About Adi Nes
Arguments of the Judges in Awarding the Prize of the Minister of Science, Culture and Sport 1999
Sarah Chinski, David Ginton, Meira Perry Leheman, Moshe Kopferman
Adi Nes’ work is bound up in one of the central debates engaging the Israeli art world. That is, the debate surrounding the representation of Israeli identity, or “Israeliness”. Adi Nes’ photographs challenge the conventional modes of representation of Israeliness. In his works, Nes reconstructs the central arena in which Israeliness takes shape: the army. This is not an action of reconstruction and reaffirmation of canonical symbols of Israeliness, but a dispute with them. Nes pulls rejected and repressed representations of Israeliness out of the drawer. These representations are embodied in his work in the form of homosexual masculinity. Nes advances these rejected representations out from the dusky periphery of the stage to its forefront, where they play the “leading roles” in the photographic scene - roles which were to date reserved for standard Israelis. The response is one of shock, and the observer is forced to re-evaluate his usual perception of Israeliness.
"A Plastic Analysis - Less for Museums, More for Galleries"
Yoav Shmueli, "HaIr", 20.5.99
Adi Nes (Bezalel Graduate, 92), who shines here and there and altogether not enough in group exhibitions, and who is worthy of a generous one man exhibition, is a focused photographer, slightly theatrical (with a pinch of humour), but very simple and direct in his presentation, with rare poetic-aesthetic talent. A skilled photographer with a sure hand, a wonderful photographer. As always, here too he shines - this time in an exhibition honouring Rafi Lavi in Nofar Gallery - with two photographs: the one you are looking at now is a real diamond. Nes’ theatrical stage is a distinctly Israeli landscape, wild and precise, chosen in advance - I assume after no lack of searching for the right location. A desert landscape, a haphazard path, a field, a military camp. It is in this setting that Nes directs the extras - actors - transforming them into handsome young men, tender-tough boy-soldiers, handsome and strong Israelis dressed in green, that deep khaki-green, and dripping the sweat of war, moulded and pouring, into symbolic scenes which are loaded with personal-homoerotic meaning as well as local-Israeli meaning.
The shades of the sky - a rich palate spanning from the shades of twilight hour to a dark grey - are also chosen with care and precision. But the final added value is designed and attained by the experienced hand of the “Advertising director” that Nes is. The photographs always appear to be more than reality, far beyond reality, smoother and more luxurious, reality with make-up and lighting which soften, like in a glossy campaign for Eden Mineral Water. Here, woven with a gentle hand, is the poetic meeting between the dynamic-loaded materials of reality and Nes’ unique photographer’s eye.
In the past, I was convinced, to my dismay, that Nes work was too much like that of the great photographer Jeff Wall, who stages hard to digest American social scenes.
But Nes is in fact a clever artist, original and highly intriguing.
Susan Goodman, after Rabin new art from Israel
The Jewish museum New York
Often highly personal or filled with the commonplace details of life, this art questions the nature of identity – real, assumed, invented, cultural, national, and personal. The fable-like autobiography of Nir Hod’s constructed work (plate 3) leaves unclear whether the ambiguous "I" – neither completely male or female, fictional or authentic – is actually the artist or a symbolic alter ego. Nir Hod's work, as noted, and the photograph of Adi Nes (plate 5) explore gender identity – such as the macho male role – in a specifically Israeli context, that of military. Are these men the rugged, tough, invincible Israeli soldiers of 1967 legend, or are they pretty boys posing and letting off steam, albeit with an ironic twist of fate thrown in?
Reflections on Art, Power, and Israeli Identity
Adi Nes's color photographs of Israeli soldier hint at a more recent development in Israeli attitudes toward power and military values. One photograph depicts a yarmulke – wearing Israeli soldier, apparently of Oriental background, flexing his muscles. In this picture, the exposed part of his body seems to fully identify with the uniform. Plate 5 shows a group of Ashkenazi – looking soldiers who appear somewhat hesitantly to be clapping for an unseen subject. They wear their uniforms loosely, and one of them allows his T-shirt to show beneath his unbuttoned army shirt. A o ne-armed soldier who cannot clap his hands is sitting like a living statue in their midst, wearing his army trousers with only an undershirt on top/ The undershirts seem to challenge the uniform, just as private person within resists the soldier without. This photograph brings to mind a few lines from Hermann Broch's Sleepwalker: “for it is uniform's true function to manifest an ordained order in the world, to arrest the confusion and flux of life, just as it conceals whatever in the human body is soft and flowing, covering up the soldier's underclothes and skin" (New York: Pantheon, 1947, p.20) Together, the two photographs may convey to Israeli viewers a "politically incorrect" statement about the widening gulf between ambivalent and non – ambivalent attitudes toward military force identified with different groups of Israelis, or two distinct contemporary versions of Israeli identity.
