natural soil, concrete and oil / 1996

300(h) x 15(w) x 150(d) cm

A narrow, deep and precise slit in the earth – three meters long, one and a half meters deep – filled with oil.

The piece was displayed at the 1996 Ein Hod Biennale. In the Biennale’s accompanying catalogue, the work was presented alongside images of hands covered in warts as a result of the work that went into the creation. The soil is typically Israeli – red loam soil, rocky, from an Ein Hod olive grove. The piece was created by cutting the earth’s surface, calling to mind a human cut caused by a sharp razor. Such a cut aesthetically and accurately reveals the flesh underneath the skin, in a manner that heightens and intensifies anxiety over the associated injury and pain. Like other works by Bartel, Cut is biodegradable, and will ultimately cease to exist – a subversive act of art that may reveal itself and may not.

Cut was created in 1996, in a period of highly charged political tension, marked by internal rifts following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, suicide bombings in Israeli cities and riots in the occupied Palestinian territories. Identifiable in the piece a reference to a violent struggle over land – a struggle that wounds it.

The work is charged with a dimension of mystical anxiety: the earth is unstable, and the work of art is effectively swallowed into the space in which it exists. The work can only be seen by approaching the abyss, and even then what is visible is not fully clear. The certainty of existence on earth fades when its surface is pierced.

The cut also resembles a sexual organ, Mother Nature’s vulva, from which new life emerges. A hole in the ground presents the possibility of creating something new – planting a seed – but also of putting an end to existence: falling into the ditch, returning to the ashes from which we emerged. 

In a sense, Cut turns the ground into a living organism. The gaping soil and the oil within it create the feeling of exposed life underground, like the blood beneath the skin or the soul inside the flesh.