything. I moved from one thing to another, from one encounter to another, and that's how things evolved. I got invited to photograph general dance rehearsals at the Théâtre de la Ville, and came across names I had never heard before, like Alain Platel, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Paco Dècina, Francesca Lattuada, Josef Nadj. A whole world opened up to me. My work there led to my solo exhibition at the Pompidou Center, in 1994."
You arrived at the Pompidou quite quickly.
"Yes, it was truly amazing. The curator just believed in me and provided the stage. And I remember how she told me, right before the opening, that she was aware that I didn't know too many people in Paris, so I shouldn't expect many people to come to the opening. But it was packed with people."
It was around that time that Yanor was approached by Pina Bausch's agent, who believed that the choreographer (who died in 2009) would relate to her visual language. The two women met at Café Mistral, and a friendship of many years was born, during which Yanor photographed Bausch's dance-theater works. Bausch wanted to produce a book of photographs, but Yanor had her heart set on a more meaningful project and they finally decided to make a film. Coffee with Pina, a unique cinematic portrait of Bausch and her work, filmed during the first years of the millennium, was screened at the Jerusalem Festival in 2006 and then shown to critical acclaim in dozens of festivals and museums around the world.
The film inhabits the seam-line between documentary cinema and video art, showing sections from various works by Bausch, as well as some extraordinary moments, such as Bausch dancing alone in the rehearsal room. When Wim Wenders made his 3D movie on Bausch he asked Yanor if he could use some shots from her film. But despite the great compliment, she only let him use two short segments, since she regards her film as a very personal work of art. A scene from this film will be screened in a loop outside Zemack Contemporary Art on opening night.
Would you like to create another long cinematic portrait such as this?
"Not at the moment," she replies after a moment of indecision, "Right now I am exploring video, what sort of new space does it provide me with. And Pina is Pina, one and only."
In fact, this work was filmed after Yanor had already left Paris. In the late 1990s she returned to Israel in order to start her family here. She admits that she still misses the city of lights, but explains that things were not always simple there, either. "Exile is a very creative state," she says. "You succeed in creating all sorts of new things, developing other voices within yourself. It's a good way to figure out your language. But then you also look for some sense of belonging. And in life a lot depends on timing, too – and as it turned out, I could start a family in Tel Aviv, not in Paris."
Since her return to Israel, Yanor has had two solo shows, at the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art, and at the Heder Gallery in Tel Aviv, and has participated in numerous group shows in Israel and abroad. In 2007 she had an extensive show at the Fine Arts Museum in Taipei, and in 2010 she had another big solo show at the Jewish Theater in Stockholm, where the spaces were altered so they could host her large-scale video installations. The exhibition in Sweden was the initiative of the Jewish Theater's director, Pia Forsgren, who visited Yanor's studio on one of her visits to Israel and was thrilled by her work.
"One feels Lee's attraction to speed, rhythm and movement in all her works, be they videos, emulsions, holograms or prints," Forsgren writes by e-mail. "She has the unique gift of what may be called universal love or humanism, which shines through all her works. This, combined with her wonderful sense of humour, is a rare quality in the contemporary art scene." Forsgren was so impressed with Yanor's work, that after the show she decided to produce a spectacular 470-page book comprising images from many of the works she has created over the years and texts about her oeuvre. A lot of thought, and a lot of money, went into the graphic design of the book, which will be launched and sold at the current exhibition venue.
People seem to understand and appreciate you more abroad.
"I'm not sure. I think I haven't really exhibited much here. Perhaps now is a good time to start."
And what is your current professional fantasy?
"Fantasies are quite abstract. Many things are born from encounters. With Pina it was an encounter, as it was with Pia and with Taiwan. My return to Israel also came about thanks to an encounter. A lot of encounters. Next project."
And do you have any idea what it's going to be?
"No. At the moment I am completely absorbed in my exhibition at Zemack Contemporary Art, which has been a very supportive and open environment, because producing this sort of exhibition isn't simple. Later on, I hope to find a large, challenging space that will allow me to show large-scale works such as can't be shown in a gallery. This large scale was part of my exhibitions abroad, and I would really like to be able to show it here, too."
