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Yoav Ben Dov – Point of i

Past Exhibition

03/09/2015 - 18/10/2015

article by Matar Engel

One day Yoav Ben Dov stated to me that “he sees the world in yod letters”. I nodded politely, but the thoughts started scurrying through my head – what does it mean to see the world in yod letters? Could it actually be that what I see is unlike what other people see? And why yods, of all things? Thoughts kept darting through my mind even as I fell asleep, dreaming of yod letters skipping over a fence of punctuation marks.

According to the Kabballah, the Hebrew language, the holy tongue, is also the language of creation. It is the word that gives life and thus the world is created. But does what we see actually exist in the absence of a word? And does creation come alive with words? It is into these questions that Ben Dov delves in this exhibition, which tackles a world made of yods.

The meticulous viewer may observe the ample use of the Hebrew language in Ben Dov’s works, particularly the letter yod; both in the titles given to the works, which sometimes clarify the artist’s associative context, and by drawing letters and words, as foreground and background to the work. At times, like in his Good Night, Artist, Ben Dov assembles the words and the piece alike from nothing but the letter yod.

Furthermore, Ben Dov explores the enigmatic nature of language, to wit, how a single word may generate several interpretations. Accordingly, the Hebrew word Oman means artist, one who makes art, and differently punctuated, amen, expressing agreement. Emuna, Hebrew for “faith”, is at the base of both words, as the artist, Oman, has full faith, Emuna, in his creation, just as the synagogue crowd has faith in the cantor’s prayer. This duality allows a generous elbowroom for creation, as well as broad interpretation, all stemming from the Hebrew language.

That is what Ben Dov refers to when he says he sees the world in yod letters, because if all letters are made up of yods, and the world is made up of words that join together to make a galore of cosmic riddles, then everything around us is made of yods, while the person seeing them can break them down to the basic elements, solving the riddle.

So what is the edge of the letter yod (Hodo shel Yod)?
The edge of the letter yod is a quip on the Hebrew expression “the tittle of the letter yod”, which describes the requirement made of the Sofer STAM to be meticulous to the minutest detail, such as the tagim (crowns), which are the quill strokes from the body of the letter. Accordingly, the Sofer STAM must also be meticulous down to the tittle of the letter yod, the smallest one in the Hebrew alphabet, and so must we, figuratively speaking.

Referring to the rigors of STAM, the Talmud quotes Rab Judah stating that “OF THE FOUR PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE IN THE TEFILLIN, THE [ABSENCE OF] ONE INVALIDATES THE OTHERS; INDEED EVEN ONE [IMPERFECT] LETTER CAN INVALIDATE THE WHOLE. Is not this obvious? […] The law had to be taught in respect of the tittle of the letter yod” (Babylonian Talmud, Talmud – Mas. Menachoth 34a). That is, the omission of the tittle of the yod may invalidate the entire text.

Judah Leib Gordon, on the other hand (another Judah engaged with language – it could be that this name, comprising the Hebrew letter of YHWH, Jehovah, points to a future of meticulousness to the edges of language), published in 1876 The Point on Top of the Yod, the tale of Bat-Shua, married to a brilliant Talmid Chacham (“wise scholar), Hillel, who after failing to support the family, leaves his wife to take care of their abode and children on her own, as he travels around Europe and tries to provide for them. When it emerges that he has deserted his family, Bat-Shua has a letter delivered for him, requesting money for their children, only to be dealt a Get, Jewish divorce certificate. When she turns to the town’s rabbi, the latter revokes the document, as Hillel’s name is written without the letter yod. Bat-Shua remains agunah, chained to her marriage – “I was well-nigh in all wellness, along with my children, living like a woman of leisure – but a tittle of yod proved my demise.”

Kotzo (the tittle of), from the stem Ketz (end), describing an ultimate end, an awakening or a sense of “having it up to here”, things that come in a blink of an eye. Like a Kotz, thorn, reaching a dead-end. It is therefore held in anxiety and piety; black over white, being and nothingness. As we can learn from Judah Leib Gordon and Rab Judah.

Hodo (the edge of), on the other hand, from the stem Had (sharp) – which describes precision and meticulous attention to details, whether in matter, like the sharpness of the blade, or in spirit, as Hida, riddle (marked by the sharpness of mind and tongue); and it is this riddle, after all, that forces us to pursue a trend of thought in order to reach the answer.

Facing one of Ben Dov’s works, we face a riddle, a figment of the artist’s imagination, who employs ample personal images and solecisms etched in the palace of his mind. But even if the answer may well be beyond our grasp, and though not written on the other side of the canvas, it is within our power to solve the riddle, by means of research and open-mindedness.
Ben Dov therefore presents in this exhibition a cross-section from the palace of his mind, a multi-work arrangement titled Study. The installation features furniture (cabinets, a table and a bench) painted grey, carrying a galore of sculptures, paintings, objects, memorabilia and religious and wisdom books placed side by side. Each work is displayed in association with the ones next to it, creating stories of sorts, which welcome the viewer to delve in and explore them. At the heart of every such story there exists an idea that hints at the essence of the works in this exhibition.
This playful undertaking, of rendering an abstract tale recounted with objects into a clear, condensed idea, traces Ben Dov’s associative continuum in the creative process.

The yods making up Ben Dov’s world feature in many of his works, at times highlighted, at other times concealed, but forever present, a token of his adherence to the little details and subtle stories that interweave through his works like a common thread. Thus he explores the world, by edging its edges and taking the edge of its thorny tittles.
The multi-faceted associativity of his works allows alternation from one observer to another. Some may understand the riddles, hopefully solving them, while others may be meticulous down to the edge of the yod in order to expose the artist’s riddle and try too to see the world in yod letters.

press here to download the exhibition catalogue