In keeping with his previous photographic explorations, Ori Gersht’s new series imbues a particular landscape with symbolic meaning through references to local history and beliefs. Falling Petals took him to Japan in springtime of 2010 to capture the short-lived bloom of cherry blossoms, and their symbolic usage in the country. He visited both ancient regions of western Japan and urban cities affected by nuclear wars, including Hiroshima and Tokyo.
Cherry blossoms are a well-known cultural symbol in Japan – appearing in paintings and prints from centuries ago to the present in order to indicate renewal and good luck. Traditionally, they have been planted around Buddhist temples as a reminder of the transient nature of life due to the trees’ vibrant bloom and rapid demise. In the 20th-century, they took on a patriotic tone as they were used for propaganda to raise morale and support for Japan’s colonialist efforts. They later became a term that referenced kamikaze pilots in World War II – young soldiers who would embark on suicide missions – much like the quick death and falling of cherry blossom petals. In response to this dual symbolism of youthfulness and death, Gersht documented trees blooming on grounds unaffected by the wars, as well as those growing out of nuclear soil. In accordance with his series Evaders, The Forest, and Time After Time, this new body of work poetically explores the dichotomy between violence and beauty.
As is customary with Gersht’s photographs and films, the works do not disclose any information about the history of the documented location. A majority of the images were created at nighttime using a highly light-sensitive digital camera. As a result, the photographs have a grainy, pixilated, and often blurry texture. Against the Tide: Isolated, (2010) is a large photograph that captures a single, vast cherry blossom tree flourishing in full glory, as well as its mirror reflection in an adjacent lake. Shot at night, this habitually colorful and vibrant tree takes on a solemn and ominous perspective that hints at its alternative symbolism. Images like Against the Tide: Melting Down 01 (2010) and Against the Tide: Diptych Monks (2010) take on a ghostly quality with various color and light manipulations, thus pointing to the weight of history embedded among their branches.
Also on view is the video Will You Dance For Me (2011)—a quiet and earnest juxtaposition of a snowy landscape with the story of eighty-five-year-old Yehudit Arnon. While watching her silently rock on a chair surrounded by complete darkness, we learn of the story that shaped the course of her life. At nineteen, while at the Auschwitz concentration camp, an SS officer ordered her to dance for him at his Christmas party. When she refused, she was sent to stand barefoot in the snow all night. During her punishment she vowed that if she were to survive this experience, she would dedicate her life to dance. Keeping this promise, she founded the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC) in Israel, which she directed and choreographed until she no longer could dance. Slowly rocking back and forth – a form of dancing at her age – Arnon occasionally looks up to the sky, as snow begins falling on an adjacent screen — a reminder of what brought her to this moment. As with the cherry blossom photographs, our eyes wander from darkness to stunning and mute landscapes—alluding to the ruthless history that is often embedded in our surroundings, entirely out of plain view.
Images: Against the Tide: Isolated, 2010, Archival pigment prints mounted on dibond, 47 1/4 X 70 7/8 inches; Will You Dance For Me, 2011, Dual channel HD video projection with sound, 13 minutes 45 seconds duration; Against the Tide: Diptych Monks, 2010, C-Type mounted in dibond, in two parts, 61 x 97 inches overall. Courtesy of the artist and CRG Gallery, NY.