Trace Contour 2015
In the exhibition curated by Tal Yahas at the Jerusalem Artists House for Traces V: The Fifth Biennale for Drawing in Israel (2013/14), Yahas examined the possibilities embodied in the practice of drawing without paper and concluded that “the departure from the restricted border of the paper grants drawing a professed physical presence.” This is an apt description of Yochi Shrem’s one-person exhibition of a group of 15 mixed-media sculptures at the Tel Aviv Artists House.
Shrem loves the medium of dance, perceiving it as a continuous flow of movement and energy. Dance became the starting point for the current exhibition, whose inception was in dance videos posted on YouTube. Shrem froze the movement of solo and duo performers, then traced the contour of the body in motion. The line stripped of the body was transformed into a three-dimensional drawing, containing the simultaneous movement and stasis, body, and absence of body.
Shrem’s sculptures initially began from photography, the medium born in the 19th century with the invention of the camera. “The appearance of photography in the nineteenth century allowed artists to use photographs instead of drawing as kinds of preparatory sketches for paintings and sculpture,” as Dr. Dalia Manor wrote in 2008 for the catalog of Traces III: The Third Biennale for Drawing in Israel. The integration of photography, drawing, and movement engaged two great artists who were contemporaries of the pioneers of photography: sculptor Auguste Rodin and photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Rodin worked from live models. He attempted to imbue his sculptures with a feeling of movement, bringing together drawing, photography and dance in a series of drawings of American dancer Isadora Duncan. He made formal attempts to stop the moment and capture the line of movement. Muybridge discovered that movement was essentially an illusion composed of a sequence of isolated, static frames, and expressed this in a series of photographs made in his studio.
Distinct from other artists who engaged in the body using concrete imagery and flesh and blood models, Shrem contemplates the body through the prism of the 21st century, abstracting it and engaging in minimalistic formalism. The line symbolizes “dancer,” but not one specific dancer or the dancer’s identity, similar to contemporary dance in which identity plays no part. Dance now waives costumes, scene settings, and even faces, focusing only on movement. Dancers’ bodies move through space with precision, attempting to overcome gravity, as Shrem does in her sculptures. Her works show no obvious mechanism allowing them to remain standing.
The contour of the sculptures is a border between what is and what is not, between the image and the negative space, interior and exterior, merging and infiltrating one with the other. Shrem engages with the architecture of the line as it thickens and thins. She resuscitates the flat contour of the sheet of paper, transforming it into 3-D space in which the viewer can walk around and contemplate the drawing from all sides.
Yochi Shrem studied sculpture at the Basis School of Sculpture (now the Basis School of Art and Culture), an institution carefully inculcating traditional techniques and corresponding with art history. She notes the influence of American Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith (among others) on her work, especially Smith’s innovative idea of constructing a sculpture that uses thin wires to create a drawing in space. Smith thus created transparent sculptures and lines with figurative motifs, forcing viewers to refer to the various parts of the sculpture to perceive the whole, watching it change with their changing viewpoints. Smith’s geometric sculptures stand vertically, as if opposing gravity, arousing associations to the human body, a feeling also emanating from Shrem’s abstract pieces.
But Shrem also goes against tradition, not only by ignoring the “correct” composition of the human body, and choosing photography as the medium for her preparatory sketches (usually considered “insufficiently worthy” by classical sculpture), but also by her use of less conventional and more modern materials. Shrem uses plastics to translate movement into flexibility. While the sculptures are not “titans,” they are survivors, thanks to their flexibility.
It was the quality of flexibility and the possibility of simulating movement that led to Shrem’s choice of material. Underneath the many layers of plastic is a line of wire leading the movement and the image. Concealing, covering layers wrap around the wires to create a sensation of body and physicality, like a skeleton padded with viscera and covered with skin. This is a sculpture in space, which also contains something organic and breathing, restoring the feeling of the body with flow existing in its flexible, entwined curves, like breathing channels for movement streaming through. The shades of grey were created from graphite, often treated as a dangerous, poisonous substance, yet which provides the very foundation of drawing. The graphite pencil creates a line and enables the creation of ex nihilo.
The engagement in the movement was and remains one of the major motifs of 20th-century art. Over recent years, more and more artists have addressed the link between dance and the visual arts. For example, the Pompidou Center’s Dancing Through Life (2012) explored the association between dance and the visual arts, while the Petach Tikva Museum of Art’s Set in Motion about a year ago exhibited collaborations between dancers and visual artists. In contrast to the perception considering dance and visual arts as two separate spheres, Shrem blends the two using their basic elements of line and matter, transforming them into a unified, multifaceted creation.
Video from the presentation at the Tel Aviv Museum Tower