Leonardo on-line Daphna Margolin: Ada-Mah?.com

The Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan, 2002

Reviewed by Jude James
Freelance artist-scholar

Ada-Mah?——What is man?——is the question asked in the title of the artist Daphna Margolin’s installation at the Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan in 2002. In particular, Margolin is concerned artistically, philosophically, and materially, with man in relationship to and with the environment. Daphna Margolin is one of a number of Israeli artists, The Israeli Forum for Ecological Art, whose work eloquently addresses this and like issues. Margolin’s answer to the question of ‘what is man?’ is multivarious, as demonstrated through the exhibition works presented in the catalogue. Her works are structures, often large, that demonstrate a complex and questioning relationship of the nature of man; of the relationship of man and nature; and of the relationship of science and the technological; and of man’ sensibility——conscious and immanent. What is missing through the limitations of our sensory organism is the imperative that drives Margolin’s questioning. How else might we conceive of man’s sensibility beyond the organism? is a question that Margolin’s work evokes. Some of the explorations through which Margolin offers us some pointers in answer to these questions are overtly technical and scientific in reference, such as, The Genetic Cloning Mixer and the Solar Genomat for choosing one’s genes, directly referencing The Genome Project. They are also humorous. All works, however, including the Genetic Facycle and MatterSpirit, rupture the boundary between man and machine and shock the certainty of an anthropomorphized condition of consciousness. Disembodiment of the human or anthropomorphized consciousness is evidenced in works such as Reincarnation, a floating shrouded corpse and petrified bronchus tube; Wombrain, an inviting inwardly lit sphere that less invitingly spews out gut like tubes, controlled by an electronic ‘framed’ circuit; and the Human Sandglass, a Perspex angular object that rotates in space Sphinxlike dissolving time (human time that is). These works evoke that borderless expanse of self and environment that is Margolin’s constant referent. Spiritual Touch——The Seam Between Bio & Technology; a multi-sensory installation, Margolin’s title to her own contribution in the catalogue, appears to offer us a clue. The concern of her work is certainly beyond matter as we know it. The monumental recumbent Gene Garden, a digital garden that "examines human evolution and its potential, as well as the dangers of genetic engineering" is, for this viewer, the most powerful of her works and conveys no nostalgia whatsoever for the anthropomorphic. Rather, it is the simplest, and the work that most eloquently evokes Margolin’s question Ada-Mah?——What is man? This recumbent and monumental tumulus, a palimpsest between the ancient (the tumulus as ancient burial site), the modern (life generated from within the petrie dishes that cover its lit surface) and the possible future (the luminescence that hovers formlessly from within and around the site of the installation), is perhaps rather like Klee’s angel caught between the past and the future. Margolin’s tumulus of a Gene Garden is translucent and light glows from within. Is it perhaps a call to return to absolute zero, the photon energy of which——we are informed by the scientists——we are all made? Or is her statement here, more in the nature of that posed by Jean-François Lyotard as a question in "A Postmodern Fable" (1997). "What would a human and/or the brain resemble at the moment that they leave the planet forever, before its destruction?" That, Lyotard does not tell us. Nor does Margolin. Her work merely alerts us to that question.

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