I am the Laboring Art
Dina Schupak - Tzila Liss
The exhibition "I Am the Laboring Art" brings together two veteran artists in the Israeli art scene and in the kibbutz art sphere: Dina Schupak and Tzila Liss. The exhibition presents the works of Schupak and Liss side by side, as two female artists who are kibbutz members (Schupak of Kibbutz Metzer and Liss of Kibbutz Ein Shemer), and follows their approach and how they deal with questions of inspiration and artistic influences, the individual vs. the group, the value of labor, and gender perspective.
I Am the Laboring Art examines how female artists in the kibbutz society identify with the common goals, or do they point to other paths, or to a hidden or overt conflict? Is a (woman) artist on the kibbutz influenced by the values of the cooperative society in which she operates? Does the kibbutz shape her work in any way? Is the value of labor, which was perceived in the kibbutz as a supreme, almost religious value, for many years, imprinted in their work as a worldview, as a way of life? Can these values be identified in their technique? In content? Do they feel the need to prove their ability to build and produce, like men, but offer another look? Is it feminine? Individual? And what about the concept of gender equality in kibbutzim in the past and today? Schupak and Liss, each in her own way, respond to the strong presence of the group and to the traditional roles of women, who have survived despite the seemingly egalitarian declarations.
Dina Schupak was born in 1931 and grew up in Córdoba, Argentina, where she was educated in Hashomer Hatza'ir and absorbed the resistance culture of the Argentine left against the tyranny of the regime. With an avant-garde spirit, she placed the ideal of the working woman at the center of her early work.
From the outset, she connected modern avant-garde styles - especially that of Kazimir Malevich and the movement of Suprematism he founded in revolutionary Russia - with feminine elements such as a lace tablecloth and a written statement: "Working Woman".
The diagonal lines of the Supermatist composition burst out of the square, and on the floor, made of solid wood, are the three geometric shapes that represented Malevich's avant-garde: a square, a circle and a cross, three basic forms that will accompany her throughout artistic path. This key work emphasizes the paradox between the female domestic sphere and the pervasive male avant-garde language and its solid ideology. Schupak is aware of and operates within this internal conflict.
Later on, Schupak created a series of works from steel wool and scouring pads, materials related to the brushing and polishing world of female cleaners, translating them, as usual, into pure and abstract material, which combines both firmness and softness at the same time. The construction works were created in the same context: a series of oil paintings on canvas that produce bricks for the construction of a tall pyramid. It is headed by helicopters and weapons. Aware of the conflict she presents, Schupak writes on the canvas: "How do you build?" "How do you build a house?", "How do you build a family?" And "How do you build a country?" In her own feminine-biased manner, Schupak questions the vision of the male Zionist project. Schupak's way of 'taming' the tormented masculine avant-garde was to translate it into a language of weaving, knitting and embroidery. In an ongoing project, she used oil paints and thin brushes to "weave", "embroider" or "knit" Malevich's geometry and domesticated it into a patient system of infinitely industrious work.
The fact that this is a representation of the crafts rather than the crafts themselves reinforces the independent consciousness of the female artist - she works through painting, and makes the necessary statements with it. The female avant-garde can also be knitted or woven. You just have to tilt it from the inside. This is also the case of the lace pillows, which were not part of the original dowry at her wedding. In a gesture of love, which preserves her independent position as a creative and working woman, Dina Schupak painted the belated dowry for Martin, her husband, monogramed with the initials of their names.
Modernist abstract formalism also characterized Schupak's sculpture language. Here, too, she is trying to connect two traditions that did not really connect - the tradition of the holidays and the tradition of modernist abstraction. Schupak did not give in to the decorative traditions of the kibbutz holidays and designed a geometric-secular sculpture that relates to a series of holiday symbols: a sukkah, a menorah, the gates of barley sheaves, etc.
Her social consciousness also led to the creation of "Formation" - a work inspired by familiarity with life in the United States and dealing with the disappearance of children from their homes. Copper supermarket bags with printed portraits of missing children served as the basis for a complex grid-shaped installation, featuring the darker sides of modern life, neglect, and the suffering of children.
Tzila Liss constantly deals with the tension between the individual who sets out on a journey, and the group and its accompanying objects. Born on the kibbutz (1945) and raised in the communal children's homes and educational institutions of Hashomer Hatza'ir at a time when group identity was at the height of its power, she sought her personal path through her art in a crowded and populated space.
The central figure in her work is preparing to leave the crowded space, to set out for the journey; She gathers provisions for the road, builds sailing and aviation devices, puts stationary objects (her kibbutz peers) up on wheels and marks milestones and compasses that seem to indicate the direction, while in fact the destination is unknown: It doesn't matter where one is going, what is important is to leave.
In Notifications Board, a key work she created in 2001, Liss summarizes the difficulty of communal life, at a time the existing way of life breaks down, and the new one has not yet been created. Living in an uncertain environment creates fear and even terror, which bring Liss back to gripping everyday objects, a grip that gives her (and all of us) an illusion of security. These are the "existing" objects, which are here and are safe. They first appear in her paintings and later also go out into the sculptural space (some appear as ready-made): a table, a chair, a kettle, a pot. Liss turns them into the "guardians of the way" of all those individual figures, lacking personal identity, marching in line. At the same time, Tzila detached the head from the whole body and replicated it into a uniform white pattern, arranged in an industrial production line, placed in perfect order on mobile platforms. Liss presents the human head as a white, colorless object, a mere tool in the service of the cause and shattered ideologies. Tzila Liss's replicated images are not only anonymous but also genderless. The slight gender they might display is masculine. Liss suppresses all signs of femininity and creates a resonant uniformity.
Tzila Liss works mainly on paper, using pens in painstaking and precise drawing techniques. Recently, she has replaced the language of objects with a fabric of abstract patterns that still maintain orderly discipline, but reverse the internal hierarchy between man and nature.
This series of drawings features a complex network of stems and branches that carry dry inflorescences and closed bulbs of the Anastatica hierochuntica plant. Small, pearly-like human heads floating in the vegetal thicket, devoid of body and direction. In the end, Liss manages to turn her meticulous work into a glittering fabric of brilliant beauty.
Liss and Schupak work; they labor and build and mainly do not rest.
The two artists have for many years put line to line together as an independent world that articulates personal statements. In their own way, which combines grid and discipline with quiet critical rebelliousness, they sound the voice of the individual, and of the woman in particular, within the collective. Their strength lies in the fact that they dare to say: "I am the laboring artist", "I work diligently and industriously" and insist on the importance of the artistic statement in a world of work values that are interpreted in terms of masculine mass and weight.
The exhibition, which is displayed in two spaces - the gallery at Givat Haviva and the gallery in Gan Shmuel - allows us to take a comprehensive look, ranging for decades, at the work of Schupak and Liss, and to see that insight is indeed expanding and that "art works."
Anat Lidror and Tali Tamir Curators