Wrong Tools

October 14th, 2015

Wrong Tools at Andrea Meislin Gallery is the new exhibition of work by Ofri Cnaani, a faculty member of SVACE and SVA Summer Residencies.

Ofri Cnaani in "Wrong Tools" at Andrea Meislin Gallery

Ofri Cnaani in “Wrong Tools” at Andrea Meislin Gallery

Wrong Tools is home to both a recent print series of cyanotypes and a recurring performance featuring a small fortuneteller front office, where the artist is prepared to read your fortune three days a week.  Attending the exhibition with the artist present is exciting, and participating in the performance is at once earnestly inviting and winkingly tongue-in-cheek. There can be no better expression of this mix than Cnaani’s costume for the show – a nimbus cloud and baby blue sky patterned suit.

The show revels in the piquant obscurity of reproduction and recording processes.  Everywhere, from outmoded photograms to cheap digital print-outs, from live-stream video cameras to paper collage, Wrong Tools consistently earns its title.

The cyanotypes occupy the main gallery.  They are prints of objects and images arranged on a table and always include Cnaani’s hands.  All of these items and body parts are imprinted on paper using an old school pre-camera photogram technique known as cyanotype.  The sensitive chemical solution, made of potassium ferricyanide, is exposed to light, producing a negative image of anything that is placed on the prepared surface.  The ferricyanide, so exposed, bleeds blue.  


Ofri Cnaani, "Blue Print (OC real and fake hands) #1," 2015

Ofri Cnaani, “Blue Print (OC real and fake hands) #1,” 2015

The resulting image is as crisp as it is splotchy.  Materially aged, the image feels fresh for its processed layers and montage of exposure times, as well as the wonky perspective in which it places the viewer.  Cnaani’s hands appear to have depth due to the variable time spent in exposure, while imitation paper cutouts lie flat against the surface.  Meanwhile, bead necklaces, coins, etching plates, or cloth are arranged and recede out into the murky background for lack of impression time or too much light.  These effects manage to locate you somewhere underneath a table looking through to its surface, at the undersides of the things that rest on it.   From there, you get the impression that you are feeling through your eyes what a table feels when things lean on it.  These are intimate and familiar documents of close-at-hand objects as much as bizarre and active perception jambs.  They are each titled, with a cheeky self-evidence, Blue Prints.


The Artist is Present!

The Artist is Present!

Cnaani’s performance is related to all of this.  The artist (in her baby blue cloud suit) sits at her faux fortune teller booth, which more aptly resembles a modish office space, and invites you to offer one personal item and choose two others from the shelves at the wall behind her.  Once you have collected the three things, Ofri performs a mock tarot reading with cards, once flipped over, reveal evocative phrases like “You have the right to be left alone.”  


Ofri Cnaani at Andrea Meislin Gallery

Ofri Cnaani at Andrea Meislin Gallery

After this, the chosen items are placed on the table.  You will realize that the tabletop is made of transparent plastic, because there is a flatbed camera installed below the surface.  Ofri arranges your chosen items and some of her own while a projection on the adjacent wall reveals the real-time view from under the table.  This allows Cnaani to review the composition, and reveals an immediate kinship to the cyanotype prints in the main gallery. Once satisfied with her image, Cnaani covers the whole collage with a small drape to protect it from outside light.  

Ofri Cnaani performing at Andrea Meislin Gallery

Ofri Cnaani performing at Andrea Meislin Gallery

She will, with no small excitement, stare straight into your eyes, demanding your reciprocal gaze, and snap the picture while she has your attention.  The personified camera/printer device (apparently gendered female, though I didn’t catch her name) makes a clink, and a black and white copy pops out.  After a quick stamping and a red ink autograph (using the customary bamboo dip pen), she presents you with your very own “Original Copy,” clearly delighting in the absurdity of this pseudo-officialdom.  The resulting image – below is a reproduction of my own – is a visible fortune, if you care to read it.

The writer's "Original Copy" by Ofri Cnaani

The writer’s “Original Copy” by Ofri Cnaani

Conceptually, “Wrong Tools,” has a lot on its mind, but avoids being either too obscure or obvious in communicating it.  This is because the urgency and relevance of her work is so directly linked to the processes she runs it through. Between the “Original Copy” and “Blue Prints,” the viewer is confronted with objects as straight-forward and matter-of-fact as they are clearly and visibly wrong.  Cnaani, as orchestrator of it all, merely sits at her desk, as if she were but an innocent service provider: of art, meaning, and/or none of the above.  It would be facile to say that these works are a critique of our ways of building meaning in our contemporary post-digital world.  They are too compelling and enjoyable for that.  They are instead weird reveries, or a blunt-force reconsideration.  The joy is in the overstatement and therein might also lie the critique.  You might never take such indulgent pleasure, much less receive a more dubious souvenir, from such serious art.

-William Patterson of SVACE

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