“The actual world wherein the aspiration and the service find their calling, seems to this consciousness no longer an essentially vain world, that is only to be destroyed and consumed, but rather, like the consciousness itself, a world broken in twain, which is only in one aspect vain, while in another aspect it is a sanctified world, wherein the Changeless is incarnate. For the Changeless has retained the nature of individuality, and being, as changeless, an Universal, its individuality has in general the significance of all actuality.”
“The Velvet Hammer”
“Afraid to Dream”
The impossibility of becoming and/or coming into being play a major role in the object making and construction tradition that Fleishman is engaged in. This hypothetical postulate, which we are assuming to be true, that is without proof, is necessary for the sake of argument, like the Hegal quotation above, we can only assume the experience of the actual world. The “fact” of becoming or its impossibility is observable by the senses, as faulty they may be. Let belief structures manifest.
In a small brochure published in 1992 for her exhibition at the Johan Jonker Gallery, Fleishman, in the centerfold, has juxtaposed a photograph of a spiral nebula intermingling with systems of stars next to one of her objects entitled “the velvet hammer.” Since 1990 Fleishman has taken mundane or everyday objects and removed them from use/context value by defacement of surface, for example, covering, painting, or cutting.
By covering numerous objects, such as telephones, kitchen utensils and even police barricades, with sometimes yards of black velvet cloth and faux pearls (they look like stars), she has been able to remove their identifiable sign or value systems. It is generally understood that all objects project meaning beyond their use and purpose. Here Fleishman is able to focus on the semiotic and the transference of meaning. In “the velvet hammer,” 1991, and photographic juxtaposition of the spiral nebula, a distant galaxy in Andromeda, science fiction, savage poetics, and “beautiful” object making are combined, allowing the poetical and the psychological to intertwine with the particular and local. The majority of the “Black Velvet” objects, produced between 1990 and 1994, all involve analogy and transfer of sign value, generally into the impenetrable non-space of mystery and eternity.
“Afraid to Dream,” another object from the same period, is an oversized mop handle with hair in place of the mop itself, a strange title, but one can almost imagine this situation, a state on non-becoming, where the psyche is destroyed, or used as an object for the general clean up of human emotions and ambitions.
The removal or displacement of sign-system identification found in Fleishman’s objects continues in concrete dimensionality in her installations and performances. One example of this is found in the work entitled “The Spectator,” 1994. This site specific installation/sculpture and audience participation piece consists of a full scale thirty-eight foot observation tower made of wood that one is able to climb up into. Once you are there, you are able to look around, sit or just think. To actually experience this work completely, one has to climb up into its interior. From the ground it looks just like an abandoned tower, but upon closer examination its true nature and purpose becomes known. A change of viewpoint and inner reflection is offered to the viewer by this process of climbing.
Inside the interior of this installation, a book bag with a wide selection of books are available “Marquis de Sade”, “The Age of Longing” and the “I Ching.” Other objects, seemingly left by someone in the tower, tell an unusual story: a few coins, women’s clothes, lipstick, perfume, condoms, even a Herald Tribune. Here you are allowed to become “The Spectator,” to watch and be watched on many metaphorical levels. The physical action of looking and the sexual action of looking and being looked at are played out in this semi-private space. The actuality of seeing and not being seen is itself the classic panoptic arrangement. Self-examination and resolution comes to a possible closure with the inclusion of the rope in this private/public space of seeing and being not-seen.
“Sin City,” an installation from 1996, forms a trajectory away in some degree from the above mentioned thoughts on Fleishman’s explorations of contextual rearrangements and psycho-personal object making. “Sin City” in some ways is a metaphor for the failure of the industrial sector of society in small town America, in this case, Utica, New York.
The social and personal are scrutinized in this recent installation, probably Fleishman’s first true “political” work. Old clothes from The Salvation Army, poems by the artist, photos and other found objects interact in a mock clearing house of useless information.
The words “Sin City,” constructed out of local leaves and sticks and mounted above your head, rise above this arrangement of objects like an ad along the highway. These semi-organized array of objects, which also includes a typewriter and crutches, act out a complex historical analogy for urban decay and loss of economic power. We are left with a residual of dysfunctional small town life. This work, unlike the sociopolitical and democratic “ideals” found in the work of Joseph Beuys, presents no final epiphany or reconstruction of spirit. Fleishman, in this installation, presents a “no exit” situation, where life attempts to continue in moral and social decrepitude.
“A Fall From Grace”
Ritualistic gestures and a desire for exposure of the human flesh to the spectatorship of live audiences seems to be the operating procedure in the performances of Judith Fleishman. We could add open ended improvisation, game playing, and a variety of other situations she presents to an audience.
“A Fall From Grace” is a performance from 1994 in collaboration with the American artist Charlie Citron. With Citron as Adam, Fleishman as Eve, there is not much one could really add to this Biblical account without digressing into irony or cynicism while keeping within the framework we have been reflecting upon. This performance, which exists now only in photographs, presents a slightly different angle of vision, but one of the classic subjects of all western art. The two artists, as Adam and Eve, are presented after the fall. They stand banished in actual space and time, aware of themselves and possible viewers. They stand partially hidden amongst bushes and trees, covering themselves. The fact that this performance was first presented in the theologically charged space of Palsy Monastery in the Czech Republic adds poignancy to a tragic account. As Adam and Eve “hide,” we are placed in the position of discovering them, even if we do not want to. As spectators we are allowed to see through “divine vision” and discover our creation, miserable and naked, hiding from us, but still in complete view.
Adam confronts his viewer, Eve looks away. In the account of Adam and Eve, their fall from Divine status into the three dimensional time/space we experience postulates an awakening of the egocentric consciousness of the human condition.
As Hegal mentions in Phenomenology of the Spirit, “It knows not yet that in finding these it has the assurance of self-possession as the basis of its existence.” In “A Fall From Grace,” again the gaze of the human condition is upon itself, Fleishman’s performance reflects this: we are aware of them and they, by their gestures, are aware of something, but seem unaware of the complete implications of their newfound self-possession.
Newton, New Jersey
Judith Fleishman is an artist/writer who lives and works in New York City. In 2003, Abaton Book Company published her text/visual collaboration Looking for Maya. Her prose has been published by Tema Celeste, Rogue Magazine and the artist zine The Orifice. Fleishman’s work can be found in many private and public collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art, The NYC Public Library, the Gemente Museum Arnhem, The Netherlands and The Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany.
Purchase Judith Fleishman’s photojournalistic expose of her adventures in the skin trade. With text by Black Alex, interview with Lauri Bortz, and poem by Jeff Burns.
Read an excerpt at the Brooklyn Rail:
Interview with Fleishman (Maya) by playwright and publisher Lauri Bortz:
Published by www.abatonbookcompany.com