Carmela Weiss: Of the Perceptible Illusiveness of Reality
“Our personality should be impenetrable even to ourselves: that’s why our duty should be always to dream and to include ourselves in our dreams so that it is impossible for us to hold any opinions about ourselves”
(Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, in Serpent's Tail Classics,
translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Profile Books, 2010: 239-40).
Carmela Weiss’ exhibition dives into the abyss of the subconscious, memory and dreams, and seeks to find what is between them and reality. This is done through the metamorphoses undergone by the act of ink drawing on paper to drawing in motion in the zoetrope, from paper cuttings to the work of animation, which is based on drawings and oil painting. These movements between expression modes explore the grasp on actuality as possible through the act of art alone.
The elusiveness of memory and the image as well as the need to hold onto them in the gap between dream and reality occur in the exhibition due to the very choice of ink drawing that becomes the paper’s 'subconscious' as material and space; in the baby stroller that is being reassembled and disassembled in the zoetrope; in the father figure in the work of animation, that comes and returns, advancing towards the viewer and retreats over and over. “Dreaming is a thought process,” as Weiss quotes the French psychoanalytic Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, “the dream does not carry me into another world, it thinks overall, and thinks me. The thought of the dream is different from what we tend to refer to as thinking, for it is a thinking that does not know it is thinking!” Weiss confronts the dream’s consciousness that is not self-aware with the awareness that the dream and remembering it alter the ways in which we perceive the present and it reality. The word “rockabye,” the exhibition’s title, also points at the complexity of the dream state related to sleep, for “rockabye” pertains to the cradle, and by extrapolation the cradle of civilization. At the same time, in spite of their aim to soothe children into sleep, in many cultures lullabies are characterized by dark tragic elements. Moreover, in Hebrew, the word can appear in conjunction with death to indicate the deathbed or a person’s final moments.
Over the years, Weiss’ work has dealt with the world of imagination: its inner logic and rules and the way it leans on an existing reality and changes its boundaries and comprehension. In her previous works she created bubble worlds that dealt with primordial creatures and collective delusions, operating in many ways between progress and primordial, between the distant past and the present. Now, she returns to a private, personal past, exploring the hidden memories in an event that, even though it is not certain it had ever occurred, remain engraved in her very being.
The front part of the gallery – the ink drawings, paper cuttings, and zoetrope. In the back part – the work of animation. In the wall between the two parts of the space, behind a tight tied piece of leather is an unidentified object, which cannot be easily discerned. It seems like an image of an object, but perhaps it is only an imprint or drawing on the other side of the leather. This work functions as an un-interpreted representation, an absent presence that unsettles and infuses the exhibition with a sense of the uncanny, as well as a sense of the playful and enjoyable, which toys with the attempt to understand it all, pointing at rules and breaking them. The object’s deceiving existence positions the image as a sign that is simultaneously established through the particular representation and lives and operates as an independent visual entity, which evolves and changes in the continuum of the artworks.
The echoes of the past, which form the present and the elusive sense of 'self', outline the path for the formation of Weiss’ drawings. Through the medium of ink drawing, she allows the image to be recognized in one moment and abstract in another, exploring the ways in which the drawings change due to the water action on the ink in the space of the paper, so that the creative process continues almost on its own. “When you paint, the memory is engrained into the body,” she says in conversation, and quotes a sentence from The Emigrants by German writer Winfried Georg Sebald: “Uncle Alderwrath had an accurate memory, but he did not permit himself access to that memory.” Weiss confronts the essence of access to that memory or formative dream, and forges her way to it through art, with the drawings in which a girl or doll appears with her back to the viewer in a landscape that is between the fantastical and the real, between the nightmarish maze and the homey and protected, between the strange and the known. Alongside these drawings, drawings and cuttings of a distorted baby stroller, which looks like a large insect – the stroller, like the doll, is at the center of the dream/memory/nightmare. In Sergei Eisenstein’s iconic 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, the baby stroller rolling down the stairs signifies the essence of horror and the collapse of order and security. Similarly, the stroller’s movement sequences and the metamorphoses it undergoes in Weiss’ works are a visual and emotional progression that intensify and are located in the zoetrope.
The word zoetrope in Greek is “the wheel of life”. It is a device that produces an illusion of motion by swift movement of motionless images upon a strip located in the inner side of a wheel, which are positioned against slits that function as observation peepholes. The device, which was invented in China in the second century and arrived in Europe in the nineteenth century, led to the invention of cinema, and was a part of the era’s phantasmagoria spectacle, which combined fantastical and real worlds. In Weiss’ work, the stroller that turns and rolls in front of the peeping viewer signifies a world in constant unsettlement. At the same time, as in the walled object, the drawings and the animation, the zoetrope too, and perhaps even more so here is the whimsical option of play, release and pleasure from the magic of creation using the image of movement.
The animation work, titled It’s Alright is the heart of the exhibition, because it focuses the drawings and its avatars and the movement element as a thread weaved into all the works and connects the function of the memory and the manner of creation of the drawing. The father figure emerges from the wall holding a baby, a doll, alternating between the two, and he himself appears to be approaching the viewer and then disappears again, breaking through the barrier of consciousness.
The soundtrack of wood or metal wheels intensifies the repetitiveness of the image’s movement in time and space in the work, thus systematically blurring the boundaries between the real and imagined parts. One appearance is separated from the other in delay, a pause for breath before the next unknown moment in the eternal circularity of the dream, the memory, and the artwork, which constantly repeats itself turns them into reality.
"Rockabye", solo exhibition, Carmela Weiss, P8 Gallery, January 2020.