The air in the small, cramped space of Ruti Singer's exhibition "Tears of Milk" at the Tel Aviv Artists' House carries a sour hint. The vague, deceptive smell leads to a wall of "tiles," which could easily be missed due to its white-on-white-on-white coloration. Rectangles made of fragile rice paper are hung densely to form a grid, reminiscent of an enlarged bar of the Israeli "cow" brand milk chocolate. On each unit, Singer "drew" by dripping hundreds of milk drops; as these absorbed in the substance and dried, they left the imprint of a small cavity, with cottage cheese texture.
The exhibition oscillates between light and heavy, and the cumulative tension between them. Thus, a video piece portrays feminine cow legs prancing on "high heels" and sinking into the muck. The thin calves carry the load of the lush body, calling to mind cancan dancers. They parade elegantly in a cyclic demonic dance, which captures an endless route, a "cow-walk," from milk production to milking to production, over and over again.
Alongside the hovering works, Singer compresses near life-size cows, which would not have been able to fit through the doorway had they been three-dimensional. The heavy beast is painted in ink and diluted acrylic paint on transparent, feather-weight paper. The viewer's direct gaze encounters the cow's rump and her overflowing udders in all their glory.
In the absence of a face, a gaze, or specific characterization, the depicted cow parts evoke herd anonymity, devoid of individual identity. The human encounter is with a living, breathing creature doomed to end up as designer packaging on the shelves of the butcher shop, with a "beef chart" above it, showing numbered juicy cuts of beef: brisket, shank, flank, udder, and tongue too.
For several years now, Singer has been visiting the cow's domesticated abode—the cowshed. She takes photographs and gathers personal and social data associated with such notions as community, captivity, obedience, animal rights, the value of human life, maternity, feeding, giving, and exploitation. Concurrently she examines the cow's branding in local culture as an indicator of the collective agricultural labor settlements vis-à-vis distant realms where the cow has been associated with sacred myths, legends, and various beliefs. She chooses to present the findings of her scientific and socioeconomic qualitative research in the domesticated abode of passion—namely, the art gallery.
Some thousand Family Health Centers are scattered throughout the country, better known by their popular name Tipot Halav (Heb. drops of milk), or by their historical appellation Mother and Child Care Centers. The infant's development is monitored using graphs and rigid records, based on statistics of growth averages. The strict data often makes the young, inexperienced mother insecure, as feeding one's infant—one's own flesh and blood—is a basic animal instinct, a survivalist conditioning.
The exhibition also features a graph, drawn by the artist, which reflects the development of heifers of the finest Holstein breed. The precise tracking and documentation of their growth, according to age and weight, are performed for economic and profitable reasons with a view to "milking" the maximum output, from milk to slaughter.
In the exhibition "Tears of Milk," Singer introduces a new breed of health care center. She borrows the traditional principles common in the human assembly line industry, and replaces them with an artistic incubator for cultivation of such values as nourishment, growth, yield, and creativity.
Revital Ben-Asher Peretz