Stall #4 // 2013
concrete walls, deer antlers, urban waste, oil, vegetation. Average wall measurements: 2.7 x 2.2 x 0.09 m
Curator - Gideon Smilansky
bicycle, fish sauce, plastic tank. Measurements: 0.4 x 1.2 x 1.9 m
metal pipes, wood, nylon, blocks. Measurements: 4.3 x 1.2 x 1.9 m
The Pipe Organ of Passion // Tali Tamir
“I always hesitate how passion should be managed” Roland Barthes, “Incidents”
Shai Ratner’s current exhibition (following his previous exhibition) raises thoughts of restraint, of regiment, and of an oozing matter that is capable solely of flowing, bubbling, dripping. It is built from the tension that exists between the organic and the cast concrete, between the bodily and the architectural, between liquidity and rigidness, and draws its inspiration from the winding margins of urban reality. Ratner creates a sort of ghostly materiality, which is transformed into “abstract liquid”1 accumulating through the cracks, collected within the pipes, and drawn into the uncontrollable urge to move forward, towards some drainage basin.
The installation Ratner built out of grey concrete is a blind geometric layout: it has no face and has no eyes; it is hurled into itself, indifferent to the great gestures in space. “I simulate feeling an event beyond the facades and motions"2 Fernando Pessoa wrote, and Ratner attempts to crosscheck an awakened and stimulated psychological awareness in space, with walls and silent partitions, grey facades with “lowered eyelids,”3 which have begotten just a hole, a single escape exit, round, its diameter as that of an arm or limb.
And the hole is filled, thrust upon and penetrated by a male deer antler, while ignoring the barrenness surrounding it defies its spectacular splits into space, its sharp edges groping in the empty air as an animal’s antennas. The disparity between the curves of the horns and the straightness of the pipes similar to the humble functionality of the urethra and the extroverted arrogance of the penis. However, in Shai Ratner’s installation – both complete the pipe organ of bound passion, echoing with a stubborn, oozing and gurgling drip.
Ratner’s cell architecture, the heterotopia of the kingdom of sex, also simulates a city snippet, including its alleys, facades and concealed spaces. In earlier installations Ratner had lingered on nameless city scraps (“Untitled,” 2001, 2003), such as a sidewalk, the façade of a building under renovation, or an improvised facility for blocking a parking spot, comprised of construction materials (“Minor Art,” 2012). The sidewalk lot he had built within the Sommer Contemporary Art Gallery is soaked with squashed fruit liquids, stained and broken, exposing the damp earth beneath it. The building’s façade extends a “trunk” of buckets for renovations and blows various flowerets of concrete and liquid, disconnected from any geographical context. Ratner’s city is the city of all cities, containing all of the alleys and facades within it, as that exposed in Roland Barthes’s textual sketches, as he describes his endless routes in search of a moment of passion: “Finally I have reached 104, after passing through the Abukir Royal Hotel (what a name!), not without continuing to dream, still frightened by the bleak power of that corner, which had been a sort of Parisian miniature of a deserted street corner in New York.”4
As opposed to Barthes, who connects Paris and New York into one texture and a universal roaming space, Ratner constructs his urban passion metaphor on a mythological basis, and penetrates a dimension of animal nature into it. The main image of the installation – the ram’s horns that penetrate the wall – echoes the ancient Indian epic “Pandu’s Curse,”5 with which he was also preoccupied in his previous installation (2011). King Pandu, a skilled archer, had gone hunting in the woods, and shot his deadly arrows at two deer as they were mating. This sinful act, this offense to passion at its peak, is viewed by the gods as one for which there is no atonement. The killing of the mating rams cannot be depicted as a story of a successful hunt, but rather an injury to life itself, and denying its value. King Pandu accepts the bitter curse imposed on him at the moment of the orgasmic death by the dying deer: at the moment he shall make love – he will be taken by immediate death. The curse was equaled to the values: as Pandu had killed the ram at the peak of its passion – passion itself will terminate his own life. Passion = death. Actualization = cessation.
The restraint, the oppression, the regiment of passion are therefore the entire story, the sole option of survival. Pandu fails at this mission, and after fifteen years of abstinence from sex, he loses his self-control and is swept into an act of love with one of his two wives – an act by which he meets with instant death. The Indian myth considers this a story of a death foretold and the birth of the five Pandevas, Pandu’s symbolic sons born to his wives from other fathers. Sita Chaitanya, the Hindu researcher, considers Pandu to be one of the tragic and puzzling characters of the Indian epics and analyzes his abstinence from sex with his two wives from a psychoanalytical viewpoint 6. Chaitanya returns to the moment of Pandu’s birth, conceived by the violent rape of his mother, and points to this traumatic event as the origin of the prolonged delay and to the subconscious context connecting sex and death, which gains control over his life, and ultimately ending it. However, as the Indian researcher’s psychoanalytical viewpoint identifies emotional and sexual impotence within Pandu’s soul, Shai Ratner describes passion that continues to burn and live, although restrained by the reign of the curse imposed on him, yet slamming itself into the wall of death: “throughout the years of abstinence, throughout the changing calculations of sustenance, accumulating, the becomes an alchemic lab, a breeding ground and incubator all at once” he writes regarding his work.
Indeed, Ratner’s installation, mildew and weeds sprouting from it, also includes a moment of incubation and maturity, a moment of outburst, even if sour and ironic: a plastic bottle filled with an odorous fish sauce, pressed between the strings of a bicycle wheel laid on the floor, and squirting its contents into space. This is a moment of humor, taking place alongside the somber installment, almost at its margins, an event dipped in the daily living of street and rider, although “maybe” as Pessoa writes with skeptical optimism, “one of these days, out of abstract liquid and unreasonable matter, God shall create such and fill the world.“7
1 Que fiz eu da vida ? - Fernando Antonio Nogueira Pessoa, Carmel Publishing, Jerusalem, editing and translation: Rami Sa’ari (page 71 in the Hebrew edition).
2 Ibid., p. 81
4 Roland Barthes, “Incidents,” Yediot Aharonot Publishing, Hemed Books, 2004 (p. 75 in the Hebrew edition).
5 Pandu’s Curse, an episode narrated in the Mahabharata, the Indian epic estimated to have been written in the centuries just prior to the Common Era and the first centuries thereof.
6 Satya Chaitanya, The Puzzle of Pandu, from a Hinduism website, written on June 18th, 2006
7 Pessoa, page 71 in the Hebrew edition
Pandu's Curse, 2010, silk screen print, 25x35 cm