Slice to Slice About Hila Karabelnikov-Paz's Works

Hila Karabelnikov-Paz's large-scale paintings are radiant and intensely colorful. They depict scenes from Jewish-Israeli existence, subject matter that is highly familiar to the artist, a resident of Bnei Brak. The first element discerned by the observer is their narrative content; however, this is not realistic or illustrative painting, but rather an emotionally intense oeuvre, brimming over with personal motifs.

Karabelnikov-Paz constructs her works with masking-tape using her own distinctive technique. She crafts every detail in her work from countless scraps of masking-tape and multi-colored wallpaper. Masking-tape serves as paint for all intents and purposes, and the paintbrush is replaced by scissors and glue. The use of masking-tape – a common material in the realm of industry and construction – began due to financial constraint and continued out of choice and a desire for a plastic, synthetic material in tune with modern culture. A selection of intense and bright masking-tape colors constitutes her paint palette and the end result is a radiant and modern colorfulness reminiscent of plastic. The artist asserts that "the colorfulness contained in the work is part of its statement." The pasting technique, which brings to mind a mosaic, requires disassembling of the image into hundreds of fragments, precise cutting and meticulousness down to the minutest details. There is no room for staining, but rather for an illustrative style, in which the same care and handling is devoted to each detail. The laying of the initial pieces of color side by side, the density and the dismantling are all elements which constitute an echo of the pointillist style of painting. In both cases one must observe the painting from afar in order to obtain a clearer image. "My technique is neither a collage, nor is it an assemblage, nor a mosaic – it is a painting," says the artist.

This patching technique and the slow, manual and laborious work process, requiring great concentration and spanning several months, are a throwback to traditional feminine handicrafts. Matti Fischer writes the following about this phenomenon:

The use of patterns that construct some of the surfaces of the work, and which formulate its prominence on the surface and over its colorful mosaic, is reminiscent of feminist approaches to art that characterized trends in the seventies and eighties, such as the pattern and decoration movement in the United States. This movement proposed a certain model of painting that rejected virile representation, which divides subjects into categories thereby creating a hierarchy and a world based on power. Instead, the repetitive pattern and feminine, home-based and intimate crafts were preferred, in which there is no self-interest-based importance in relationships with others, but rather cooperation out of female solidarity. Seemingly, in the paintings before us, there is also a combination of textures attributed to home wallpaper, surfaces that are lined up like a mosaic of pasted strips, and patterns that are constructed of flat surfaces and perspectives… it seems that it is as though the artist is peeling away the surface in her home (the wallpaper) in order to reconstruct her own personal motif, precisely by using the surfaces of her life. These facades are however always intertwined within a very distinct and sharp narrative framework, such that the refined and utopian feminine option is refuted here by the world of decisive definitions of religious practicality. (From: Erev Rav, an independent journal of Arts, Culture and Society edited by Yonatan Amir and Ronen Eidelman).

In contrast to the slow pace of the creative process, Karabelnikov-Paz's works freeze transient, rapidly fleeting moments, dynamic and occasionally random scenes: people walking down the street, a happening at the market, a demonstration. To achieve this end, she employs photographs that she has taken, from which she assembles themes and objects for her work. The photographs are an accessible raw material and a reservoir of experiences and images, which assist the artist in capturing reality and focusing on a scene and on the story. Karabelnikov-Paz frequently chooses salient gender-oriented settings by exposing private scenes which may reveal themselves solely to a female observer who will notice objects or spaces that are familiar to her such as those from the mikveh (ritual bath), the ezrat nashim (women's section) in the synagogue or a bridal salon.

The series of works featuring the female convert to Judaism at the mikveh attempts, above all else, to meld the experience of the 'other' or 'stranger' and the personal religious experience, into one. Karabelnikov-Paz is highly familiar with the scenes of the mikveh, and has documented the one she frequents in her earlier works, sometimes as an empty space and occasionally featuring personal articles or with a form of self- portraiture. In this series, Karabelnikov-Paz deals with the close-remote experience; she does not document herself, but rather a foreign woman, a convert, who within the span of one minute will be transformed into a kosher Jew. This emotional distance from, and yet deep familiarity with, the experience and the place, creates an extraordinary thought-provoking series brimming with content and form that provokes manifold reflections.

Raz Samira is an independent curator who has curated many exhibitions of a social-community theme.