In Hypermetropia, Tova Lotan shows new paintings that explore the relationship between looking and seeing. The name of the exhibit comes from the field of optics. It refers to the optical defect commonly known as “farsightedness,” in which the structure of the eye is short relative to the refractive angle of the light rays. The paintings depict distant landscapes from a voyeuristic perspective, capturing the split second at which movement flits across our field of vision.
Lotan paints cross-sections of narrow horizontal slits on dark, thick, relief-like panels. The landscape is hidden between two gray bands that leave us looking through a narrow gash, accentuating the motif of inside and out. Questions about the artist’s perspective rise to the fore. The gray surface, marking where the viewer and the artist are standing, takes up most of the work space. The edges of the crack are frayed, and open to movement and fluctuations in view. Lotan employs mixed media, combining oils, acrylic, graphite and pigment on wooden panels, embracing a plethora of styles, from geometric and abstract to realism, and swinging from intricate detail to minimalism.
The dense dark-colored blocks that surround Lotan’s landscapes conjure up lead and metallic materials punctuated by a tiny window through which another space, usually motion-filled, is visible in the distance. A mixture of pigment and graphite is poured on the wooden strips. This coating, added while the canvas is lying flat, creates two planes, with the panel jutting out more than the slit through which the landscape is visible. This produces different sensations. Sometimes it feels as if we are looking through a window onto the outside world, and sometimes as if traces of the landscape have been imprinted on metal. One way or another, all the paintings have several focal points. The geometric relationship between the two planes ranges between total separation and the gray area encroaching on the slit being affected by the goings-on within. As the artist works on the paintings, a dialogue develops between the planes. The gray surface breaks its dark, impervious neutral silence and begins to amass little eruptions in response to the landscape, such as changes in the highlights or hazy reflections of a remote image.
Both planes are structural in nature: The gray surface is like an architect’s model and the inner space depicts buildings. Yet the portrayal is very different. The gray surface is sharp, rigid and geometric, while the slits are filled with fine detail. In order to experience the work in full, it must be viewed from two different vantage points. To get the full impact and grasp the relationship between the metallic frame and the work as a whole, the viewer must stand at a distance, even if the canvases are not large. On the other hand, appreciation of the delicate, watercolor-like details requires a much closer look.
The paintings start out with photographs that Lotan takes on the road using a digital camera, always ready to shoot. The next stage requires computer intervention. The gray panels are static and heavy, whereas the scene within flits by in rapid motion. A gap is thus set up between the immobile composition and the fluidity of the landscapes.
Lotan’s landscapes are not site-specific but generic. They contain highways, junctions, garages, gas stations and escalators that can appear anywhere. The movement is mainly inter-urban. The landscapes are derivations of this scenery in motion, with its constant visual changes. The paintings appear to document a long journey being observed from afar, from a position of detachment and alienation, without focusing on any specific site. The most obvious changes are in the intensity of the light, attesting to the passage of time. The transition from darkness to light shows the difference in how space is perceived, from the details in daylight to the landscapes of night. The nightscapes reduce visual information to a kind of technological reading, almost a data strip showing a sequence of illuminated marks.
Tova Lotan’s paintings are about the relationship between looking and seeing on a strange and alienated journey of movement. The “way” is present as a subject, but that which is being observed is visually absent. Its existence becomes apparent only in the fleeting data glimpsed out of the corner of our eye, which then undergoes a series of digital interventions. These works explore involuntary sight. They illustrate that split second view of what exists on the periphery as we focus our attention on the road in front of us. It is certainly possible that they also articulate our greed, our desire to claim ownership over that which is temporary and passing, to transform it into something personal and under the control of the viewer. Perhaps that is why the artist chooses to cordon off the open spaces with a slit, so that they can be owned. In creating this boundary line, she reverses the balance of power: The panoramic, monumental view, which by nature diminishes man, is reduced to a little mark sandwiched between slabs of metal. With the help of this voyeuristic configuration, Lotan shrinks the open spaces and gains control over them.
Translation: Gila Brand
The Genealogy of the Gaze
Tova Lotan plays tricks with gaze. She brings up fragments of times and places, sorts them and gives them meaning, and translates them into her own language. Her landscapes are bounded from above and below by graphite castings that veil the scene being depicting and frame it. In grafting dynamic, geometric modes of expression and narrative art, she sets up tension between contemporary photography and traditional painting.
Her point of departure is a photographic reference captured in the blink of an eye while driving in a car at high speed or taking a brisk walk. The photographed scene is a one-off, “stolen” moment. The reality of its existence is over as soon as it happens. These works are an attempt to return to that moment and bring it back to life, to resuscitate its essence. The subjects are urban, industrial, fast-moving. Many of the works show fields of concrete, cement expanses, the building blocks of heavy industry. Yet the gaze is light, quick, hurried.
Lotan “drops an anchor,” as it were, in a bid to stop time and tattoo it to the wooden panels. The heavy graphite border creates a screen over the image, becomes part of the composition and completes it. The artistic language and compositional structure create a kind of trap.
In his book “Les mots et les choses” (1996), Michel Foucault points out that the rules, logic and discipline that man tries to impose on space clashes with the tendency of space toward simultaneity and lack of definition. Lotan’s paintings are like a statement drawn up in the spirit of a formalistic commemorative report. They are a cross between an attempt to reconstruct something that really happened and a non-real image, hallucinatory or dreamlike, trying to capture the essence of a collective, universal, imaginary place. Lotan plays with the possible and the real versus the fictional and the unreal, understanding that, in the long run, rule systems collapse. The attempt to discipline reality and space is impossible because there is no single, truthful, unmarked reality.
The exhibit is about a journey between snatches of times and places, from unconventional perspectives that grasp reality directly and “unprepared.” The artist’s decision to transpose photographs into paintings, to convert them into handwriting, or as she puts it, “to saw off a little piece of atmosphere for myself,” is an act of appropriating and asserting ownership over space. A fraction of a second captured by her lens was here and gone forever. First it is sketched in light by the camera, then it is recopied by Lotan in an act of slow, intelligent, traditional painting.
These works suggest two ways of gazing with a gap between the two: From a distance, the landscape looks clear, formalistic and real, but from up close, it becomes pixilated, hazy to the point of disappearing, abstract. In the end, this gap leads to a depiction of reality with no clear-cut beginning, middle or end. It points to a way of thinking built up of “shards,” of memories, of moments that have passed, yet also the chance to hold onto them for another moment, without the nostalgia.
The bridges, the escalators, the parking garages and the landscapes are simultaneously what they were, and also what they are now, in their new reality. The vistas are both landscape and non-landscape. A landscape painting is both a painting and a landscape at one and the same time. Lotan assembles bits of broken reality and turns them into a mosaic of non-linear time. She offers a crushed, fragmented gaze that seeks a place and inner logic, and finds it, oddly enough, in the fault line, in the middle ground between the paintings, between the times and places.