Adi Nes, Installation View, 2007
Photo copyright Jack Shainman
Jack Shainman Gallery
January 5 – February 3, 2007 (Sorry, folks, the show’s down, but the collection is noteworthy. Check out the review.)
Known for his provocative, staged photographs of Israeli youth, Adi Nes often recasts contemporary characters in classical settings. In Biblical Stories, actors playing the homeless and disenfranchised get starring roles as the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Old Testament. Unlike so many large-scale photographs, these images make sense in their heft. They deftly represent mythical, Biblical subjects in a cinematic language.
With poignant images like Abraham and Isaac and Ruth and Naomi Gleaners, Nes overturns the fallacy of homeless life and reveals its harsh truths. Abraham and Isaac move by shopping cart, a mobile home stuffed with cans, wood blocks, and plastics bags. They're collectors, like Ruth and Naomi, who are captured at work, bent over, and gathering cast-off fruit. Other images capture characters as prostrate or static. In Elijah, a wizened, white-bearded man lays on a concrete bench, while crows surround him in a strange, stage-set construction. A similar composition also exists in Abel. Nes' actor poses in a fetal position on the sidewalk, where he's highlighted by thick streams of artificial light and a creepy poster in the background. These photographs all tell a coherent story of homelessness, one that is less about aimless wandering and more about hard work and fundamental survival.
Theater is a given in these portraits, but some of the photographs affect a more commercial bearing than others. What looks deeply moving in arrangement, lighting, and characterization in one image seems overly false in another. In David and Jonathan, the latter looks like a model who just stepped off the soccer field setting of an advertisement. He boosts David, his “teammate,” like a brother, but the gesture skips past the intimacy of their bond as drawn in the Bible and testily debated by thumpers and scholars. So too Nes' collection tosses out certain myths of homelessness only to reconstruct other Biblical fictions. The photographs look glorious together as a pictorial narrative, and when the images veer towards fantasy, they reflect the unreliability of all myths.