Roger Shimomura and Yuval Yairi map complex legacies in separate solo shows
ANNIE RAAB JAN 3, 2017 4 PM
Yuval Yairi: Surveyor
Israeli artist Yuval Yairi was trained as a military surveyor, and he brings to the works in his Epsten Gallery exhibition a highly disciplined sense of remove, even as he depicts the conflicts surrounding his home, Jerusalem. Making himself a documentarian of physical space, he accounts for every stone, every crease in the Judean Desert as he searches for meaning on the face of the land.
The three large desert images in Surveyor share a recurring event: A man travels in a circumference, holding taut a line anchored to the hills. We see this single man in 12 places at once, like the face of a clock or the outer circle around a bull’s-eye. Each photographic map here is overlaid with a faint and subdivided grid, visible as a product of unemotional diligence, simply the recording of a textured landscape. But edges in the images don’t always line up perfectly, much as the individual pieces of a longstanding conflict never balance.
The aerial surveyor is allowed a degree of emotional distance around an area of land that is highly contested. The photographed landscape might appear quiet and still, but the scout must remain wary of stumbling into hostile territory. Yairi’s “Land” photographs and short video performance feature large white letters spelling out LAND. The letters appear at the top of a crumbling structure, inside the bones of a fallen framework in prairie grass, atop a patient mule — places where the size of the word can really be felt. A person carries his or her land, as burden or ornament or target, everywhere.
Yairi plays impassive archaeologist with “Bullet Archive,” which shows bullets dug up from sites of past conflict. Each is labeled — the kind of gun that fired it, the place it was discovered — but none is exactly recognizable. The wear endured after discharge changes these metal shapes to something resembling petrified wood or small bones.
Studio assemblages make up a small but emotional part of the show. A map in the “Codes” series reads “No Fly Zone” and shows a small lens suspended parallel to a textured, moonlike surface, weighted opposite by a plumb bob so that neither touches the ground. In a curious series of still lifes, “Surprise Egg, Codes” shows a glossy egg at rest on a wire-bristle comb, a tethered bullet aimed at the soft flesh of the white. In these pieces and elsewhere in this exhibition, Yairi’s map-centric works, even absent people, reveal the artist as an unusually sensitive and resourceful monitor of human conflict.
Through January 22 at Epsten Gallery, 5500 West 123rd Street, Overland Park