Nissan N. Perez
Horace and Grace Goldsmith Curator of Photography
Adi Nes has made ambiguity and disorientation an integral part of his work. At first glance, his images seem to be obvious and relate to ordinary sights and situations familiar to all. However, each one of them contains an incongruous detail or element that not only distorts the apparent discourse of the image but also overturns established social values and consensus, accentuating the absurdity of some aspects of life in Israel, especially the army culture.
“The Sweetest Soldier”
Tomer Pratt, Kol Ha’ir, 19 April 1996
“Nes, life-partner of the poet Ilan Sheinfeld, is a Gay Rights activist, and in the past has dealt with the subject artistically, inter alia from the army angle. His latest provocative work took place in Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. In the middle of the night he filled the street with army placards reading “Military Area, Photographing Forbidden – Offenders will be Prosecuted”, and in the center of the street he placed a huge picture of the gay soldier Yossi Mekayton, who was thrown out of the army because of his declarations in the press about his sexual preferences.
“Actually, I turned him into a hero”, Nes says, “and in addition, as I also do in the present exhibition, I emphasized the militancy that is rooted so strongly in our society, which cannot cope with homosexuality, certainly not in the army”.
“A Make-Up Kit in the Webbing”
Smadar Shefi, Haaretz, 2 February 1997
“Adi Nes presents a work which operates in the space of overt manipulation. At first glance it seems that the pair of soldiers photographed in it are in a heroic situation – one soldier is supporting and taking care of his wounded comrade. A more scrutinizing look reveals that Nes has staged a Pieta (the position of the dead Christ in the arms of his mother Mary), except that the place of Mary has been taken by a soldier who is holding a make-up brush, and what seems to be the wounds of the one in the position of Jesus are marked with a make-up kit that lies open, something like a painter’s palette. Masculinity is presented here as a product which someone designs, and in its religious contexts (the man who sacrifices himself in order to save the world), but also as touching the homosexual context and the masculine fraternity.”
Galia Yahav, Studio, August 1996
Army fatigues. Male camaraderie. What is generally perceived as a test of masculinity (a small, playful test, not like the battlefield itself, more like arm wrestling, drinking down a bottle of beer in one gulp, closing your eyes on the turns of the road) becomes something that violates the serenity of malehood. The confirmation of fraternity is performed in a variety of rites with well-balanced unwritten laws. The eroticization of the fraternity of men exposes the homophobic foundation on which it rests. The contests of bravery and rites of fraternity, which were intended to confirm membership in the group and to define the position of each member in relation to another member within it, were also intended to define the entire group in relation to what does not belong to it, and thus they serve as silent talismans to keep away unarticulated demons that threaten the group from the without: demons like the desire to create the perfect circle, or the desire to thrust a finger into the perfect circle, or to discover to your horror that the person sitting beside you wants to do all sorts of things to your rings. The smoke ring is a silent comics ring in a dramatic scene of teasing the boundaries of what is permitted and what is forbidden. It is effect and cause, pretext and product. Hovering in the air, on the verge of disappearing, and floating in front of the eyes of the soldiers, it also looks like a cloud hanging over them. In just a moment it will vanish, and they will be able to laugh with relief.
The hand is the focus, the cause, the conductor of desire. Here too, this is a scene suspended on a thread: were it not for the freezing, the finger would have penetrated. If it had, the smoke ring would have vanished and the hand would have remained hanging in the air pointing at nothing, aimless. The eye-hand connection would have disintegrated for them, as for the photographer. This is a freezing of the “dangerous” moment (the moment before the moment that turns out to have been the right moment). In the game of “Truth or Dare” that Adi Nes plays with the soldiers he photographs, it turns out that they don’t have a choice. They have to dare take on themselves to hide the truth and claim that there is smoke without fire.
Haim Maor, 24 May 1997
Adi Nes presents staged photography. He creates meticulously planned scenes, which conduct a discourse with icons of Israeli masculinity. Adi Nes’s semantic field contains the range of possibilities for representing the Israeli macho with his physical and mental characteristics and the indicators of his tough behavior. For Adi Nes, “Israeliness” is located on an axis between the images of Israeli male heroics (the ink flag, a paramedic and an amputee) and the images of power and bravery (a muscle-man, a fire-spitter, a soldier doing a handstand). As a distinctive postmodernist, Adi Nes’s photographs contain countless allusions and quotations from the history of art and from the collective visual memory that contains no end of photographs. All this visual material resonates from the photographs, like rosy transparent celluloid from heroic Cinemascope movies or reconstructed scenes of heroism at battle sites or wax museums.
