EROS #4: Who was Abigail? by Ilene Sunshine
In 1 Samuel 25, we are introduced to Abigail, the wife of Nabal. She is "a woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance", while her husband is "churlish and evil in his doings". David comes into contact with them when he visits the wilderness of Paran after Samuel's death. A brief summary of this encounter follows:
David sends his servants to tell Nabal that they are in the area, and since they have not bothered his shepherds and their flocks, they should be rewarded with some of Nabal's bounty of food and wine. Nabal scoffs at the request (perhaps recognizing it as a shakedown?); David is angered and calls his men to arms. Just in the nick of time, Abigail intervenes. Unbeknownst to her husband, she gathers a load of provisions ("two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep already dressed"), along with "two hundred cakes of figs" and other delectable treats. She "fell before David on her face" and begs him to "forgive the trespass of thine handmaid" and urges him to avoid a battle with Nabal and his men. David accepts her plea: "Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person". About ten days later, "the LORD smote Nabal" (he dies), and David takes Abigail as his wife.
After my initial reading I sighed and thought: another story of a 'pure' handmaid who saves the day and is rewarded by becoming a wife. In my mind's eye, I saw her dressed in white, a figure in a painting by John Singer Sargent that I keep in my collection of post cards.
Before I went to my stack of cigar boxes and biscuit tins to search for her, I googled Abigail to see if I had missed anything in the translation I read.
I happened upon an interpretation by a biblical scholar (I regret not making a note of her name; I've lost her in cyberspace) who raised the possibility of Abigail's acting in self-interest. Perhaps she saw this handsome newcomer and realized this was an opportunity to break from her rude husband? That is all it took for me to see beyond Abigail dressed in white.
She was now multi-dimensional— a woman perhaps bound by her time, yet hardly a passive player.
Combing through my stacks of post cards, many possible incarnations of Abigail surfaced. Perhaps she had the steely determination of an Egyptian princess
or the self-possession of a Matisse woman.
Abigail might even be the seductive fortune teller painted by Caravaggio. She certainly helped shape David's destiny.
I saw her in the flock of maidens from a medieval scene. Men arrive from far-off lands and bring the whiff of adventure, maybe even a glimmer of freedom from their tasks?
Perhaps Abigail was like Frida Kahlo— feeling trapped with Nabal (her Diego Rivera)? Indeed, when David arrived she fell before him.
Eros #3: Love, War and workworkwork in Charles LeDray by Shari Mendelson
In her piece, Shari Mendelson looks at the work of Charles LeDray in light of the story of Jonathan and David, as found in 1 Samuel 18:4. This story shares themes with that of R. Johanan and Lakish, including a deep bond between two men and the presence of weapons and uniforms as a stand-in for masculinity.
"And it came to pass, when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he [Jonathan] loved him [David] as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his apparel, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle."
The biblical story of Jonathan and David -- a story of love, longing, war, and loss -- echoes through the work of the artist Charles LeDray. LeDray, a New York based artist, has been making sculpture that addresses issues of male identity through hand-sewn miniature men's clothing for over twenty years. LeDray was recently featured in a major survey exhibition at the Whitney Museum entitled "workworkwork."
Ken Johnson, in his review of the show in The New York Times, writes:
"The tenderness that Mr. LeDray exercises in the making of his work becomes an expression of redemptive compassion for things uncared for.
You might speculate that Mr. LeDray’s project is partly to redeem homosexual love. The first thing you find on exiting the Whitney’s elevator to the exhibition is a row of little hats — baseball caps, beanies, hard hats and many other types — collectively called “Village People” (2003-06), after the popular singers who perform hits like “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A.” while wearing stereotypically masculine costumes.
But, though often witty, Mr. LeDray’s work is not campy. “Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines” (1993), a set of four midget-size uniforms, is more sincere than satiric. It could be a Whitmanesque eulogy for young men who die in conflicts overseas.
The objects carved from human bone, a material that you can purchase online, are more puzzling. One is a life-size human finger bone encircled by a real gold wedding ring. Are the dots between the AIDS-related deaths of tens of thousands of young men and these curious objects too far apart to connect? Maybe it is enough to see them as alchemical transformations of the dead into living works of art. "
EROS #2: I Want To Be On Top: The Art of Tracey Emin by Manju Shandler
Tracey Emin is a visual artist who gained notoriety as a member of "Young British Artists," a group made famous through art collector Charles Saatchi's "Sensation" exhibition in the late 1990’s. Emin is the kind of feminist who uses her own sex appeal and provocation as the center point for her work, and her career has seemingly been built around a single motto: I want to be on top.
Like Lilith, who fled Eden after being punished by God, her father, for not copulating with Adam in the subordinate position,Tracey has daddy issues.
