Wolves... When they are portrayed so provocatively, so profusely, and so persistently, even the simple-minded person will begin to suspect that this is not just a coincidence! The artist is trying to point our attention to something...The question is only, To what, exactly? Frustratingly, we cannot give an unequivocal answer. The symbolism of the wolf is too ambiguous. For instance: the Capitoline Wolf, the Werewolf, or the popular academic works into the lives of wolf packs, penned by zoologists of our own times... And then there is the lone wolf, a symbol of the social outcast, or the strength of the spirit. But ultimately, the primal symbol of the wolf as the merciless and vicious predator cannot be ignored. In ancient times, people even refrained from calling it by name. The Romans in fact had an idiom for it: Lupus in fabula, literally, "the wolf in the fable," meaning, "talk of the devil and he will appear." In other words, one should not speak of things before they have happened, whether of tragedies or lack of luck, for giving them verbal expression may bring them upon oneself, exactly as happened to the poor man in the Roman fable who evoked the wolf into his presence simply by mentioning it.
And noteworthy is the very fact that the word lupus isn´t even Latin, but Sabine. The Romans adopted this word from their neighbors, to avoid calling the wolf by its true name - luqus. This was how they meticulously avoided the perceived evocative power of mentioning the wolf by name, until their native word for it was totally forgotten. Other peoples, though, have done no better. The English wolf or the Russian волк [pronounced volk] are the very same luqus, only encrypted. Deciphering this word is simple enough, for the phonemes have only changed places: LWK was replaced by WLK, developing in English to WLF. But the foolish wolf will never guess this, nor realize that we are talking about it! And there are even more general contexts than these - culture and nature, which would classify the wolf in the realm of nature. Wild nature, the forest or the prairies are its abode. Wolves don´t stroll around in cities for their pleasure...
However, in Lena Zaidel´s city, they walk around everywhere. They´re in the streets, in garbage dumps, in gas stations, on rooftops, and in all the holy places. And they are also found alone. But in this city there are no people. To where, though, have they all disappeared? The answer is obvious: the age of mankind is over. The apocalypse occurred yesterday. Houses, objects and all sorts of litter remain, but people have vanished. The hour of the wolf has come. It is the era of the bravest beast of all. The wolves portrayed on Zaidel´s canvases are not frightening at all; on the contrary, they´re almost cute. At times they even remind us of the wolf pups in the zoos which we so enjoy watching. We don´t have to fear these wolves, and there´s anyway no human around to be afraid... Yet, the accompanying sense of terror still remains; we cannot get rid of it.What is the cause of this terror? There is neither blood nor dead bodies in this artwork, nor the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion...
The terror stems from the fact that all this was painted by a woman. The main decisions in our human world are made by men. In return for this right, they fight wars to defend the women. This is universally accepted as the man´s responsibility. But the world itself? It has become empty of mankind. The men have thus failed in their mission. In other words, the men have betrayed the women, even "used" them for their own purposes. How did this happen? Why? We can´t know. And it´s irrelevant. But what is important? The artist, Lena Zaidel, sees the very world she portrays as important. Yes, it is a world without people. Yet, nevertheless, it is a world created by people and filled by them with countless things... All the things that have been left behind... And strangest of all is the name of this series of paintings. It is called neither "Wolves," nor "Apocalypse"... It´s called, "All the Places are Holy". Indeed, many of works in the series contain places in Jerusalem that are holy to the three religions: the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and the churches within the Old City... Also introduced in this series into the world of art is the unique monastery in the Valley of the Cross. In these holy places, the artist does not spare in the use of the color gold. Even the Paz gas station is painted in gold. In fact, it is doubly gold: "paz" actually means choice gold.
But what then is the meaning of the gold in Zeidel´s paintings? Sacrilege? Irony? Or is it insensitivity or tactlessness toward religion?
Not at all. It rather alludes that the name of this series has a double meaning. "Holy Places" bears the normative meaning of places of worship (synagogues, churches, mosques, and graves of wonder-working saints or patrons)... Here, in this series, though, all the places captured by the artist are holy. For instance, there´s the empty car lot opposite the Damascus Gate. White wolves are sitting or stretching on the car roofs. They are looking out to us through a wire fence. A sign in Arabic hanging on the fence says, "Going slowly - is good; going quickly - is bad," which means, hurry slowly. And the literal translation of the sign into Hebrew is even harsher: "Haste is the Devil´s." This painting is called, Wolves of the Gospel - the Gospel of the New Testament.
But in the canonic Four Gospels there are no wolves-angels. There is no mention there of any. Thus, we have before us a new Gospel - a Fifth Gospel. And judging by the sign hanging on the fence, it will be written in Arabic. Street signs are part of everyday life in a city´s landscape, but in Lena Zaidel´s paintings they cast a strange new light on what is depicted in the picture. For instance, the sign, "Spare Parts for Cars," is an allusion to art: the street name underneath the sign reads, "HaUman," Hebrew for "the craftsman," or, "the artist".
And a sign in another picture reads, The Art of Air Conditioning. In other words, mankind is no more, but art is everlasting.
