Donald Antrim on Zeke Berman
March 31, 2020
“The studio is like an artist’s installation of a biohazard site.” The author Donald Antrim first came to Yaddo in 1990, the photographer Zeke Berman in 1989. In 1999, they overlapped—as Antrim details in this account of the memorable contents of Berman’s studio, today’s cocktail-hour installment of “Friendships in Arcadia.”
Zeke Berman pulls up to Yaddo in a truck. The truck is the size you might use to move from one apartment to another while still in your thirties—you don’t have as much stuff as you will later in life, but you’ve got a lot of stuff. So does Zeke. Zeke backs his truck up to the studio. The studio is freshly painted—clean. Time to unload! Here come the cameras—Zeke uses a 4 x 5 mounted on a stand, and smaller, hand-held Polaroids for studies—and the clutter of lights and plugs, cables and tape, the tripods, all the evil-smelling chemicals in their jars. How much truck can these things take up? Not much. So what’s in Zeke’s truck? Balls of string. Old shoes. Rusty cans and pieces of glass and metal hooks, a bucket filled with screws and washers. Domino sugar and paper in rolls and paper that’s come unrolled, and tacks in plastic pails, and something wooden that might be, or might once have been, a table leg from the table in someone’s kitchen. It looks like a cudgel. Food coloring. Some very thin wire. Barbed wire? Spoons and forks and knives! An aluminum cooking pot! Is Zeke going to eat? There’s a can of glue and a huge sack of unflavored gelatin crystals and a plastic bag overfilled with shirts that could not possibly fit Zeke; the shirts don’t look at all right for him, and therefore give the impression of looking exactly, horribly right. Are they from the same closet in the same emptied-out bedroom? Whose bedroom? Now they’re on the floor in Zeke’s studio, much in the way of clothes in a teenager’s room. In Zeke’s studio, you have to watch your step or you might disturb the gelatin simmering in the big pot on the electric burner next to the old socks heaped in piles that tumble over geologically to form younger piles. Where is Zeke? He’s balanced on the piles, pouring a gelatin mold of Monica Lewinsky’s dress. The gelatin is blue and there is some other in the corner that has gone green and is beginning to rot. Everything has its own exquisite, lurid color, and may or may not be formerly edible. The studio is like an artist’s installation of a biohazard site. It seems that sunlight is coming in, though it is hard to tell from where. Later Zeke will find some string and a bit of cloth, and he’ll tie the cloth around something else, and later still he’ll photograph these things in a certain light, in certain arrangements; and what you’ll see, when you look at a photograph of Zeke Berman’s, is a strange and funny and touching and unforgettable piece of whatever it was that came out of Zeke.
By Donald Antrim, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.
Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo