Amikam Toren: 10 Last Drawings          back to archive page

Amikam Toren Last Drawing image

Friday 30 June - Saturday 9 September, 2006 
Private View Friday 30 June, 6 - 9.30

When I first walked into Amikam Toren’s flat, back in the late sixties it contained a charred cube of wood made up of staves in a square grid, its abstract volume reduced to some charred stumps.  Such a work might be read as a comment on Utopian form and how idealism can be reduced to a harsh and far from pristine reality, but the insight had been attained through a process of creativity that involved destruction, and to arrive at a new presence by the damaging or eroding some previously complete condition has remained a central premise.  Print off Print (1974) a work on paper included in the seminal arts-carnet Wallpaper – comprised one heavily and one lightly cross-hatched rectangle.  A strip of double-sided sellotape had been laid across each of these, which when pulled back tugged away part of the grid.  This now appeared in reverse on the facing page stuck to the tape.  Each copy was lightly dusted with talcum powder in order that the open page could be displayed.  The destruction implicit in the work was matched by the care employed in the dusting.


Toren’s meticulous concern with achieving a final appearance that ultimately surpasses the mere completeness of the destroyed original is another trademark.  He has smashed milk-bottles, then lovingly reconstructed them, which might be a comment on archaeological restoration – Toren is originally from Israel, so the “failure” of a Utopian state and the methodology of the excavation of ancient sites might be themes traceable to this background.  However, for curators, the ideal state is an invisibly mended original.  For Toren, what matters is the spidery web of seams now running across the curved surface.  The restoration is not only apparent, it is what confers beauty to the object – which may still remain only partially complete, some fragments having been smashed beyond replacement. Beauty is a term that can be used about his works, for they invariably possess this oft-disparaged quality (oft-disparaged since the twentieth century at any rate).  But here we need to deconstruct a received concept: that of perfection.  The “perfect tense” is often difficult to define.  Why is “has destroyed” or “has created” perfect?  Because the action is completed.  One might explain this by drawing a circle.  What makes it perfect?  The fact that it is completed.  I feel that Toren drives a wedge between these mutually inscribed terms.  He separates them as he separated the depth of the paper in Print off Print.  For this artist, something can be imperfect but complete, or perfectly incomplete.  The beauty his works generate is born out of the conflict inherent in this paradox.


Sarah Kent has spoken of how the artist “chooses to define himself in terms of fragments rather than whole items – pieces of base “underdog type” objects such as teapots, cups, saucers and milk bottles – that are readily available and are valued at only a few pence…broken and discarded on skips, in gutters and underneath the stalls of street markets” (Replacing, catalogue for the artist’s ICA exhibition 1979).  The romantics pioneered the notion that fragments might suggest that they are torn off from that cosmic totality the transient nature of existence can never achieve.  Toren has ingeniously managed to glue together fragments from disparate items of crockery, creating strange, hybrid totalities as his art objects.


In Actualities (1984), he carefully sanded down old chairs to the point that after one more sanding they would not be able to support their own weight.  These knobbly-jointed, spindly presences clung to the gallery floor like emaciated flies.  He has also vandalised and thus “opened out” metal-grid windows (Burglaries 85-86), as if explaining their materiality.  I am reminded that “to explain” has etymological roots in the notion of spreading out – a flower “explains” its leaves – and it is as if these windows have somehow unfurled.  In both the chair pieces and the window pieces, destruction of a complete condition enables the creation of an art condition.


More recent work has involved acquisition, which is perhaps more a comment on his life in the consumerist west than on his origins.  He has picked up hundreds of wooden items in junk-shops, items collectively referred to as “airport art”: cheap souvenirs from Africa and Europe which he fastens together in diagonally-slanted cubes, placing these on architectural drafting-tables.  A multitude of details engage the eye: grotesque little faces, jammed against ridiculous spoons, bird beaks, crazy little shoes: cultural diversity collected and packaged by the purchaser into a neat, nearly Platonic shape on a base of neo-liberal design.  I am reminded of coffee-table books, and of Chirac’s new museum for the exotic third world – packaged within an overweening architectural geometry.


Another abiding concern has been with aspects of language, with meaning, interpretation and signature.  He has pulped newspapers and painted with the resulting substance: text reduced to grey matter, but, at the same time, wide expanses without incident – meditative if mindless zones.  Recently he has exhibited found paintings and cut out stencils of text across their canvasses (Received Wisdom, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, 2006).  The words are made of absences, and the light falls through these onto the bare wall behind so that the text almost shimmers, enhancing the visual aspect and also providing a bizarre “interpretation” of the scene.  The text is never illustrative of the image.  Meaning, however, seems to accumulate in the gap between image and phrase.  This is why we need, when looking at the present show at The Room, to examine carefully what is meant by “a last drawing”.  A meaning is assumed that resonates with musical reference, with pathos and finality.  But is this what is meant?  I’ve no wish to give the game away.  Suffice it to say that here what is normally discarded finds a use, a technique precious to the bricoleur – one is of course reminded of Duchamp. 


Anthony Howell, June, 2006