Text from the catalog "Something is Written There", 2009
"Jerusalem Artists' House"

This exhibition deals with a topic that has had a central place in the works of Orna Millo for the past two decades – blockage. The artist investigated images of blockage from a theoretical as well as a representational perspective in a wide variety of contexts – painting, drawing, installation, performance – exploring the dialogue between word and matter in different ways.

Orna Millo’s work raises existential questions concerning what will disappear and the transient, as well as memory and the possibilities of realization of works of art in memory. Using textual and pictorial metaphors, in an enigmatic choreography, the artist unifies movement and time, joining contrasting rhythms and changing sequences. She brings together a number of related disciplines and media: painting, theatre, Judaism, poetry – subjects she absorbed in her parents’ home. “When I read a word, I hear a word”1 says Millo.

The exhibition explores the interaction between the different materials and surfaces of the paintings and their contents. This exploration illuminates the motif of blockage in a new way.

There are a number of features which characterize Orna Millo’s works over the past years which may be noted: search and exploration in diverse media; concern with language; deconstruction and reconstruction in order to create new contexts; free use of the Bible as a source of poetry; examination of the relationship between writing and painting as well as the boundaries between the verbal and the visual; concern with blockages in space and in light, and wonder at the dimension of time.

The paintings “Lengths” were first shown in the “Tamar and Judah” series (Genesis 38) exhibited in the Jerusalem Artists’ House, in 1990. In these oil on wood or canvas works, use was made of biblical texts involving either the deconstruction and reconstruction of verbs, or descriptions of time or of place, while the long format suggests a “line” in which a visual sequence appears.

Subsequently, the works concentrated on local landscapes and alternated between the figurative and the abstract in which the urban and the industrial met the dreamy. The long format captured the sequence of movement that takes place in time. At a later period, Millo placed pairs of words from Biblical texts at the edges of the painting while leaving the center empty. The result is a ceaseless search for the center of the work by means of the edges. Blockages and partitions appear in script and in images creating disturbances in the landscape. Sometimes, there are sections that are impenetrable, dark, giving a feeling of sorrow.

In a later sequence of paintings, drawn on the back of square drawers, Millo displayed fragments of landscape – inner landscapes, turned inward into itself, flickering from layers and layers of oil paint hiding within them the strata of time. The observers’ eye moves from inside the studio to the view from the window outside. “Millo creates whirlpools, dizzying the gaze. For a moment, it seems as if there is something to hold onto – once it is what looks like an architectural construction through the gray fog, and once it is what looks like drawing of trees and houses through a venetian blind. But everything is in doubt, doubtfully tangible, doubtfully existing.”2

In addition, a collection of drawings on paper, also in a long format, characterized by sections of pastoral and urban landscapes, from the years 2008-2009, are displayed.

Works on glass were first shown in the performance Salt3 and later in the performance Be Come at the Kibbutz Art Gallery (2000) and in the performance-installation Hester-Panim (Hidden Face) at the Israel Museum (2002).

In the performance at the Kibbutz Art Gallery, Millo drew and wrote in clay on both sides of the glass surfaces that were placed in the center, removing and erasing until transparency concealed the picture. According to Millo, “Painting usually come into being from the process of adding layer upon layer. In my glass performances, the process was reversed: erasing and removing the material is what created the picture. At the end of the performance, we arrive at the bare glass.”

In the performance-installation at the Israel Museum, the artist continued to deal with questions of seeing and what blocks it. She drew on the glass while in the process of removing the material and erasing it, the pictures were revealed.

At the same time, the artist wrote passages in mirror writing from Psalms and Job. The work on the glass moves gradually from opaque to transparent, while in the process of contraction and the reduction of the tension between what is and what is not, transparency is attained.

In the most recent works on glass, Millo used liquid porcelain and black pigment in the process of removing and adding to both sides of the glass. The black color lent a painterly touch to the etched figures. “In the recent works on glass” says Millo, “I am concerned with what remains after erasing. What are left are fragments of old pictures, on surfaces that are partly erased or blurred. Remnants of cultures have passed on, will they succeed to survive?” Work on two sides of the glass creates a feeling of walking between positive and negative poles, day and night, a feeling which emerges also from the series “Lengths”.

The work on transparent, pictorial surfaces – glass or mesh – derives from the notion that conventional painting itself is a sort of physical barrier in space, while a surface like glass or mesh allows the viewer to connect and flow between the painting and what is outside it.

Works and installation on mesh were presented at the exhibition Through (2004). The mesh, which is a means of screening, allows for an expansion of the dialogue between what will remain permanently and what is temporary. After repeated experiments to draw on the mesh, Millo used liquid porcelain. This technique involved the immersion of the mesh in thick, liquid porcelaine so that the liquid stretches on the square surface of the mesh. After the drying, the artist, piercing with a needle, creates a sense of disintegration that is like a work of delicate lace. The act of removing is analogous to the process of extinction, while the work on lace symbolizes drawing and writing. The result is: the observers’ eye oscillates between the boundaries of what exists and its deletion.

In the places where matter emerges, elements of chance also operate. “I flirt with chance... chance invites many possibilities and art is the search after chance’s summons,” says Millo. The small, white format, hiding a text within, is like lace on the verge of non–existence, resembling relics displayed behind glass. Here Millo also explored the boundaries of matter, almost until its disintegration.

The first works in cork were crreated at the end of the 90’s and also dealt with the concept of blockage and border. The word “border” even functioned sometimes as a physical demarcation in the picture. In these paintings, resembling drawings, Millo drew on the “other” side of the cork, where the texture is exposed and perforated. These works bring to mind bits of landscape or fragments of topographical maps. Here also, the artist brings in language when she situates the word “border” in the work, which then becomes like a musical note in the picture. The visual and semantic language come together and form a coherent sound.

These works in small format, in panda and pencil, tend toward abstraction. They bring together contrasting landscapes, the sea and the desert, and the monochromatic color gives off an atmosphere of mystery.

Pondering Orna Millo’s works does not always make them clear to the observer. The artist changed the word into a visual event and produced meaning from the contradiction. Psychological and philosophical layers in her work bring together the permanent and the transient. The blockages that open and are removed in time are in the different works a metaphor for inner existence.

Irit Levin, Curator

1. Orna Millo’s parents were the poet and actress Yemima Millo and the theatre director, and actor Yosef Millo.

2. Smadar Shefi, ‘Flowing in the Building Zone’, Orna Millo, Agripas 12 Gallery, Haaretz.

3. The performance Salt was performed in 1995 at the Office in Tel Aviv Gallery, Tel-Aviv and in 1996 at the Yanco Dada Museum, Ein-Hod, and dealt with the relationship between salt, light and glass.