In other words, you're referring to museum spaces.
Yes, mostly museum spaces. Gutsy museums, whose spaces can be truly transformed."
Bathing Children in Bali
Like her works, Yanor's studio in Jaffa is made in layers – layers of images, mostly photographed by her, that cover the walls and spaces, some of which she took on her recent visit, following Bausch's death, to her theater in Wuppertal: A series of emulsions from The Rite of Spring, prints from her video Void, holograms of children bathing in Bali, many prints of fields ("for some three years I kept taking photographs of fields, fields of anemones, of wheat, of watermelons"), and a large photo of Bausch's Carnations that must be viewed through 3D glasses.
I heard you were in contact with David Perlov. How did the two of you meet?
"As a student, I attended his lectures at the Tel Aviv University, and I invited him to Bezalel, to speak about his work on a project about family. David was a truly remarkable person, and his works are extraordinary. Since in addition to his filmmaking he was also a fantastic stills photographer, and a very poetic one, we shared a common interest. He said: 'You come look at my stills, and I will critique your super-8s.' He was a dear man, and we stayed in touch for many years after Bezalel."
Has he influenced your work?
"I don't know. I think not, because as an artist I do not tend to expose myself."
Perhaps from the poetic aspect?
"Possibly, yes. He was very poetic. But he was a filmmaker."
And you do not regard yourself as a filmmaker?
"Not in this sense. When I started editing my first films in Paris, I worked with an editor who is also a film editor, and I felt quite insecure in relation to cinematic tradition and knowledge. And she told me: 'Don't let go of your outlook as a stills photographer, because that is the beauty in your films. Don't attempt to be a filmmaker now.' I took her advice to heart and I'm still trying to preserve this outlook. In the Pina film it was quite difficult to reach 52 minutes, but I worked on it one segment at a time, I remained true to myself."
Where does your fascination with the world of movement and dance stem from? Do you have a personal connection to dance?
"I danced from the age of five till I was twenty, but I wasn't a dancer. That's a switch I never made. Before my military service, I travelled to New York and participated in all the dance classes at Alvin Ailey, and at the Melissa Hayden School, and that's when I realized that it just wasn't for me. Perhaps if I'd met someone like Pina Bausch things would have turned out differently. So in a sense, I find it easy to deal with movement. But movement isn't just dancing, it's a state of mind, it's a language that allows you to speak of sensations."
In your works, you seem to process and take apart the reality you capture with your camera, to the point where the image you create makes the viewers doubt what they see.
"Yes," she says and ponders for a moment. "Or see something in themselves."
Photo Caption: From the video exhibition Small Songs. (Photo Olle Kirchmeier.)
IN MOTION Lee Yanor is a suggestive artist and her episodic portrayals of memories and moods produces a subtle series.
There is art that grabs us, that swishes us around in a pirouette and then come to a standstill and point to the gateway to our own inner journey. Small Songs is such an exhibit. Intense and sincere. Suggestive and poetic. It has evolved through the cooperation between the Israeli artist and photographer Lee Yanor and Pia Forsgren, Artistic Director at The Jewish Theatre.
Lee Yanor has a background in the dance world. Dance as a means of expression also lends a strong influence to her visual art. Interest in the body and its language, from sweeping movements to small barely visible gestures, is central here.
The current exhibition includes three video works, holographic images and photographs on canvas, previously treated with photo emulsion. The presentation consists of four separate parts. They never form a coherent story, interestingly enough, but together they generate a comprehensive experience. It’s as with Beaudelaire: Countless layers of thoughts, images and feelings – have in turn – hit your brain as easily as light. One might think that each layer might bury the previous, but nothing is completely lost. The impressions accumulate during the walk through the theatre. The details contribute to a kind of choreographed “Gesamtkunstwerk” (mixed-media-artwork), in which sounds and images often interact with each other.
It is obvious from the very beginning. The video installation Void is the sluice to the exhibit. It is therefore impossible to go past it. There is also no time for the eyes to adjust to the darkness. Images and sounds bombard us from all four walls. As an outsider one is suddenly in the middle of an ongoing, charged meeting. The darkness engulfs the floating figures that appear and disappear. One’s gaze, trying to follow a story, quickly becomes disoriented. It is as if different versions of the same story bounced back against each other and broke up into short episodes. We must putt hem back
together as best our individual imagination allows. It is bewildering and beautiful in a way that is hard to describe.
