Cherry blossoms lead a cursory existence. Like blushing plumes, their trees bring forth bountiful masses of cotton candy petals, flourishing for a mere two weeks before they are hurriedly shed. The rosy confetti blankets the surrounding grounds, the wilting floretsscattering as swiftly as they bloomed. To the Japanese, the blossoms are emblematic of the ephemerality of life. Intrigued by their reputation, Israeli photographer Ori Gersht traveled to Japan in the spring of 2010 to capture the blossoms’ proliferation. Exactly one year later, devastation swept the site of his previously captured landscapes, all too hauntingly demonstrating the prodigious truth behind the symbolism. Falling Petals—Gersht’s current solo exhibition on view at Angles Gallery—is a timely exemplar of the cyclical and transitional histories of specific localities. Though sites of abundance, his tableaux are also inhabited by the unseen ghosts of war-torn pasts, not to mention those of a devastated present.
Pulling from a heritage shaped by the Holocaust, Gersht knows the fickle temperament of being. In short: get it while you can, because life’s only guarantee is there aren’t any. In his earlier video works, Gersht riffs on a combination of seventeenth-century Spanish bodegones and Dutch vanitas paintings through the “Quicker’n a Wink” lens of Harold Edgerton, but with the graceful prolonging of Bill Viola. In Pomegranate (2006), a bullet rips through the ripe fruit, showering the scene in a constellation of ruby innards. In Big Bang II (2007), an unassuming floral bouquet—indistinguishable from countless Western European oils—abruptly detonates into diminutive, glittering shards.
These demises are sudden, simultaneously violent and beautiful in their illustration of the unpredictability of life. In Falling Petals, however, Gersht performs a quiet assessment of our mercurial existence, focusing on Hiroshima and Tokyo. Faithful to the vernacular of his preceding photographic terrain, Gersht proffers uninhabited territory, void of perceptible history. Picturesque cherry trees, voluptuous with flowers, curve over placid water and untenanted boats. A palpable sense of anticipation brims from Gersht’s shrouded vantage point, as if the artist was evading the disquieting memories tied to the land.
Hiroshima and Tokyo, much like Gersht’s previously explored Auschwitz and Sarajevo, are covert archives of struggle, loss, recovery and ascent, and Gersht’s purposefully distorted, nighttime renditions of the burgeoning cherry trees—the first body of work in which he has photographed his subjects at night—allude to a hazy reminiscence of yore. The remembrance of atomic bombs and warfare is obscured by pastoral idealism, an ominous suggestion of the years succeeding today’s already dwindling commemoration efforts.
At the same time, Gersht’s cropped panoramas address our tendency to dodge the unpleasantries of the human condition, despite our cognizance of them. Does collective memory grow dim once it stops trending on Twitter? How soon will these once rampantly visible regions become ambiguous backdrops?
Falling Petals is on view at Angles Gallery until July 9th, 2011. Lost in Time, Gersht’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States, is concurrently on view at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art through September 4, 2011.