This catalogue is a sort of midway summation of the past ten years of mature creativity, a tithe of a rich and varied period of artistic creativity on paper. During this past decade Zila Friedman has developed a personal handwriting that becomes more refined with every new work. The choice of paper as the (almost) exclusive background surface is natural for a searching and investigating artist, who doesn’t relate to the paper as a surface to “lay” the work on, but as an integral part of the work, a partner with whom she manages a dialogue of “give and take.” And as the paper answers the artist’s demands – exposing to her its face, its reverse side, and sometimes, its insides – she opens herself to the paper, charging it with her deepest thoughts and the most gentle and delicate breath of her soul.
The journey taken by Friedman starts at the beginning of the 1990s with large drawings organized around a loose grid, warp and weft, of graphite and charcoal that contained within them a number of figurative images. The journey continued with works where she relinquished the grid system and focused on the figures, and ends, at least for the time being, with precise, distilled drawings that return to the clean grid, lacking any identifiable images. It is worth bringing examples of this process in order to better understand it, and perhaps to release from within it a number of truths about the essence of the artist’s work.
The large drawings from the start of the 1990s are characterized, as stated above, by free, expressive drawing, with a clear inner order. The action is limited to the area of the paper, leaving clear borders around the act of drawing. An untitled work from 1992 (fig. 1) marks the start of the process: In the upper section is a kind of entanglement, and not an ordered grid. A single horizontal line with scribbles that give it a rhythm. At the center of the drawing is a string abstract image, suggestive of a leg or broom. The Hebrew word “Hessed” (grace, kindness) is imprinted in the upper section, the only image that can be identified with any certainty. The word has been printed with a stencil, with no hand drawing, maybe to blur the origin. Who wrote the word “Hessed”? Is the origin elsewhere, and the artist only a tool of mediation? Is it a gift or wish? The word is split in two by the stencil. The middle letter is split in half. Cracked grace. This charged word, painted in noble blue, charges the whole work with an implied magical power, of an external intervention, a divine voice whispering “with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.”
A later untitled work (Fig. 2) makes a statement of all being order and organization: A horizontal formation in charcoal is the basis of the drawing, an even rhythm of scribbles the length of the horizontal lines remind one of heart beats on a monitor, or alternatively, of barbed wire. The bottom line is strengthened by a number of additional lines and supports the whole structure. Above it, a layer of vertical graphite lines build a screen that almost completely blocks the drawing. Almost, for the lower left corner is treated differently and includes within it the only figurative images in the large drawing: an organized and square formation of nine slightly dilapidated bicycles, drawn in a very basic style. With one wheel bigger than the other, the image looks like an old fashioned bicycle, but also like a wheelchair (the image of the bicycle will return later on, in other drawings, but there they will be in motion, charged with energy, without the signs of fragility and dilapidation). The structure demands a gaze that takes in all the geometric axes – horizontal, vertical, and diagonal, like a game of naughts and crosses; in ones imagination it is possible to move the figures and to swap them without disturbing the whole structure.
The mystic atmosphere is also present in other, slightly later drawings which all have a common image: the pendulum. In the work Praying Woman (Borka), 1997 (Fig. 5), for example, the figure of a woman clad in a “Borka” (a covering worn by religious Muslim women in Afghanistan) seems to float in the upper portion of the paper. She scatters dust or some sort of particles while also putting the pendulum in motion. A black stain covers her face. The mysterious, larger than life figure generously bestows something undefined on an invisible audience. Since the work was made in 1997, before the Afghani threat entered our consciousness, I would say that that threat was not the motivation behind the choice of image. The figure should not be seen as threatening, but rather a faceless figure that I connect to the same mystic atmosphere mentioned earlier. As stated, the figure moves the pendulum, thus handing out destinies and making guesses through deviations of external energy. Whose destiny is held in the hand?
This figure returns in additional works, for example another work of the same title (Fig. 6): The figure moves the pendulum and scatters dust, but this time she is framed by a rectangle with a bird in one corner. The drawing is built from two layers of paper: a bottom layer of white paper and above it a sheet of tracing paper that carries most of the drawing’s elements. The tracing paper is rolled up, echoing the body on which the figure sits. The balls of the pendulum are static, trapped within the rolled paper. One act of casting the balls is invalidated by the opposite act that stops and limits the balls’ motion, whether in order to influence and control destiny, or whether because of the Biblical order forbidding the supplication of magical forces, soothsayers or casters of destinies. Through the translucent paper we in fact see both sides of the coin-like balls, something that strengthens the connections of coincidence and destiny in the image – a coin has two sides.
A small untitled drawing from 1999 (Fig. 8) is worthy of separate attention. In the story it seems to tell there are symbolist and erotic characteristics. The paper is sharply divided into two parts: On the light right-hand side there is a pair of male shoes – work or army boots – that connect to the left-hand side via a bridge-like element. On the dark left-hand section there is an image of keys within a fine grid. The keys drawn not in a realistic style, but in a slight comic-book style, look like sperm searching for an egg in need of fertilization, or even male genitalia. The shoes are a testament to their absent owner, and therefore sterile and are not in use. The work is suggestive of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors. Even, The keys/sperm fill the role of the bachelors in Duchamp’s work, and the shoes that of the bride. Yet if in Duchamp’s work, the bachelors are unable to satisfy their desire, here Friedman again intervenes in destiny and builds a bridge between the two sides.
After a series of almost abstract works, reminiscent of topographical drawings, with the collective title of The Danger of Bringing the Dead to Life, 2000, (Figs. 9, 10, 11), Fridman arrived at the latest group of drawings, characterized by total abstraction, with no identifiable images (Figs. 14, 15). In all of them a grid covers the whole surface of the work leaving no margins. The precise grid is in conflict with a free form – two thick lines that cross each other in the earlier works, and fine lines that carry on until they become a scribble that disappears within the grid, in the later drawings. Through the use of light and shade the artist creates, as in the earlier works, a deep system of warp and weft. However, in the end they are different, as the first works were characterized by a blocked, dark, maybe even pessimistic, formation, while the recent works, as well as being more spiritual, are imbued with optimism through the bright light that shines through the cracks.
In that case, what is the essence that characterizes Zila Friedman’s works? What is common to the different images that have appeared over the past decade? It seems to me that the answer is buried within the concept of movement. This concept that stands at the foundation of existence and life, taken for granted by most of us, is not so for the artist. She responds to it again and again, in images of bicycles, the pendulum, the bird, and the shoes. This response is basically very physical, lying in the horizontal axis of the movement, in fact the possibility or lack there of to move from place to place. Yet this is accompanied by the metaphysical movement along the vertical axis, as the works loose shapes and figures with the movement of time, free themselves from excess baggage, go through a process of “evaporation”, of spiritual exchange. I would even say that they move towards enlightenment. The foundation of the drawing, the grid, which started as a free and coarse drawing, reaches a fine and net-like quality in the later works, transparent and airy. The free lines, founded in the lengthened stains in the early works, have become so fine and tremulous they almost disappear.
Zila Friedman’s works are also characterized by a dichotomous, divided approach: movement and lack of movement, one side and the other side, upper layer and lower layer, interior and exterior, wavering between different, even opposite, states. It seems that she places doubt as a value at the center of her works. Images are in a continual process of change, metamorphosis and exchange. Options of chance and the hand of destiny are repeatedly examined, not through a renouncement of responsibility, but conversely, through an awareness of the options of choice. An awareness that destiny’s decree can be changed, that the choice is always in our hands, and it is in our hands to change and influence our fate.
Ilan Vizgan, Large Movement, The Artists’ Residence, Herzliya, 2002