Israeli artist Michal Helfman’s sculptures and films take everyday materials and situations that are common in her part of the world, to alter viewers’ perceptions with it, challenging certain preconceived notions in the process, such as relational-dependence, legality and illegality, nature and culture, illusion and reality.
In the exhibition Change (2013) a 3-dimensional pyramid sculpture, as seen in a US dollar bill, is seen behind a see-through cracked glass shaped metal slat partition, with a neon ‘Change’ sign on top of it and with a wall sized old photo of people passing through Mount Sinai, as refugees in the background. The word ‘change’ placed here, leads one to think of its ambiguous meaning; for ‘change’ can mean to exchange money, or to seek political or personal change in one’s life (by leaving a place for a better one) or even ‘spare change’ in the form of coins.
But once one finds his or her way around, the pyramid is revealed to actually be a tent, and inside is full of things that a ‘smuggler’ needs to survive in this desert climate; a cross-country motorbike, gallons of petrol, a rifle and ammunition, bedding and batteries etc..
It seems to suggest that while the desert was once traversed by people seeking political or personal change, from the 6 day Arab-Israel war in the 1960s all the way back to when the Israelites left Egypt in biblical times, nowadays it is traversed by smugglers of all types of goods, deemed ‘illegal’ by certain Governments and all for the need to earn more of these pieces of paper with this pyramid symbol on it.
This theme of legality, illegality, change and smuggling things would be explored further in Running Out Of History (2015), a video of a theatrical conversation between an enigmatic Israeli aid worker, working under cover and mysteriously named ‘G.’, whose work provides humanitarian aid to a besieged population in Syria, and her Syrian collaborator Rassan who until now doesn’t know of her true identity.
As the two discuss the differences and similarities of smuggling as a act of political activism and a metaphor for artistic endeavor, they start rolling a pair of dice printed with the words ‘we’, ‘will’, ‘not’, ‘for’, ‘get’ and ‘give’ on each face of each dice. This allows for a number of possible word combinations on each roll such as ‘we give’, ‘we get’ or ‘for get’ and ‘for give’ alluding to the whimsical nature of decisions being made that have profound effects on people’s lives, as it is revealed that these dice were themselves made from a 3-D printer smuggled in from another country.
Back in the Change exhibition, the drawing/painting Untitled (2013) depicts 2 women walking together along in a living room, looking down on the floor in a pensive mood. This theme of inter-dependence between a mother and daughter is in line with another work, the ‘music’ video which doesn’t have any music, Just Be Good To Me (2007) which is based on the 1983 song of the same title by the SOS Band; a primal, inter-dependent cry of a human being to be loved and accepted, even if she knows her partner is going to be unfaithful or however else he treats other people.
Untitled (2013) also uses ambiguous colors; the florescent red, orange, yellow and olive lines are of the correct value with liberty taken in the colors used itself, which is also the case for other Helfman drawings such as A Couple (2014).
In another sculpture, what resembles broken glass panes and a girl’s school bag is strewn across the floor as a reminder that war, or terrorist attacks are never too far away.