‘Jenifer Dreams in English’
Review by Sarit Shapira in ‘Jerusalem’ Newspaper
November 11th, 1988 of a solo exhibition in the gallery of the Art department of Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem
On a piece of raw canvas hung at the center of the exhibition, and on seven pieces of brown paper on the walls alongside, Jenifer Bar Lev draws stories. In graphic letters and in English, she writes short texts describing and detailing activities, objects and characterizations.
The documentary-reportage style of these texts is somewhat reminiscent of the style of Borges’ stories. There is much of the fantastic in their content as well: a report of a meeting with a dead girlfriend in a cafe, a verbal description of an artist’s workbox, which reminds the viewer of a box of wonders; the story of a scene of confession before a priest, which suddenly turns into an apocalyptic event, accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame etc…Memories of feelings, desires, nightmares and fantasies are presented in a verbal narrative which attempts to preserve a logical, clear and realistic continuum. The texts can be read as the report of an hypnotic event, or as the description of a dream. Thus Bar Lev’s work can be considered as the latest, critical border of surrealistic automatic writing, or, more generally, as the continuation of the surrealist tradition which wishes to communicate irrational worlds by means of an expression which is ostensibly organized and regulated in a clear and logical manner. More than just a report and documentation of a memory or a dream, there is in each of her texts the use of feminine terminology, which creates a soft literary impression, sensual and dreamy.
Because Bar Lev’s narrative texts are presented as visual objects, it is worth while to examine their degree of relevance to certain tendancies in contemporary plastic arts. Conceptual artists such as Kosuth, or Barbara Kruger, hung on gallery walls various verbal delarations, sentances, definitions and texts.But for Bar Lev’s texts, which transmit in an ostensibly objective fashion short fictional plots, there is a special place in Post-Modern art, or to be exact, Neo-Conceptual art. Horrible, fictive, mythic descriptions, connected to repressed desires, have become a frequent element within the range of subject of the New Painting. Similar expressions of irrational worlds appear as part of dramatic, staged scenes, and very often the fictionality of the event is emphasized by the kind of technical adaptation which characterizes the written and the visual media: the processing of the work as a poster, as for example in the work of Polke or Immendorf, or the processing of the image as it would appear on a television screen, as in the paintings of Eric Fischl (‘Bad Boy’).
Bar Lev evokes worlds of anxiety, fantasy and dark urges through the layout and the rules of an innocent literary text. In one of her works she even emphasizes the fictionality of the event, when the text, which began as a general description of amputation of limbs, knives, blood and screaming, ends with the words: ‘then someone said, never mind, its just a TV show, anyway. Whereas the artists who returned to painting convey their expressivity through the painterly gesture, and in painterly images, Bar Lev prefers to describe them in words and thus to create them in a more open fashion in the mind of the viewer. The difficulty of formal actualization of an imaginary event is expressed by the placement of the text on the paper. In the works on paper Bar Lev painted the area around the text black, making a kind of frame of straight-edged escalating steps. Some of the words are emphasized in red with no ostensible connection to the dynamics or the inner logic of the verbal text. This emphasis turns those words into a pattern of formal, visual rythym, and simultaneously it directs the viewer to the vocal rythym of pauses, emphases, etc. which is created in the mind of the reader-viewer. Neither are these emphases connected to the information conveyed by the text. To the viewer it may seem that Bar Lev prefers the visual design over the inner affect-content of the text, because, occasionally, with no connection to the verbal continuity, she severs a certain word and continues the letters on the next line in order to make the text conform to the formal composition. Thus an inner conflict is created in the works, an irreconcilability between one direction which aims to preserve the development and the inner emotive depth of the text, and a different development which as if prefers design, style. This dissociation can for a moment be seen as the weak point of the works. However, in my opinion, this inner dissociation is an integral part of the anatomy of Neo-Conceptual art. An art which uses language and style which as if express inner contents and simultaneously uses a style which cancels out any possibility of ‘really’ reading these contents.