A text by Shosh Averbukh for Lena Zaidel´s catalogue: Broken Hearted City Center, 2012
All the Places Are Holy III / Shosh Averbukh
Zaidel lives the world of symbols. Layers of meaning and possible correlations invite the viewer to observe and inquire: Does a passerby in Jerusalem see the wolves, or are they visible solely to the artist? Does she sometimes keep the pack company, or is she their shepherd, inviting and directing them to where they are needed?
Wolves are often considered negative, a symbol of danger and evil; yet for Zaidel the wolf is a positive element. The pack supports the tension-ridden sites, cleansing and revitalizing them.
Zaidel´s work suggests Beuys´ view of the artist´s role, which he compared to that of a shaman. In the display entitled, I Like America and America Likes Me (1974) at Rene Block Gallery in New York, Beuys shut himself in a room with a coyote and made spiritual contact with it. Beuys was swathed in white felt and held a bronze rod (ill. 1).
Feminist artist Kiki Smith examines the role of the wolf, specifically in the display dealing with the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Smith explores the wolf´s role and its "otherness". She rejects the common view of the relationship between the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, stresses the resemblance between the characters rather than their differences. The print Wolf Girl (1999; ill. 2) demonstrates and emphasizes the characters´ similarity. In Zaidel´s work, the wolf appears in order to warn of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the demise of the Zionist dream, as well as interfaith tension, which distances people from a dimension of universal spirituality.
Metamorphosis occurs in much of Zaidel´s work: a human face reveals itself in a church dome, a deserted street´s lights flicker in the wolves´ eyes; everything is intertwined.
periodic styles are combined in Zaidel´s work, from the Middle Ages through early Renaissance and contemporary art. Zaidel´s focus on Jerusalem´s colorful building façades suggests church frescoes, especially those of Giotto di Bondone at Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (ill. 3).
In Wolves of the Gospel (ill. 11), white wolves appear as part of the Christian motifs, replacing the traditional white dove The wolves perch on automobile roofs, the towers of East Jerusalem in the background.
Zaidel´s work echoes the miniature images painted on lacquered boxes in Russian folk art (Palekh), familiar from her childhood. Zaidel enlarges miniature scenes until they are enormous, yet the images retain a fairytale spirit. The paintings´ format suggests a comic strip depicting the wolves´ journeys.
4. Prince Ivan and Gray Wolf 5. David Reeb, Wolf and Lamb (1977)
Illustration on box (20th Century)
Many Israeli artists address the blend of holy and secular realms, as well as react to the political and social reality. David Reeb´s screen print Wolf and Lamb (1977; ill. 5) presents the contradiction between its title, drawing on the Old Testament´s description of earthly paradise, and the print, which depicts a different scene, according to the artist´s interpretation. While Reeb expresses himself in a lucid and distinct manner, Zaidel´s work requires the viewer to unearth and decode.
Wolves on Generali Building (ill. 6). Generali Building, situated in downtown Jerusalem, is steeped in historical and symbolic meaning. Atop the building is a winged lion, the symbol of St. Mark, patron saint of Venice, and that city´s symbol. In 1947, the building housed the British Army Quartermaster and was conquered by Etzel forces during the Israeli War of Independence. For the artist, the lion represents Jerusalem, petrified and frozen; the lively wolf awakens the lion, perhaps intending to replace it.
6. Lena Zaidel, Generali Bulding (2007)
Wolves in a Garage in East Jerusalem (ill. 7). This time the wolves visit Jerusalem´s seamline, the border between East and West Jerusalem. Broken and abandoned furniture are strewn about the garage; a sheet of plastic hangs, and is converted into a blue stage curtain. This color is permeated with meaning, possibly suggesting the blue stripes of the Israeli flag, or that of the sky, which has changed its color to gold. The surreal props à la De Chirico create a sense of a site of worship, where the wolves congregate for their mysterious ceremonies.
7. Lena Zaidel, Garage (2007)
In Bulldozer (ill.10), a yellow bulldozer clears a path through the cars and wandering wolves around it. Observation leads to questions pertaining to Jerusalem´s charged reality: where will it dig? What will be built? At whose expense?
10. Lena Zaidel, Bulldozer (2007)
TALITHAKUMI (ill. 8) is set outside Ha´Mashbir La´Zarchan. In the background, the reconstructed façade of the Talithakumi building; in the foreground are a lone wolf and a decorated camel. The signs on the building, Ha´Mashbir Ha´Chadash La´Zarchan, the new co-op department store, and Mr. Zol, literally Mr. Cheap, are granted a new and ironic significance: ‘Mashbir´ is a word of biblical origin while Mr. Zol reflects mass consumerism. The images strengthen the sense of the absurd created during the encounter between East and West, European wolf and Middle Eastern camel, and are part of a dense and packed postcard of sorts - the Israeli melting pot.
8. Lena Zaidel, TALITHAKUMI (2007
Wolves in the Fountain of the Lions (ill. 9) is a triptych with a gold background. For the first time, a human figure appears in the center: it is the artist´s daughter. At her sides are standing two black wolves; their presence is glaringly conspicuous, yet the girl seems not to notice them. The larger wolf shakes itself off, creating rings of droplets spraying in all directions. The entire painting is set in motion: color drips, rings spiral, and the lions in the fountain seem to come to life.
9. Lena Zaidel, Fountain of the Lions (2008)
Zaidel´s work depicts a collage-like reality that is abound with contrasting images, in which construction and destruction occur simultaneously. The artist fearlessly observes her surroundings and seems to hold the key to a solution, or a cure. Zaidel constructs contemporary icons that seek sanctity in even the most earthly places. In her work, holy and secular are represented by the choice of themes and materials. Mixing charcoal, representing an earthly material, with gold, representing a celestial material, suggests alchemy. Despite her complex task, Zaidel´s attempts chart a path with her wolves are sprinkled with humor, and her work is essentially optimistic. Zaidel assumes an active role; she refrains from merely pointing out danger and death. Creation assumes an almost magic dimension, which affects the urban scene. For Zaidel, artists as shamans are capable of exploring alternative realms, retrieving lost energy and granting form to the forces that shape reality.
Shosh Averbukh, Curator, 2008
Translation from Hebrew: Leora Gal
Lena Zaidel, 2023
New website: https://lenazaidel.com
Measurements are given in centimeters, height ª width
All the reproduction photos of Lena Zaidel's artworks in this website,
are taken by Michael Amar, unless otherwise noted.