Beauty That Is Also Repellent

Israeli artist Ori Gersht (b. 1967) says that one of the things he tends to aim for in his art is the foregrounding of beauty against a background of violence. In the video piece below, he sets up a traditional still life, then, in slow motion, drops the bird that appears in it. It is a gorgeous disruption of beauty’s calm, turning it into a sublime confusion in which we struggle to make sense of both our attraction and repulsion.


One of the things that strikes me about the video is that the water, a receptive consciousness, a mirror to nature, is also a devouring monster. Immanuel Kant likens our experience of the sublime–most especially the monstrous sublime–in its shifting back and forth between nature’s magnitude and the mind’s infinitude, as akin to an agitation or “vibration, i.e., to a rapidly alternating repulsion from and attraction to one and the same object.” Ori Gersht’s art seems to be self-consciously playing with Kant’s notion of the sublime experience. Here’s the artist discussing his work:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Beauty That Is Also Repellent

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Interesting piece. BTW, back now that the election is over.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Great! : )

      Curiously, now that the election is over, I’m not terribly worked up over the far right (especially the religious right). It feels like it is shrinking in influence now. Global, urban, demographic, and technological trends are finally starting to send its version of nostalgia into decline, so I feel like I don’t care what Mitt Romney has to say post-election, or what’s being said on Fox or by Limbaugh. I’m still happy to listen to intellectual conservatives and hear what they have to say, but I’m feeling less likely to get worked up responding to them. The whole movement, when it is not threatening to control the country, takes on the quality of a curious eccentricity. It’s becoming just another fever swamp on the Internet, like sites devoted to UFOs and Twin Towers conspiracies.

      I think the future of the Republican Party now is largely libertarian (which doesn’t scare me). I was worried about the Supreme Court in this cycle and a return to Bush-style foreign policy. And I wanted the nation’s first black president not to suffer a shameful repudiation (especially since it would have been utterly unjust, in my view).


    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Let me put it another way: Obama’s victory was the day that Peak Far Right inched at last to the right side of its bell curve. It will still pump out its crap and have its victories, but it won’t be as rhetorically unrestrained and impressively formidable as it has been in the past. A spell has been broken.

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