Stitching together digital, sculptural and natural ephemera, Israeli artist Ilit Azoulay makes photographs that hover between the miniature and the gigantic. She gathers small abstract accretions of wire, plastic, shells or stone that have been cast aside, left in the shadowed hollows of street corners and alleyways. These finds are organized along with old pictures into groupings that follow the loose grids of shelves, boxes and files. At this stage, the work resembles a mad Cartesian impulse to make order out of disorder, creating an archive of objects endowed with an aura, despite their seeming inconsequence.
As Azoulay painstakingly photographs each image and its ground, this archaeology of knowledge is fueled by an archive fever that goes beyond the mere physicality of order. Each object, each scrap of torn weathered paper, and each discrete portion of the ground on which they sit is documented, resized and pieced together to create a new landscape in which scale and perspective are modified into an aggregate of visual information.
Like other contemporary artists such as Daniel Lefcourt, Leslie Hewitt, and Ruth Van Beek, Azoulay’s predilection is toward using photography as a method to unpack the performative qualities of an archive. In this sense, the photograph foregrounds its potential to act as both a document and as a picture of the structure through which these documents are understood. We are lulled into a belief of fact while constantly jolted awake, reminding ourselves that these facts are constructed pieces of a larger story.
Azoulay, who recently received her MFA from the Bezalel Academy in Tel Aviv, at once affirms and denies any easily essentialized connections between the archiving impulse and her national identity. Israel is a country that recognizes the deep relationship between archaeology and national memory, as a result there is a modernist shrine in Jerusalem that houses the dead sea scrolls. Archive fever also drives the volumes of holocaust survivor testimonies at Yad Vashem. But because of the everyday materials that seem to have no overt historical value or political symbology, Azloulay leans more on the transnational impulse to picture an archive of the everyday. Her work is a picture of a picture, an image of an idea that resists framing, because it is a frame itself.
Azoulay’s upcoming exhibition at Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York City opens June 23, 2011.