Silver Pharm | Ronen Raz
They are silvery, beautiful, soft, shiny, touchable, flattened, collapsing, flowing, and duplicated. At times they stand tall like still soldiers, other times they rub against each other, but there is always a relation between them. Silver Pharm, Ronen Raz’s new exhibition, is a shelf specimen of a familiar sterile territory: soft sculptures of haute couture objects based on models of cosmetics and cleaning products: a well cut allegory for the human relationship drama, squeezed into tubes of lotions and perfume bottles, tailor-made for the temple of modern man – the Super Pharm.
Raz, whose artistic path had led him through the field of design and clothing, is an amateur entomologist, who engaged in taxidermy and the preservation of animals. In his previous piece –Urban Skin, exhibited at the recent Fresh Paint Art Fair – he employed leather tanning techniques used in the field of fashion and garments to present a monumental sculpture of an uprooted fragment of a road: a large plate made of thousands of tiny leather units, painstakingly assembled to create a perfect simulation of black asphalt, underneath which glimpses a white layer of limestone gravel.
In his current piece, Raz focuses on processed leather sculptures of a new trivial domain, in an exhibition comprised of two spaces. In the first space, we are greeted by a sculpture of a life-size model of a shopping cart, with its four black rubber wheels and grip handle – like a hyperrealistic Oldenburgian pop variation, sprawled on a white pedestal like a limp corpse. Silvery, gleaming, flattened, and impractical, the shopping cart is the great icon of the capitalist syntax, which encodes the reading of the exhibition: a trampling and trampled organic cage, a symbol of the tired family dream, cracking under the strain of the bourgeois-consumerist promise of perfection, health, and fulfillment. The other space presents us with a mesmerizing vision, gleaming under the chromatic light, luxurious and glamorous: a series of shelves, carrying loaded groupings of silvery consumer produces – spectacular 1:1 replicas of containers, packages, spray cans, nail polish bottles, and toiletries associated with the world of cleaning and grooming, echoing a pseudo-medical, corrective-cosmetic consumerist realm.
Consumer culture valorizes youth, signals us to be more taut, beautiful, fragrant, designed, firm, embalmed in a sporty, boyish body, like the ergonomically designed products, arranged within reach on the clean smooth shelves. The entire psychology of transformation is linked with a reversion from an old state to a juvenile vibrant state. The Super Pharm is a vital organ in the system of communicating vessels of this culture of consumption. An artificial ecological, air conditioned and sterile environment, a web of aesthetic conditionings, peddling an ideology of self-improvement and grooming, small comforts posing as an essential necessity, firmly anchored in brainwashing, false and empty promises that have been privatized and now serve as the bills of exchange of the human need for contact, touch, empathy, warmth. When purchasing a new product in a chain store, we look for any signs of previous usage, making sure that the product’s industrial purity is intact, that the flawless sterility of the case will be broken for the first time in front of our very eyes and by our own hands. Our eyes are trained to detect whether the product had been opened, and we always want it new, still in its package, without the touch, smell, or traces of another person. Through the consumption product we meet our need, through the product we arrive at the sterile touch.
The space of an authentic Super Pharm displays a string of objects that were maximized as consumption products. Instruments of pleasure and torture coexist harmoniously on its shelves: fragrant lotions and shaving blades, baby wipes and a file for removing dead skin. All products are packaged meticulously; their contents take the back seat to their presentation: the differentiation between them is only attained by the differences in their packaging. The casing takes over the substance, the product essence tricks the senses and dulls natural intuition. Whether it is a perfume, cleaning spray, or hair removal wax, the Super Pharm object is fabricated from the get-go: an alluring casing of liquid/powdery/creamy contents, the properties of which amount to the writing on the box; a package that promises everything and does not have to deliver on anything.
Flock after flock is led to the slaughter. People are herded along the aisles of pleasure: consume their need for a connection, for beauty, for eternal youth, or warmth. Escaping exhaust gases and air pollution, the scorching heat of the urban summer or perhaps the chill of winter – they stroll through the air conditioned space, fill their lungs with the smell of Passover holiday sale, apply a face firming gel on the back of their hand, reading with inquisitive devoutness about the healing properties of lavender. They add a double pack of Shea butter, for dry and damaged hair, strutting to the cashier with shopping carts laden with false hopes.
The leather sculptures are hollow and empty. There is nothing but the casing, the living material of the dead thing. Raz sculpts the packaging. One would have expected that the conversion to silver which Raz performs on the Super Pharm unit of meaning, will enhance the product’s glamorous and alienated dimension, however once we approach the work, the product turns into a creature. The transformation to leather neutralizes it and turns it into a body: naked, fragile, vulnerable, soft. The cleanliness of technology contrasts with the organic material. They eye registers the object, but is immediately captivated by the human plot that takes shape behind the product’s back. The tamed leather seems to be unable to maintain the required industrial firmness. The products fade away as products. The real bursts to the surface. Through the haute-couture, the perfect mimetic duplication of the packaging, the exhibition manages to restore the lost dignity of the human: Acetone spill, a wrinkle in the leather, an inseam, crumpled luxury.
(Text by Dr. Efrat Mishori, August 2015)