Text from the catalog "BE-COME", 2000
"Kibbutz Art Gallery"


For over a decade now, Orna Millo has engaged painting from every conceivable angle of approach: She makes her viewer look at a work from left to right, from right to left, from front to back, from above to below, from the outer edges inward toward the middle, and from the center outward.Finally, she refuses to relate to the painting as an opaque partition in space: she seeks to break through it and turn it into something transparent and penetrable by the gaze. Millo, whose mother was a poet and whose father was a theater director, is nourished by textual material as much as she is inspired by visual images, and within a single series and statement she is able to incorporate elements of performance. She isn't content to accept the different organizational principles at work in the space of a text on the one hand and a picture on the other, and she willfully reads them in identical fashion, within a narrow and elongated line-like format. So the drawing "shrinks" and is stretched out towards its lateral margins, and the text is "drawn" along its length. An important point of departure for Millo in this visual-textual act was her pictorial treatment of a text from Ecclesiastes, "A time for every thing" (Ecclesiastes, 3:1). The structural principal was embodied in the scriptural text itself and its arrangement on the page: the placement of the pair of contrasting terms at the margins, which left white space between them: A time to be born A time to die A time to kill And a time to heal and so forth. In her exhibition at the Janco-Dada Museum in 1996, these opposites in the margins turned into the margins of the paintings, and they determined the basic narrow and lengthened format, where the space between the contrasting terms sought to confront the issues of "the middle of the work" (the mean, the meaning) and what it should contain. At that time, Millo formulated the questions that would occupy her for the coming years: questions relating to the composition of text and picture; the issue of time and sequence; the tension between opposites; the matter of direction and rhythm in the reading of a painting; the tension between the margin and the middle (between the palm and the navel); the deconstruction of language and its reconstitution.

Millo continued to explore the concept of painting, and she challenged its essential properties one by one. Like Peter Pan, however, who left his shadow in the drawer and had to unite with it all over again, so Millo was unable to part with what was integral to the thing itself: the painting. In the end, after all the acts of inversion and shrinkage, she remained with an optical, chromatic, and emotional essence that, if read letter by letter, yields the word: L-O-N-G-I-N-G. The image painted above the word is a long pier extending into the sea; at its end there stands a lighthouse. Is this the French Lieutenant's woman standing there at the end of the pier, waiting for her beloved to return by sea? Is this German Romanticism, shrouded in longing and mystery at the edge of the dark washes of color? Or is this, perhaps, a longing for drawing itself?

The concept of landscape painting, one of the traditional genres of art, is examined by Millo from two angles-one romantic-mysterious, and the other realistic-industrial. The landscapes of Mamilla in Jerusalem (which join mythic elements of the Jerusalem landscape with contemporary items drawn from the context of urban-industrial architecture) appear on both sides of "The Navel of Painting" and are stretched outward.

Language, too, is reconceived: already in 1990 Millo had broken down the biblical text about Judah and Tamar (Genesis, 38) into verbs and adjectives of place and time, and reassembled the story in her own way. The drama of Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute and was had by her father-in-law, the father of her dead husband, echoed on in the lines of the verbs and adjectives of place and time, but in a more clipped, modernist fashion, as a kind of linguistic parable. Throughout the nineties, Millo continued to engage the Hebrew language and also brought in its partner: English. HE WRITES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT / (she writes from right to left), have been added to the list of opposites, which now involve issues of gender and language. The placement of the two texts, one facing the other, or each going in its own direction, opened two alternatives with regard to the question of encounter, or the failure to encounter, as well as the question of the middle. Millo continued to disturb the linguistic sequence: Lines were erased, and only the tips of letters peered out from beneath the erasure; there were words scattered about and saved from erasure, those which remained accessible for reading, and in other works short texts were written out in long lines, with irregular spacing.

The performance complemented Millo's pictorial thought and combined it with a theatrical dimension. In the performance-installation "Salt," she painted with shadows, which were cast by the projection of light through a surface of salt that had been scattered on a transparent divider. The painter in this case was located over the painting and looked down on it from above. In the performance-installation that was set up at the Kibbutz Gallery, Millo painted in sudsy soap water on a sheet of glass located in the center of a room, and this time she tried to be on both sides of the painting at once. The attempt to establish the painting as a partition, as something impassable, gave birth over the last year to the word BECOME, which relates to the painting as an unceasing current or flow that is continually taking shape, coming into being. Once again Millo challenges the concept of time: instead of viewing a painting as a still object, which is understood as a stoppage of time, she seeks to lead the gaze into a process of becoming and to offer the viewer a kind of pictorial existentialism. The word BECOME is written out in magnetized wooden letters-a fact that undermines its primary emphasis on the process of formation. From her vantage point at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Millo clearly realizes that, despite the modernist desire to move and flow along a dynamic pictorial continuum, painting is destined to be pinned down by time, beneath its cover of glass. This sobriety leads her back to the inevitable choice: between painting and written language, between fluid syntax and discrete parts of grammar, between the space of landscape and the line of horizon which narrows and narrows until in the end it disappears.

Tali Tamir is a curator and historian of Art and Culture