Shiri Mordechay: In Between Worlds at LIBERTINE

Shiri Mordechay, In Between Worlds, LIBERTINE, Photo Credit Kristine Schomaker

Shiri Mordechay: Artifacts of Catharsis

LIBERTINE, Los Angeles
Through January 22, 2022

If you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.

Meister Eckhart

Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Written by Gary Brewer
How do we process trauma: whether it is the personal experiences that we have endured in our lives or our awareness of the suffering of others that we see from the incessant onslaught of media reporting the tragedies of our world. Violence is a constant stream of psychic pain. But we shutter ourselves using the intrinsic survival skills of our consciousness. We seem to have a filtering mechanism that mutes our empathy to a certain degree, to keep us from being overwhelmed. Pain is indeed a part of our daily consciousness, but we live within our private worlds holding onto to those we love and care about- the pain of existence only deeply striking our hearts when it is someone close to us.

Shiri Mordechay is an artist who opens herself up to the sorrows of our world. She is an empath, acting as a medium to allow the myriad scenarios of pain and pleasure, sorrow and loss, to pass through her and flow from her hand and imagination onto paper. In swiftly masterful, detailed and expressive drawings and paintings, she creates dark fairy tales of a carnival of souls, struggling through a world of psychological challenges.

In allowing herself to empathize and feel the suffering of others, she becomes a witness, channeling and recording the human condition. Her journey through the darkness is a way to reach a psychic equilibrium: she is moved by a spiritual force to face pain without fear. Mordechay has said, “For me my work is spiritual; it is a way to feel closer to God”.

I asked Mordechay about her paintings and the forces that have guided and shaped her art. “As a child I had visions and out-of-body experiences. I used to sleepwalk and felt as though I was seeing myself in past lives. I always felt more connected to the spirit world than to the physical world. My parents experienced a lot of trauma. They were born in Iraq, but were forced to leave due to issues of war, political violence and oppression. They moved to Israel where they met and where I was born. In some way, those experiences were passed down to me. As a child I lived through periods of war, where the town we lived in went through weeks of intense bombing. When I was one years old, we moved to Africa, where my father worked in development and managed building projects. The impact of the art and culture of Africa had a powerful effect on my consciousness. We had many African sculptures in our home that were given to my father; these seemed to come alive at night and entered my dreams.”

Mordechay’s exhibition at LIBERTINE is something of a historical survey of her work and her life. There are three major pieces that have been completed over the last 15 years. There is also a grouping of photographs of her and her family: an archive of her ancestors and the places and histories that have shaped her. In the corner of the gallery is a Nigerian sculpture that she had in her bedroom as a child.

In the vast installation Pneuma Pleats, exquisite drawings on paper are cut out and pieced together into sculptural vignettes of the human condition. She has woven a spellbinding torrent of emotionally charged images, grouped together into a theater of the absurd, whose spilling forth is a cathartic effulgence of the joys and sorrows of existence.  They are linked to each other with filaments of wire that create a spider web of images, suspended in space and affixed to the walls, conveying an emotional tsunami of dark dreams.

The installation fills half of the gallery space, stretching twenty-five feet across, ten feet high and coming out from the wall five or six feet deep. The title refers to her breathing as a measure of time. The Greek word Pneuma means breath, vital spirit, or the creative force of a person. This piece took three years of obsessive work to complete and her breathing was a measure of the time and focus it took to finish this epic work. Pleats, in the title, refers to the pleats in the black dress with red flowers that repeats itself in several figures within this vast constellation. She said of these, “There is a feminine connotation to the pleats. All of the figures wear the same dress and from the pleats, visual thoughts extend into the space around them. They are unfolding and the visual thoughts become a journal, capturing the ideas that came to me in the process of making this piece.”

There are far too many individual tableaus in this installation to describe all of them, but here is a small sampling. One depicts a sex scene: a man lays back on a Persian rug, while a woman performs oral sex on him. From his chest his heart has come out, tethered to his chest with a tendril, an artery or umbilical cord. From the woman’s anus another intestinal coil trails upward. Behind the couple is another man, leaning back with an enormous erection. All of these figures and elements have been painted in a darkly beautiful and lush expressive style- then they are cut out and pieced together to create these rich scenes. They are then glued together and suspended in space with wire and threads that hold them in place and are intricately bejeweled- adorned with jewelry, golden fabric and other elements. Mordechay said of this particular scene, “Sex is both a sensual pleasure and it has a bestial aspect to it. There can be an element of violence beneath the surface. I was compelled to capture the intensity and the animal aspect of sex. I decorated it with jewels and gold, as it is also a beautiful experience.”

In another scenario within the installation, an obese woman is suspended like a macabre marionette in the air. Her side is split open and has been roughly sewn back together. Her entrails extend out from her body, tethered to a fleshy cord. Stomach, heart, lungs, and liver stretch out to meet a stack of hamburgers that stand as tall as the woman. The pain in the woman’s body is explicit; she tries to literally hold herself and her image together, as it is being torn apart from a food addiction; an eating disorder that is killing both her body and soul. This installation is a Dionysian stream of consciousness: the chaotic forces of life untrammeled, freed to express the powerful forces of history, human folly, and excess in an orgiastic flow.

Opposite the installation, the earliest work in the show, Untitled (Horse) 2007, is a tour de force. It is mostly a 2-dimensional work, though a small area has elements extending into space. The deep browns and amber tones create a nether world expressing a stormy mythic drama. Mordechay said that early on, she discovered all of the elements in her visual language of metaphors. In this early work, her rich lexicon of symbolic images is present: animals, breasts, vulvas and penises, angels and demons all dance to the rhythmic cadence of the beating hearts and viscera. They move with the primordial animalistic forces of consciousness, untethered to the constraints of our social mores. In the process of allowing the chaotic forces of our world to pour out unrestrained, Shiri becomes a Sybil whose utterances are the gist for our consciousness to decipher and bring to them our own understanding and meaning.

Mordechay spoke about the most recent piece in the show, Echoes from the Blue Sky. “This piece is more of a fantasy, with angels and eggs, swans, tigers, and yellow chicks; the natural and super-natural world perform as actors in a play. The piece unfolded that way; it had less to do with human tragedy. The stories in my paintings change as the pieces demand. I just draw and paint without planning: images and forms come to me, and working from fragmentation, each section suggests the next move. Sometimes the image shows you what the form should be and sometimes the form suggests what the image should be. When I looked at the bridge, at first it was a deteriorating ruin- then it became a bridge to heaven.”

Shiri Mordechay is a visionary artist: her work is spiritual in nature and seeks to reconcile the complexities and contradictions of the world. Purgation is the spiritual cleansing of the soul; the extreme emotional states that her images convey are a ritual of purification that begets renewal and restoration. Her images represent the ecstatic release she experiences in her obsessive engagement with the creative act: they are the artifacts of a catharsis that celebrates the purging of the soul and the freeing of the angels and demons of our world.

6817 Melrose Ave, Hollywood, LA
CA 90038

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