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Imagination is the pilgrim on the earth and its home is in heaven:

Tamar Getter's Grotesques


by H.S.L.R.


"The large wall pieces are led from drawing and lead to drawing."

- Tamar Getter, in conversation


The bulk of the GO drawings were created on thick, coarse oil-tempera surfaces, with only a small part of them on white paper. The drawing tools are chalks, markers, ultra-thin lead, threads dipped in pigment, stylus, and stamps. The surface is rough and dark in order to obstruct vision and create a situation of high resistance to the line's flow. The work was executed under dim lighting. Many of the drawings were performed while blindfolded, following the first drawing in each series which was executed with eyes uncovered. The ambition underlying these series, it appears, is to study complex and irregular forms so as to remember them to the point of being able to produce them with one continuous line, or to remember them like letters to enable the execution of "calligraphy in the dark." In order to master and perfect these forms they are often drawn as mirror images and/or with diverse drawing tools. Most of the drawings explore the body (man, woman, animal) as well as strained or impossible movement.


The GO series were hung sequentially across the entire gallery space, simultaneously offering themselves as a type of duration, possibly as some plan for an animated film. More importantly, the series create a close-knit chain of internal references and reactions, thematically as well as technologically, and many of them lose their meaning and/or become puzzling when isolated. Therefore they ought to be regarded as one work.


The collaboration with French choreographer Bernardo Montet on the work Ma'Lov (1998) demanded that Getter perform the same drawings and writing on stage every evening, before an audience, within a set time, keeping her body stable, standing up, her hand stretched to the maximum, progressing with the drawing while walking straight or rising to her toes. Similarly, the bending demanded in such a "show" also had to be performed with body as erect as possible. During the months of work Getter executed many drawings in this manner on a linoleum board stretched across the entire stage. The images in the series of drawings entitled GO resemble the images executed in that work, portraying grotesque crosses of bodies.


As for the blindfolding in Getter's drawings, I construe it as a type of empowerment, an underscoring of the work process. Instead of emphasizing choice, the end product, or a certain appearance in a given style, it addresses repetition itself. The gaze is directed at the motivation of the process. Thus technical as well as mechanical situations of suspense are created, since this drawing is interested, as much as possible, in rejecting anything that might institutionalize or encourage "artistic" control, or present it as an expressive target. The traces of the multiple repetition of the same act may be perceived in terms of the work's "physicality," a physicality which I am inclined to regard in terms of a dictated testimony.


In the large-scale installations, Getter's tools are crude. Naturally used for production of unified, opaque surfaces (in house-painting or whitewashing), they are not friendly to painting with nuances, or painting that contains any image whatsoever. The act of dragging the squeegee proposes a type of "resetting" of the work surface, thereby ostensibly piercing or imprinting the painting as the trace of an action and as the trace of activation. The figures and forms thus become agents of the painterly act itself, and can effectively be regarded as icons of the execution mode, for the crude tools generate different types of obstacles and hindrances, always demanding a "release" or "liberation" device. Due to the affinity with deceit inherent in such work, one sense of such release is trivial, another – serious, like Houdini's escape art, which combines an actual escape with a show of deception.


The work on paper is more ordinary, or classical. Obtaining working conditions similar to those of the large installations required being similarly "bound" (to produce the crude tools), on a small scale. Hence the crude color surfaces on the paper as opposed to the ultra-thin lead of the drawing tool; hence also the interference with the visibility of the work surface, and a greater, unfolding, deconstruction of the array of repetitions of each form; hence the structure of the GO series and the development, or scant variation, within each series. The quantity and redundification are formative aspects in this process. This tendency is also discernible in the early Tel Hai Yard cluster.


Getter's attitude to utopia – the frequently asked question with regard to her oeuvre and especially its early chapter – may be elucidated by her basic approach to drawing, where a principle of nonhierarchical supplementation prevails. The serial opening introduces a passive relation to things, furnishing them with an impersonal, epic and dramatic (as opposed to lyrical) contextual frame. The GO drawings, like the rest of Getter's drawing-based work, are constantly engaged with location assessments, distance estimates and its setting. Therefore, the aesthetic ideal of perfection or symmetry is essentially nonexperiential, and is always "in heaven."


Getter emphasizes the anatomical deformation as well as the anatomical absurdity characterizing all the figures in the drawings through their sole undertaking on the paper: self-stabilization, to "stand" and not to "fall," thus presenting the ambiguity of this "standing," which is comical in the sense that the proposed success is always a type of failure. At the same time, the anatomy of these grotesques strives to make them omnipotent figures. Thus, even if these are always bodies with missing organs, they are still equipped with many excessive qualities: they possess a dual, feminine and masculine sexuality; they are both human and bestial, both inanimate, stone-like and organic; they are good at walking on all fours, just as much as they are on two, three and one, and they attest to a hovering capacity, just as much as to mechanical motor skills; the age range they embody is vast: infancy and old age at once. This is also the impression they leave in terms of weight: the heavier and more cumbersome they are, the more stuck they are – the lighter and more elastic they appear. And such is also their tragic impression, which is amusing: like the extent of their extreme ugliness, so is their beauty, and so forth.


Considering the anatomy, genetics, and fate of a figure such as Humpty-Dumpty, the aim of Getter's grotesquery becomes clear. Humpty-Dumpty is egg-shaped. He cannot sit or stand. If he sits – he will fall, etc. The refrain emphasizes this point by saying that no one in the kingdom was able to save him. Getter's figures, with the constant surplus and contradiction inherent in their identity, display a complete freedom of movement in a space of total defeat.


John Ruskin's discussion of the grotesque imagination results from the theological tradition. The grotesque imagination is perceived as the highest tool of both the painter and the prophet, for it originated in the Fall which fixed it, as noted by St. Augustine, in domestic, spatial and temporal restraints – as opposed to the world and the word of God which are outside of time. Thus, the grotesque takes place entirely in a space of conflict with that which is outside time, and it is essentially a challenging of the human sphere. The vision of truth is sublime, but by the very essence of the human condition it is inevitably condemned for a grotesque manifestation, which must be understood as a mode of adapting the (divine) truth to the human condition [The Stones of Venice]. Ruskin thus maintains that "imagination is the pilgrim on the earth and its home is in heaven" [Modern Painters]. But the artist's religious authority in previous eras, and his potential status as prophet or "sage" in the modern era involves his ability to overcome the pathetic falsehood lying in wait for the grotesque imagination. It is founded on violent feelings, and like all violent feelings it runs the risk of generating a false picture of anything external; of building a subjective, solipsist, emotional, and "humanistic" picture of the world. The way to escape the egotism lurking for the grotesque is by losing one's field of vision and the sense of self, in favor of passive openness to a state of testimony or dictation. In this respect, the supreme grotesque painter is an impassive scrivener of the vision of imagination.

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