Text by Dalit Matatyahu, Curator
What Kind of sensation arises in us in the physical presence of the savage? The “loutish” presence of his body, which our soul identifies as flesh of our flesh, is both attractive and repulsive. Think of Queequeg’s pagan arm hugging Ishmael’s body, stirring in him a childhood memory: his stepmother, who abused him, is substituted in his hallucination with a magical, comforting hand: the savage’s touch is the touch of the other.
The Looking-glass of the savage – as shown by Montaigne in his essay “On the Cannibals”- has been used by civilizations since the ancient Greeks to differentiate themselves from other societies, deemed barbarous. The savage is placed on one end of the binary system, with the civilized man on the other. But Queequeg, Ishamel says, was ”a creature in the transition stage – neither caterpillar nor butterfly”.
Yael Yudkovik’s male head wanders in such transitional zones: seen from “ behind”, it subverts the interpretation of the face as the key to man’s inner essence, and adopts the method of Gilles Deleuze and Fe’lix Guattari, who present the human body as an “agent” of reciprocal sensual relations with the world, rather than as a reflective being. In his book about Francis Bacon, Deleuze writes: “Bacon is a painter of heads, not faces, and there is a great difference between the two. For the face is a structured, spatial organization that conceals the head, whereas the head is dependent on the body, even if it is the point of the body, its culmination. It is not that the head lacks spirit: but it is a spirit in bodily from, a corporeal and vital breath, an animal spirit”. The vanishing points delineated by the male head, the escape routes from the face’s socialization regime, lead (in Deleuze’s terms) to becoming an animal or metamorphosing into an animal, for the animal’s hypothetical nature is in the midst between inanimate and man. This transitional state is linked with the nomadic quality, with the motion from the constant to the changing, from the major to the minor.
“What is it?” ask the viewers facing the man’s head, only later turning to “who is it?” – a vagueness stemming from the image’s abundant physicality. The Iuminous skin, taut around the skull, and the scar carved in the nape “touch” the viewer’s living body, the same body that Maurice Merleau-ponty posited as the foundation of consciousness. The male hunter archetype is constituted in Yudkovik’s work in reverse: the hunter exposes his flesh as potential prey, while gazing towards an empty space devoid of objects. The hunter seems to embody the eternal yearning of the arrow that will never reach its destination, as in Zeno’s paradox.
Can one imagine another end to Melville’s novel, in which the white whale is hunted? The wall is torn asunder? In contrast to the visible reality, the physical proximity of hunter and hunted – to the point of merging in Ahab’s case (his artificial leg, we remember, is made of whalebone) – constitutes a distance that cannot be achieved or domesticated. It is savage.