In the biblical book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob has a mysterious encounter in the middle of the night. Although this story is one of the best known episodes in the Bible, it is also one of the most cryptic. Read literally, the narrative describes Jacob wrestling a strange man for many hours, but ancient commentators inferred that the "man" Jacob battles is actually an angel or even an incarnate god. Whether his foe was god, angel, another man, or his own unconscious, Jacob's struggle resonates universally because it evokes the ontological duality of humankind, the clash between our aspirational, metaphysical identity and our brutish, animal core.
Our animal nature is readily witnessed during a boxing match. Two men enter a ring and face off with their fists. This simple, unadulterated dynamic allows boxers to be appreciated as stand-ins for the everyman, their hand-to-hand combat the "sweet science" of a dog-eat-dog world. Boxing reminds viewers that we all relish a good fight, that combat is an essential, if disparaged aspect of our psyche. We are a species with an inborn inclination for combat and predatory behavior, and this primeval disposition remains a foundation of our contemporary ethos. It is in the ring and on the battlefield, where man is at once the hunter and the hunted, that we become our most essential selves, bestial, carnal, raging.
Yet we are exceptional animals; our violence is not restricted to fist-on-flesh or flag-against-flag. Self-conscious creatures, we wage interior, personal wars, too. It is therefore unsurprising that Jacob's encounter is so often interpreted as the proverbial "dark night of the soul," an individual's traumatic reckoning with his dual identity, the spiritual self raging against the raw, brute self. When gladiators depart the ring, they must turn away from or suppress this inner animal, but the reptile brain, having been stimulated for so long, does not sleep easy. The fighting that men do today compels the soul searching they do tomorrow. Perhaps, on the muddy northern banks of the Jabbok River, Jacob did both?
Wrestling God considers humanity's existential struggles in a series of graphite drawings of variable dimensions. Trained as an architect, Israeli artist Dana Harel values quality draftsmanship and works almost exclusively in graphite, an earthy, raw material. She renders pictures that address our physical and psychological kinship with the natural world. Her recent work has appeared at The Palo Alto Art Center, Napa Museum of Art, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art in Israel, and The Montalvo Arts Center. Wrestling God is her second exhibition with Frey Norris.
During the opening reception on Thursday, September 6th and on October 13th at 5pm, there will be an experimental video with sound and performance by composer, Luciano Chessa and artist, Dana Harel at Frey Norris. The event is free and open to the public.