Tomer Sapir: Research for the Full Crypto-Taxidermical Index

Tomer Sapir: Untitled (detail), 2012, mixed media, 2012, installation at Chelouche Gallery, Tel Aviv. Photo: Elad Sarig

In his exhibition Terra Incognita in the Chelouche Gallery for contemporary art, Tel-Aviv, Tomer Sapir features quasi-organic configurations which constantly evolve, blurring the boundaries between the bustling present and the prehistorical past. Relics and fossils of creatures from an invented prehistoric era awaken into an implausible present. Despite the fossils’ static quality, something bubbles under the surface. While some of the ‘findings’ look as if they were taken from a prehistoric time, it seems that others contain organic values from the present such as mould.

The viewer transpires in a suspended present, between a catastrophe that may have already occurred (the skeleton of an upside-down carcass, traces of an epidemic, a natural catastrophe or a manmade disaster) and an imminent danger (seductive traps, a venomous sting, cocoons about to hatch at any minute, a bulb taking shape within the upturned skeleton, possibly a toxin possibly a parasite).

In this exhibition Sapir continues his ongoing project Research for the Full Crypto-Taxidermical Index, a coming into being lexicon of objects . The term ‘crypto-taxidermy’ alludes to the embalming of animals that are not part of the official zoological index. Sapir’s cataloguing system undermines familiar systems of classification and distorts coherency and differentiated meaning. The objects in Sapir’s lexicon are mutations suspended between the organic and the artificial, the seductive and the threatening. One cannot always know which object was gathered from nature, which is an outcome of toiling work in the studio and which was transformed and disrupted.

That project was set in motion in the exhibition Shelf Life at the Haifa Museum of Art (curators: Tami Katz-Freiman and Rotem Ruff). It was an interim summing up after three years of sculpturing work in his studio/lab, elaborating the engagement with cryptids, animals for which there is no scientific proof and which are not identified in the official zoological index. Sapir carefully arranged the objects in a system of vitrines composed of shelves, drawers and cabinets. That display was reminiscent of natural history, pre-history or archeology museum displays, yet without any classificatory principle, which undermined any attempt at coherence or order. By organizing the fictional organic configurations he examined the overlapping of biological and synthetic elements and attempted to come up with the chemical formula for combining them.

The second significant beat of that project was shown in the exhibition The End of History at the Künstlerhaus Speckstraße and Kutscherhäuser, Hamburg. Here Sapir turned objects from his coming into being lexicon into two-dimensional images using a slide projection. That projection did not only function as a means of documentation, but also created a distance between the viewer and the objects and intensified the illusion of a didactic work based on research and knowledge.

Terra Incognita is in fact the third significant beat of this ongoing project. Terra Incognit (unknown land) is a Latin term used by cartographers to demarcate areas of land yet unmapped or undocumented. These territories were marked in medieval maps of the world by painterly depictions of mythological beasts, at times with the added inscription: ‘HC SVNT DRACONES’ (Here be Dragons).

In this exhibition Sapir decided to return to intimate individual sculptures. He discarted vitrines and presented his cryptids focusing on a critical and compressed moment in a manner that challenges the ability to differentiate between a journey into a fictitious arena, a visit to a natural history museum, and a visit to an art gallery. The world introduced by Sapir is underlain by a duality between the use or imitation of nature (the findings of a researcher, gathered leftovers or findings, traces of what once was) and what is quintessentially man-made (sculptural works, use of synthetic materials). It is precisely this dichotomy, however, which makes for a space and time where Sapir’s sculptures/creatures may exist, a gray area which sustains a tension between history, mythology, and fiction.

Text by Avi Lubin

For further information on the project see Tomer Sapir’s homepage and an interview with the artist in Guernica Magazine of Art and Politics.

All images © Tomer Sapir

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Relics and fossils of creatures from an invented prehistoric era awaken into an implausible present.