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*Building Codes

Curator: Hili Greenfeld


Yael Oren-Sofer accompanied her spouse, a carpenter by profession, to building sites where he works. Wandering through the sites, she would follow the construction laborers in a methodical way, to examine the interaction among them in the course of their day on the job. She also expanded the scope of her activities to incorporate the city of Umm el Fahem into her project, focusing on the construction work carried out in the vicinity of the Umm el Fahem Gallery of Contemporary Art.

Oren-Sofer has documented building site activities relating to sawing, disc cutting, drilling, carrying and removal, focusing on them as though they were the highlights of the construction process. She then reconstructed these scenes in her studio, creating life-size paintings of the laborers performing the same activities, but with a significant difference - they're not building anything. The paintings are dynamic and boundless, cut out and pasted together, and they are not framed by the shape of any standard canvas. Instead, they grow on the exhibition space wall, and sometimes a wall painting is integrated into them. In addition, ceramic drawings created in the gallery's ceramic workshop are interspersed among them.

The weave of images in Oren-Sofer's work constructs a stereotypical masculine microcosm, threatening and pent up in itself. For example, in "Drilling the Wound," the figure of a worker is seen drilling into a series of red ceramic slabs . The slabs, the size of the figure, look like a huge open wound, and the work tool becomes a weapon or some instrument picking at the wound – an act of destruction, not one of construction. Tents, the primary living structure depicted in the exhibition, are the subject of an eponymous work, where the tents symbolize a rickety structure built without need for the workers' skills.

In "The Cutter" a worker is seen cutting with an angle grinder into an empty space and hurling ceramic sparks from it onto a colleague smoking a cigarette, the slacker amongst the laborers. The act of shattering is transformed into one of painting, and the slivers are ceramic drawings. "The Hydrant Opener," also on exhibit, is a work created specifically for the gallery exhibition space where it stands. Started originally to document a scene that transpired on the street where the gallery stands, it depicts a worker opening a fire hydrant. A pipe complements the actual pipe set in the exhibition space, from which murky paint leaks onto the gallery floor, as though trying to drown the space, or perhaps to extinguish a fire.


One self-portrait alone by the artist, walking with her spouse, appears among all the masculine figures. The couple carries a welded wire mesh, and they appear to be workers themselves. The images here are constructed of ceramic fragments and the mesh they carry is drawn on the wall. The figure of the artist is stooped, and butterflies are stamped on her stomach.

The exhibition also examines building sites as places where Israeli Jews and Arabs widely interact in daily social situations that usually do not call for observing the rules of etiquette and do not cause political tension to overflow. The reality of the building sites, with their disposable Cola cups and Turkish coffee, combines both separation and a sense of togetherness, usually while promoting the Jewish real estate dream. Nevertheless, Arab-Jewish relations are not necessarily the main issue portrayed. The artist, glancing at the workers using their tools, looks admiringly at the classical model of the powerful man that builds and provides for his family by engaging in physical labor. However, this seeming look of admiration is used by the artist to disarm the men of their strength, and Oren-Sofer uses her creative power and her power of construction to ask, to what degree do the men, who know how to build and destroy, dictate our reality by their actions?

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