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Dina Shenhav  | TUNNEL

Curator: Aya Lurie

 The large sculptural object at the center of Dina Shenhav’s exhibition is made entirely of yellow sponge (polyurethane). It sits at the center of the empty white hall in a way that accentuates its singular isolation in space. From the outside, its form is made up of fairly smooth planes, so that it resembles an abstract sculpture, a commissioned or readymade industrial object, with a gaping empty space within. Visitors are invited to enter the sponge tunnel, which is XX meters long. The material processing of the interior is radically different from its exterior: its inner walls bear signs of manual excavation, and scattered by them are a variety of meticulously realistic objects and working tools ostensibly used by the excavators during their extended stay.

Not long ago, such “tunnels” were a major issue of concern in Israel’s national security discourse. Every so often, disturbing reports were received about incidents and evidence of nocturnal excavation noises at the country’s southern border with the Gaza Strip and at the northern border with Lebanon, via outposts of the Hizballah. The polyurethane’s properties evoke not only an intimate memory of one’s own body lying on a bed mattress, but also the material’s ability to insulate, seal, and mute alarming noises. And while, throughout human history, tunnels have also served as hiding places or places of refuge and protection, Shenhav’s tunnel, which is revealed to all in the middle of the space and made of a soft material, is a priori devoid of such functions. Thus, the tunnel splices the local conflict with the universal existential condition of finding oneself at a dead end.

In 2001, on the concrete wall at the entrance to the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Shenhav presented a series of five mosaic pieces made of painted polyurethane, based on press photographs from the Lebanon War, the Al-Aqsa Intifada uprising, and war films (fig. 1). She “treated” these harsh news images in a manner suggestive of a nurse, or an art restorer, by reassembling the disparate pieces into a “war image” through the use of soft, insulating, and cushioning sponge. The use of mosaic is related to the artist’s life story, since her father, David Shenhav, was a renowned art restorer who specialized in mosaics. In our conversation about her current tunnel project, the memory of her father also cropped up in connection to his unbelievable story of survival in World War II, in which, as an adolescent left alone in a forest, he apparently found refuge in a cave or a pit that he dug to save his life.

As one wanders around the object and within it, varying interpretive perspectives arise that link together states of consciousness and of time. These perspectives project onto the reading of the project on various levels at once – visible and repressed, current and historical, collective and autobiographical.

Aya Lurie

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