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Performance Artist-Designer-Art Director


1991  The Majesty of Absence

DADA- HEAD Catalog

Ilan Shenfeld

(Page 5 from Catalog)


The experience of standing on the threshold between two states:  between masculine and feminine, living and dead, fertile and ravaged, full and empty, between life in the sub lunar world and perceptions of the celestial world – this stance lies at the heart of the work of Dan Zakhem.  His works maintain a characteristic tension between pairs of opposites, in which the artist consistently chooses to stand on the threshold between them; indeed almost any threshold will serve as a perennial interim state.  The current work is surrounded by a wall, in which there is nonetheless a gate; one can climb up and see it, although above both the work and the viewer looms a crushing, impenetrable heavy concrete ceiling.  The tension between the will to define or enclose the work of art and the desire to eliminate all boundaries is thus evident.  This tension arises from the artist's intermediary stance:  he is being pulled back and forth between opposing forces.

The objects placed within the boundaries of the work, in the Majesty ofAbsence, are all shapes and molds of absent bodies that cry out to be filled:  negative impressions of bodies cast plaster, leather straps and harnesses which stand ready to enclose the human body in their compass;  the monitor placed atop a set of bell, is too an empty box full of visual images (images of containers and barriers:  surgical gloves, condoms);  the skeletal image of the chakras, the ma's energy centers, according to Indian belief; the pottery urns of cypresses – all there are empty containers waiting for man to fill them.

A number of the objects are equivocal in structure.  For example, both the crinoline and the bell above the six-pointed bases, which form a Star of David.  This shape signifies both in Judaism and in other Eastern religions, the combination of masculine and feminine, yin and yang, earth and sky. Moreover, the feet of anyone sitting in the crinoline will never reach the ground, but rather be doomed to swing between earth and sky.  Likewise, the crucified angel can neither rise heavenwards to his home, nor ink to the depths.  He is fated to remain on the threshold between heaven and earth. 

The corrosive process of metals, rust, takes place on an axis of time.  Painting the rusting objects with shellac halts the progress of the rust, preserving it as a museum exhibit, in an attempt to halt the passage of time, to trap the object within the defined human time of the museum space.  Nonetheless, blocks of concrete, reminiscent of the ceiling, rest on the floor to opposite effect.  IN being placed where they are, they rather resemble an archaeological display, an indication the even the museum, that cultural space that captures for people the illusion of their control over posterity, is also subject to the destructive power of time, to the recycling of matter.

This concern with the destructive processes of the natural world over time can be associated with the polarities inherent in the objects included in the work:  the object placed in space undergoes a process over time.  This process is the continuous alternation between the poles of birth and annihilation, creation and destruction.  Indeed, the placement of the resting objects in the museum is congruent with human burial rituals.  In the process of burial, we create an enclosed, perceptible, human time frame, exactly as in placing objects in a museum we seek to impose man's rule and man's time over eternity.

The installation is operated by nude youths.  It is their movement that quickens the objects in to the process of existence in time, which is also the process of alternating between diametrical states.  The automatism and the Sisyphean pessimism of human movement within the delineated works space engulf the viewer with suffering, while at the same time protecting him from the loss of all movement and the descent into nothingness.

The cypresses, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, seek, at the death of man, to combine once again into a single trunk, returning to their original unity before the existing sin.  They are also the link between upper and lower worlds, like the totem pole that the shaman – priest and healer – climbs during the course of initiation ceremony, a ladder, as it were, upon which the soul takes the first steps of its ascent.

Planting and uprooting are likewise acts of altered states in time.  Planting, both in broad human and specifically Israeli-Zionist terms, created life.  Uprooting does the opposite, while at the same time creating gaping holes in the ground which cry out to be filled with saplings.  Planting a cypress tree at the gate of a cemetery is an affirmation of life, for the dead too.  It is perhaps for this reason that Dan Zakhem displays pictures of his own dead relatives as part of the work.  He does this also that these dead will serve him as a kind of bridge into the world beyond.

The interest in birth and death, and in the continual cyclicity between the two, is what brings the artist to renew himself during the course of this work.

He adds his grandfather's name – Moshe – to his own name, becoming a living memorial to the dead.  He is thus reborn with a new name in Israel"     Dan Moshe Zakhem


*... archive still in process

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