Dina Hoffman Exhibition - How the Days Go By, Penelope

Penelope Time, Chequered Time

by Tali Tamir

 Greek pottery artists in the 5th Century BCE drew geometrical designs in the spaces between the figures and objects
 featured in the tale they  were portraying. Studies have identified a sort of archetypal  horror vacui, fear of voids, in
 this  tradition  which,  prior  to the  triumph of  canonical  form, was still preoccupied with filling in empty  space and
 creating rhythmic and visual unity. Penelope was the wife of Odysseus, who delayed his return from his journeys. She
 was preoccupied  with her own horror vacui - the absence of her beloved husband and, even more, the  uncertainty
 about his return. Her obsessive spinning is an exact metaphor for the hoarded energy of anticipation: time that flows
 and accumulates with  no knowledge of the end, winding  and unwinding in  keeping with the cycle of day and  night.
 Throughout the long anticipation of her husband's return, Penelope cunningly handles the suitors who come to ask for
 her  hand,  sending them back and  forth  with the excuse  that she has to  finish  the task of spinning her husband's
 shroud.

 Dina Hoffman's work is her way of coping with horror vacui: she camouflages  her own void so  successfully, that its
 existence is unknown ,  apart from the  evidence of its instructive  coverings. The  interchange of  "emptiness"  and
 "fullness" ( graphically equivalent to a chequered pattern ) like the interchange of Penelope's spinning and unwinding,
 produce a basically  ambivalent situation  which relates to the fantasy of "the suitors": are they really  being invited
 into a  vacant space, or does the spectacular  fullness, perhaps, fill the whole void? A mural entitled  "Penelope, see
 how  the  days go by"  occupies a  wall  opposite  another wall,  entitled "The suitors' party", that  display a row  of
 T-shirts with  slogans  drawn from male - female relationships. The  glittering, splendid, butterfly-wing  beauty  that
 Hoffman spins/ weaves/ stitches is also  a product of  emptiness: an aesthetic emptiness, a tortured paucity full  of
 prohibitions in which she spent her kibbutz childhood. The absence of any legitimacy for ornamentation, glitter, glow,
 abundance in  kibbutz society  during  the 'fifties' , induced a wild,  insatiable  hunger for everything  in the realm of
 beauty,  however  cheap,  simple or over-the-top  kitsch. The fact that  Hoffman was born a  few months after her
 father was  killed  in the War of  Independence is what opened the  "black hole" in her soul, that  absolute and  final
 absence - the "horror vacui".

 In "Small Bequests"  Hoffman relates to the fear of death  expressed in a series of mysterious  still-life watercolours.
 Here, with her wonderful ability to contain abundance and multiplicity and create "capsules of happiness and beauty"
 Hoffman documents  collections of  her personal belongings. She produced the paintings day by day, working on her
 kitchen table. From these  collections, Hoffman groups small "bequests" to  the loving and needy that contain  hints
 of private  fantasies  and  dreams. The  process of  separating from her  father, her lover and from life itself derives
 power and vitality  from the  personal, aesthetic freedom  that she  takes for herself in creating a  burning vision of
 splendid, colourful beauty.

 Translated from Hebrew by Riva Rubin