Text from the catalog "THROUGH", 2004
"Tel Aviv Artists' House"


  1. Writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased.
  2. Something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface (From Webster dictionary.)

The palimpsest which is an important epigraphic, archaeological and anthropological research tool is now becoming a road sign in contemporary art, especially during the period of the deconstuctivism. With regard to Orna Millo, the meeting point between the features of the palimpsest and her general artistic tendencies is fascinating.


For many years now, Millo's works project a deep sense of uncertainty, of mystery. Their enigmatic quality is inviting – it asks for the spectator's attention in different ways – as opposed to the enigmatic quality of post modern art which feels hermetically sealed, purposely uncertain and is, in Oscar Wilde's words, "a sphinx with no secret". Millo's enigmatic quality arouses curiosity and prompts the spectator to search for the correct visual arrangement of the riddle which will be solved when all the pieces fall into place. The mental-aesthetic process of moving from darkness to light gives artistic pleasure and satisfaction. We shall encounter examples of this process later on.

Using the palimpsest as a metaphor for some of Millo's works enables her to assume two important roles: the artist-archaeologist-scholar and the artist-sorcerer. The palimpsest with its many layers of writings and images, demands the careful exposure and decoding of each and every layer. This is the challenge Millo presents to her audience.

The process of exposure and revelation, of making the opaque transparent, stands in opposition to the counter process of disappearance– the artist sorcerer makes shapes and images disappear. What one sees at first glance is initially hidden and then vanishes altogether. In the palimpsest, similarly, the message in writing or in drawing suddenly disappears, leaving the spectator with the task of completing the missing parts. When everything has the tendency to disappear and material tends toward nothingness, the empty surfaces acquire more and more meaning; some spectators will see in them the nothingness that is the end of all. Others will see a maximized, divine essence, all encompassing and secret. Dialectics, the tension between exposing and covering, between appearing and disappearing, the gradual decoding of letters, shapes and images, the delightful following of the splitting up of lines and shapes and the disintegration of material almost to its disappearance – all this make Millo's works intellectually fascinating.

The works most reminiscent of the palimpsest are the long thin works on wood. A parade of figures walking by comes to a sudden stop; layers of color – one on top of the other, like a damaged fresco; dots and lines flowing on a score page, a musical composition cut-off in the middle. All of these impel the curious gaze of the spectator again and again.

The transparent works, either on one or two layered glass, or on a net, are the most enigmatic works of them all. Lines and color strokes split up and lead the eye to a point which is outside the frame. Like directions to a lost treasure buried in a secret hiding place, a long time ago. "Skewered" scraps of paper create the image of a map in a war chamber. Blank faces protrude sometimes between the lines. The paintings that most exemplify the process of covering and discovering have a mono chromic background with geometrical shapes in close shades of color. Sometimes these canvasses look as if scotch tape were attached to them, in order to transport them safely to or from the exhibition. No one knows what is behind the tape. Will it be removed thus exposing the rest of the painting or will more tape be added to cover the painting completely. This series of images evolve into almost mono chromic paintings in which we can barely guess what shapes and colors lie beneath the one color almost covering the entire painting. The monochromic quality of the paintings gives the spectator the feeling of the end of material, of nothingness. "Almost" because the artist leaves a dot or a square here and there, an abstract or figurative image (landscape or face) emphasizing the "wilderness", just as the slightest rustle conjures the desert's silence.

Although Millo's works are very varied it is clear that they all branches that stem from the same trunk -- a theme and variations. Orna Millo has created a unique and powerful aesthetic presence in the Israeli art scene.

Paul Kaniel, former curator, Israel Museum and former Art-Advisor to the mayor of Tel-Aviv