He Walked in the Fields
The title of this work was borrowed from a novel by the same name written in 1947 by Moshe Shamir; it thus also refers to a quote from Nathan Alterman’s poem “The Third Mother,” from which the following verses were taken as an epigraph for Shamir's book: “He walked in the fields, he will arrive here / he bears in his heart a bullet of lead.”
Shamir's novel is one of the quintessential literary works of the generation that fought in Israel’s War of Independence, and whose songs about comradeship and battle celebrated heroic fighters with their "mops of youthful hair and handsome looks."
The themes of death, war, and sacrifice are always present in Tumarkin’s work. When He Walked in the Fields was first exhibited following the Six Day War in 1967, it was perceived as a realistic representation of the horrors of war. The image of the dead soldier is decidedly non-heroic: his mouth is wide open, his tongue is thrust out, his sexual organ is exposed, and his body appears as an arena of combat, violence, and vulnerability. This sculpture served as a precedent for other political artworks created in Israel in the 1970s, which protested against the exalted myth of national sacrifice.
In a text titled “The Mouth,” Georges Bataille writes that the bestial function of the mouth, which is unnoticeable in humans under ordinary conditions, is exposed in certain expressions, as well as in the most terrible moments of human existence, in which “the overwhelmed individual throws back his head while frenetically stretching his neck in such a way that the mouth becomes, to the best of our physical ability, an extension of the spinal column…assuming the position it normally occupies in animals.” Bataille’s text is most appropriate for describing works by artists and filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Francis Bacon, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Igael Tumarkin. In this sculpture by Tumarkin, the esophagus is also exposed, underscoring the aggressive character of the open mouth and reinforcing the tacit linguistic connection between the mouth and the many weapons that have appeared in Tumarkin’s works since the 1960s.