Tavi Dresdner Gallery, Tel Aviv. Curator: Tamar Dresdner
DO LOVE ME - Dr. Ktzia Alon
Shony Rivnay began his artistic career as a student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. During the 1970s, while conceptual art was thriving and the German artist Joseph Beuys emerged as a central figure in the international artworld, Rivnay created two unforgettable works, which succeeded amazingly at capturing the “spirit of the time,” the international zeitgeist. In the first work, Rivnay painted a bare canvas – the traditional painterly support – black and white, and added the sentence: Shony’s Black on White Canvas. On a shelf below the canvas, he left several Black & White whisky bottles and glasses, together with a sign: “You can drink as much whisky as you like as long as you stand by this work.” The play on words and colors, and the unabashed, total exposure of the artist’s act of seduction pointed to the seductive, titillating nature of all works of art, which beseech us to turn to them. In another work, Rivnay created a performance of sorts, which consisted of an “official visit” to the Bezalel art department. Wearing a suit and tie, he walked through the department and scrutinized everything he came upon, in accordance with the fictive aura he created for himself. Rivnay’s artworks were remarkable in terms of their self-reflexive character, and capacity for addressing the sociological context in which they were situated. Implicit to them were questions such as “Who created the creators?” or “What transforms a work into an artwork?” – questions similar to those addressed by the eminent French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Even as a student, Rivnay grasped art’s indisputable right to manipulate its audience, while revealing its underlying makeup.
The ability to trigger the viewers' curiosity is integral to art’s ability to be alive, vital and filled with desire; this ability stands out in contrast to the respectable boredom often associated with “museum exhibitions,” which underscore the affinity between museums and mausoleums. Rivnay’s deep understanding of the importance of creating a persona and an image, of the “showy” aspect of art, was ahead of its time. This trend has reached its apogee only in recent years, with the appearance of art stars celebrated by the media such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
The current exhibition brings together a range of artworks by Rivnay, together with an image film commissioned from Rivnay by the Kosovo government. Kosovo, which is remembered as the war-torn site of a horrifying massacre, is now attempting to rehabilitate itself both economically and socially, and to become once again an integral part of Europe. Given its geographical location at the heart of the continent, it now seeks to change its position on the political periphery. In the course of the branding process undertaken for the film, Rivnay learned that the population of Kosovo (which is mostly composed of Albanian Muslims) is remarkably young. The film thus creates a symbolic equation between “youth,” “fun” and Kosovo. The presentation of this film in the context of an art exhibition endows it with new depth while revealing additional aspects of it, which are integrated into the exhibition’s general syntax. The desire to be loved by the hegemonic other is thus related to the request to be loved that recurs throughout Rivnay’s body of work – revealing a personal, private and intimate obsession.
“Do love me,” the artist calls out to his audience – the same request made by every human being of those who surround him. As the psychoanalyst Ruth Golan has noted, “In the absence of a sexual charge associated with the other, the subject can identify with the traits he shares with the other, such as the desire to be loved.”1 Stripped of all signs of ethnicity, religion, origin, nationality, age, economic status and gender, we all feel the desperate need to be loved
Rivnay’s works give form, by means of a kind of “semi-calligraphy,” to the all- embracing vocal mantra urging us to love ourselves, the world and humanity at large. In addition to the Zen-Buddhist spirit that infuses this work, one senses the presence of a pagan spirit, which believes in the power of an individual act to instigate a transformation. The large, hovering Cloud taken from the formal repertory of the image film has a delicate, fragile, poetic quality, which is related to the large paper sheets spread out on the gallery walls. Filled with words, letters and writing, these sheets contain just a few images, which are implicitly related to the creative whole: a rooster, a portrait, a colorful ball.
The entrance to the exhibition space presents us, the viewers, with the demand to love: generally, politically, personally and privately. How does this request / demand / plea influence us? Do we have enough love for all those who beg us for it? Can we love without being dependent on the other’s love? Without expecting anything in return? The resonance of this question is amplified by the intentionally exaggerated manner in which it is presented, which is reminiscent of an obsessive- compulsive disorder. Judged by our “normal” criteria, the recurrent repetition of the same request arouses our suspicion and is deemed inappropriate. It amounts to a mesmerizing manifestation of magical thinking, which involves the repetition of the same combinations of words. This artificial ritual, which may be associated with a form of psychological disturbance, gives expression to existential anxiety and an exaggerated sense of fear. Although the plea for love paradoxically results in rejection, it is repeated uncontrollably. The work Do Love Me recognizes this paradoxical dynamic, and exhibits it for all to see.