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Iris Nesher. MATERIA

19 February 2020

Iris Nesher, Ari asleep at Tate Modern, 2016. Digital photograph from the video art, Out of Time Iris Nesher, My daughter will never really know me, 2019. Archival pigment print

curated by Raffaella Frascarelli

opening: April 30, 2020, from 6pm to 9pm
April 30 - July 17, 2020
Nomas Foundation, viale Somalia 33, Rome

Iris Nesher’s Materia delves into the universe of motherhood and its relationship with a creative, metamorphic femaleness that dialogues with our time.

Sharing the proto-Indo-European linguistic root* méh₂tēr, the terms maternal and material evoke the global society that aspires to offer equality and well-being wrapped up in the contradiction of materialism, and they also recall women’s role in current sociopolitical changes. Inspired by the iconography of motherhood established in classical art, Nesher reinterprets the traditional canon by interweaving her own personal story with that of other women: photographs, videos and ceramics explore the political aspects of a biological experience, the bounds of which are inexpressible.

The blending of sculpture, photography and video alludes to the osmosis between personal and collective space; there is a profound give-and-take with the world, through listening and dialogue open to otherness. This is true of the ceramic works the artist has been creating for years: what was initially an intimate, solitary experience has been transformed in recent years into a community practice. A collaboration with a group of women mixing clay with social interaction made the artist’s studio a place in which to dream up new meanings for the idea of molding, kneading and shaping. So, the series of ceramics entitled Domestica not only speaks of archetypes in relation to the oikos, but also evokes a social space in which making something together comes to mean taking care of each other, using clay as a mimetic material to lend the community a concrete form.

This determination to involve other women - particularly artists, poets, actresses, writers, musicians, choreographers and other ‘specialists’ in art - in her artistic process continues outside the studio-oikos as well. Her interest in these women’s work is the basis for encounters that aim to investigate the personal dimension of their social embodiments.

In the photographs for Materia, this dialogue runs through the numerous meetings that precede the day of the photo shoot, the development process of a shared photographic narration that depicts spaces, gazes and memories. With an explicitly cinematographic sensibility in the construction of the photographic set, the female private sphere takes on a public and socio-cultural connotation: these images raise questions about the self-oriented technologies that women bring into play with regard to their biological destinies, stories that interrelate with the world exploring self-awareness and awareness of the other, and the need to maintain a certain distance from the female role while listening to the impulses of agency with a creative attitude.

Portraits of women accompanied by their own words invite us to reflect on the negotiation processes involved in motherhood as psychoanalytical artifact, legacy of a patriarchal hegemony, resistance to the division between nature and culture, and biological instrument. They are images that show the embodiment of the female as a metaphor of the resistance implicit in the choices the subject must face, suspended between listening to its changeable, creative self and the desire for social interaction.

Along with these portraits, the video Healing, which depicts the poet Hedva Harechavi, suggests how absence generates the need to cultivate, care for and foster the memory of someone who is no longer with us. Reproducing the sharing of a bond becomes a vital experience that annuls the distance separating us from people we love and lose.

After the death of her then-adolescent son Ari, Iris Nesher created the video Out of Time: in one photograph, against the backdrop of the Barbara Kruger work that provocatively asks “Who owns what?”, Ari is napping, under the soporific effects of museum fatigue, at the Tate Modern in London. The image of Ari reverberates with a photo portrait of the artist shot by her husband Avi after Ari’s death, against the background of the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Time is out of joint,” imprinted on the steps of the monumental staircase in front of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. Along with the Tate Modern portrait, other images in the video Out of Time convey the cartography of a family ritual that began when Ari was five years old, first at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, then at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Guggenheim in Venice, the Macba in Barcelona, the church of Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, the Milan Triennale, and the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

The sacred connotation thus lent to the museum raises a question: what legein does this public space express today? Here, the video Out of Time - from the artist’s solo show Out of Time/Portrait of Time I at the Herzilya Museum, curated by Aya Lurie - comes into contact with the women of Materia, stimulating a reflection on the role of art, the museum and public space. In the global cultural codes of which public and private contemporary art institutions are the bearers, sensibility towards the social dimension of existence takes on a universal dimension. These institutions’ capacity to generate conversation contributes to a process of monitoring collective endeavors, as they take on the responsibility of conserving fragments of existence and of educating us about social activity, solidarity, humanity, sensitivity and listening. A generative social process.

“The idea of generativity lets us take a step forward in a process begun but not yet concluded. Without being merely passive or merely active, generativity recognizes and affirms the subject’s desire to create, but at the same time requires her to embrace and accept a process that is not only not fully under her control, but that began before her and continues after her. The person who generates knows that she/he is not in control of the situation and cannot do everything she/he wants to do, but is part of something greater, a story that precedes her/him, the conditions of which set certain limits…”, writes Mauro Magatti.

Women’s experience/choice/opportunity to generate through motherhood becomes the metaphor of a society, institution, community or individual that welcomes and takes care of something that has subjective and collective value, translated through art’s aspiration to express and conserve the meaning of our lives. And beyond that, as a possible symbolic and real antidote to materialism, the artist’s generative material points to the only experience capable of outliving life itself: love.


Iris Nesher was born in Milan and raised in Tel Aviv, where she lives and works. Her education in the field of visual arts took place in US, where she attended the School of Visual Art of New York and then the California Art Institute of Los Angeles.
Solo show (selected): Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Herzliya (Israel), 2019; Christys Art Center, New York, 2018; The Museum for Intercultural Dialogue, Kielce (Poland); Museum of Art, Guadalajara (Mexico), 2014; The Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan (Israel), 2012 and 2010; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2009; State Museum of Art of Novosibirsk, Novosibirsk (Russia), 2009.
Group show (selected): MAXXI, Rome, 2019; Vallois Galerie, Paris, 2007, 2006 and 2005; ArtsForum Gallery, New York, 2001.

With the support of: Cultural office Israel Embassy, Rome and Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art


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