But Adi Nes, in a shrewd diversionary act and from a controlled critical position, manages to stick a sharp pin into the balloon of Israeli masculinity, by hinting again and again at covert homosexual characteristics in “the fraternity of combatants”. Thus, for example, the scene of the paramedic and the wounded soldier is supported by heroic allusions and by religious precedents (the Pieta). However, in the way it is presented in Adi Nes’s photograph, the scene hints at a prettified reality its cosmetic treatment, and at the homosexual aspect of the posture. As is known, the fear of man’s love, homophobia, is the Achilles’ heel of masculinity in every macho everywhere. From Adi Nes’s photographs we can understand that in Israeli machoism there are aspects of insensitivity, emotional disability, disregard of, and even disgust with, and violence towards “effeminate” components. However, according to Nes, the soap, the water, the dirty jokes, the comparison of sexual organs and the fleeting bodily touches in the army showers are not necessarily symptoms of a “deviation”, but an expression of humanity and delicacy, an expression of feelings, of sensitivity, beauty and love, within and despite the very strict codes of Israeli masculinity.
The Warriors’ Rest
Naomi Simantov, Haaretz, 18 June 1997
“The quality of these photographs lies in the precise details, in the intimacy, the sensuality and the radiation of the soft light that emanates from them. In addition, there is a sense of voyeurism, of peeping into the exclusive inner relations of men among themselves [...]. Voyeurism is a key word in Adi Nes’s photographs [...]. Adi Nes’s art deals with fantasy.
“First Comer Remembers”
Doron Rabina, Camera Obscura, 1 June 1997
“Restraint and precision are the framework and an inseparable part of the essence of Adi Nes’s photographs. [...] In his photographic work, Adi Nes chooses and manages to turn fluency into something with delicate and biting subversive power. By means of the same restraint he manages to elude efficient classification of his “field of activity”, and edits his raw materials in dosages that dissolve the clarity of definition, the comfort of resolute definition of ‘the subject’. The acuity of formulation turns any unequivocal reading of his photography into a vulgar actualization of the interpretative field that envelops it. [...]
“Adi Nes makes embarrassing and troubling use of the freezing and the silence that are immanent in photography. He immortalizes a moment which one really should miss, avert one’s gaze from. This is the averted gaze of people who don’t want to meet one another, the averted gaze of the refusal to an eye wooing, the gaze turned away, not to catch someone in a wrongdoing. The rarity and liveliness of this moment arise from the exceptional conditions in which it comes about – professional production and staged photography, which directs a conscious and incisive gaze at the camera, a wet and fluent encounter of professional randomness and meticulous staging. This gaze has an exclusive status in the homosexual experience. This is the identifying, locating, wooing, refusing gaze. Homosexuality has compressed into this gaze all the silenced verbiage, all the stilled and hidden existence that is revealed in all its glory in a specific and critical freezing of the gaze. The photography robs this gaze of the option of evaporation, of fleeting, of liberating itself towards the realm of the "acceptable". It gives the gaze everything, except the comfortable space of evasion. [...]
“Adi Nes is polite and decent in everything connected with compositional values. He edits the khaki and the smell of deodorant mixed with grease in comfortable compositions inside a harmonious square. He compensates for the discomfort in the heart with pleasure for the eye. He rubs the margins of homosexuality together with the norm and normalcy of “the form” – a provocative and impudent matchmaking between composition and ‘subject’”.
“On the Works of Adi Nes”
Sheli Cohen, Camera Obscura, 1 June 1997.
“The metaphor of a circus enables a discussion of the relation between a dominant social order and the periphery. [...] Adi Nes stages a scene which contains clear components of power orientation: soldiers, weapons, physical gestures, and so on. He approaches the scene from the position of someone who belongs to a minority, who has no representation in the scene he is about to construct. He undermines the power structure, first of all by means of a game, of dressing up: the model for the photograph dresses up as a soldier who dresses up as an acrobat in a circus. This is a multi-layered interplay of identities, which brings together the power-oriented military framework and the bizarre margins, and the boundaries between the two become blurred. The soldier whose uniform turns him into a signifier of power turns for a moment into an acrobat. The director has disarmed him and has dismantled his identity. The viewer, who is used to identify with the soldier as a strong figure and as part of a strong army, loses his confidence for a moment”.