DINA HOFFMAN - "WAS MAGDALENE A REDHEAD?
The Yosef Konstant Sculpture Gallery, Ramat-Gan, Israel.
By Adi Efal
....for all tomorrow's parties...
( The Velvet Underground )
The first issue that arises on confronting Dina Hoffman's exhibition relates
to the relevance of the concept of "feminine art" in reading her work.True,
various characteristics considered to be "feminine" are to be found in the
exhibition: the multi-ornamentation, the kitchen texturality, the use of materials
that are easily bent, painted, destroyed and re-cycled, weaving processes, "feminine"
likenesses. But reading the exhibition in the context of "feminine art" makes it
necessary, at the same time, to refresh the interesting corners it contains.
Important features of the tactics of "feminine (or feminist) art" are absent
in this exhibition: the works are not cynical, and the servile patience involved
in the embroidery work does not exist in the negligent, easily deciphered profusion
of objects. If there is fury, rebuke or humour in the work, it is soft, tired, bitter
Hoffman's work has a dual function of seduction and repulsion that encompasses
and evades the "feminine". For example, the works commemorate acts of resurrection,
but, perhaps wisely, disappoint the viewer: the candy is coated, painted, distanced
and not tempting; the piecing together is sticky, mummified, imperfectly "matured".
It is not the glue of menstrual blood or sweat; the ornamentation is that of an
inexperienced, unprofessional blossoming that will go home alone.
Hoffman transforms accumulation of objects to create various images. Donatello's
sculpture, Mary Magdalene, holds a central place among these. It appears as a
quotation declaring its directness and the inherent component of reproduction, since
it is in fact a cheap and simple Xerox photocopy of the sculpture. It will not
relate, in a post-iconographic manner, to the figure of Magdalene as an "early
fighter for women's rights" and so on and so forth. I am more interested in the way
the likeness is interwoven with the object and the blurring of boundaries between
these two artistic agents (likeness and object) in Hoffman's art. The figures and
minute details inside the variegated objects undergo processes of concealment, of
hiding, that require an act of unearthing and extraction from the viewer (analyst
or consumer); a determined act that defers to the aesthetics of complex, neurotic
placement and insertion. Perhaps, if you wish, like one living body within another,
perhaps like a clitoris within folds of vaginal flesh,perhaps like a paradigm for
the act of repression, that conceals without destroying, that generates the forbidden
till the right moment to unsheathe and pounce. Indeed, what seems to be pushed to the
sidelines, but always present in Hoffman's work, is the phallus. However much this
exhibition and its prior context wants to be seen as a woman's art, I see here the
unfailing phallic presence: the different objects in the collection express the
wish to create a figurative, erect unity containing an essence of vitality.
The exhibition is a wondering requiem that laments something lost, missing, but
continues to pursue action. The repetitive creation of linearity, both in the range
of samples (of buttons, Barbie-boots, cutlery, brush strokes, floral images) and in
the continuous series of objects on tables, long display platforms that create a
metonymy of illusionary walking in vistas of a dead, rehashed femininity that is
still offered as a tribute, an instrument, as food whose taste has gone, while the
embroyo it carries remains indistinct.
Hoffman's "products" are on the border between what is usable and what is unusable,
and also on the border between what is unraveled and what is collected and, in the end,
between the icon, or symbol, and the reliquary, or index: between the desire to mark,
in the abstract, a disappearing presence and the desire to contain something of it
in reality. Although the action of the works takes place mainly on the surface, on
the crust, on the retina, Hoffman insists on adhering to the three dimensionality
of the vessel, such as the adorned, waiting, demanding (female?) body selling you a
facile surface for pleasure, but concealing at the same time, a danger residing in
the orphaned void waiting to be impregnated, swelled, filled.
Between the organic covering and the structural legitimacy and obduracy of the
object, perhaps it is correct to see this exhibition as a proposal to combine death
and the aesthetics of evacuation, food that has undergone digestion and has been
reformed into fragrant waste, like the droppings of an owl, with its own laws and
internal distribution unlike those defined by the items that constituteit; what
remains after the guests have left the pavillon, the party, the burial rites, the bed,
and it is not clear now what is to be done with it, where one is going and to what
god or goddess the offering must be made.
The article was published in "Studio", Number-109, November/December,1999.
Translated from Hebrew by Riva Rubin