Neta Harari Navon: Dynasty

Tsibi Geva, 2000

During a conversation with Neta about the paintings, the writing, in some context, I recalled John Cassavetes’ film A Woman Under the Influence, where Gena Rowlands, his wife in real life, gradually loses her mind under the conformist gaze of her husband, family and others. When I saw the film years ago, it was a shocking and unnerving experience, but now it is the context that interests me; some realization pertaining to perspective, to the (hidden) focal point that generates that experience within you, one which is neither that of the woman nor that of her conservative, screwed up husband. Somehow, it is the camera that does it, the movement of the cameraman, of Cassavetes himself, from whom Lars von Trier and others may have learned. It is a story not about (the family, mother, others), but rather one that stems from the trembling psyche, from its frenzied motion which is, in fact, represented by the camera that nearly shifts into psychotic speech.

It is that very same quality that generates Neta Harari-Navon’s painting, rendering it so original, personal, unexpected. The way she observes things, the way she lets us observe her way of observation. The context seems to call for a discussion of realism, for Neta’s painting is well-rooted in that realm, committed, exposing some persistence and faithfulness to painstaking practice, to entering into the interstices of this ostensibly “familial” reality. Perhaps I should use the recently prevalent term “Neurotic Realism”. The way I see it, it refers to people for whom realism is their first home (the parents room), where later on down the line something had gone awry, became inflated, distorted and deformed into the psychic dimension. Francis Bacon did it. It is discernible in the work of Lucian Freud, from whom John Currin among others may have adopted it. It alludes to the way in which the objective picture somehow, somewhere, collapses into an image of the psyche, a distorting lens that makes a mountain out of a molehill. It raises questions about “normalcy,” or alternatively about madness. Who defines them, from what point of view, and in relation to what? What is a norm (of representation, of painterly, physical, aesthetic, social or moral truth)?

Neta’s painting conveys that feeling. The confusion, the pain. It makes me wonder what kind of a mind, what kind of a world, produced such painting. It doesn’t ask to be interpreted, to be read as something that asks to be put into words. On the contrary. I am talking about some kind of physical force, some kind of pressure, that these works exert by the power of that which is depicted in them, by virtue of how it is done, by virtue of some obsession to touch, to show the wound, the twisted, illusory, distorted way in which she had once seen it somewhere in the world, or at home, or in her troubled dreams.

We may talk, for instance, about the first thought that came to my mind in view of these paintings: there are no eyes. The eyes are hidden, denied, looking sideways. And the next thing: that shrinking. Of the body, the hands that hold on tightly, the tension stored in the body and in the garment, the decorum of the fabric (a dress, socks, quilt) as a metaphor for the tremendous tension, the eyes that were blinded “for real” once the underpants were revealed. Donald Kuspit (in a discussion about the decorative in the context of Frank Stella’s works) employs the distinction: Decorative Id versus Abstract Ego. He points out the empty option of decorativeness as a hollow manipulation of forms, as opposed to decorativeness that emerges within a conflict – the decorative of the Id, as in Gauguin – as an extension of psychic anxiety, of the primal fear that comes out of the darkness. There the ornament penetrates like an octopus, stretching seductive hurtful arms that hit all the sensitive nerves. The decorative in this case caters for its opposite: it serves as decor, as a playback that sustains the creeping sense of anxiety.

It is something that happens there, in these Dynasty works, paintings that snap-shot the normal, and as in Antonioni’s Blow Up, uncover a body, perhaps already rotting, within the graininess of the photograph, under a bush.