Bird’s Milk is the name of an east-European candy. Anna Yam, who was born in the USSR and lived there until she was twelve, remembers it as a sweet, comforting delicacy, a rarity in her childhood’s circumstances and environment. The couplet composing its name, chosen by Yam for the title of her exhibition, is surprising and attractive yet simultaneously daunting and disturbing. A suspicious curiosity. An online search of the term offers links mostly to food and recipe sites which, along with glucose- and cholesterol-laden descriptions and culinary minutiae regarding the accurate mix of whipped egg whites, sugar, vanilla, milk and occasionally chocolate, also refer to the name’s origin, a common term in Russian to describe something inexistent or unattainable. Such expressions serve in popular use in many languages to describe everlasting devotion or a promise to achieve the unachievable for a love object (“I’ll give you the stars and the moon”).

An essay published in February 2013 in the online magazine The Moscow News dealt with the changes that Bird’s Milk underwent over three decades in one of Moscow’s well-known restaurants, noting that the name refers to a Slavic legend about an unattainable gift that uses the phrase “as rare as hen’s teeth.”1 Yam’s choice of such a dual phrase sits well with the exhibition’s selection of photographs. At first glance they refuse to be linked with a coherent continuum, yet attest to a carefully considered editing that elucidates a meaning, as if a random collection of words whose composition within set syntactical structures has created fluent sentences with a formed narrative whose parts, once read, are no longer a random collection of words but details in a story. The story’s text is secondary, hence its uniqueness. Yam’s photographs have been moving, over recent years, through winding courses between methodical coincidence and random methodicalness. Yam photographs during condensed periods, in locations related to her personal and familial biography which she often returns to, and on journeys to foreign places far from home. She chooses “bad photography days,” problematic light and bad visibility, locations in which, even when linked with her personal biography, she and the sightseers are detached. Strangers appear in the photographs like occasional visitors, watching local culture, listening to its canonical representation (Untitled, 2012, p. 15), strangers to the place and the photography, strangers to the photographer, to the viewer, to themselves. The stories that accompany the photographs are not the stories of the places and the people and the events, not the story of the physical or mental journey, nor of the photography and editing methods or the interesting combination of meticulous, planned and timed photography and unpredictable environment whose conditions disrupt control of the outcome.

The journey tales are the central text. The secondary text is obtained from the collation of the photographed details, as if created from documenting the pauses between the words and dealing with gaps, with interim zones and temporary spaces, with the satisfaction of delay and the magic of missing. It seems that Yam sets out to photograph the nearby frame in the second after. Into this decisive timing she convenes technical disruptions and interruptions of visibility, extracting from this collection of obstacles an accurate, controlled image that is simultaneously hideous and attractive, repulsive and seductive; an image whose disruptiveness raises the refined but does not stir yearning for it. In order to sensitively capture the second after one must, of course, wisely lie in waiting for it; in order to award it the status of a decisive second, one needs deep understanding of a magnificent tradition of decisive moments in photography. The effective use of technical faults as tools requires high technical expertise and many hours of trials, errors and reflection. The distilling of impressive, unique aesthetics from an ensemble of disruptions, interruptions and late timings attests to a unique ability to persuade mildly, to announce incidentally. Yam’s aesthetics is replete with paradoxes and contradictions. She is characteristically oxymoronic, thus demanding an interpretive language laden with contradictory comparisons, chiastic parallels and perfect compatibilities of contrasts.

(Excerpt from text by Nili Goren)

The photographs in the exhibition shift between restlessness and freezing silence. Eclectic visions, offhandedly collected on the margins of random occurrences, are presented in the dynamic, slightly frenetic zone, whereas in the static zone, reluctantly representative portraits direct countless expressions, gazes and smiles etched onto gravestones. Yam captures the impressions of her premeditated wanderings through an imaginary kaleidoscope that deconstructs, breaks and garbles appearances while constructing them into elusive mosaic images.

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Anna Yam, Bird's Milk, Installation view, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2014

Anna Yam, Bird's Milk, Installation view, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2014

Anna Yam, Bird's Milk, Installation view, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2014

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