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Presencehood -

Shai Zakai – In Nature’s Presence

John K. Grande

While up in the mountains as a “witness” to a defense action to save the first growth forests near Squamish, British Columbia some years ago, I heard the Squamish tribal speaker say from high on a mountaintop in one of the gateways to their ancestral lands, “The forest is our library, and each tree a book in that library.” This simple statement equates wisdom, knowledge, and understanding with ecological integration.  

Like these peoples, Shai Zakai is a keeper of wisdom, whose process-oriented art actions reveal and release life’s hidden unassailable energy. What Zakai calls Presencehood, the subject of her latest artist’s book production, bears witness to place, to many places, to the diversity of nature’s presence and to change, something endless yet whose perpetual cycles have been violated in scales and intensity that literally changes nature’s own interactions, processes….

The change is invisible, mercurial, largely unnoticed by the violators, by people in general. As Marshall McLuhan, innovator and idea-man who invented the term “global village” once commented, “What may emerge as the most important insight of the twenty-first century is that man was not designed to live at the speed of light. Without the countervailing balance of natural and physical laws, the new video-related media will make man implode upon himself (…) His body will remain in one place but his mind will float out into the electronic void, being everywhere at once on the data bank.” 1

Shai Zakai is one of those women who communicates through her intuitive analog photos of time, light, place, and above all – the journey. The journey her art describes is near Biblical, as ancient as it is contemporary. She talks of the color of the earth, the quality of the air, of waterways, and the search. The camera is a recorder, a tool, something that enables Zakai to work uninterrupted, in silence, through storms, in the open air, always with a sense of life’s ritual nature. Taking photographs implies being there, not producing a perfect composition.

The Presencehood project is a document of the very ephemeral quality and nature of life itself, done with a lens that turns inwards, projects outwards.

Often twilight, or that point in time when the sun sets, or rises, or immediately before or after those moments, when the great diurnal motions are opening the lens of our minds to the arc of the skies, the universe beyond – this is a preferred time Shai Zakai engages in her light, motion captures. The energies released in these photos, give a sense of the earth’s integral powers. The earth literally shakes.

Light moves matter.

In one of these photos, Presencehood 21, we sense the color and presence of something invisible. The site is where King David’s city once was, now a threatened site with construction plans.  Time’s arrow flies invisibly. Shai Zakai is in a dialogue with the ancients, in our times, invisibly searching these places where civilizations have risen and fallen.

Boundaries of consciousness expand as a result of Shai Zakai’s art. Her goal is not to convert anyone to art, but to awaken the realization we are all co-participants in this planetary community whether plant, animal or human. We see a tree whose roots are exposed, a woman’s silhouette, a stream of light and motion… The camera is witness, less about framing the subject, or rendering the land into an object. These works go beyond the theological constructs, the structural metaphors, and instead seek organic models for connectivity. The artist moves with and through what she is making her art about. There is no gap between the subject and object. The mirrors meet at this point of perception and the image dissolves, even as it is captured.

The frequencies of nature are multi-dimensional, involve all our senses. As Zakai comments, “I am looking through landscapes at threatened sites. If we could see the energy of a place in nature, how would it look like? With the help of the camera, and of body movements, I am shaking the energy of places, to wake them up to protect themselves. A waken-er action. It is an observation on culture-nature dialogue.” 2  

She calls her technique 'slow photography' and like the slow food movement, it is a way of reawakening our sense of place, of the physical, tactile presence of nature, of which we are a part. And so, Shai Zakai makes her own path, aware of the consequences of understanding our place in nature, and of how distant the media-saturated art world is from our origins, and our body relation to the earth source of all that supports us - past, present and future.

Shai Zakai focuses her intention on landscapes that are changing, that have been and are responding to the interventions and trajectories of the human.

She realizes the necessity of 'Presencehood'- a state of mind & creation, while being a 100% in and with nature, tuning to natures' hidden frequencies.

Her photos witness that in the present times -  as with civilizations of the past, no longer with us - entire ecologies have been erased, as a result of the collapse due to resource abuse and consequent climate. Human imprints occur changing the ecosystem, causing plant and animal migrations and extinction…

The connective aesthetic of Shai Zakai’s art is bio-social, inter-cultural in the broadest sense, and embraces the journey of life we are all on. The language of Zakai’s art, like nature’s own unconscious progression, is a devolution as much as an evolution, indeed it all these things.



1. Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers, “Global Robotism: The Dissatisfactions” in the Global Village; Transformation in World Life and Media in the Twenty-First Century, Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 97.

2. Shai Zakai in conversation with John K. Grande, January 2014


John K. Grande


John K. Grande,
Art critic, writer, curator, lecturer and interviewer, John Grande's reviews and feature articles have been published extensively in leading art magazines such as Artforum, Vice Versa, Sculpture, Art Papers, British Journal of Photography, to name a few.

John Grande is the author of many books on art and ecology including Balance: Art and Nature (Black Rose Books, 1994), Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists (State University of New York Press, 2007, and Dialogues in Diversity: Art from Marginal to Mainstream, Pari Publishing, Italy, 2008. He co-author of Nils-Udo: Kunst Mit Natur (Aachen: Ludwig Forum, 1999), Bob Verschueren: Outdoor Installations (Editions Mardaga, Brussels (2010) and Le Mouvement Intuitif: Patrick Dougherty and Adrian Maryniak  (Brussels: Atelier Muzeum 340, 2005).

John K. Grande has also curated a series of exhibitions of Earth Art at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario and the Van Dusen Gardens in Vancouver, B.C. He recently co-curated Eco-Art with Peter Selz at the Pori Art Museum in Finland and has published numerous catalogues.