Oz Malul: You Shall Not Put an Obstacle Before a Blind Man
Curated by Maayan Sheleff
The printer’s ink cartridge moves from side to side, as if searching for something it cannot find. At times it stops momentarily, hesitantly retracing its course; it then charges forward, approaching the body of the printer before retreating once again. The inefficiency and obvious futility of this process, whose purpose remains unclear, lends it a remarkably human quality. Parts of the printer seem to be resisting their assigned functions – as if searching for something that exceeds their original purpose, or trying to escape their fate.
Oz Malul’s works feature clumsy, halting, intentionally inefficient machines. He usually invents and builds their mechanisms and then intentionally introduces flaws into them. The result is a seemingly human action, whose character is both absurd and phlegmatic. By creating moments of failure, the artist undermines the capitalist mantra, which underscores the importance of efficient time management and perfect functioning. The Sisyphean, cyclical movement that characterizes many of his works bespeak the experience of a subject trapped within a system of production and consumption. For this project, the artist used readymade printers, whose mechanisms he hacked and disrupted. The printer’s default action, which is performed as soon as it is turned on, is aimed at locating the ink cartridge; in Malul’s eyes, this action resembles a blind, purposeless quest, which has a vulnerable quality. He sought to transform this action into a kind of virus in the system, thus binding the printer to this process of aimless searching. To this end, the printer’s protective cover has been removed, and its entrails are both physically and metaphorically exposed.
Printers form a link between the fast-disappearing analog world and the constantly developing digital world. Their operating mechanism is digital, while their actions are analog and mechanical: The pulling of a sheet of paper, the printing of words, the movement of the ink cartridge. This forced collaboration between two different types of mechanisms renders printers more fragile: every shift in the movement of the page creates a problem, while the constant introduction of new hardware renders them increasingly obsolete and superfluous. Existing printers are constantly disposed of and replaced by newer models. They are programmed to function automatically, autistic in their inability to respond to input from the outside world.
The dysfunctional printers disrupt the functioning of other mechanisms, like the blind men groping their way in Pieter Brueghel’s well-known painting The Blind Leading the Blind. Various tools or objects are attached to the ink cartridges, like a series of prosthetic limbs. In this manner, the printer’s “search” mechanism is transformed into something entirely different – into a disturbance and a disruption. The printers are transformed into a display of kinetic objects, which are each characterized by their own illogical action. They do not appear as a series of individual sculptures, yet neither do they function as a cohesive installation; although they are all situated in the same space, they seem indifferent to each other’s presence, as well as to the presence of the viewer.
The printers seem capable of doing anything but the specific action they were designed to perform – that of putting words and images on paper. One may thus argue that although this is an exhibition that contains objects, it features no images that can be fixed, purchased, or remembered. As such, it reflects Malul’s resistance to the perception of art as a productive act, as well as to processes of production more generally – to the capitalist ideal of an endless flow of commodities. In this sense, the exhibition represents a stance of resistance to aesthetic perfection, and to the perception of the artwork as an object of desire that may be consumed.
The experience of observing his works is at times reminiscent of watching a slapstick film, in which the protagonist slips on a banana peel or repeatedly makes the same mistake. The viewer expects this to happen, and yet still laughs out of identification with the clumsy, imperfect, touchingly human anti-hero. Yet alongside their humorous dimension, these works have a poignantly fragile quality. At the same time, they provoke a sense of tension, which arises due to our inability to predict when and how things are about to go wrong. Like Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, which is concerned with the absence of compassion in a world of efficiency mania and a surplus of industrial mechanization, the commentary embodied in Malul’s works seems not to center on machines or on art, but rather on human beings.