Body Scripture II
Photography, calligraphy and floral decoration are the elements
comprising Ronit Bigal's exhibition "Body Scripture II".
The camera has always served the artist as a go-between:
In the past she pointed the camera outwards, to nature, to obtain
landscape scenes that served as sketches for her oil paintings.
Then the camera was inadvertently turned around and caught
images of her body: “I discovered a whole new world in my body
which I had not noticed before, a world of unique landscapes,
textures, hidden enclaves and implied eroticism which astounded me.
This discovery excited me and drove me on. In his book “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography”, Roland Barthes claims that the experience offered by photography is unlike the experiences of any other arts, such as literature, painting and the cinema. In addition to the esthetic experience common to all the art forms – photography documents reality, a moment of becoming – even if only for a split second. The viewer’s experience is due to the realization of being a witness to a unique event that won perpetuity.”
In 2008 Bigal started to take body photos. These display body parts in close-up, enlarged out of their direct and normal context, to the point that the photographed object is mostly unidentifiable and the result is an abstract photo. These photos of bare body parts, despite being indecipherable to the viewer, somehow forced the artist to cover them up. In response to my question, did body-related associations or the very fact of exposure arouse in her the feeling of this necessity; she could not provide an unequivocal answer. It would be reasonable to assume that a combination of these two factors led her to this concealment. In the first works of the series she envelops parts of the body-scapes with floral decorations recalling her former style. These works are characterized by chiaroscuro light plays which contribute to their dramatic import, but also to their enigma. The color-scheme of these photos ranges from a warm brown-orange to brown-black. In these works we find an outstanding contrast between the static photographed body and the twisting vegetation entwined on it. The floral decoration is a drawing expressing mobility, as against the stasis of the photographed body. This contrast gives rise to an artwork offering an interesting and exciting esthetic.
In 2009/10 Bigal goes on with her series, but now the floral decoration is replaced by a calligraphy based on biblical texts. The writing is impressed on the body textures and lends it another sort of cover. That latter cover is not decorative, not flowing, it is graphic – and sometimes its content is cryptic. In some cases the writing cannot be identified, and the viewer is faced with the further mystery of deciphering the text and unraveling the context (if indeed any) and its relation to the photographed image. This combination of text and image arouses in the viewer thoughts and feelings which do not arise when they occur separately. The viewer is forced to pay respect to the mysterious parts intervening between them and is invited to interpret them in various ways.
Writing accompanying image, and vice versa was used in art, even from the early middle ages. This combination is also characteristic of various trends in modern art as can be seen in the work of many artists in the West who have adopted this combination as an outcry against gender inequality and to express political protest against the Establishment. An outstanding Iranian artist among them is Shirin Neshat, now living in New York, who chose to inscribe on her photos (where not hidden by clothing) texts by Iranian women writers, expressing metaphors of earthliness, sensuality, shame and sexuality as a protest and antithesis to the situation of women as she encountered it in her last visit to her homeland. Anisa Ashkar, of Acre, used to inscribed on her face for quite a long time, a single line of text every day. At first she quoted from the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, and then she started to use words of her own. She is a performance artist, emitting a clear voice of political and gender criticism.
Bigal’s photography reveals the body, looks at it and almost touches it. This excites emotion and calls forth context. Drawing and writing fulfill the function of protection against the hostility and greediness of the external environment. Exposure and concealment are not random processes, but bear witness to the artist’s delicate regard for the living body and its covering skin, serving as an envelope of the spirit within matter.
Ronit Bigal does not come out with a vociferous protest; she does not attempt to drive a clear message through the interstices between words and photo. Her systematic coverage of the nude body leaves questions unanswered for us, the viewers, but perhaps also to the artist. This indeed is Ronit Bigal’s intention – to leave the final product indistinct, open to interpretations and thus enticing and exciting.
Dr. Ariela Erez