Yael Burstein | Poles | Trait pour trait: Portrait of the Museum

Curator: Aya Lurie
Sep. 16, 2017 - Feb. 3, 2018

A staff (a stick, branch, or rod) had multiple functions in ancient times. It served, variously, as a punitive object, a symbol of authority (leader or head of the community), a token of command and respect, or a ritual object with which the religious leader or shaman presided over a religious ceremony. The exhibition presented by Yael Burstein (b. 1974) is a succinct display of four vertical elements – poles – on a white stage that is placed within the “white cube” of the museum’s gallery space. The thin, metal poles are delicately worked, and their appearance makes reference to other objects. One pole recalls an unworked tree branch, another contains a lump of clay that brings to mind a fist, yet another is shaped like a ceremonial staff or a weapon, and the fourth becomes rounded like a crossbow with a broken bowstring.
At first sight, one is likely to regard the arrangement of poles in the context of an ethnographic display. This context points at the usage of poles in hunting or in tribal supernatural ceremonies. The charged symbolism of staffs is repeatedly referred to in the bible, as in the story of Moses and the bronze snake (Numbers 21:9), where the transformation from still staff to live snake expresses the power of God to kill and heal. Similarly, Asclepius, the god of medicine in Greek mythology, is represented by a figure holding a serpent-entwined staff – two elements of similarly elongated form.

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