Emin grew up in Margate, a working-class British seaside town. Emin's father, a Turkish Cypriot, re-married and divided his time between his two families. At the age of 13 Emin was raped. At 18 she aborted twins. Emin attended art school and began channeling her difficult childhood into her work. In 1999, she exhibited "My Bed," her seminal work— an installation consisting of her own unmade dirty bed with used condoms and blood-stained underwear. From this point on Emin’s career continued to dig deeper into the metaphors of this piece, She created quilts and sexually explicit embroidered blankets, and gestural illustrations. Emin is known as a storyteller and writer and the overtly sexual and humorous phrases she employs are key aspects to her work.
Throughout Emin’s process her stategy has been to be, and stay, on top. She did this by using her own fiercely independent wit, sexuality, and personality, a combination that has resonated with critics and collectors. In 2007, Emin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. Her first major retrospective in 20 Years was held in Edinburgh 2008, and toured Europe through 2009. In 2010, there was collaboration between Emin and the late Louise Bourgeois at the Carolina Nitsch Gallery in New York City.
EROS #1: Art from LABA and ALMA
Never Ending Kiss
No fear nor excitement tremble our nights. We go through life with no real happiness or real mystery. Our time passes fast. Michel Houellebeq (adapted)
We lost our ability to experience “Song of Songs,” even worst; we assume that our sentimental, instrumental and empty reading may offer us some kind of rewarding experience. Due to our modern tendencies towards isolation and egocentric love we are prevented from reaching any holistic depth, which always often requires a coming together of the communal and the shared. Even more, spoiled by an unprecedented access to entertainment and information, we are used to a much stronger sexual rhythm. These endless diversions blind us to the soft, erotic phrases of “Song of Songs.”
It doesn’t mean the text is not amazingly “beautiful,” indeed, poetry as appear in its Greek sources (our Western sources), was basically a sublimation of sexual tendencies and hence acted as steam-releaser more than a steam-producer. Nevertheless, in the "Song of Songs" the erotic part doesn’t just act as a stimulator or a metaphor for bodily love, but it is the actual thing - not before, not after, but a fulfilling climactic sexual experience – in short, a divine orgasm – which by all means, was delivered to us by written words.
Losing this uncontrollable physical reaction to “Song of Songs,” actually means losing the spiral push from earth (body) to heaven (G-d), and therefore, losing its purpose as a complete worshipping G-d machine and its highest establishment as holy of all hollies. By struggling to understand its beauty as an intellectual pursuit, we can’t avoid the vulgarity of degrading the book to a mere allegory. And allegory by definition is the process of looking from the outside, as much as the sexual activity, which was lost, serves by definition as the inside (being part of nature).
Banished from the Garden of Eden, we can’t go back to what was once a great source of light and warmth. An object of ultimate inspiration is now beyond our reach. What can an artist do with his/her divine aspiration? How can one storyteller share human experience with an audience that lost its ability to process the same human experience?
The first letter in the bible is “Beit” (Bereshit”) – it closes us in from the back (past), the top (G-d) and the ground (body). The only opening is the front as it aims for the future. Accepting these basic limitations will allow us to move forward (and stop banging our heads on walls). I consider the impossibility of sharing human experience to be my walls, while being able to overcome its deathblow effect, to be my artistic deliverance. By transforming the “impossibility to share experience” to the subject matter of my works, I aim to move forward. As I activate the last human experience available to us - our inability to share human experience.
After reading king Solomon words as a visual way I decided to divide the chapter into three paragraphs. Each picture refers to a different line.
In the first photo seen a couple of shadows that symbolizes the seal. Just as the seal on the arm and on heart, the shadow of a person escorts him wherever he goes. both the seal and the shadow are eternal. The shadow also represents god's presence around an object.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love [is] strong as death.
jealousy [is] cruel as the grave: the coals thereof [are] coals of fire, [which hath a] most vehement flame.
The hound in that photo colored in hues of fire like the coals of fire. The hound is a passionate animal for he acts from his instincts and represents jealousy. Also Cerberus, which guards the gates of Hades in hell, to prevent those who have crossed the river Styx from ever escaping was a hound, therefore the hound in the photo represents the grave.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if [a] man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
The couple seen in the photo seat on a pile of ashes. The ashes represent the genesis of the joint life because from the ashes man builds his house, but also represents the inevitable ending of us all. The couple seat on a virginal ground and plans his future by looking at the treasures of the nature. Their house is the nature itself because they have no possessions. Even if they had, love can't be bought with money.
A couple, a woman and a man, cast in wax, painted black. Hugging each other or leaning on each other, becoming one body with multiple organs.
Black mass, appears burnt, made out of wax, if brought too close to a fire it would melt down, the couple will unite completely.
The woman is disabled, her leg amputated and the stump looks like a giant penis, a joint penis, seemed to be taken from somewhere else, maybe from an African sculpture.
The two lovers, who seems to be so totally invested in their passionate love (and in their own private world) have turned into this black mass, as if they burnt down by their passion. Perhaps they can be seen as coals casted in wax.