This dream state is nothing new. Not so long ago--say before 9-11--we secretly reveled in our shared and felt postmodern existence. Meaning, we agreed, was arbitrary. And so we found totemic truth in bloody accidental events. Car crashes, train wrecks and planes plummeting into the void were cause for tribal acts of rubber-necking. Yet even those times were marked by a certain kind of sleepwalking, one perhaps more benign than ours today, but equally benighted. Now we have drifted from one reverie to another, from blithe dream to extravagant nightmare. Though asleep, we recognized carnage and butchery. There was truth to the cryptic but lucid words of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, "wreckwork is the materialization of dreamwork in public ceremony." In our current nightmarish oblivion even atrocities cease to shake us--not war, not horrendous photographs of torture and not even an administration that mixes God and the White House, a mendacious twosome that knowingly confuses heaven with a pipeline for oil across the Caucasus.
The art of Maya Schindler, now showing at Angstrom Gallery until December 8, sounds an urgent alarm. Her blood-spewing sirens scream, if not literally, then metaphorically, Wake up! Take heed of the ugliness, stupidity and violent havoc we wreak in the world. She enunciates her message by way of repetition and redundancy, through the serial placement of eight paintings of tocsins in motion in the front gallery and another in the back, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility," a painting that bears the same phrase over and over, dripping white against red, in Bart Simpson-chalkboard fashion. Never mind that the phrase comes from the movie Spider-Man. It's the oddly resonant truth that pop culture has yielded.
The young Israeli-born artist owns up to the iconicity of her images, explaining that "the work is most complicated in its directness." Her nine large painterly canvases and video of a police siren in rotation bring Warholian flatness together with the silent screams of John Cage. Schindler builds on the fullness of our peculiarly silent moment, pressing and prodding Cage's pithy admonition that "our poetry is the realization that we possess nothing. Anything therefore is a delight (since we do not possess it...)." Trained at the Belzalel Academy of Fine Art and Design in Jerusalem and the Yale School of Art, Schindler is well-equipped for the current political and intellectual fisticuffs. Her divergent influences, from Romanticism and installation art to McDonald's and Teletubbies, collide like projectile atoms, cause for an energy-releasing fission that ultimately materializes in the form of several large flat canvases and one room devoted to the twirling lights of a lone siren.
Made up of painting and video combined, the central part of Schindler's work is installed in the two rooms of the newly expanded Angstrom Gallery. In the front room hang eight 5-by-5 canvases. In the adjacent room, a video of a rotating siren projects in looming fashion onto one large wall. That there is nothing else in the second gallery space but the filmic, hypnotic vision of a rotating siren brings home the urgency of what she describes as her first political work. The movement of the siren in real time mimics the ones painted in the entry gallery, their redness registering like the pulsing of infectious wounds captured in the flatness of a painted instance. With these images, she has painted in oil enormous red and black sirens made still at different intervals during rotation. A lesson in bloodletting over verisimilitude, the paint is expressive and not photogenic. Blood shoots forth from these wounded sirens, making red Pollock-like splatters on their painted black mounts and shiny white backgrounds. Schindler renders the rotation of the light within the individual red volumes by way of an alternating whiteness at the center of each painting, giving some a larger white center than others. The whiteness equally signifies luminosity and deep flesh wounds.
The titles of the paintings--"North," "South," "East," "West," "North West," "South West," "South East" and "North East"--allude to cartography as well as her experiences growing up in the hotly contested terrain of Israel. The titles coupled with the paintings' iconic substance conjure violent images of suicide bombings and territorial breaches, self- and collective destruction and unlawful settlement. While the slightly impastoed surfaces of the wounded plastic in the front room serve as a counterpoint to the sharp-imaged video one room over, together they depict the reality and bloodshed that so often accompany the whir and squeal of sirens on police cars zooming through crowds and traffic. The crimson and trauma-stricken sirens are symbols of one region's ever-deeper gouge, Israel and Palestine's shared political sore that has now become the world's bloody gash.
The titles also cut to the core of her experience as a young soldier in the Israeli military. While working in the mapping department of the Israeli army, Schindler was asked to map a series of houses that were to be strategically removed--Palestinian homes that were to be bombed. When she refused to complete the exercise, she was jailed for three weeks and then excommunicated from the army for refusing to follow orders.
Schindler injects this experience into her installation, making her sirens a wake-up call in yet other ways. Yes, they tell us to rise up from our fat, consumerist, happily war-mongering and pious slumber. They also tell us to swerve free from the bleary-eyed herd, to resist that which seems so easy to follow.