A brown aluminum frame around dark glass doors leading out to the Artists’ Residence garden. This is the first sight facing visitors to the gallery. At the tiny entrance hall, even before the gallery exhibits are revealed, the Residence garden ranges ahead in vivid, sun-drenched green. This door, the inspiration for the title of artist Tal Golani’s painting installation, is duplicated. Its tangible, permanent presence stands there, inviting all to step out to the lawn, but it also stands at the rear of the gallery, painted on a large canvas, one of several painting segments of 19 meters length, positioned on the floor in various angles, functioning as a screen. The exhibition space – the Herzliya Artists’ Residence Gallery – is examined as an architectural arena, one that the exposes new, potential spaces within it.
Golani’s painting installations employ architectural imagery that enable a review of actual and painting dimensions. Her body of work is rife with arenas of action: studios, theatre halls, exhibition spaces, circus marquees, racetracks, and even boxing rings. All performative showgrounds, and all – excluding artist studios – designed as venues for audiences. However, in Golani’s works, they are empty of performers and viewers alike.
But what are seats without an audience to occupy them? What remains of a place’s pattern from the moment its function is suspended? The spaces in which cultural visions are displayed (theatre plays, art exhibitions, and so forth) are the heroes Golani brings before us, but without the activity they are designed for they are heroes uprooted from their heroic plot. Their purpose has been stripped of them. They wait, vacant, ostensibly detached from space and time. And here, appearing in their nakedness, just the spaces themselves, they are revealed in all their corporeality – without any of the events that may be held in any hall, any track, any marquee – bare of them and their concrete, specific identities.
The spaces Golani paints on canvas have been distilled into gestalts. Architypes. This is possible because the selected spaces are not random, they are marked places, arenas that produce culture. As such, they are not merely physical sites, but also symbolic ones. Places of secularized sanctity. In Golani’s art, the acts of watching and painting become sacraments of worship through which reality and its representations are perceived – and as rituals, the time of their existence is mythical, transcendent, renewable, and repetitive. And in this mythical time, the visitors to the exhibition are not just art lovers incidentally gathered on a particular day and particular hour, but an audience. Their absence from the canvas lends an almost impersonal quality to their presence facing the canvas.
The place of viewers (the recipients) and examination into the varied possibilities inherent in their contact with and amid the painting space is an issue Golani has been investigating in recent years, and as she delves deeper the paintings continued to grow in size. They began to exceed the frames, assembling into painting installations that go on to encircle viewers, reconstructing event sites within exhibition spaces. These painting arrays enable Golani to provide us with a moment to linger on the boundary line between actual reality and the one depicted on canvas.
This boundary line is the very place into which the exhibition space seems to be crammed, allowing us to direct our full attention to the artwork exhibited in it. And as actual space fades into the background, the painting space erupts to the foreground. Golani’s painting arrays disrupt our ability to cross that line, and the forced pause extracts us from the passive role of viewers, acknowledging our strengths, our active position when faced with art.
“Sliding Door” is the first time in which one of Golani’s site-specific painting installations are presented in the very place they depict. A residence within a residence: one encompassing us in all its material force, and another surrounding us in a defined non-place and non-time. A bluish shadow of a gallery, an echo unsynchronized with its counterpart.
The depicted gallery space is not just a reflection of the concrete one, but its reconstruction. Golani rebuilds and reorganizes it. In the represented space there are hidden corners, openings leading to hallways, many columns (not part of the actual gallery, yet illogically multiplied in the painting – or, rather, multiplied in a way only logical to painting), and a timber beam floor (unlike the pale floor of the real Residence Gallery, perhaps reminiscent of stage floorboards to reference that the space is an actor, as our we – the actors within it).
Along with certain details that differentiate between the real space and its image, specific elements are also duplicated, while others develop and cross over to another, fabricated space. This results in a continuing composition, lacking a single focal point. The gallery space rolls out in basic blocks of shape and color, and without a clear theme to join them (meaning, had each been examined discretely, separate from the adjoining canvas and the general space they exhibit) they may be seen as abstracts, architectural patches of mysterious dimensions and tactility missing from the room.
It is clear Golani’s choice to portray a residence within the Mishkan (Residence) is not incidental – as the “Residence” is not simply a building or structure. Its name lends it significance, even insinuating some measure of authority. The original mishkan housed the Ark of the Covenant, where the divine spirit abided (the “spirit of the place”, as stated in the Scriptures, which is also another Hebrew term for God).
Golani’s works remind us that the physical place is always a gateway to the metaphysical one, particularly when it serves as a gallery, studio, theatre, or a residence (in this case, the Residence). Representing and stripping bare spaces evokes anew our ability as viewers to suspend disbelief, to briefly accept an agreed on lie that allows us to stand before artwork and be amazed. Golani extends the “fourth wall”, broadening the experience of the encounter between the 3-dimensional space and its 2-dimensional painting foil. We are invited to walk within the painting itself, to wander between the real and painting dimensions as they intermingle.
The mythical dimension inherent in those places where art manifests becomes the raw material for Golani’s art. Her works are not detached from this fabled place, but also do not cede to it. They point to the threshold, to the possibility of closing and separating – but, just as importantly – to the possibility of opening and crossing over.
A sliding door.