Dekel Sery (b. 1990, Mazkeret Batya, lives and works in Yavne), was raised by mentally-challenged parents, and served as a paratrooper. He graduated from the Minshar School of Art in 2020, and is currently employed as a security guard at the Prime Minister’s Office.
In Sery’s video Purification, the artist appears in the uniform of the paratroopers in a kind of retrospective self-portrait from his military service. The video opens with a pair of red army boots treading on oranges on the ground heavily and rapidly. A bit later, Sery, in full uniform, leaves the orchard on a dirt road leading to a typical Israeli landscape seemingly taken directly from a Nahum Gutman painting: an alleyway of palms, eucalyptus trees, cacti, thorns, bushes, and grass.
Against the backdrop of a large cactus and a tall thistle, Sery strips off his tight uniform, releasing himself, as the signs of his military service fall off his body one by one. First the shirt, the patch of his unit, paratroop wings and symbols of rank, tee shirt from the end of basic training, shoes, trousers, and socks. Finally he is bare except for his undershorts, stripped of his power. With a pastoral autumnal landscape in the background and a raven’s call, Sery continues to the winter pond. The sounds of his bare feet lifting up through the puddle are heard loudly, and as he reaches the deepest part of the water, he lies down on his back, closes his nose, and immerses himself seven times in the muddy waters.
When his immersion is complete, Sery exits the pond, dripping with muddy water, half walking, half stumbling back to his uniform at the foot of the cactus bushes and the thistle. He gathers them up with haste, and exits the frame, thus emphasizing the gap between his very impressive entrance and the rapid exit from the landscape.
Anyone who served in the army can understand the military language employed by Sery. On the surface, the language of nature seems to be natural, but it is, for the most part, designed by humans. The thistle deserves a bit more information: also called Milk Thistle, Holy Thistle, or Our Lady’s Thistle is a healing plant common in this region since ancient times. Christian folk belief holds that the white veiny marks on the thistle were formed from drops of milk from Mary mother of Jesus. The thistle’s thorns may remind of the numerous thorns in paintings of Jesus as well as the figure of the Spinario – the Hellenistic image of the boy pulling a thorn from his foot. Filippo Brunelleschi, noted Renaissance sculptor and architect, used the image in his relief The Sacrifice of Isaac now in the Bargello Museum, Florence. According to Christian tradition, Isaac bound on the altar is the forerunner of Jesus on the Cross. In Israeli art history, the Binding of Isaac serves as an allegory for the sacrifice of young men in war.