And in another picture, an empty can of Spring (soft drinks) lies next to a puddle. It´s probably a puddle formed after a spring rain. Also next to the puddle lies an empty plastic bottle of bottled water labeled, "Waters of Paradise." A little further on, one notices a wire fence, some useless items, a heap of dirty pipes, and a wolf. So, this is what Paradise looks like. But the wolves enter far nicer places as well. For instance, into a yard with trees, with couches just lounging around ... in eternal peace. But, for some reason, a piece of blue material is just hanging from nowhere over the couch. Is it a curtain? If it is a curtain, then this is not an idyllic setting, but some theatre decoration with dead trees. This yard would then not even be a yard, but nothing more than a mise en scène of a play that will never be shown. And perhaps they represent the skies having fallen to Earth? Elsewhere, wolves are roaming through the nighttime streets. People are nowhere and windows are black and lifeless, though streetlights still shine. Perhaps the people forgot to turn them off before they left. Perhaps they didn´t have the chance. Or perhaps no one is left to do it. One familiar with the Gospels would quote, "And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it".But this is no consolation; the wolves have no need for light.
The place that Lena Zaidel reflects upon the most is the Monastery of the Cross. The focused attention she gives it is conspicuous, and she is the first Israeli artist to focus on it in such detail. But her perspective is always from above, at least never below the monastery´s roof. Her affinity to the place has not developed into an attachment.
Rooftop appearing in her paintings is the Generali Building, as it is called in Jerusalem, originally built as a branch of the Italian insurance firm, ASSICURAZIONI GENERALI. On the base of the winged lion statue are the Roman numerals, MDCCCXXXI - the year of 1831, the date of the firm´s establishment. The only detail indicating when this building was completed is the strange spelling of the word, "ASSICVRAZIONI" (the Roman letters CV replaced the Italian CU). This seems to point toward the fascist era of Mussolini, who promised the Italians that they are in no way different from the ancient Romans. But Mussolini´s burning ambition never materialized. Adjacent to the winged lion stands a wolf, but not the wolf from the Capitoline Hill. On the other side of the lion stands the flag of Israel, while another wolf is about to jump off the roof.
But what is there below roof level? There are the paved, municipal ground, the streets and the houses on them stretching into the distance, and beyond them, at the edge of the city - the dumps. Is there holiness in this as well? Another picture depicts an intersection with a bulldozer surrounded by empty and abandoned cars. And in another picture, a piece of art authorized by the department for municipal improvements lies on a traffic circle: a lawn upon which are bricks that form the Star of David, littered by bags of leftover building materials.Houses, dumps, fences, and empty, abandoned cars... Is this really all that we humans left behind? We who live in Jerusalem believed that it cannot exist without us. But the city does not live within us; rather, it lives adjacent to us. It is like the earth. It is like the Holy Land whose sacredness is intrinsic, not because someone believes in some doctrine... So if we are able to come to these conclusions on our own, what did Lena Zaidel come to say? The key to understanding her work is golden.
The golden domes and the high-quality gold on the gas stations mean that all the places of Jerusalem are holy. Even the objects we throw away are holy - because we are holy. We, as well as Jerusalem. And it´s not because we decided to be so. It was decided for us. There is no way to revoke this decision, no matter how loud we would howl like wolves...
Eventually, people began returning to Jerusalem.
We first meet the city near the fountain. A beautiful young girl is closely studying the face of the lion that is guarding the fountain in this painting. A wolf is also present. Having emerged from the water, it shakes itself off amidst the dancing rings of water that are spraying off its fur. The believer in mythology might want to believe that the wolf´s curse is about to be annulled and it will be transformed into a handsome young man. But the chances are slim - the beautiful young woman is not even looking its way.
More people appear in the pictures, but now, fish appear swimming in the Jerusalem sky. The people, however, don´t even notice them. They are standing calmly at the crossing, not realizing that the end of the world has come again. This time it is a recurrence of a primary scene - the Flood. The fountain waters have flooded the city. Everything has sunken into the silence of the fish.
Seven women are standing silently at the street corner, each one looking in a different direction. Some of them have turned their backs to us, while others we see only in profile... They are all one and the sameNwoman. They are all one woman - Lena Zaidel. Why are there so many of her? Perhaps because this is end of the wolf series and we are now looking at the next series entitled, The Broken-Hearted City Center.
The name of this series is ambiguous, just as is that of the first series. Cities don´t have hearts, but they do have centers, and it is impossible to break a center. Yet, we´re in Jerusalem, where anything is possible. The end of the world has already happened. People are starting to move about again; the cars as well... But, wait, the city looks odd. It has been cut into slices. How did this happen? And why? Because nothing happens without leaving a trace. After the world has been destroyed once, it can never be the same again. One may glue back together the pieces of a broken cup, but it will never become whole again. A person who was shattered to pieces cannot return to his or her original form, and each part of that person will look in a different direction.
The artist, Lena Zaidel, broke into pieces along with the world and did not forgive it for its demise, or the men for their betrayal, or her own heart for breaking.
Zeev Bar-Sella, Philologist, November 2011, Jerusalem
Translation from Russian: David Kriksunov
Lena Zaidel, 2007-16
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