Merav Kamel (b. 1988) and Halil Balabin (b. 1987) have worked together as a couple since 2013 while also maintaining individual artistic practices. Their output – together and apart – is characterized by witty humor, wild imagination, nonsensical spirit, and untamed confrontational inclinations. These attributes serve them in highlighting dark, sensitive, exposed, and painful aspects of individual and social human existence in all its weaknesses and limitations. Their interdisciplinary language, rich in materials and techniques – soft sculpture, painting, drawing, etching, relief, and installation – challenges the mechanisms that underlie culture, thought, society, and representation.

The project on view here was triggered by a tragic coincidence of events. In April 2010 two young men, Halil Elohev and Khalil Givati-Rapp (spelled the same in Hebrew as Balabin’s first name, Halil) took their own lives, two days apart. These events led the artists on a creative and research journey of exploring the Hebrew linguistic root ח־ל־ל (h-l-l), from which not only the name Halil is derived but also the word halal, which means dead person (of a sudden, unnatural death) – a coincidence that gained horrifying significance in this context.

Names are charged signs that not only bear meanings related to social, familial, and cultural contexts but may also influence society’s attitude toward a person, and even his or her own outlook. Often, a name is an expression of a wish to immortalize a dead relative or an admired figure, or to express a sense of belonging. It may function as a declaration of values, beliefs, or political affiliation, or as an emotional expression of longing, consolation, hope, or implicit or explicit glorification (of the parent and/or the child). A perception of a person’s name as a creative, symbolic notion – which represents a psychological state of affairs while giving expression to ideas and experiences related to one’s worldview – supports an analogy between naming and art-making. In both, an active choice is made which imprints a particular conceptual outlook or emotional state in representational form, detached from the natural flow of life.

Balabin and Kamel were drawn to the gap between the coincidental and the mystical, which is rendered present in the linguistic and cultural spheres. This gap finds expression in the exhibition in images of figures – set within mysterious settings – engaged in blowing into dry bones, thereby turning them into flutes. The work returns the flute to an archaic, ritual sphere – only to deconstruct the secret magical power of the instrument and its name, and blow life into it through the use of creative spirit.