Ori Gersht: History Repeating

BY Edie Bresler, December 27, 2012

Ori Gersht, Mark 01, 2005, from the series Cypresses. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Fine Arts, BostonOri Gersht, Mark 01, 2005, from the series Cypresses. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ori Gersht, who grew up in Israel during three wars, is intimately familiar with enduring conflict. Although currently residing in London, he remains drawn to regions like Sarajevo, Belarus, and Hiroshima, which share a history of brutality. Gersht often pushes photography and video to chemical and technical extremes, and what he reveals is an essential paradox of survival. Destruction, creation, violence, and beauty are all deeply entwined. In a survey on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston through January 6, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art Al Miner has brought together photographs and videos from dozens of Gersht’s series. A richly illustrated book accompanies the exhibition.

In Ghost (2004) and Cypresses (2005), Gersht exposes film in bright sunlight for such lengthy durations that the recorded image is eventually annihilated by continued exposure, producing miragelike prints. An olive tree (Olive 11), the enduring symbol of Palestine, is wraithlike against a pale yellow background. Beside it, Mark 01 shows a pair of cypress trees, often planted to commemorate fallen Israeli soldiers, in murky colors that suggest an ominous and artificial reality. The smoldering effect on the negative reflects the unreliable nature of absolute truth that continues to fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At first glance many of his videos recall exquisitely staged European Old Master still life paintings. When they suddenly erupt in slow-motion destruction the effect is mesmerizing. In Will You Dance For Me (2011), Yehudith Arnon, famed Israeli dancer and Holocaust survivor, rocks back and forth in and out of a spotlight. Frail and suffering from osteoporosis, her deliberate movements are all that remain of her dance. As the camera pulls away and her form diminishes into darkness, white snow blankets an empty field on an adjacent screen. It is a lyrical plea to hold tight to memories that are already slipping away.