The mood changes completely in the next room. Essential for the still lifes here is the artful lighting. It’s what contributes to the intense impression of one continuous action. On sheer transparent canvases emerge the same motifs as in the prints in the background. The technique enables the underwater images to convey movement in the stream and captures what goes on under the surface.
Yanor is the artist of suggestion. She skilfully steers our attention in a certain direction without tracing too concrete contours of the answers. A suite of nine holographic images depicts childhood recreations. The children hang around on the beach. We follow them from afar. Both features and silhouettes disappear into a veil of greyness. They are more shadows from our own past than actual figures. This blurring is indelible. It affords childhood an ounce of immortality.
Because fundamentally it’s all about going back to places, moods and memories. They live again in Yanor’s polyphonic work, where different modes of expression effectively complement each other. The video installation Cloud 9 is shown on nine screens with parallel action. Every scene is a fragment of an elusive whole.
In the disconnected episodes, it’s ultimately more about poetic intensity than about a chronological narrative. As a whole Small Songs offer a subtle series of impressions of how the narrative dissolves in favour of clarity of emotion.
Translated from Swedish to English by Mikael T. Zielinski
”Small Songs” by Lee Yanor at The Jewish Theatre
The internationally influential German choreographer Pina Bausch passed away last summer, and now you can read in German newspapers that her own theatre, Tanztheater Wuppertal, has financial problems and is threatened with closure. In Sweden however, Pina Bausch appears to be more current than ever. The Belgian dance company Les ballets C de la B performed “Out of context – for Pina” a few weeks ago at Dansens Hus, a strong performance dedicated to Pina Bausch. And currently The Jewish Theatre is showing the Israeli artist Lee Yanor’s documentary on Pina Bausch “Coffee with Pina”.
One can spot Swedish colleagues of Bausch in the opening night audience, such as Ana Laguna and Mats Ek, and one quickly realizes that this isn’t just any ordinary documentary. Bausch emerges as an artist with a strong sense of integrity, one who made tough demands on anyone who was let behind the scenes and into her work process. Lee Yanor, who has a background as a dancer herself, says that the project began when she showed a series of photographs on the theme of dance at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Bausch received a tip about the photos and appreciated the artist›s way of approaching the subject.
”Coffee with Pina” is a poetic narrative, constructed around three instances in space and time – from three choreographies by Bausch and by opposites such as water/fire and preparation/performance. The contrast, in particular, between the charged dance performances and the quiet conversations, creates a dynamic that raises the film beyond the ordinary artist portrait. Halfway through the film there is a stunning image that etches itself in my memory. Pina Bausch works in front of a mirror and suddenly raises her gaze, looks through the mirror straight at the camera. For the first time she admits that she is being observed, but at the same time she watches and acknowledges us in the audience. The documentary is being shown in conjunction with Lee Yanor’s exhibition ”Small Songs” at The Jewish Theatre together with the two video installations ”Cloud 9” and ”Small Songs”. Following the almost fluorescent, charismatic vision that the portrait of Pina Bausch presents, neither ”Cloud 9” nor ”Small Songs” measures up and really come into their own, even though they are neatly stitched together with the help of some strong visuals that creep into the documentary as well as the installations. Common to all of Yanor’s work is a liberating unguarded pretension, a sense of sincerity. I leave The Jewish Theatre with a sense of having experienced something that is actually for real.
”Coffee with Pina” is shown at The Jewish Theatre until May 28, Lee Yanor’s exhibition continues until June 6.
Some fifty German theatres have signed a petition to call for solidarity with Tanztheater Wuppertal.
Translated from Swedish to English by Mikael T. Zielinski
Coffee with Pina is a film that refuses to adhere to conventions. It is not fiction, yet not quite documentary either. More than anything else, this film is a study of documentation, memory and experience. This film creates a stream of consciousness that immerses the viewer in beauty, strength and an intense joie de vivre. Within these one can find a rare ingredient that can be defined as realistic optimism.
