Butterfly Eyes

by Camea Smith | 15.02.18

The entrance to Uri Nir’s solo exhibition is almost blocked by huge, cocoon-like balloons, compelling the visitor to wriggle his way through. After creeping inside and dodging the somewhat deflated balloons, the passageway broadens into a vast space where public telephones hover in midair, suspended from the ceiling. From the phones’ handsets erupt sculptural formations and when venturing forward they transform from heavily pierced and tattooed shapes to pristine monochrome. The sculptures are, in fact, 3D models based on scans of the artist’s daughter’s ear, rendered in plastic and stainless steel. The hanging sculptures lead the way to a carpeted room, its floor strewn with earphones.

A daunting soundtrack matches the disconcerting video displayed on the screen, featuring a swarm of butterflies and the artist’s children: his son and his infant sister, on a remote island. Nir’s eye, covered by a butterfly wing, keeps recurring in the film. The unseeing eye moves in its socket, bringing to mind the all-knowing gaze of a blind prophet, devoid of sight but focused intently on the grand scheme of things. The hauntingly beautiful butterflies fly ominously above the unsupervised children. When asked about filming his kids, Nir replied that he perceives his works not as mere representations of family life, but as vital generators, offering new discoveries on familial ties.

Nir elaborated on his approach, noting that as an artist he does not separate his personal life and the process of art making. For example, the aforesaid film – Dam Butterfly – was shot in a family vacation in an island in Thailand and the second video in the exhibition, Macoal, depicts his children once more as its protagonists. In Macoal, which was filmed four years after Dam Butterfly, the macabre atmosphere intensifies. The grown up boy runs around in a dystopian park. At times, he is shown holding a rope attached to his sister, who is flying above him, harnessed to helium balloons. Nir’s voice narrates the film, distorted into a high pitched monologue under the influence of helium gas.

The film was shot in an infrared camera in the Rock Garden in the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv. The special camera detects infrared radiation – heat generated by the children and the young vegetation – transforming them into albino creatures, progressing under the glaringly white clouds. Nir’s son is adorned with intricately designed transfer tattoos, which were created by the artist to illustrate a symbolic life map. Nir explores the possibility of an artwork to change the course of life, to determine destiny and to envision one’s greatest fears and yearnings. In the extreme family universe portrayed in the films, the children act as sources of inspiration, as collaborators and as disciplined performers in their father’s complex projects.

Uri Nir’s solo exhibition, Dam Butterfly, is currently on display at the Mishkan Museum of Art, located in the Ein Harod kibbutz in northern Israel, until March 5.

Photos by Elad Sarig.


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