Quarantine, coronavirus and art in the new performance The Synonym of Why by the Italian-Israeli artist Flora Deborah

By 15 Aprile 2020Aprile 23rd, 2020CRAMUM

A mature work that illustrates how the saying ‘Per aspera ad astra’ can often apply to art: Flora Deborah tackles the extreme conditions we are all living in through a stark, poignant and intense artistic performance in search of our most intimate identity, to find out who we really are in order to be truly ‘free’.” Sabino Maria Frassà

“The Synonym of Why” (original name in Italian (Il sinonimo di perché) is the last performance by the Italian-Israeli artist Flora Deborah, who was shortlisted for the Premio Cramum in 2016. The quarantine and the somewhat extreme conditions we are living in are the underlying themes of this – still ongoing – performance started by the artist when she returned to Milan at the beginning of March, catching the very last flight from Tel Aviv where she has been living for several years, in order to be close to her family during the coronavirus quarantine.

FLORA DEBORAH (b. 1984, France) lives and works in Tel Aviv and Milan. She has studied at the Bezalel Academy of the Arts in Jerusalem and the University of the Arts London. Her works investigate human and non-human perception of roots and the meaning behind the idea of identity and its connection with non geographical specificities. Flora Deborah’s work spans a range of media, including sculpture, video and installations. She has exhibited in Italy, the United Kingdom and Israel. She was shortlisted for the Cramum Prize in 2016, and presented her work in the exhibition Una stanza tutta per me (A room of my own), curated by Sabino Maria Frassà, sponsored by Cramum and Ventura Projects for Design Week 2019.

The work of this artist usually involves a fusion of sculpture and performance, but in Milan she found herself with neither materials nor media. In the words of the curator Sabino Maria Frassà, who was fortunate enough to be the first to discover this work: “After her installation I’m too old to float, presented by Ventura Centrale last year as part of the exhibition Una stanza tutta per me (A room of my own), Flora Deborah once again reflects on our identity. Il sinonimo di perché (The synonym of why) is a coherent and mature work that shows how the saying ‘Per aspera ad astra’ can often apply to art, where Flora Deborah reacts to the extreme conditions we are all living in through a stark, poignant and intense artistic performance in search of our most intimate identity, to find out who we really are in order to be truly ‘free’. In this work, she has stripped away all the frills, leaving a bare, enigmatic essence, with stirring references as much to life – the egg – as to hospitals – the tubes – and death – salt. For several weeks now, the artist has been reflecting through gestures upon what is truly important in life. The answer is not so easy to find as it means searching for that synonym, that sometimes unattainable essence, based on a reflection upon our own family and all those identity-building bonds that create our fragile ‘Self’.”

The performance is now drawing to a close with a composition of egg-shaped calligrams written in the artist’s languages – English, Italian, French and Hebrew – which combine to form a personal and familiar vocabulary. These poems are just the last link in the chain, pondering over an ongoing performance that opened with the artist separating the vital elements of the egg – the symbol of life and of the generative mystery. She then treated these elements in order to preserve them, because at a time like this nothing can be wasted: she cured the nucleus (yolk) with salt, using a traditional food preservation technique, and placed the albumen inside sealed plastic tubes. Once separated and treated, the artist put these elements back together by blowing the previously preserved albumen around the cured yolk. In Frassà’s words, once again: “The result is a new, impossible life, a creation that seeks to return to the original state but is something different. Ultimately, Il sinonimo di perché (The Synonim of Why) is a portrayal of who we are and who we will be, once the drama of this pandemic is over: ‘Will we, as always in life, be ourselves but different; will we put the pieces back together again and smooth the sharp edges, transforming ourselves and becoming something different, something better?’ the artist seems to be asking herself .”