Andrew Mummery is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibition that brings together for the first time the work of artists Nogah Engler and Ori Gersht. Engler’s paintings and Gersht’s photographs reflect on how art addresses themes of history and memory.
Nogah Engler’s paintings contain echoes of the landscape around the town of Kosov in what is now Ukraine. Between 1941 and 1942 almost the entire Jewish population of the town and the surrounding area were murdered following the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland. Among the very few survivors were Engler’s father Gideon, then 6 years old, and her grandfather Baruch, who wrote two accounts of the massacres. In 2005, having grown up with these accounts and her father’s memories, Engler made the journey to Kosov in search of the places where her father and grandfather had hidden to escape the death squads. The paintings that have resulted from this visit are reflections on the meaning of landscape and memory, the complex relationship between past and present time, and how the work of art can mediate between the two.
The overall impression given by Engler’s paintings is that we are looking at fragments of memory, both personal and collective. Her works contain open and enclosed spaces and she employs combinations of different perspectives that mix near and far. These elements function both formally and metaphorically. There is a careful juxtaposition of areas full of realistic detail with more abstract gestures, paint that is both broadly and meticulously applied, painted surfaces that shift and change in density and degrees of opacity. Engler has talked of her interest in the ways that modern technology has widened the range of ways in which we can look at and experience things and this has affected how she depicts some of the individual objects in her paintings. At the same time she remains fascinated by historical landscape painting and its influence is clear on both the technical and formal appearance of her work. The act of looking is key to Engler’s paintings, and this applies to the objects themselves as well as to those who view them. Striking, in the most recent paintings in the exhibition, are rows of human figures seen in profile, witnesses to some thing, or event, that is not disclosed to the viewer of the work. What, we are being asked by these paintings, is the meaning of testimony? How can visual art bear witness to, and reflect upon, the darkest and most tragic events of human history?
Ori Gersht employs photography and film as his chosen media, but his work has always exhibited a fascination with painting and art history. He is very interested in the differences and connections between the ways in which a painter and a camera create and record reality, and in his latest series of photographs he uses cameras and mirrors as devices with which to explore questions of reflection, representation and perception.
The new photographs had two starting points. The first was a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in 2013 where Gersht became fascinated by three early seventeenth century paintings by Jan Brueghel depicting vases of flowers. The second was when Gersht started focusing his attention onto the flat surface of a mirror. This mirror is reflecting what appears to be one of Brueghel’s paintings, but this image is an illusion - not only because it is seen in a mirror, but also because what is being reflected is not a painting, but a replica, meticulously crafted by hand from artificial flowers, of the bouquet depicted by Brueghel. This replica is a comment upon the nature of the original painting in which Brueghel chose not to depict wild flowers, but cultivated ones. All the flowers are shown in their most perfect form and the depiction of the simultaneous perfection of so many species that bloom in different seasons and in far flung geographically locations - a fantasy of a desirable, but never attainable reality - is an assertion of the power of art and craft, alongside the power of science and technology, to remake the world of objects. It also undermines traditional notions of time and place.
Having placed the replica of Brueghel’s floral bouquet in front of a mirror, Gersht next positioned two hi-definition digital cameras, focusing them on two different optical planes: one close up on the glass surface of the mirror, the other - from a distance of three metres - on the reflection of the vase of flowers. The mirror was then broken using either hammers or small explosive charges, shattering it into a maelstrom of flying fragments of reflective glass.
In contrast to the laborious and meticulous processes that led to the creation of the replicas of the bouquets in Brueghel’s paintings, the compositions that were captured by the camera at the instant of the shattering of the mirrors were rapid and unpredictable. The use of the two cameras allowed Gersht to capture simultaneously two contrasting views of the same event. Because of the different focusing points and the limited depth of field, each camera captured an alternative reality, questioning the relationship between photography and a single objective truth. The final photographic prints simultaneously embrace rigorous and painstaking craft and the mechanical instantaneousness of the digital camera. Gersht raises the question of whether the camera records, or creates, reality. What appears to be real here is merely a reflection and its shattering is so instantaneous that the eye, without the aid of the camera and the flash, cannot properly see it. It is only made available to us through the mediation of optical technology. The work of Ori Gersht has been described by the critic David Chandler as a meditation on the poetics of fragility. In his latest series we are reminded that all images are transitional. They show us nothing more – for certain – than the absence of the object of representation.
Nogah Engler and Ori Gersht both understand that a work of art has multiple orientations to time and history. It is temporally unstable and points back and forwards at the same time. The art historians Alexander Nagel and Christopher S. Wood have argued that, “No device more effectively generates the effect of a doubling or bending of time than the work of art, a strange kind of event whose relation to time is plural”. Walter Benjamin proposed that otherwise forgotten moments could be recovered from oblivion and reintroduced to illuminate current historical situations and that there can be a dialectical interplay of temporalities in which “what has been” and “now” suddenly come together in an image that reveals higher historical and even objective truths. Both these ideas find a strong manifestation in the works of Engler and Gersht.
Nogah Engler was born in 1970, Ori Gersht in 1967. They both live and work in London.
Mummery + Schnelle Gallery
Wednesday - Saturday
From 12pm to 6pm or by appointment
- Nogah Engler, Circling, 2014, Oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm
- Nogah Engler, Gathering (Fading Shadows), 2014, Oil on board, 60 x 80 cm
- Nogah Engler, Bare Fruit, 2014, Oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm
- Ori Gersht, On Reflection, Material 06, 2014, Archival inkjet print mounted on aluminium, 150 x 120 cm
Edition of 6
- Ori Gersht, On Reflection, Virtual 01, 2014, Archival inkjet print mounted on aluminium, 100 x 80 cm, Edition of 6
- Ori Gersht, On Reflection, Material 06, 2014, Archival inkjet print mounted on aluminium, 150 x 120 cm, Edition of 6