By Sjoerd Kloosterhuis

Representation and the physical presence of the body are always clearly present in the works of art by Yael Davids (Israel, 1968). Memories are another important element in her work. This visual artist, who lives and works in Amsterdam, is fascinated by the moment when our personal memories coincide with general political memories – an event during which collective heritage is created.

It is a moment that takes place in our body and that’s why Davids compares our body to a factory. In these cases, the body is like a factory in which the body feels; the body expresses itself, moves, writes and reads. This is where social and political circumstances, general history and personal elements meet. This makes the body both the place where conflict and also merging occur, as Davids explains: “The body is in a constant negotiation of defence and outward exertion, robust yet marked by vulnerabilities. The body records the present and bears the marks of history, and ultimately enacts a dynamic space of rewriting history. It is this line of thought that has brought me to contemplate the capacity of the body to be not just a vessel for compiling and transferring knowledge, but equally as the interface between the interior and external world, selfhood and habitat, and ultimately an entity that can generate its own knowledge.”

Davids has been studying the Feldenkrais Method for several years now. This is a theory about the unity between body and mind. It aims to teach its practitioners exercises of movement that offer the opportunity to create changes in body and mind. According to this method, a change in the way we move leads to a change in the way we think, observe and feel. And vice versa. Changing the way we move can eventually influence and even change the way in which we behave.

In the first installation, Yael Davids used the Feldenkrais Method merely to prepare for her performances, but in her latest project, which was on display in Documenta14 and at other venues, she also used this theory for her research and to work out her designs in detail. She used the theory as a tool to analyse bodies, movements and positions in various lithographies and also to foster understanding for the relationship between these positions and socio-political circumstances. Based on these analyses she determined the positions of both the performers and the activating materials in the installation in which the performance was conducted.

Glass is an important material in Yael David’s recent performance installations. When the artist was plunged into deep mourning several years ago, she became fascinated by the specific characteristics of this material. Glass is, for example, one of the few types of material that is completely beyond repair once it is damaged. And despite glass being transparent and seemingly vulnerable, glass plates and glass objects do always radiate a certain danger. This gives the material various layers of meaning.

Glass also plays an important role in David’s new and abstract looking installation Obliterating an Image (adapting to blues). The work consists of several glass plates and two wall sculptures made of clay. It originates from the performance Obliterating an Image. This performance refers both to the tumultuous political history of a developing nation state, Israel, and also to the artist’s personal background which was influenced by loss and mourning. The accompanying performance installation acts as a spatial choreography consisting of various elements, of which the central themes are fragility and fault lines. All elements of the installation are linked to each other and they touch the fault lines each in their own way.
Smaller objects are added to the performance Obliterating an Image (adapting to blues), for example a small Japanese tea cup full of cracks that have been repaired with gold and a block that has been assembled with various types of glass. In this installation, every component, every sheet of paper, and every object all refer to vulnerability and particularly to the way in which we deal with this vulnerability.
Where the artist normally making use of black pigments for her wall sculptures, she is now for the first time using a blue colour. The change of colour is creating a totally different feeling. The sombreness seems to be less present and to be replaced by a more optimistic feeling. It is as if the work calls us to approach our vulnerability and grief with a more open and sincere look, so that they can also have a positive form in the long run.Even though Yael Davids focuses on performance and installations that are activated by the performances, this autonomous work of art in all its simplicity triggers visitors to start thinking about their own vulnerabilities and uncertainties. Perhaps this work of art also shows us how we could better handle our vulnerabilities and how we can change the way we act.