Artist Book, 2018
Artist Book, 2018
Text by: Bar Yerushalmi
On Rocks and Threads
Potsherds, flower petals, fish scales, feathers of a rare bird, or the muscles of a severed human hand. The nineteenth century cataloging obsession filled thick volumes with thousands of illustrations by researchers who set out to classify the world and organize it, giving it a name and a place in the cosmos.
As the main means of visual documentation before the invention of the camera, scientific illustration is an inseparable part of the classification process of the known world by modern science. Thomas Garnet Henry James, the curator and Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum in the 1950s, once wrote: “If you are really interested in discovering how our knowledge of ancient Egypt has been built up over the past two centuries, you will soon find that the greatest contribution has been made not by excavators but by the host of little-known workers, amateur and professional, who have laboured, devotedly and unsung, on the recording of monuments and the copying of inscriptions.”
James touches on an interesting point – the almost consistent anonymity of the artists and illustrators in the Western endeavor of knowledge production. For centuries of scientific research, illustrators and artists have documented the discovery of the world and its cataloging by researchers and scientists. It seems impossible to separate the geographic, zoological, botanical, or archeological discoveries in recent centuries from the drawing hand toiling in the background on their translation into paint on paper.
Tal Yerushalmi's paintings stand as hybrids in this cumulative historical process of visual organization and cataloging. In them, we identify the movement of a deliberate, research-oriented hand, directed by scientific findings and research data, alongside the work of an "unknowing" hand, which advances diligently toward the unfamiliar. Like an eternal tango, the paintings engage in a perpetual dialogue with the history of modern scientific research. Fragments of rocks, pieces of ropes, and shreds of cloth are collected into compositions that have a logic of their own, as part of a scientific classification process whose underlying principle is hidden from us and whose outcomes will never be revealed. For Yerushalmi, the painting does not end with the conclusion of the scientific research, but rather pushes through and exists in its own sphere, as a byproduct of the process of translation into painting. Yerushalmi follows and uses the visual language of documentary painting, while formulating her own interpretation to this scientific language. The interpretation she offers transgresses into a mixed reality, one in which the history of science (or, to be precise, the history of scientific drawing) is entwined with the domain of paintings: an area of illusions and diffused boundaries, where scientific methodologies unravel in the face of the painted image that answers its own set of rules, which does not have to comply with the burden of proof that binds science.