Between Life and Death in Zigi Ben-Haim’s “Forever With Us”
In a new exhibition at the Hezi Cohen Gallery in Tel-Aviv, Zigi Ben-Haim aims to change how we relate to time, the natural environment, and our own precarity. Entitled “Forever With Us,” the exhibition’s multimedia floral portraits speak to his own experience grappling with artistic creation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The coronavirus has accentuated our existence between life and death,” Ben-Haim says about the objective of the exhibition. “One object represents both ends. It begins and completes the circle of life.” The object at the center of “Forever With Us” is flowers. Entering the exhibit, where these works are organized across spacious walls, one has a sense of awakening from a bad dream into a more vivid and palpable reality.
In art, flowers are as ubiquitous as they are polysemous—ranging from a symbol for purity (like in Luini’s the Madonna of the Carnation), or ephemerality (like Ruysch’s Flower Still Life). Ben-Haim draws on this ambiguity. As he thought about how to make art within a mass-death event, flowers stood out to him as a fitting motif: “The flower is the one object that is used when we’re born and when we die.”
While many others have opted for hyper-realism or abstraction when depicting flowers, Ben-Haim’s works are unique. Painted on aluminum, Ben-Haim juxtaposes the organic nature of the flowers against a harsh metal backdrop—a style that captures the thematic duality of the exhibition. Characteristic of his work, which he describes as a place “where culture and nature collide and coincide,” the flowers seem to project a vital force from the cool aluminum surface. With lush colors, sharp contrast, and a multimedia flair, Forever with Us has a touch of coolness and fantasy.
Indeed, Ben-Haim’s work is all about holding together opposing ideas and experiences. Created between 2020 and 2022, his artist statement indicates that the exhibition aims to “strik[e] a balance between survival and disappearance … This tension is like a stretched elastic band where most of the world lives somewhere in the middle.”
A sculptor and painter who has worked in a variety of mediums, this project serves as a jumping off point for a new aesthetic and process for Ben-Haim. Alongside these more representational pieces are fully abstract works composed of leftovers from the collaging process. Rather than discarding excess material, Ben-Haim reappropriates what is often considered waste. Here, life itself rises from the ashes of artistic creation.
In this space between waste and use, organic and chemical, and realism and abstraction, Ben-Haim searches for a way to find vitality in a time of turmoil. As survival and disappearance coincide, we can find a “new reality,” Ben-Haim instructs. “They’re the seed of inspiration.” Within this vulnerability and precarity, he hopes we can find “the power to create a new life.”
You can view a video of the exhibition here.
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Writer, Cultbytes Susanne Lingemann is German born writer, reporter and producer. She currently lives and works in New York as a producer and USA correspondent for ZDF German TV. She has also written for ART and Gruner & Jahr publishing. l igram l