The film starts with the first meeting between Lee Yanor and Pina Bausch, one of the greatest dance artists of the last 40 years. Bausch has created in her field, Tanztheater, that frequently touches on visual arts, a series of works that make a lasting impression on anyone who sees them.
The acquaintance between Bausch and Yanor, the filmmaker, began in Paris in the early 1990s. Yanor, a visual artist, was working at that time with many choreographers and had made several short films about dance. Coffee with Pina was filmed in three sessions that took place in Paris in 2003 and in Wuppertal, Germany, in 2005. Yanor filmed the dance performance Agua (Water) in Paris. She also filmed Bausch in her favourite café, Mistral, at rehearsals and in the park next to Les Halles. Yanor arrived in Wuppertal to see the premiere of Bausch’s Rough Cut. She filmed parts of the dance, encounters with the dancers at various moments, but most of the film consists of meetings with Bausch at her home studio.
The film created by Yanor comprises images from these intimate meetings interweaved with dance parts filmed at rehearsals and performances, although most of them have been changed beyond recognition. Yanor’s camera focuses on the characters on the margins of the stage. She transferred musical elements from parts of the performance to other parts, introduced sounds of trains, wind and rain into the soundtrack and created layer upon layer of images.
These images are interspersed with snippets of natural landscapes (especially from the forests that surround Wuppertal) and urban pictures such as Wuppertal’s unique train (the only one in the world to be suspended from upper tracks,) the zoo or street scenes and Parisian architecture. All the fragments come together into a stirring tapestry that takes the spectator on an internal journey full of emotion.
Yanor, who uses photography extensively (her last solo exhibition was in Theheder [The Room] Gallery, Tel Aviv, in 2004,) created a film that could be frozen at any given scene and framed as an image in its own right. She offers the viewer an abundance of images that at times becomes almost abstract, although the entire film is figurative. The meetings with Bausch are short, include little verbal communication, but are rich in expression and beautiful movements, and she appears at times to be a fictitious character, a woman whose movements are so complete, whose presence is so intense, that they seem almost impossible.
We can look back at her short appearance in the opening scene of Pedro Almodovar’s film Hable con ella [Talk to Her]. Almodovar filmed Bausch in Café Müller, one of her better-known performances. Yanor filmed her in her Wuppertal studio where she danced part of her solo from Danzon, a dance that premiered in 1995 and is seldom performed. Bausch appears to search for the right movement and then immerses herself in it as if changing her physical state; her intensity gives the viewer the feeling of watching a ceremony, a feeling amplified by the minimalism of the scene and the lack of scenery.
Yanor used super 8 mm film and video to create the film. The images throughout switch between color and black and white. In the editing room, Yanor created many strata of images reminding us of screen upon screen of transparent cloth. The result is a fantastic mélange of situations: Paris buildings on a sunny day under a layer of water (from water fountains, also in Paris), dance scenes over and under a polar bear moving in water, or pictures of a forest over/under a dancer spinning round in circles, wearing a green dress.
The intensity of the film is captivating. It ends in a black and white shot of Bausch and leaves the viewer with a new insight into the power of motion as a means of touching the soul, the most inner self. The images, that appear so evasive, linger in memory long after the film is over.
Coffee with Pina; Director and Cinematography: Lee Yanor; The film will be screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival on Saturday at 8:30pm and will appear on Channel 8 on the 22nd at 9:30p
Smadar Sheffi is an art critic for Haaretz newspaper and a cultural theoretician.
To see, close your eyes.
The eye listens.
As far as the eye can see.
Stretching the horizon of your gaze over your skin.
Breathing, tactile images enter
Even if on the verge of their disappearance.
This vanishing of the image is at the core of what Lee Yanor captures, in the dance of bodies and landscapes, the fragile apparition of essences, the flux and the return of what ceaselessly appears and disappears and leaves, in the abstraction of the gaze, the imprint of a breath.
Gracefulness of this gesture of seeing, which does not reveal itself for itself (this would be nothing but the art of showing off), but effaces itself at the very core of what it lets happen (what is, then, an art that invites us to let go of we’ve seen it all before).
