joshua neustein texts
Introduction: Noli me Tangere
by Wendy Shafir

The Blind Library is not a Braille library. It is a library that announces Noli me Tangere "Touch me not". Jesus made this invocation to Mary Magdalene, while he was in between states of being, after the crucifixion and before the Ascension. He forbade her to reach out to touch him insinuating impurity and taboo on the religious plane, urging a separation from the senses and turning inward to the spiritual plane. Soon after this event he pronounced to his disciples, "Blessed are the Blind and yet have Believed". By analogy, is the Blind Library a mandate in the name of the institution Believe in me - don't touch me or of the artist's intention to divide the representations of being. Neustein's attempt to live in the seam of the ethereal and sensuous.

Neustein creates The Blind Library with two architectonic constructions of vertical and horizontal scaffolds. The vertical scaffolds, rise a story above the roof of the massive architectural façade, are attached to the entrance of the Beit Ariella Library. The skeleton of the topmost scaffolds jut out to the empty sky, to indicate the status of an unfinished and ongoing construction. At the foot of the library steps, protruding into the public plaza, lie horizontal scaffolds flaunting a display of dysfunction and intrusion.

Placed into the maze of vertical and horizontal scaffolds are large Plexiglas sheets that lean against the steel ducts. Inscribed on the sheets are translucent book titles from a previous installation. The poem "Under Ben Bulben" by William Butler Yeats was translated into Braille, embossed on transparent pages and affixed to the plexiglas sheets to overlay the phantom titles.

In the vertical scaffolds the transparent sheets look like provisional vitrines. After the noon hours only the top sheets catch the sun and crown with light a silhouette of the building. The plexiglass sheets in the horizontal scaffolds on the plaza suggest a translucent haze rising out of a metal grid.

Inside the Beit Ariella foyer, facing the main entrance is a large stack of armored glass sheets. The artist refers to this 1.20 x 1.10 x 1.00 meter block as the 'eye of the Blind Library.'

Upon entry to the library the stack of glass mirrors a montage image of the visitor against the outside construction. This juxtaposition of the individual vis a vis The Blind Library and the peripheral institutions outside locates the installation in a viable and real environment, one shared by the city's art museum, municipal courthouse and the public library. The outcome is a binary opposition - concurrent unification and obfuscation of the metaphor for blindness.

The proposal of blindness in the title does not proclaim a loss but rather an introspection on the discipline gained by what ascetics offer. The work can be read as a critique of simple readings, the indiscriminate acceptance of the obvious. Neustein is intent to conceal from us the substance of the Yeats Poem which leads to an equivocation of the Braille function. As both an impediment and disclosure, Braille is in fact a language or code that requires knowledge and special circumstances. Located behind a barricade of scaffolds the Braille writing is inaccessible to the touch. The textured language is out of reach and the optical language is barely visible.

Why does the artist choose elements integral to our sentient being while he inherently deprives us of the sight and the satisfaction of touch? The subterfuge here is crucial because the plastic artist resorts to another artist as Shaman, a poet who has the voice, power and alchemy to change the minds of people. The transformation of the poem to Braille is where Neustein divulges an action and an attitude of his position, the denouement of the literary.

Into this span Neustein invited Professor Dan Miron to interpret the poem Under Ben Bulben. Neustein requested Miron to focus on the Yeats poem and not the plastic components of the project. I would expand on this exclusion with a guess that it was not an invitation for straightforward commentary, but a deployment. The artist opted for a severance, a pause that empowers each art form separately, a rupture between the plastic images and the text.

Once again Neustein makes the division between the ethereal and the sensuous.

The roots of the Blind Library can be traced to at least two previous works "The Possessed Library" 1995 at the Venice Biennial and "I Remember George Grosz" 1971 in the Affidavit Exhibition, Goethe House, London .

Neustein was invited by curator Dr. Gideon Ofrat to make a visual riposte to Ofrats hypothesis on the National Library in Jerusalem. Ofrat brought 10,000 books from Jerusalem and simulated a library in the Israeli Pavilion in Venice - a faux library. Neustein created The Possessed Library that did not correspond to but critiqued Ofrat's thesis and posed questions on the concept of archives. The physical presence of The Possessed Library engulfed the pavilions facade with scaffolds that extended flamboyantly beyond the roof, towering cranes that were positioned to infiltrate the skylights of the building and transparent sheets inscribed with gilded titles of Neustein's possessed list of literature. Twenty titles of books that insinuate vampirism as a metaphor for a perpetual cycle of redemption. Neustein extracted from this never- endingness a definition of evil and enslavement transfigured in literature. On the top level of the pavilion was the Tosca Room - a dedicated space, a fetish alter to the apotheosis of archives, sooted glass walls, suspended bubble wrap bags, tiny alphabets under the glass floor. The transparent material signified simultaneously truth and non truth - the characteristic of the material as a void receptor of information and meanings, what is visible and perceived through its translucence is what exists, both in revelation and deception.

We find a consistent lexicon in Neustein's oeuvre. He gathers remnants of his previous works, parallels of a broader procedure where the debris of histories formulate a process whereby other and later art is recognized, placed and coalesced. He exemplifies this dialectic of art history in the George Grosz piece. Neustein exhibited in a space in London where a George Grosz exhibit was previously shown. Despite the seeming neutrality of the space, a metaphysical order pervaded. Neustein used a carbon copy paper to trace a crude outline of a specific Grosz work, on the same wall and in the same spot that the original work was hung. He sought to synthesize his occupation of the space with that of his predecessors - other artists, expressions and concepts - not change the subject or issues in question but the manifestations of those issues. The aim was not to emulate or pay homage to the painter George Grosz. His intentions were to enact on the layers of art history as a filial act.

As a cycle, The Blind Library follows the tactics of "I Remember George Grosz" — the abbreviation of the visible and the invisible narrator. In the Blind Library we encounter the archeology of the Venice project. The inventory of The Possessed Library, its physical components, were dismantled, shipped to Tel Aviv and used in The Blind Library as raw material. More than a referent, more than a predecessor, the libraries are genetically connected to each other. The clear sheets were remains from The Possessed Library, pulled along like an archeological find. The book titles, gilded and bold in Venice, were reduced to translucent, phantom inscriptions, visible but de materialized. Here the library has adopted an Israeli site in an actual context, one that relates in concept, politics and psychology to the space it inhabits.

Both libraries serve the viewer with literary references, both libraries obstruct the decoding of the contents, both libraries deny the sensory pleasure of handling the books, yet they grant the experience of physically being a part of the library.

As I watch the light change over the piece in the early morning hours, I am disturbed by the sound of the urban noise - the hustle and bustle of the day's emergence. The Blind Library creates a vacuum, and the colloquial blare in the city eagerly floods in. I want, for the moment, to linger, to caress the inexplicable captivation, to impede my senses. It is that delay, Noli me tangere, within which I want to remain. It is this blindness that I want to see.

Wendy Shafir, curator, The Blind Library, Beit Ariela, Tel Aviv, June 1997.