GO 2001 GREEN IRIS series 14. 12 of 12
Iris and the Idiot Woman: Torso and the Blemmyes (without a brain) bly-moach בלי-מוח
In the early stages of my work, I handled my torso figure mostly as a "piece", the fragment as a whole in itself. It did not lack hands or feet. The body 'trunk' with its head was whole and full.
Later on, it seems that most of the newer torso figures, both female and male, as well as the non-gendered characters that populate my drawings, have developed the Akephaloi trait, "headless". At some point the head, the missing part, seem to have become a task for me, it required some articulation, a compensatory presence, or 'embodiment'. I say 'embodiment' because the works show heads which are bodies, or bodies which are heads, they become a single union. This is what happens with many of my Iris figures, for example.
Rodin's Iris was my starting point. She is headless. This is a torso, a fragment of a female body. My Iris figures develop their heads within the torso: they become sorts of Blemmyes - the sub-category of the headless, Akephaloi.
Iris is not just a headless sculpture; What belongs entirely to the genius of Auguste Rodin stems from the situation he designed: a sculpture with no facade. The 'back' of the object cannot be seen, it is 'backless'. One can just walk around it, and more and again. This is what was so hard to contain in the two-dimensionality of my drawings. It was especially difficult as I was using a very fast line. It is complicated to respond to Iris's curvature particularities, and the cuts of all its missing parts. So on top of all that, somehow the missing head demanded something of me, its lack presented itself to me in an almost frightening way, even though it was not needed at all; Indeed, most successfully it is undoubtedly unnecessary in Rodin's Iris, and so much so that it seems superfluous, even backward, reflecting the historical representations. Rodin's headless Iris is in my eyes a perfection second to none in its full presence and meaning. I drew it over and over in front of the original, first looking at it from all sides, with different drawing techniques, and then, after a few days of drawing sessions in the museum, when I felt I knew it a little better, I started doing it alone, far from it, in the studio, drawing blindfold and very fast, like scribbling a signature in the dark. But then, something unplanned happened: the torso developed features of a face. It came by itself, with the flow of the line: the facial features of a missing head are found on the chest, or - and often - in the lower parts of the torso, and indeed quite similarly they also appear in various articulations in the mythological Blemmyes. I loved it. I did not plan it. I had no idea or intention to refer to the mythological creatures nor any other particular mutation, monster, or demon mapped globally across cultures and centuries in the various Mapa Mundi of the bizarre. It happened. Now that it happened I could start working with it. With my purpose. It also taught me something not only about the ancient or classical imagination, but about the imagination as a faculty, and the intersection between imagination and chance. At least I can attest that one never had to travel to the ends of the earth to discover human beings whose faces are buried in their breasts or bowels. I discovered such a possibility during the process of studying Rodin's work, 'inhaling' it - so to say - into my body. In the case of Iris - that her head is in her breasts and bowels is to my feeling her dancing essence - being what she is: ultimate phenomena of movement.
I read that at some point in the 17th Century, it was claimed that the word 'Blemmyes' came from the Hebrew 'bly' (בלי) "without" and 'moach' (מוח) "brain", implying that the Blemmyes were people without brains. In a sense, blindfold drawing gestures the sanctioning of the brain - set aside or postpone artistic censorship, the know-how to. About the mythical Blemmyes, I learned that they were the inhabitants of ancient Libya or the Nile system. They are often Aethiopian creatures. I loved learning this because intuitively, almost all my headless figures bear on top of their brainlessness some Moorish features. And my early torsos - all of them are 'Moorish'.
I think, and it is conceivable that many thought so before, that it is no coincidence that when courting Desdemona Othello tells her stories of his wild journeys in far corners of the world where he saw the Akephaloi or the Blemmyes, those hideous headless creatures wearing their faces on their chest, belly or loins. In the play, I think it serves as some horror full introduction to what is going to happen to Othello himself: That gentleman is losing his head, this is what's going on there right in front of our eyes. I also learned that the Greek derivation from 'blemma' is 'look' or 'glance', and that 'muō' means 'close the eyes'. So the 'missing head' stands for 'losing the ability to see' - blindness, which is the case of that Moor great fall.
For me, the name 'Othello' got to designate the question with the body in my paintings. The foreign, terrible, and fragmented become beautiful and perfect, and at the same time, I am preoccupied with the threat looming in the brainless body, the dark, the 'black' animalist parts, the not human. I think that my grotesques 'enlight' (or illuminate) this 'Moorish' darkness; that which was debased stands for spirit, flexibility, movement in its highest sense - being that transcends the human. In short: I cut the 'hell' from 'Othello'. What I am trying to say is that in a hyperbolic sense I identify with Othello's madness: with his 'black' face, with his blindness, his headlessness, his hapless jealousy, and with the murder. In terms of the ambition of my painting: The fair Lady must die.