2. Camera Obscura
Everything is extraordinarily ephemeral, floating, interstitial, living-dying, with no fixity of appearance, but,
on the contrary, in a certain blur of the to-appear, the groping of the uncertain formation of shapes, like
those circles in water that make the surface dance, those fish in an agile and mute choreography that gives volume to its space, or again, that dancer who gives a certain irony to her gesturing and to what she pretends to be showing, even though there’s nothing else to show than the water’s backwash, the silent murmur of the wind in a flowering meadow, the promise of a caress contained in the space of a hand and the musical blooming of childhood in its promise of youth.
Man Ray talked about explosante-fixe. Should we say of the art of looking at Lee Yanor that it is fluid meditation, a patient harvest of what the gaze conceals, death to come where the living decomposes, which is its humus to come where the in-between gestures are born. This rhythm of the image, or its breathing, is an invisibility Lee Yanor knows and photographs/films so well. Camera obscura, chamber of echoes.
The fragment composes. No restitution of the real (and even less so a dream) is possible as a whole. We no longer really know how to tell stories, and live in a world in which History is no more apt at telling them. Very old traditions invented cosmogonies for themselves, and today are orphans of their founding myths.
The global village of our current globalization, which blends everything together, indistinctly, in its machine of destruction – human experiences and vegetal essences, languages and bodies, the lot subject to the same profit of growth – is in opposition to the All-World of a globalization that remains to be invented, in the One and the Multiple, between planetary belonging and the separation of intimacies.
Something bigger and stronger than every one of us: the cosmos is present in the tiniest parcel of landscape. Here is the unison that binds us with our seemings and differences, and then diffracts in pollinating flower after flower with the slightest gesture of being. A dissemination consubstantial to life itself, in each one of the singular essences that spawn their course, temporarily, toward the infinite.
The very acute feeling of the fragment that Lee Yanor develops in her prises de vue or shots (an inaccurate expression that only very feebly translates what is at play in the act of perceiving) then expands into the space of installations, where the spectator’s gaze (thus disengaged from its penchant for voyeurism) is summoned to embrace a multitude of screens. The projection is fragmented, and it is from this very fragmentation that Lee Yanor re-activates a dancing unity, in the simultaneous song of the images.
A truly choreographic composition, where Lee Yanor creates the space for these essences to transpire;
a choreographer of essences, therefore.
Is This Still Dancing?
I will leave it up to the others – those more theoretical than I – to qualify Lee Yanor’s art. Let it suffice, for now, to relate here a passage from a recent book by Michelle Debat that outlines a new dialectics between photography, dance and choreography:
“Time and matter are never entities and in this sense, the practices that deal with them must work with that which from event-instant vanishes into advent-moment. For this passage from time into matter to occur, it has first to go through the interval, the fragment, the segmentation, and break the point of view, multiply the sequences, destroy linearity, stick together the extremes, even act upon the deconstruction of the body, its disfiguration, until the resulting formlessness opens the doors to the pulsating image and no longer to a discourse. For it is as true for dance as it is for photography that it’s a question of creating the singular out of the vanishing, taking as their starting point the disappearing, which is also the universal, or, more precisely, to draw on the fragmentary in order to tell the ineffable. Then let us give Franz Marc, a German expressionist painter, a friend of Kandinsky and Gauguin, the privilege of reminding us that dance and photography are the sites of revelation for the formal writing of space-time, for both ‘invite the world to speak rather than the soul, moved by the spectacle of the soul of the world.’ In this and this alone, they foresee the renewed ethical relationship that is lived and seen in the way one is in the world, not in the way one sees the world.
Such is the underlying paradox that unites photography and dance, in their paradoxical capacity
for thwarting objects and bodies in these instants close to the ritual, where
the magic of space and time engenders the form which tells us ‘where it looks’ and ‘where it dances.’”¹
I first met Lee Yanor in Paris, in the early 1990s, when she was a dance photographer, choreographically in line, most notably, with the work of Catherine Diverrès and Bernardo Montet. I was very soon aware, however, that this status of “dance photographer” was far from accurate in describing her creative work which, developing along with dance, contained the seeds of a choreographic evolution. I have never seen Lee Yanor dance – her images speak for her. That is the case in the film Sud-Est that she made in Jaffa with Bernardo Montet, and in her work in collaboration with Paco Dècina, made in the ruins of Pompeii. We also see it in the photographic installation deployed during SKITE in Lisbon, in 1994, in the sweeping movement of faces and hands printed on large banners exhibited outside, on the façade of the Belém Cultural Center. Or again, in her Coffee with Pina, one of the most beautiful “documentaries” that have ever been made on Pina Bausch, in which the choreographer left the testament of her dance entirely up to her, something she has practically never done before in her own shows (except Café Müller).
