ON FORMS IN THE ABSENCE OF AN ORIGIN
Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Hamelacha complex – home to Tali Benbassat's studio – is an elaborate system of small industry and art spaces: carpentry and metal workshops, garages, studios, and galleries. A setting that in many respects undermines our ability to make an informed distinction between craft and art, between the craftsman and the artist. And as a productive space, naturally it also produces waste. The typical leftovers of Kiryat Hamelacha are for the most part the remainders of the unused material, the “abfalle” in the craftsmen’s jargon – the surplus left over after they have completed their work
Tali Benbassat chose to call her exhibition Remainder. The remainder is the residue, what is left over, but it also embodies a notion of surplus and excess. The works in the exhibition function simultaneously as excess and as lack. They are the absence of shapes that are no longer there and at the same time the presence of those that were formed. In this exhibition, the aftermath of one creation is the beginning of another. These are images of the in-between, like the negative of a photograph; the spaces between the shapes, vowels without the consonants.
After the invention of photography, painting had to redefine itself. Its role as a mimetic tool had been de facto nullified, and so it had to form a new relationship with a medium that posed an existential threat. Before too long, painters started to consider the photograph as a source, a reference, and rather than treating it as an enemy – turned it into an ally. For years, Benbassat also used a photographic source for her paintings, however in recent years she started to create independent images that have an autonomous nature, devoid of an origin. At least seemingly. The torrent of photographed images that floods the world and the feeling of growing visual pollution have pushed Benbassat towards radical restraint and passion for a slow and measured, fundamental and essential formality.
We have before us intaglio print works. Technical reproductions of an unknown source. Challenging engravings with a geometric, somewhat architectural appearance. At times, they look like the negative remainders of an industrial cutting process, other times they resemble structural nets, three-dimensional elements that were flattened and arranged in a plane. Benbassat demarcates territories with a sharp contour but their ability to form a space, to become a house, also holds their potential to disintegrate. They are versatile, assembly models, an entire jigsaw puzzle and the sum of its parts.
The main piece in the exhibition – a mosaic composed of 20 “bricks” that form a structure that is at once whole and disjointed – brings to mind the architectural murals that were ubiquitous in Israel in the last century, from the Socialist Realism of mess halls in kibbutzim to the façades of residential buildings in the 1970s. Other works trigger photographic associations, acting as black and white photograms, defined bodies of light and shade that formulate an interplay of specific gravity and density. These are post-photographic prints that
had already internalized the Modernist crises of painting,
its shift away from photography, its return to photography, and the habitually challenged autonomous artistic status of
The natural and human impulse to act within a world of associations, of citations, to anchor a point of reference in a certain origin or source, points more than anything to the process itself. These are reflexive images, which render present the copper plate and its diverse areas: the ones that were etched by acid, those that remained smooth as a mirror, the typical tactility of the aquatint, the “dirt” characteristic of printmaking. But while we usually associate prints with the drama and romanticism of the aquatint (Goya comes to mind here), Benbassat does not produce a narrative, she does not recount the atrocities of war. This is an encounter between the metaphysics of the very masculine geometric abstract of Kazimir Malevich and the lyrical abstract of Helen Frankenthaler. This is an artwork that loves paper wholly and truly; that allows it the freedom to render itself present, to become a body and not just a face.
In his seminal essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin defines engraving as an early means of mechanical reproduction. He sees it a hybrid, a median between painting and sculpture and the perfect reproduction means of the 20th century: photography. According to Benjamin, the photographic print does not leave the mark of the original, it does not look like a reproduction since it does not bear the marks of the technique and therefore, he maintains, photography renders the act of reproduction an art medium in itself. Benjamin associates the disappearance of the authentic markers with the loss of the artwork’s aura.
Tali Benbassat’s engravings do not obscure the act of reproduction, moreover – they betray the technique in which they were made with every fiber of their being. Visible scratches bring to mind the unetched area of the of copper plate, uneven stains reference the hand painting on the surface of the plate. If according to Benjamin, painting has an aura that is found in the artist’s hand and the sense of here and now it embodies, in Benbassat’s engravings the aura emerges from the history of art in the age of devices, the multistage treatment of the object, and finally, from its disparity from the act of photographic reproduction – the singularity and one-off nature of each individual print.
 This duality is exemplified by the Hebrew title of the exhibition – יֶתֶר, which can be read as both “leftover” and as “extra” or “overabundance.”
 Coined by Aristotle, mimesis refers to representation or imitation.
 Intaglio print technique that uses acid-resistant resin, which melts and sticks to the metal plate.