Passage: A Day in Eternity
10:00am-6:00pm, July 25 - September 13, 2015/ admission free
"The Valley Of Wet Bones"
Used plastic bags, dirt, plants, wire, size variable
Collaborative Creation and Publicness for Resistance
Gil YEFMAN develops his works based on the multiple-definitions of his "minority" identity as Jewish and transgender. He layers traumatic events in the collective memory of the Jewish people, such as concentration camps and genocide, and gender issues resulting from his childhood experiences of being physically and mentally uncertain about his sexual orientation. Using specific motifs to address both topics, he presents his view on the current state of the world from his minority position in his artworks. In Human Tapestry, Yefman used Jewish mass graves as a motif, breaking down the images of the graves into fragments, and then weaving them into a large-scale Jacquard tapestry. The patterns of the tapestry, reminiscent of mandalas, appear beautiful at first but on closer inspection one notices that they are constructed with countless faces and body parts of anonymous individuals. While the soft tapestry suggesting feminine labour in domestic handicraft industries, the woven iconographies describe the facts of oppression and cruelty against minorities. This mandala-like expression represents Yefman's attitude in describing undepicted histories and his determination to live life, looking towards the future. Meanwhile, I assume that art making is an act of self-affirmation for Yefman.
Many people, including us, tend to perceive that Japan is a monoethnic nation with our single language. However, this is not the case. A group of people called Emishi used to live in Kita-Tohoku, including Aomori, and in Hokkaido. These regions have a history of being conquered by the Yamato people. Traditions of people native to the regions, such as the Ainu people, and their cultures and ways of living continue to be passed down today. Okinawa was historically called Ryukyu Kingdom, and it was also a separate country with its own language and culture. There are many diaspora communities, Koreans in Japan as one example, existing throughout the country. Though we may not be very conscious of it in our daily life, Japan is a place where many ethnic groups have always existed.
We must also remember that Aomori has a history of being under annexation. Aomori remains a subject of oppression and exploitation within Japan, with a nuclear power plant and a reprocessing plant built after the Second World War. The presence of Yefman, who has the resolution to live as a minority, and the work he produced during his stay in Aomori brought us many direct and indirect realizations.
Yefman undertook the project The Valley of Wet Bones during his three-month residency at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre. The project title derives from "The Valley of Dry Bones" a passage from the Old Testament, Book of Ezekiel. The passage tells that Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley filled with dry bones, symbolizing the destruction of the world and its spiritual death. As a response, Yefman attempted to create a valley of "wet bones" to present a vision of 'life' standing opposed to death and destruction. Through a collaborative process with a group of women from Aomori, they collected used plastic bags, disassembled them, then used the remains to knit the bones. Knitting has long been considered a feminine craft done within the home, and it has also recently been applied as an occupational therapy practice to aid in healing and recovery. As Yefman said that art making was some kind of healing aid for him when he was younger, many participants also felt that they gained mental stability and healing through the collaborative production. He took the private act of knitting out of the home and into the public domain to created a communal space referred to as a salon. Through the process of transforming the used plastic bags —objects that usually get thrown away— into a material for creation, he expressed his positive attitude towards creative production. By growing plants in the bones made from the used plastic bags, he transformed the dry bones, implying death, into water containing bodies, signifying the source of life. One of the interesting things about this gathering space was that though the majority of the participants did not speak much English, Yefman and they communicated very well, enjoyed each other's company, and proactively made a lot of the wet bones. After the exhibition started, they still came to the studio, functioning as the salon, spent their time making the bones, and continued to develop the work in the exhibition. This development process gave us a strong impression that this project had a life of its own and it was in the salon that this life was taking place.
We can also perceive this project as a humble act of creation for resistance against the capitalistic society dominating our life. Neoliberalism is creating expanding social inequality, making people in weak positions even weaker, and leading us to many conflicts and terrorism as a result. Our consumptious activities are slowly ruining our planet and causing various disasters. However, we rarely realise that our unconscious consumeristic behaviors escalate the state of the world poverty and disasters. Living in Japan, we seldom become aware that there are people somewhere being oppressed or we can be the ones to be oppressed at some point of time. Yefman initiated the communal space for life and creation through the act of knitting, using scrap materials. By doing so, he shed light on the existing minorities, that are usually concealed, and suggested the relationship between our behaviors and the issues in the world. By opening the confined, private act of knitting up to the collaborative process and creating the salon, Yefman encouraged us to reconsider the current social environment and aimed to create space for us to envision our future. Making obscured existence visible and conveying discrete voices to us, Yefman proposed possibilities for a new type of communal space needed in our society.
. AC2 Issue 17 (Aomori: Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, 2016): Gil YEFMAN’s interview