T for Tent, H for House | Tal Amitai Lavi

Solo Exhibition, Noga Gallery, Tel Aviv (Text) | September 2001


``…At what moment does a house stop being a house?

When the roof is taken off? When the windows are removed? When the walls are knocked down? At what moment does it become a pile of rubble?…And then one day the walls of your house finally collapse. If the door is still standing, however, all you have to do is walk through it, and you are back inside. It’s pleasant sleeping out under the stars. Never mind the rain. It can’t last very long”…(Paul Auster “The Invention of Solitude,” 1982)

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Out of this text Tal Amitai in one of her works creates a maze made from toy building blocks. This suffocating maze of words saturated with anxiety fully communicates the feeling sensed in her works. The question of when the place you define as a house, a place meant to provide shelter, real and abstract, for body and soul, ceases to be a place of sanctuary and rest, empty of content, its role collapsing. As years pass it becomes clear that since time immemorial the solidness of the house has always been an illusionary veneer.
Amitai by employing materials from her childhood searches for answers to this question with painful determination. She does this not by burrowing through albums or family documents, but by returning to the capricious and elusive world of childhood games. Through her treatment of contents, colors and forms that fill the forgotten world of the imagination, she seems to be searching for a perfection that perhaps was present in the distant past. Play, the area where through memory Amitai attempts to find answers, is defined by the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott as “an intermediate area,” a territory that allows the subject a “softer” encounter with the exterior world, a place that provides temporary relief from the constant tension in man’s attempts since his beginnings to bridge the gaps between inner reality and what is outside.
With great effort it becomes clear that this same feeling of childlike perfection, which at first glance seemed possible to restore if only we were to desire it and here it is a small wooden block away – that same object of infinite longing, craving and desire was never really there, also not in the earliest years. That yes, even then, worrisome, frightening, obstinate doubt nested. Even then anxiety ruled.
This feeling comes from the mantra “ it will be fine in the end” meant to calm all fear, from the fragility and vulnerability of a sand castle (another form of house) that can be washed away and obliterated in a moment by gentle water, from the flimsy paper boat floating on the water’s surface and doomed to shatter on the waves of the text “something is about to happen.” This same feeling of anxiety also comes from Tal’s reference to the importance given in childhood games to the attributes of coincidence and magic. This can be seen in the game “Cootie Catcher,” an origami paper fortune-telling game that randomly determines the future’s most intimate details, a type of self-conducted séance, and appears as well in card games.
Embracing the world of childhood seen in her works allows Amitai to address these charged issues in a tangible and immediate way, and allows her (and those viewing her work) a silent and painful glance into the past. It seems that Amitai, like a well-behaved child, tries with all her might to sit in the grownup’s chair and answer for herself the questions that have always been answered (also by her) with the vague and offhand reply “when you grow up you’ll understand.”
Apparently this is an empty promise. The return to the place of pre-speech where play rules, like Proust’s Madeleine cookies (from “Remembrance of Things Past”) awakens memories and feelings we thought no longer existed.
Into these experiences that lacked meaning and intention for Tal the child, she now tries to pour significance and structure through the use she makes of language.
Language – a logical fortress, organized, rationalistic and analytical with explicit and unequivocal laws, designed to anchor the chaos experienced within its rules (Amitai uses symmetrical printed letters as a type of formal grid). These architectural structures are meant to include the irrational anxiety of experience that came before the ability to use language. However, it soon becomes clear that words too can be seen as a house that is built on quicksand with evil winds blowing around it. It appears that even these illusions of control are sentenced to utter failure. Thus the desperate questions and wishes remain hanging in the air –will the end be ”truly fine?” or could it be “something is about to happen.”

א'- אוהל, ב'- זה בית | טקסט נלווה לתערוכת יחיד של האמנית טל אמיתי לביא גלריה נגא
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