With the parting, we parted ways. Ever since she has made her home in Tel Aviv, I have had no news of Lee Yanor. Until this exhibition at The Jewish Theatre of Stockholm, where, thanks to the retrieval of an old text, I was asked to write again, and from where the echo of two works with which I was unfamiliar reached me. Two installations: one more or less “musical,” Small Songs; the other more or less “landscape” oriented, Cloud 9. And where, in this discovery, I have discovered that Lee Yanor has pulled away from the subject (a spectacle, a portrait of choreography or dancers) to compose her own choreographies.
In his short film La Ricotta, Pier-Paolo Pasolini had Orson Welles play a part. An inopportune journalist comes to interview the maestro right during the shooting and asks him, when it is over, “What do you think of Fellini?” Orson Welles smiles and simply says, “He dances… He dances.” About Lee Yanor, I would say the same thing: “She dances… She dances!”
In the end, everything is poetry.
“And I dream of travels on an indeterminate mode” (Fernando Pessoa, Maritime Ode).
“No single glance is ever enough just to look” (Roberto Juarroz, Vertical Poetry).
Jean-Marc Adolphe is Editor-in-Chief of Mouvement
Translated by Unity Woodman
First published in Lee Yanor’s exhibition catalogue Small Songs (Stockholm: The Jewish Theater, 2010).
1 Michelle Debat, L’Impossible image: Photographie–Danse–Choréographie (Brussels: Editions La Lettre Volée, 2009)
Published in Globes, February 8, 2012 (Hebrew)
Lee Yanor, whose solo exhibition Come Dance with Me is currently on view at Zemack Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, which is celebrating its one year anniversary, plays an elusive game combining aesthetics and danger. The main film in the exhibition shows a sort of dance under water, as beautiful as a nature film and strange looking. Animals and humans are perceived as equally fascinating creatures – and equally incomprehensible. The subtitle of the text written by the exhibition's curator Ktzia Alon, The Aesthetics of Disappearance, is particularly apt.
Yanor's still photographs are soft images, attractively packaged. In contrast, on view in another room is a disturbing video whose two "protagonists" hit each other in a chilling Sisyphean performance. Actor Yehezkel Lazarov and dancer Talia Paz – the prima ballerina of contemporary Israeli dance – engage in a dialogue consisting of mutual slaps, screened in slow motion and thus showing the qualities of a sensual, charged dance. The work makes one think of impossible relationships of love and hate, attraction and loathing, informed by addictive, repetitive violence. The aesthetic, orchestrated aspect prevails over the difficulty of watching the scene, engaging the gaze, amusing, liberating.
Yanor's video works are loaded with and provoke mixed feelings. She usually screens them on several screens simultaneously, and so the gaze darts between them as it follows the development of the movement and the narrative, with some degree of tension, even when the images themselves are quite tranquil – as in dance performances. Most of her works contain an autobiographical element, and demonstrate Yanor's affinity with and love for dance.
Nature, trees and flowers are recurring images in her photographs, as are human figures, at times in color and at times in black and white. She has devised a technique of printing in layers: one layer is printed on an opaque, framed support, and another on a semi-transparent fabric, which floats over the bottom layer, generating in the whole image a sense of depth and hovering. At times, the unique framing seems too elaborate, as if the ornamental aspect takes over the photograph itself. It does however have a unique intensity, the sort of seductive power that is embodied in self-assured beauty. Beneath the surface there is a sense of disquiet, as in a work showing a man with his back to the camera, where she chooses to leave some frames empty and position the photographed figure to the left; the image is split up into several fragments, and this, together with the shifted focus, provokes interest and opens it to interpretation.