The Uncanny

 

Netta Lieber Sheffer, derived from Sigmund Freud seminal essay "The Uncanny", presents oil paintings and chalk drawings of death masks. She fixates the moment of encounter with death, and thus capturing the remains of the memory through the reflection of the dead person in the mask.

In his seminal essay, "The Uncanny", first published in 1919, Sigmund Freud describes the psychological experience of modern man and his inability to escape from the terrible trauma he simultaneously dreads and is attracted to. It is the sense of the intimate strangeness or the strangely familiar that constantly threatens him, or in Jacque Lacan’s words, the anxiety of losing something which is unreal as a means of protecting a concealed object.

In a world in which life and death are so close, at times perhaps too close, and in a reality where the border line between to be or not to be is so thin, no experience is so familiar yet so strange as the enforced encounter while facing death. 

The experience creates a cognitive dissonance due to its paradoxical nature, mightily attracting and repulsing us at the same time. Our curiosity pushes us to the limit in recognizing its existence, yet our immense lust for life stops us from getting too close and facing it. This is what we feel upon encountering a death mask and the face of the deceased who only just recently was still alive and familiar and now has become a mere lifeless stranger.

In an essay published in Atlantic Magazine on May 2014, “Impressions from the Face of a Corpse”, Luke A. Fidler introduces us to the tradition of death masks creation as a technology based form of reincarnation and transformation from a state of death and decay to a state of eternal human existence.

The creation of a death mask, a horrifying portrait and a relic of a human being, is usually performed in order to immortalize the dead person, soon after the actual moment of death in order to create an accurate copy of the mold placed on its face.

History is rich with examples of famous persons who were reconstructed, political and spiritual leaders whom humankind wished to preserve and immortalize, thus integrating life with death.

The death mask succeeded in accurately copying the facial features, way beyond any artistic sculpture.

This exhibition presents nine oil paintings from Netta Lieber Sheffer’s body of work, all in an identical format, of death masks painted between the years 2013-2016 as well as large black and white pencil drawings.

Lieber Sheffer defines the creation of death masks as a preservation of a threshold moment between life and art. The perishable life is molded in material and once the flesh has decayed it is preserved in stone, clay and bronze. Art’s ability to change time and its character, to preserve and fixate the memory of life, is one of the basic questions occupying humanity throughout history as well as Lieber Sheffer in this work.

The artist’s work fixates the moment, in this case the moment of encounter with death, thus capturing the remains of the memory through the reflection of the dead person in the mask.

Jerusalem - Self Portrait exhibits the complimenting contrasts that make this city, holy and mundane, devout and fearless yet desperate and fearful. The exhibition brings together people, who though may be poles apart, are united in their wish to live in a place where they share with others mutual love and hatred.

What exactly is the mesmerizing secret of the city and its people?

The clothed in royal garments, gleaming in white in her honor And the modestly clad in black, only their eyes peering out of their robes.

The huddled in silent prayer And the vocal worshippers in public. The comers and goers, their faces blank And the guardians on its walls alert in the face of an imminent attack. The devout grave and stone kissers carrying a secret hope in their heart, The followers of the Crucifix along the Via Dolorosa, softly chanting

Or those whose voices echo in the streets, urging the believers to hurry for prayer.

The bearers of the brunt, hurting with the pain of others, And the clandestine inciters and provokers.

Those and others, together and apart, are the protagonists of this Theater of the Absurd, in the biggest show in town where the curtain was raised thousands of years ago but its concluding scene has yet to be written.

Netta Lieber Sheffer,

Israel

 

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