joshua neustein texts
Joshua Neustein
by Yona Fischer

When Neustein isolates a problem, he first of all imposes a set of rules, a strategy of which he himself is aware and in which the spectator may participate. The means he uses are various, but once they constitute an element in the picture they must comply with the overall structure. The strategy takes the form of an equation that operates in a defined sequence of actions with a predetermined set of materials.

This equation activates and even polarizes the dualism implicit in the situation; i.e. the opposition of a ‘notation’ which is presentational and a ‘notation’ which is representational; the ambivalence between the semantic and the syntactical; between the immutable material and the illusionistic image. The material he imposes upon his hands, the eternal exercise of drawing, that direct and efficacious imprint .---in this context drawing is not an end in itself, but is used to ‘test’ the limits and correlations of the OBJECTIVE REFERENCE. Drawing, then, is also a subject of the inquiry; and not only it’s predicate. The half sensuous, half mechanical repetitive act of drawing that subsumes to a syntactical ordering, but only just, retains the specificity of location. Neustein skirts the virtuoso gesture and the arbitrary form in favor of the continuous gesture and the ‘regular’ form, thus allowing perception of interplay between the overt plan and the three dimensional structure. It is a difficult midway position between objective mechanical surface and the purely emotional expression.

The development of Neustein's art, no matter how free in its choice of medium and in the scope of its application (painting, happenings, actions and, more recently, drawing) is basically a succession of steps taken, proofs of an activity situated in fact, or better, in an image in which the idea of transfer rather than that of traditional transposition dominates. Neustein regards creativity as primarily the isolation of a problem, the structure and action of which are undertaken by a strategy, by establishing a system of objective references.

For example: **In “Removal Strategy”, an adhesive tape in the shape of a frame is adhered to a sheet of paper. That the form is either frame or square is a device often resorted to, when a nominal form was called for.  The regime of the square or the beam was a hallmark of the lean (Reductivist Art) practice The tape is a slightly different shade than the paper. For an interim period the adhesive tape functions as part of the pictorial surface. This is a surrogate moment for the tape. The tape and the blank page function as a field, a receptive surface, for the pencil drawing.

A broad, gestural scribble is drawn in pencil on the composite surface. The marking sets down a texture rather than a form. The adhesive tape was then loosened from the paper and unevenly affixed, leaving it partially peeled from the paper. The frame is still recognizable, although collapsed and irregular. Where the adhesive frame was lifted, an unmarked negative stencil of the rectangle format remains. This is both a continuous and contiguous hinge of the form. The frame’s outline is thus traced, and embedded, as a residue – or the opposite of a shadow –a halo. At this stage, referred to as “stage 19” the adhesive tape transforms grammatically into a predicate, conjunctive to the shape of the drawing. The frame lies partially unfastened in its own imprint. Process and form overlap and unfold in this way, so that the order of operations becomes unclear, reciprocal; the frame seems to have been cut out or extracted from the drawing upon which it sits, or else may be the product of some process of frottage. The drawing thus coexists on, or shifts between, two planes that oppose and compliment each other.

The masking tape changes the identity of the scribble, and implies premeditation within the composition –or decomposition. The preparatory addition and eventual, partial removal of the tape implies intent. Implicit intent raises the stakes of the actions in play – the pencil strokes, the masking and partial removal, the negative space. The use of tape alters how we may locate the substance of the drawing. Thus, the nature and the form of the paper, the purely mechanical gesture of the pencil are, to Neustein, images in which he intervenes by direct action.

For Neustein living somewhere implies a constant questioning about the definition of that place, of situation. In order to indicate the whole scope of relationships possible between even an ephemeral permanence and what were the clearly determined dates and places in his past. His work should be seen within this context, his painting as well as his conceptual works. In the Jerusalem River Project (1970) he (in collaboration with Gerard Marx and Georgette Batlle) invented a fantasy river in a desert valley by planting a line of sound. In Road Piece (1970) he displaced a landscape and a highway by placing hay bales and tar paper it the Tel-Aviv Museum. Similarly in his drawings of 1970-1973 the given pre-existing image of paper and mechanical drawing are transferred elsewhere by a series of manipulations-folding, ripping, turning, creasing, mirror-imaging, removing, etc.

In discussions I have had with the artist, he referred to: The logic of our understanding of drawing develops where meaning is pitted against the objective reference. It is controlled by the objective reference, which in its systematic connection with other things is revealed as a process. When that process introduces new knowledge, new predicates, then a redefinition is unavoidable. The predicates must be different in meaning from the original term: a drawing is a drawing (A is A) does not tell us the meaning of a drawing. A drawing is a recording of shape (A is B) does tell us something, about drawing. But a drawing is also a pattern (A is C) and a notation of information (A is D), a boundary (A is E), a documentation of an event (A is F) and so forth. Each predicate is a normative additional meaning. A drawing then can function as a subject of many predicates and with each additional predicate, the meaning of the term 'drawing' changes totally. 

The 'strategies' Neustein imposes on the material are two fold -Transfer and Direct Action. The image  -to give it a name- is first determined and is then transferred elsewhere. It is then re-established, creating a relationship between that which was and that which is.
He feels he has to put the whole thing in front of the spectator. He says: "Look, I ripped it, painted it over, folded it from here to there, turned it up --you can see it all. Now you know exactly what I did. There is no secret,  no sacred code. 
-Aron Beller PhD candidate in Logic and Mathematics. Logic and mathematics Hebrew University Jerusalem. 

The props are subject to the same action as the drawing -folding, ripping, turning creasing  mirror imaging,  removing. The result is form become situation. Neustein is profoundly aware of the grammar of his strategies. Neustein continues to explore the sphere of drawing alongside environmental projects. It is important to stress that the art historical currents that pushed Cubism to Hard Edge and Color Field , then in turn to Concrete Art and finally 'Dematerialization of Objects', do not relate here.
Neustein's drawings are an offshoot from is environmental projects of the 60's and the drawings reduce the experiential phenomena to constitute virtually the 'Materialization of Ideas.'

Yona Fischer
Chief Curator Israel Museum
November, 1973