“My commitment to personally and collectively [remember] is something that triggers me to produce these works.” In the elegant Galerie Huit I sat, surrounded by dozens of canvasses. Sitting next to me is the frightfully talented Israeli artist Nogah Engler herself. Intimidated? You bet. Excited? More than you know. It’s time you learn about Time Lapses, Engler’s solo debut exhibition in Hong Kong.
Time Lapses-- a series of dazzling, cryptic landscapes-- capture time in a frame. Each painting serves as an archaeological site, within which are moments depicting past and present. The memories that Engler draw inspiration from are not happy ones. They’re her grandfather’s, from when he survived the Nazi Germany. Her family’s trauma is Engler’s starting point, the emotional charge that fuels these intense artworks. But Engler explains that her work is also heavily influenced by something else-- Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search for Lost Time’. The seven-volume novel centers around a notion that shapes Engler’s theme. The idea of temporality, the fear of the fact that “we're temporal beings, we’re not going to exist at one stage or another,” Engler explains in her interpretation of the book, “and that art is a way to achieve eternity.”
What’s most interesting, is that Engler herself points out the paradox of using painting in her search for frozen time. “Painting is a static medium, as opposed to music, to literature, [all of which] have a beginning and an end,” Engler explains. The challenge is evident. How do you capture time, illustrate it, represent it in any way, if the tools you’re working with are static in nature? “It’s difficult,” Engler admits. “I work on each painting for a year, on and off. The idea is to build the work in layers, erase parts, rebuild parts, destroy, and rebuild… Focus on one, leave it, go back, negotiate with it, understand what each painting needs, try to build these layers…” It’s a painstaking, egoless process. But from this I begin to see how Engler’s investment into these paintings reaches beyond mere time. Every change of mood, every whim of the artist throughout a year, is collected in multiple layers of paint on a canvas. It’s the journey that counts, and in every painting of Time Lapses, it’s the journey that makes the finest, longest-lasting mark.
Seeing the paintings in detail, it’s awe-inspiring how daring each stroke appears. No doubt it’s taken years of practice for Engler to master the art, but that didn’t stop me-- art world Muggle-- from asking where her journey began. Engler takes me through the influence of her Israeli art education-- a free, expressive time that she found enjoyable, but quickly delves into what she considers a turning point. “[I’ve always felt] that for me there was something missing. I needed to find my own language, my own vocabulary,” her enthusiasm was telltale as she dives into her chief, and undoubtedly favorite, art style. “Renaissance art. That is the peak of painting ever, not just stylistically, but also in terms of content. All of [Renaissance] work is to reach the ideal of composition,” metaphorically and technically. Engler believes that Renaissance is a time where artists have begun integrating new methods from science to achieve a higher level of art, and expand beyond existing categories.
The Renaissance method is akin to Engler’s own approach to art, it seems. Living in the 21st Century means facing influences from every direction, in every way possible, and for Engler it’s hard to pinpoint a particular one that's influenced her most. But Engler knows to “negotiate with ideal beauty”, since she knows no certain way of arriving at that point of perfection. In her paintings Engler brings in all the atrocities of the past decades, and proceeds to destruct beauty in her canvas-- break it, slice it, disintegrate it. Some of her paintings capture the untouched beauty of natural landscapes, contrasted by the jagged mark of human interference. Others depict our evolution in physique and in culture, interwoven into a landscape that Engler has masterfully transformed into an archaeological site. It’s impossible to depict ideal beauty or freeze eternity on a frame, Engler confesses, but Time Lapses is her best attempt.
Time Lapses Exhibition: January 19 - February 28, 2017
Address: Galerie Huit, Shop 2, G/F & 1/F, SOHO 189 Art Lane, 189 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan, HK
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Daily (Closed on Public Holidays)
Written by Vivien Au