A Prototype for Survival

By Naomi Lev

August 28, 2020

Yaara Zach, Tent, 2019-2020, fur coats, sportswear, tent, latex, stainless steel, paint, steel cable. Courtesy of Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv.

Yaara Zach uses industrial materials to create an imaginary natural world. Is it imaginary though? Her current works are based on nature and natural evolution, and are inspired by animals’ means of survival as well as our own survival instincts. The works in her recent show, BLACK FRIDAY (June 19 – August 8, 2020) at Givon Art Gallery in Tel Aviv were made prior to the pandemic that has conquered our globe, yet they represent elements from the past as well as from the present. They bring forth moments of birth, death, and rebirth while creating a groundbreaking experience that proposes a mirror to a multilayered existential reality.

A wild animal was situated on the gallery’s second floor: Was it aching? Bleeding? Perhaps sleeping, or even breathing? Tent (2019-2020) is made of faux fur coats and sportswear the artist purchased during a Black Friday sale, a day in which millions of shoppers flood stores (online and in person), while huge retail sales are happening across the world. These purposeful mass gatherings leak survival instincts: adrenaline, hunger, excitement, and struggle appear as a reminder of our most primal mode of existence. Zach bought the clothing in a flash in the midst of this chaos, and within minutes was situated back at her studio, cutting the coats into pieces just to sew them back together again later on. This powerful act, impulsive and animalistic, is at the core of her works.

installation cocoon horse
BLACK FRIDAY, 2020, exhibition view at Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv.

Hanging across the room from Tent, on the gallery’s first floor, was Untitled (Cocoons) (2019-2020). This assembly of gray, latex cocoon-like structures are strung from the ceiling at varying heights, enabling the viewer to walk under and around the large-scaled “bodies” which, despite their artificial materiality, seem alive. On the ground beneath them, milky-white Cocoons (Rocks) (2018-2019) were also installed. Made from silicone, these rocks are somewhat transparent and represent a contradiction between the stability and the fossil characteristics of stone, and the softness and transparency of their skin-like, silky synthetic material. The fragility and the flexibility of each of these objects corresponds with the diversity and adaptability needed for survival.

Some of our human need for continuation, community building, and reproduction manifests in traditions of storytelling. In this manner, Zach drew inspiration from one of the four horses of the apocalypse, mentioned in the Old and New Testaments when she titled her work Pale Horse (2018-2020). The object, situated on the ground and again created in silicone, along with pipes, and thread, was originally sewn as a cocoon structure but then cut open to create a kind of snake slough. As we know, snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth and to remove parasites that may have attached to their old skin. Humans, in a similar way also shed their dead skin cells continuously and almost unnoticeably, allowing fresh skin to be revealed.

the couple I & II 2
Yaara Zach, The Couple (II), 2019, jacket, thread, plastic (on the floor). Courtesy of Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv.

An evolutionary metamorphosis, change, and rejuvenation is further amplified in Hungry Eyes (2018-2020) which references an evolutionary mutation: Mexican Tetra fish that live in dark underwater caves and have lost their ability to develop eyes. However, with the deficit of this function, they have naturally developed other essential strengths. The object, made from the same materials as his peer Pale Horse, can also be imagined as a reptile’s X-rayed spine.

The Couple I and II (2019-2020) refers to the “Surviving Body,” a term Zach has been working with for a few years now. In the piece, the artist chose to work with athletic training jackets as a reference to bodily sweat and physical abilities. Hanging on the wall, the unused Adidas windbreakers are cut and manipulated to create structures that are missing parts and simultaneously complete each other.

installation view
BLACK FRIDAY, 2020, exhibition view at Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv.

Upstairs, Untitled (2019-2020), large silicone sheets that were industrially embroidered with images of supermarket carts accompanied the nomadic characteristic of Tent. The images, abstracted and loose, manifest organic shapes, some of which appear as body organs: a brain, flesh, and more. These carts serve as the vessel with which we hunt and gather in contemporary society; we buy food at the store and put all the ingredients in the cart. However, much like the tent, these carts are also used today as portable homes for the homeless, and containers for them to gather and hold bags and bags of recyclable and personal materials.

The body, though the backbone of the exhibition, is dramatically absent. The centerpiece of the show laid on the ground of the second floor. Evil Eye (2016-2020) is both iconically beautiful, à la haute couture, as well as dramatically chilling. Composed of many small evil-eye beads sewn onto a cloth-suit and arranged on the ground like a body, the heavy piece lacks the body’s presence, looking like thousands of flies have swarmed it to taste a corpse.

untitled evil eye
Yaara Zaach, Evil Eye (detail), 2016-2020, beads, suit, thread. Courtesy of Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv.

In Middle East traditions evil-eye beads are known to protect against a curse, or curses to come. Little did Zach know during preparations for this show that a pandemic was coming our way—a time in which the experience of survival has been profoundly intensified. What we acknowledged as “being alive” has been overtaken by deep fear and anxiety. It has become clear that surviving means running from (death). We rush to the supermarket where danger awaits; we lock ourselves at home as we fear interactions with others; we horde food, drink, toilet paper, and other essential elements. We wear masks to be safe of public air, and latex gloves to be clear of germs. These materials propose a shift back to reality. Beyond this creative fantasy Zach unveils the intensity of our current reality – a reality that shatters all speculations regarding the differences between truth and fiction.



A version of this text, in slightly alternate form, was published digitally by Givon Art Gallery on the occasion of the exhibition. BLACK FRIDAY was on view from June 9 – August 8, 2020 at Givon Art Gallery, 35 Gordon Street, Tel Aviv, Israel, 6341411.


Naomi Lev is an art writer and curator based in New York. She is a regular contributor to international magazines, and the founder of Collective_View, artistsandwriters4ever.com, and 7 Minutes with Naomi.




Leave a Reply