The City Square
A conversation between Miriam Gamburd and Hava Raucher
– why the city square?
- The image that I thought about when I began making the statues was a tremendous crowd of figures, small people
standing naked before their maker. Their nakedness is existential and, in my humble opinion, it is devoid of even the slightest hint of eroticism. As you
know, hints of eroticism are in the eye of the beholder, and he may interpret it as he pleases.
The intention is to create a place of assembly, a city square, an open field, a stadium, an amphitheater – a place capable of containing a large number of
people. In my imagination, I saw hundreds of people assembling, but in this exhibition I managed to set up only dozens (a challenge for the next exhibition).
The figures assemble in anticipation for something important that is about to happen, but it is not clear what.
- The installation is somewhat reminiscent of Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais. Rodin’s figures do not stand on a high pedestal, as was customary up to that time;
instead, they are positioned at the viewer’s eye level. His statues are larger than life, and this is characteristic of classical sculpture.
If you sculpt statues of normal height and place them in a vast city square, a place where there are people, the statues will appear smaller than their normal
height, and that’s why they used to make them bigger. This is one of the rules that remained unbroken until George Segal, who created life-size body castings.
I remember that as a student, I was astonished. It represented iconoclasm, and that ran counter to everything I had learned. I was taught that a professional sculptor
will never sculpt a life-size human figure positioned in an urban space. The statue must be larger than life. You, intuitively, do not fashion life-sizefigures. Instead, you make them smaller than life. You violate this law.
There is no conversation between equals between observer and statue, the observer lowers his gaze and observes them from above. It is unclear whether the figures are
natural or supernatural. Your city square is imaginary. You simulate a city square inside the closed gallery building, which is a postmodern and conceptual act. You remove the city square from its historical urban context. This is a procession of people who do not move, a static procession. There is a paradoxical effect here. We see people walking somewhere without moving from their place.
The City Square as a place of assembly has precedents in ancient pagan sculpture. The first statues known to man are circles of large stones with proportions very
similar to those of the human figure: Stonehenge in England from the Stone Age; the standing heads of Easter Islands which was apparently a ritual site; the columns in Greece that became women-like caryatids in place of columns bearing the weight of the building; and, of course, we can add the terracotta warriors of Xian, China and the photographs of hundreds of nude figures by Spencer Tunick, who turns the figures into texture, rendering them of no importance in and of themselves.
- Two years ago I wandered through New York’s museums and galleries, and what excited me the most was an early Giacometti, the head of a woman sculpted before he began sculpting his long statues.
- Giacometti cannot be ignored. His figures stand alongside one another, long and narrow, figures that were consumed by external tension. Everything pressures the figures – the tension of life, society, the air enveloping them –they have lost their flesh. Your figures are clones who been resurrected. I fantasize your installation as a band of clones who have been resurrected, standing and staring
in amazement at the world revealed before their eyes.
- You are taking this to a very apocalyptic place. We have the destruction of the original – man, and in his place a band of clones appears. Why the insistence on clones?
- Because you cast the same figure several times and place it in the crowd. It’s the same figure from the same mold and it is standing in the same position. You sculpt
yourself and duplicate yourself, and nobody knows which is the original and which is the copy. In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin predicted that the original would lose its authenticity and aura because of the ability to duplicate it. Do you feel that the original that you sculpted has lost its value because of the replication. Come to think of it, where is the original?
- The original has disappeared. It has been destroyed. It’s sitting in a pail of water at Gabi’s foundry, waiting to be turned into recycled clay, as in“for dust you are, and unto dust shall you return”.
The replica is important, and I find the process fascinating, including the trials and tribulations that I suffer throughout the difficult casting process. Every statue requires hours of corrections, and the painting process is also exhausting and takes quite some time. It’s not exactly the mass duplication process through photography and offset printing that Walter Benjamin was talking about. I want to fill the city square with dozens or even hundreds of figures, and this is the only way to achieve it. The city square is the final work. Unlike painting, sculpting has a wonderful feature: It is multifaceted, you can turn the figure around and create infinite perspectives.
All you have to do is turn it a little, and the figure looks completely different.
There is also the psychological aspect. A person looks at himself in the mirror and sees a figure, ostensibly an identical figure, a perfect doppelganger, but what he actually sees is a mirror image, a picture with a slight distortion. Of course you can ask which is the original and which is the copy, and attempt to comprehend the reflected image.
“No healthy person, it appears, can fail to make some addition that might be called perverse to the normal sexual aim” Wrote Freud in his book, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The doppelgangers in the installation are not identical, each is different, each is a mirror image with a slight distortion, a distorted replica.
- This group of statues is not of this world, and that’s why I called them clones who have been reborn. What we have here is a phenomenon that is unnatural, almost mystical. The figures stand on their own two feet. A statue cannot stand balanced on just two points. The sculptor always adds a third point, at the very least. This is common knowledge for anyone who has studied sculpting. Yours all stand by themselves, on their own two feet. That is rare, and virtually impossible. One or two statues, maybe, but all of them. It really is very rare. What force is holding them?
- I have no idea. I never studied sculpting and I didn’t know about the three points.
-Don’t play the innocent. You painted figurative paintings and you have an MA from the US.
- At the art department at Washington University where I studied, there was vehement opposition to realistic painting. We dealt mainly with concepts, and my work
from that period are very conceptual. Only when I returned to Israel did I teach myself realistic painting.
- The conceptual element in this work of yours is indeed very strong. The way you paint the statues is what makes them come to life. They aren’t painted a single color; they are painted in coats, lots of purples, greens and blues, under the flesh tone. Every figure reminds me of Lazarus, the man that Jesus resurrected. Lazarus was resurrected in a body bearing signs of decay.
- The Impressionists understood color very well. They understood that those colors of decay, blues, purples and greens, are the way to resurrect the body. I work in oils on statues made of hollow aluminum the way I worked with paint on canvas in order to create an illusion of the human body. I was surprised to discover that this is much harder.
- The Greek statues in the Parthenon were painted. Sculptures have always been painted, even though they came to us without paint, white statues, and that is
how they entered our culture. The Greek marble statues were painted in bright colors – lapis lazuli blue and bright terracotta. The paint, together with the
sun, created a symphony that is hard to describe today.
- I surmise that they decorated them with a thin coat of clean paint. I am not sure that worked in the statue’s favor, and maybe it’s a good thing that they came to
us white and devoid of paint, free of distractions. Because painting a statue is a form of interference. The statue objects. It doesn’t want to be a painting. It was not an easy battle, but the only way I had to bring the statues to life or, as you put it, “to resurrect the clones,” was through painting. I come from painting and, ultimately, I always return to it.