“Yael Davids: A Reading that Writes – A Physcial Act II”
December 6 – 22, 2013
Redcat: CalArts Downtown Center for Contemporary Arts
631 West 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA.
Yael Davids is an Israeli born performance artist now based in Amsterdam whose work has continued to re-contextualize and question relationships between written words, acts of speech, physical movements and their sculptural underpinnings. Like many of her previous performances, which she references and works from, Davids’ newest work, and her first solo presentation in the U.S., “A Reading that Writes – A Physical Act II”, centers around a narrative text that tells of fragments of her childhood in Israel. During the performance that marked the opening of the exhibition, the text is read aloud by both Davids and her collaborator, Los Angeles based dance artist, Taisha Paggett. The act begins inside of Davids’ gallery installation [starkly] consisting of transparent panes of glass cut into triangles configured into vague patterns on the ground. In the center of the room are two thick, tan, industrial looking ropes hanging from the ceiling and knotted at various points as their ends dangle to the ground. Some other panes of glass stand tilted against walls and columns and a very large wooden frame hangs from hinges on the ceiling, encapsulating those that sit and stand within it.
As the audience began to settle, Davids began to speak, at first slowly and a bit reservedly. She tells the story of family and friends that she has left behind, presumably in Israel. As her introduction comes to a close the text is suddenly repeated, as Paggett, sitting across the gallery, lays flat on her back and begins a subtle wiggling movement on the ground. Soon Davids and Paggett are simultaneously slithering along the parameter of the gallery’s walls in unison as they continue to recite the script with their own inflections through which two congruous but hazy pictures are painted of the kibbutz where Davids grew up, “an old Arab village, Suba.” We then find out that Suba has since become a Palestinian village run into the ground with little now remaining and further research leads to me to uncover that the area is only somewhat economically stable due to its large production industry of several different kinds of glass, hence the installation.
With their two distinct voices speaking the same words, exaggerated by the difference in the tone of their voices and the angles of their bodies, Davids and Paggett reveal ways in which their interactions represent the emptiness and malleability of a text, not unlike the emptiness of the large frame that hangs from the ceiling. As they fill in the space with both their words and their actions, they demonstrate how a story is impregnated with meaning and sentiment when it is adopted by the reader. This is only further complicated when six other performers suddenly emerge from the seated audience to very carefully pick up the triangular pieces of glass and rearrange them on the floor. At one point the handlers surround Paggett and as she recites a quote by Richard Serra in which he comments on the weight of his own sculpture. The handlers they flank her in plates of glass that stand upright on their edges, encasing her in a very fragile, transparent box.
Towards the end of the performance Davids helps Paggett climb onto or, more accurately, into one of the knots in the hanging ropes, and the pulls herself up into the other. As they hang from their knees, blood rushing to their heads that hang upside down, they continue to weave their words together, one following just of the heels of the other. They speak of the act of falling, of breaking apart, of the idea of the ground as a lever that can be used to transform or unify ones’ limbs. Relationships of the body to the space in which the performance takes place are of course central here, as we realize that the performers in a sense enact the will of the words, while the space, continually being rearranged by the six handlers, is the metaphoric page that the reader holds in its hand and eventually turns or puts away. Though Davids’ work is often discussed as raising political questions about the current state of both Israel and Palestine, this performance seems to say much more about the subjectivity of personal interpretation, and the personification of an idea as it is exemplified through the specific structuring of words.
For more information visit Redcat: CalArts Downtown Center for Contemporary Arts.
-Contributed by Courtney Malick
Previous reviews by Courtney Malick: