This exhibition presents a multi-voiced dialogue between the works of visual artist Elie Shamir and of art photographer Adi Nes, combined with an interpretative perspective. Both artists use elements that echo Greek and Canaanite mythology, the Old and New Testaments, Jewish history and the Zionist ethos. Laid in layers, these myths form almost an archeological stratigraphy of Israel’s landscape and of its cultural, national, political and socio-economic state. Both artists are preoccupied with similar themes – personal versus collective identity; norms and human values; preservation of the national ethos versus the moral obligation to one’s own conscience.
The paintings of Elie Shamir (b. 1953, Kfar Yehoshua) echo art masterpieces. Being mostly autobiographical, they allude to the Jezreel Valley, which played a central role in the history of Zionism. Shamir’s works raise questions about the male pioneer ethos and the collapse of the “Valley” myth, as a metaphor for the erosion of the nation’s values.
In the photographs of Adi Nes (b. 1966, Kiryat Gat) reality meets the artist’s meticulous and carefully staged working process. Sharp and intense, yet poetic and gentle, his works combine homage to iconic figures. His images undermine central narratives of Israeli culture and advance the formation of new ones. His series from the 2000’s – Soldiers, Boys, Prisoners, Bible Stories and The Village – deals with complex issues such as Israeli identity, militancy and human compassion. The theme of homoeroticism in Nes’ works exposes the duality embedded in the national narrative with its ethos of heroic masculinity.
The works selected for this exhibition belong to different periods of the artists’ work. This was done in order to create a common ground for an interpretative reading that may unveil the mythical, artistic and literary layers, both universal and local, and the meeting points between different views and perspectives. By juxtaposing their works, the exhibition reveals the similarities in their mythological frame of mind and their grasp of “grand narratives” as they treat local and contemporary issues. Thus, placing Nes’s Untitled (Annunciation), next to Shamir’s Like Europe, Daphne, Shira and Lahav in Ami Spring emphasizes a common affinity to iconic mythical themes: Nes’s photograph alludes to the Annunciation scene, while Shamir’s painting echoes the myth of Actaeon whose chance glimpse of naked Artemis leads him to his death.
Father and son relations might also be interpreted in terms of primeval myths. In a photograph from Nes’ Village series, an old farmer and a young man stand beneath cypress trees in the cemetery of Tel Adashim. In Shamir’s Dad and I in Retrospect, portraits of the artist (third generation of founders) and his father (second generation of founders) are seen on a dirt road that splits in two. The founding fore-fathers carried the burden of the Zionist ideal, while their sons experience the falling apart of the myth.