Guy Zagursky‘Power Factor (cos φ)’, 2019

Outset Israel supported the exhibition Power Factor (cos φ) by artist Guy Zagursky, exhibited at the Ashdod Art Museum, curated by Roni Cohen-Binyamini and Yuval Beaton.

The exhibition “Power Factor (cos φ)” by Guy Zagursky consists of video work and five installations, all but one of which were designed and built for the unique spaces of the Ashdod Art Museum. Each of the installations uses an electrically powered mechanism to epitomize purposeless movement and unrealized energy potential. They are seductive contraptions—virtuoso sculptures that are beautifully designed and meticulously executed; complex and spectacular, their presence is poignant and decadent. With his characteristically wry humour, Zagursky probes the boundaries of the sublime in art (amidst pointed allusions to notable artists and works in the history of local and international art) and pokes fun at the perennial collective effort to explain the world or to defeat nature. His works serve as short stories that cast an ironic light on the human condition and the pathos inherent in the insatiable human striving for development, efficiency, improvement, and endless upgrades.


The theme of cyclical motion and energy features repeatedly in the exhibition, with metaphorical references to cosmology; the four winds; navigation or sea voyages; the North Star; the light or heat of the sun; life and death; and the human body. Indeed, it is the very theme of the exhibition, and imbued with significance on several levels: physically, the objects’ mechanical-electric nature is analogue, “low-tech”; scientifically, they are references to the cyclical character of nature and physical circuits; and metaphorically they depict the earth and heavens and the cyclical nature of orbits, in a manner that casts doubt on the existence of a Designer, thereby also conveying a metaphysical meaning.

Another key motif in the exhibition is that of vision and the gaze. The installation dubbed by the artist The Blind, for example, consists of eight identical robotic bodies that move in sync, feeling their way to nowhere with the help of canes. In the video work included in the exhibition, the eyes emerge from the darkness as a literal expression of the notion of the gaze, and possibly an allusion to the famous philosophical riddle: If a tree falls in the thick of the forest without a human being to see it and hear it, does it make a sound? It is a humorous comment about the need for the other’s gaze to cause things to happen – even when they are internal and intimate. The work Still Life with a Metaphysical Inclination (2008, Doron Sebbag Art Collection, ORS Ltd., Tel Aviv) is a very large, star-shaped object that calls to mind a compass needle or the North Star – a reference, therefore, to the expectation that to something will direct our gaze and show us the way. But its title also hints at hidden wordplay, to the effect that the Metaphysical Inclination in question is merely a reference to the fact that the object tilts to one side. Thus, the tantalizing prospect of metaphysical meaning is dashed against the rocks of physical reality, and revealed to be false, leaving nothing more than a metal skeleton, some glass panes, and fluorescent lights.

The term power factor in the exhibition title is taken from the field of electrical physics – a measure of energy efficiency of electrical motors, being the difference between the motor’s actual electrical output and the power lost along the way through magnetic induction. Specifically, the mathematical concept cos ? denotes the portion of the power that is not being used in the electrical circuit – power that does no useful work, that is, unavoidable loss of energy. Zagursky borrows it to describe the human condition, in which human effort is constantly channeled toward an aspiration for improvement and perfection; a culture fixated on a perennial struggle to cross the finish line first. He offers an allegorical portrayal of the Western ethos in the form of a device reminiscent of a radar surveillance antenna spinning on a vertical axis, which projects a green signal akin to that of a heart monitor; parallel undulating and straight lines appear and immediately dissipate. Life, it seems to suggest, takes place in the gray, non-binary, range between 0 and 1, between appearance and disappearance, amidst the endless drone of motors that reminds us that the finish line (the horizon), like the starting line, is an illusion, and that the only possible purpose is silly playfulness in between.