“Forevermore”, Tel Aviv Museum

Yuval Yairi: Forevermore
Tel-Aviv Museum, 2005, Text: Raz Samira, Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Yuval Yairi‘s (b. 1961) body of photographs, Forevermore, focuses on the Hansen Hospital in Jerusalem, the abode of Hansen‘s disease patients, an illness which had erroneously been identified with biblical leprosy. Originally called Jesus Hilfe, the hospital was founded in 1887 by Protestant missionaries from Germany on a remote hillside, nowadays the Talabiya neighborhood. The structure contains evidence of the social and political transformations the city has undergone in the past century. A small part of the compound now serves as an outpatient clinic for treatment of the disease, while most of it stands unused; some of the rooms remain as left by the last patients and staff to inhabit them.

Yairi photographs the leper house with a digital video camera in still mode, constructing the image from thousands of frames. The pictures are taken in the course of several hours, during which the artist slowly and accurately documents every detail in the space from a single position, like the viewer‘s observation movement upon entering the space. He selects details which he then combines into a final unified photographic image containing a wealth of information, one that no single still photograph can contain. Thus, in fact, Yairi overcomes the temporal and spatial limitations of conventional photography.

Yairi‘s technique is reminiscent of a fine, intricate mosaic. The repeated shooting, the meticulous observation, the accumulation and layering of small fragments – all these generate an image that contains a deployment of continuous time. The gathering and reassembly of the pieces enable him to oscillate between a faithful documentation of reality and its re-shaping while constructing additional strata of detail and time. The resulting effect is at once realistic and surreal or symbolic. On the one hand, the picture is broad, slow and restrained, and on the other, it is implied, and fraught with dramatic tension that stems from the mosaic assembly, an act that is at times scrupulous and imperceptible, at others, distinctly visible.

At first sight Yairi‘s compositions appear quiet and tranquil, full of harmony and melancholy (mainly in the choice and arrangement of objects). His work technique, however, enables him to create unique, sharp perspectives where the ceiling and the floor are depicted at an acute angle downward or upward, invoking a disconcerting sense of distortion or inaccuracy.

Yairi‘s work also contains mundane, but symbolical objects, repeated time and again, such as an empty chair, a suitcase, a window, a bed, objects which he alters, shifts and arranges. The re-emergence of the old objects creates an intimate, familiar setting which is, at the same time, far-removed in terms of time and place. Each of the objects, with their diverse potential combinations, is accompanied by a range of interpretations and contexts from traditional genres (landscape, still life, interior).

Yairi successfully combines majesty and eternity with the ephemeral and mundane, here and there, past and present, presence and absence, overt and covert, a combination that infuses his work with a sense of tension and enigma. He leaves the viewer with the liberty to listen, observe and fathom the place which is charged both historically-medically and personally, even nostalgically (via the objects and the architectural structure) – an evidence of a reality, a routine that has by now dissolved. He traces those who dwelled in the place, the rooms, attic, courtyards and cellars, and through his scrutiny of the deserted objects (books, clothes, furniture, medical appliances) he rewrites their story.

The title of the series refers to works by Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who used the leper house as the backdrop for the plots in two of his stories. The protagonist of the short story Forevermore, Adiel Amzeh, is an obsessive researcher of the history of the great city of Gumlidata that was conquered by the Goths. He goes to the leper house, having discovered that an ancient book recounting the chronicles of Gumlidata, is found in the place. He forgets his intentions to publish his study, and stays in the leper house to peruse the book in depth – forevermore. The concluding chapter in the novel Shira, describes the arrival of the story‘s protagonist, Manfred Herbst, at the leper colony to unite with his beloved, Shira, who contracted the disease.

By submerging himself in the place and through the intimacy of each and every detail in it, Yairi succeeds in invoking human and aesthetic sentiments linked with the place, returning it to us with warmth, sensibility, modesty and accuracy.

Text: Raz Samira, Tel Aviv Museum of Art

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