Menashe Kadishman’s latest sculpture-environment, “Shalechet” (Fallen Leaves) is constituted by a very large number of heavy, circular-shaped, iron disks forged into the semblance of a frantic screaming face, the expression of which immediately calls to mind the ghostly visage seen in Eduard Munch’ painting The Scream, 1893.The disks are scattered over almost the whole surface of the gallery floor and the visitor is asked to tread them. This difficult walking exercise provokes a profound feeling of uneasiness since not only is it hard to keep one’s balance, one is also unconsciously reluctant to trample a work of art which, in addition, represents such painful feelings.I strongly suspect that Kadishman’s request to walk over his work is motivated – whether knowingly or not – by his desire to make us experience an uneasiness which is a metaphor for the emotional turmoil that seizes a concerned person when reminded of the tragedy of the Shoah.
In fact his seemingly boundless bed of “shalechet” [the Hebrew one-word term for ‘fallen’ or `dead leaves’) cannot fail to dramatically evoke the powerless victims of this appalling calamity. Hence, what we are actually asked to do is not merely to walk on a carpet of metallic human leaves, but to walk out of the question “where were we when all this happened?” The association of the leaves to the persons occurs all the more naturally since it is an age-old identification. The leaf, as is the case for vegetation in general, stands in fact for a cyclic transformation and for the seasonal character of time and life. Like mythical land biblical) mankind, the leaf originates from mother earth and hence has often been assimilated to man, as in the poignant, four-verse poem 4 written in the trenches of World War l – entitled “Soldiers,” where Giuseppe Ungaretti made his striking association; “We are like leaves on the trees in autumn.”
This powerful work illustrates, by the way, Hegel’s well known axiom concerning the revolutionary passage from quantity to quality which is achieved when the critical number (or mass) of an item is reached. Thus, while a single disk could not have provoked in the onlooker- these complex feelings, their multiplication – well planned to make them attain the Hegelian “critical number”- engenders in the visitor the leap from a `visual’ aesthetic delightto an ‘emotional’ aesthetic participation. Kadishman thus succeeds, here again, in obtaining the result that Sanskrit poetics asked the artist to aim at, namely, that the work, its creator and its viewer become merged into a single passionate entity.