joshua neustein texts
Upon One of the Mountains (excerpt)
by Mordecai Omer

Although the main thrust of Neustein's work centers on an examination of models of thinking that deal with the essence of artistic language, it is possible, and I believe even necessary, to go back and distinguish, especially from an iconological perspective, the normative codes proposed by him as means for his empirical verifications, in the course of his argument about the nature and validity of representation. As a first example we may consider the 'Jerusalem River Project', that imaginary river invented early in the '70s by Joshua Neustein, Jerry Marx and Georgette Batlle, for an arid valley at the foot of the St. Claire Monastery, beginning in the area known as the "Peace Forest" and ending in the Kidron Valley. This activity blended a topographical duality (flowing water and aridity) with a perceptual duality (we hear but don't see). One may understand this project as connected with problems dealing with clarification of relations between object and subject and their results in the creation of images and their consolidation in epistemic structures. This conception, as an interpretation of Neustein, was developed by Robert Pincus-Witten, who declared that: "by 1968... a new method of visual order and ratification had come into being-one I call 'epistemic abstraction'. ("The Neustein Essay", Neustein, exhibition catalogue, Tel Aviv Museum, 1977, p.8; curator: Sarah Breitberg).

The iconological aspect, the personal-emotional and even national-folkloristic involvement constitute inseparable factors of this visual discourse. In their proposal the artists explain that "there is an unconscious as well as a real need for a wet element in the landscape of Jerusalem. In the Bible, in ancient maps, and in the folklore of Jerusalem, a river is shown or mentioned. Contemporary writers and painters also dwell on the lack of water in the landscape of this region. Again and again, references can be found to a river that should be and is not.

"We will create/invent a river in Jerusalem, "a 'sound' river,

"a fantasy river using the medium of sound. "We will supply the sound of the river topographically adapted to the natural contours of the valley chosen." (Catalogue of the exhibition, Concepts + Information, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1971, curator: Yona Fisher.)

"Nostalgia, Two Elements" is also interpretable as a turn to the epistemological method which counterposes two points of view -a recognition of the intellectual structure on the one hand and, on the other hand, an expressionistic tendency. The "nostalgic" value of this work is definitely positive and, more specifically, returns us to the landscapes of Jerusalem and its environs, to the period when, at Kiryat Yovel, the Katamonim, and Abu-Tor, he painted the experience of his first encounters with the city and its sights.

"Displacement of an Image" is an advanced step in the dual approach which Robert Pincus-Witten described as "a lingering painterliness embodied

within an analytical armature". The image, "The Wall", undergoes a process of permutation by means of a tactic of tearing and setting up which marks the category: wall = Painting. What is especially impressive in this work is the extent to which the tear can sustain the visual connection that exists between the parts. The contextualizations are possible, even when the tears are separate , because of our capacity to notice the serrated edges and the teeth of the tears which would fit each other. The "displacement" achieved by this process is, in effect, a negation of the physical literary image: "it has no figure of a body and is not a body" - and instead the event opens up to a potential experiencing of a conceptual-spiritual value, while the image itself remains merely a referent.

The strategy of uprooting also characterizes the work "Raising the Standard" which in effect borrows its context from the pink-gold of Jerusalem's stones, abolishes its physical-descriptive context and leaves it as a source of another kind of knowledge that is "above". The lifting of the canvas to a height above the usual field of vision for hanging pictures makes it hard for the viewer to look at it and in effect diverts him from the attempt to get drawn into a painterly illusion which follows the movements of the brushstrokes on the object "as picture". The painting is presented as a "fetish" almost crucified on a cross and in this way is neutralized from serving specific and easily identifiable existing interests (the hills of Jerusalem) and is raised to the status of a flag whose sign requires a reconsideration of its values.

Prof Mordechai Omer,
Director Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Director Tel Aviv University Gallery
Prof. Tel Aviv University
Upon One of the Mountains, 1988.