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Performance Artist-Designer-Art Director


1990  The Majesty of Absence

DADA- HEAD Catalog

Michael Sagan-Cohen

…  "Dan Zakhem, to be sure, has in the past made direct references to politics.  During the elections of 1984, he established a fictitious party, called Babel, as head of which he ran for office.  He organized an entire American-type pop-art campaign, waving to crowds from and open car etc.  Complete with plastic smile.  The essence of the campaign was to present the propaganda as an artistic medium, in which eight monitors broadcasted the election results live from Jerusalem.

The question of the artist's status within society was raised from a similar angle in a performance where Zakhem proclaims, "I, Dan Zakhem, a Zionist artist in the Land of Israel, light this beacon…. And to the glory of the State of Israel" (from the beacon-lighting ceremony of the Independence Day).  Underlying the work is the artist's tacit question:  in whose name is he, as a Zionist artist in Israel, lighting his beacon?  This requires him to come to grips with a local, political reality, although without actually defiling the sacred cows of that reality.  According to Zakhem, the political aspect of his works serves to hold up a mirror to society at large.

The current work also has a political dimension, although not dominant.  Zakhem installs sculpture/structures designed to contain the human body – open forms and negative casts of the human body, including lights, wheels, videos etc.  Nude young men operate the structures, filling the empty spaces for the duration of their activity; in the absence they leave the structures standing in the empty space of the museum, redolent with the associations of body-building gyms and sadomasochistic paraphernalia, and exuding the majesty of absence.  The presence of numinous absence in the sculptures leads the viewer on toward thoughts of death and was (implicit meaning of the word 'halal'. Which means both 'empty space', and 'a soldier slain in battle' – trans.); indeed, one of the sculptures is the negative cast of a body in a military coffin, giving the work a local, political resonance.

Another multi-level structure, superimposed over the human body, marks the chakras', the energy centers know to oriental religions (parallel to the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah insofar as that it is applied to the human body).  Zakhem applies various objects to the chakras:  to the chakra of the head (the 'Crown' of the Kabbalah) he has attached the leather inner cap of a helmet upon which rests a copper bowl hung by springs from the ceiling, and from which a ray of light bursts forth.  Zakhem is obviously touching upon both the upper and lower realms of being.  In yet another sculpture, cypresses, according to Zakhem, give expression to the upward and downward directionality of corporeal and spiritual realities.

The monitors integrated into the work show footage of burials and flag removal, as well as the process of putting surgical gloves and condoms.  The passage of time finds expression in the rusty iron of which the structures are made.  The men with their exposed masculinity who fill the empty spaces of the structures become associated in the viewer's   consciousness with expressions of male culture:  war, life and death, violence, sex."  …


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