Lexicon of Principles
Installation at the Julie M Gallery, Tel Aviv
Photos: Hilit Kadouri
For some time now, Assi Meshullam has been engaged in multidisciplinary art dedicated to what he designates "the Order of the Unclean". This is a kind of contemporary religious order, based essentially on the book of the "Prophet Emissary" called Ro'akhem and on the Lexicon of principles, which is a book of commentary on his doctrine. The names of the "Prophet Emissary" and the book hold a threefold meaning consisting of a play on Hebrew words: Ro'akhem in Hebrew means both 'Your Shepherd' and 'Your Evil'. Also, the rearrangement of the Hebrew letters of 'Ro'akhem' yields 'Mekhoar' (ugly).
Ro'akhem first appeared in 2005. It recounts the life story and the outlook that the "Prophet Emissary" communicates as a philosophy to eight followers. The book constitutes a song of praise to the notion of hybridism in that it crossbreeds linguistic expressions, creates plays on words and infuses familiar quotations with new meaning which the author distorts into new, hybrid configurations. The book reverberates with biblical language; Meshullam's text abounds in quotations and references from various sources such as fairy tales, adventure and travel books and modern Hebrew poetry. The book is divided into chapters numbered by Hebrew letters. It is paginated and printed in a font which as closely as possible resembles that in which the Hebrew Bible is printed, using the Drogolin or, as it was known at the beginning of the 20th century, the Meruba font. The book's layout and graphic form manages to convince readers that they have before them a recognized "religious canonical" book.
Ro'akhem is a hybrid that was born when his father, a human, mated with a canine bitch:
I am your reflection, a creature of this world: let my name be for you Ro'akhem [Your Shepherd] son of a bitch and son of a man, son of a beast and son of man, to my reflection in your eyes when you masturbated. An animal am I and a human; I know not the boundary and contradiction did not stop me. The doctrine of hybrids I bear to you is the truth and it is the lie; it is the male and it is the female the same thing (Ro'akhem, 59, 60).
I am Ro'akhem, your hybrid upon this earth, hairier than any man, none has yet been created like me, I am God's horror (Ro'akhem, 76).
Ro'akhem is passionate and violent, but also wise, possessing a unique outlook that derives from his familiarity with the human condition and with the bestial nature of man. Meshullam defines him as an image appearing "at the moment when a man acts out of an unmediated connection between his impulses and his intellect". The narrative of Ro'akhem describes a journey of apprenticeship of the prophet-emissary that takes place in untamed Nature, when he discovers his messianic power. Ultimately, the hero develops a philosophy that includes commandments and prohibitions found in the Bible, and also in the style of parables and sermons that carry an encoded "moral" message, like these given by Jesus in the New Testament. The story takes place between two different worlds, whose common denominator is rot, violence and a dearth of moral criteria.
Similar to the individual commandments set forth in the Bible, which a religious Jew must observe, so, too, does Ro'akhem impose his commands on the body of his male followers. For example, one of them relates similarly to, yet as an inversion of, commandments concerning the body hair of the "believer":
Your hair shall not fall below your shoulders. Your facial hair shall not grow below the throat for you are my emissary (Ro'akhem, 70).
The beard and sidelocks adorning the face of the observant male Jew, which the bible forbids him to shave, are prohibited for men who are believers in the "Order of the Unclean" – they must shave.
Ro'akhem serves Meshullam as a formative text in the creation of a series of paintings, drawings and sculptures, which he displays in art exhibits, sometimes accompanying them with relevant quotes from his book, which he draws in black ink on the walls of the exhibition site. Meshullam tries to impart to his two-and three-dimensional works attributes that consistently – but not always – conform to the definitions and notions included in the Lexicon of Principles of the Order of the Unclean. His sculptures, on display here at the exhibition, are figures of youths who have the body of a man while their heads, in most instances, are the heads of goats, and thei legs are of that same animal. The names given to them by the artist – Isaac, Jacob, David and Miriam – reflects the irony characteristic of him.
- Alec Mishory, 2013.