Friday, October 31, 2014

Creating a Universe


We began our Lab with Rabbi Davis leading us in a new version of Oh-Say-Shalom. Then we dove into dissecting Bresheit,discussing how water is part of the creation for everything and how G-d used it as a raw material for creation.

"Why is water the focus of creation?" Rabbi Davis asked the group. Some answers included:

"We are made from water and composed of water"
"It flows freely"
"Most of earth is water, land is the exception"
"It’s needed for survival"

We discussed the terms shamayim - heaven and tohu va bohu -without form and void (soupy mixture). Then we went on to talk about, "Why is separation the methodology of creation?" and "Why during some days of creation does it say and it was good twice?" We observed the difference in the days of creation, separating darkness from light and water from water.

We then had the chance to see a beautiful work by artist David Moss, "Prayer for Peace" and how the artist separated components of each letter so that the prayer could only be read when the two panes of glass overlap. We ended our session by circling back and singing O-Say-Shalom.

From there, Liba crowned us all "creators" as we embarked on a journey to assemble our own Ecojars. We followed a specific set of instructions to build a balanced biosphere. First a handful of rocks and a shell or two, then mucky pond water to cover the rocks, then one or more plants, then sea life (snails and other assorted living creatures), then distilled water to top it off. Each one contained similar ingredients but in the end, they all were so very different. We observed our own Ecojars and watched our snails become acquainted with their new environment and wrote about what we observed. We shared excerpts from our reflections and ended with one statement that began with "when I create, I…." creating an ongoing organic poem, one after the next, until the room was silent.

My Ecojar sits in on our bathroom shelf, soaking up natural light to sustain its longevity. I observe it every morning when I wake up and every evening before I go to bed, being reminded that life is about balance, simplicity and beauty.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Creative Destruction

12th century Venetian mosaic
Our first gathering of  Lab 2.0  began with an introduction to the structure of our meetings.  With fourteen members we returned to a more intimate group.  To some extent we will be more self-lead with two artists taking responsibility for a presentation that shares our work as well as incorporates Jewish learning and the theme of water.  Meryll Page is available as a consultant on Jewish content. We can incorporate discussions on themes and challenges of art creation, for example what to do when you are completely uninspired.  Other outside material such as relevant TED talks was encouraged.

As this was the first time in several months that we regrouped we did a bit of an update on what has occupied our energies. Ask artists what has occupied their energies and you get an unusual range of activities.

-An expansion to a new space and the utilization of Dragon, a voice activating transcription program.  The use of technology allows for a different approach to writing, more of a thinking aloud which can later be structured as needed.

-Attendance at a Dream Tending workshop offered by  Dr. Steven Aizenstadt with the objective of bringing dream images to life through art.

-A move and downsizing prompted thoughts of our tendency to want to hold onto things and the need to let go of photographs and other ephemeral.  A rather heated discussion ensued on the value of holding on to such material.  As a family historian I must state my bias for preserving history.

In support of this perspective one member spoke of her mother's loss of memory and how meaningful it had been for her to read her father's letters to her mother.  Another member offered a creative way to dispose of such belongings.  She parceled out her father's photos to people who were represented in them, many now in their 90s who were delighted to recapture these pieces of their past.  A lovely way to honor the memory of her father.

Meryll Page joined us for the later part of our discussion and reported that she  is working on getting her book Jewish Luck published in Israel and is preparing a second book, Taste of Torah, based on a year's worth of columns linking food to the weekly torah portion.

This is not a static group!

Meryll began our discussion on Creative Destruction by asking if we ever destroy our work when we are stuck.  This is a topic I know well and had to offer the solution I pursue which is to take white or gold paint, often mixed with medium, and provide a light coating over the painting.  Often an entirely new painting develops.  It has the added benefit of making the imagery much more mysterious, forcing me away from my more realistic bent.

The solution depends in part on the medium.  Those who work with paper often cut or tear it and use it for later collages. Those who work digitally save the digital image and rework it into something new.

Other approaches that have been proposed by various artists included determining what would ruin the painting and doing it or finding the place you love the most and getting rid of it.  I'm not sure I have the stomach for either.

It was noted that the approach of taking what you can and moving on resonated with the history of the Jews who were frequently moving on with short notice.  After all, that's how we got matzoh.

Meryll shifted us to this week's Parsha  Genesis 6:9-11:32, the story of Noah and the flood.  I was struck by the imagery within the story, the rainbow as a covenant, the raven and the dove sent to find land.  Meryll asked about the parallels to chapter one in Genesis.  Genesis starts with God's breath hovering over the water prior to his creation of the world.  It is the blank canvas on which creation takes place.  In the latter story we go back to a blank canvas, but only after water becomes a destructive force.  The focus of water ranges from creative to destructive.  There is a delicate balance, even within our bodies which are largely composed of water. 

Creative destruction of worlds or canvases, sometimes we must destroy to create anew, freeing ourselves to see with fresh eyes.  Better canvases than worlds!





Monday, October 20, 2014

Night of New Beginnings



 


 Thanks to Diane Pecararo, friend and fellow participant in the Artists’ Lab for reporting on this session in my absence. -- Susan Weinberg
 

It was a night of new beginnings. 
In the beautiful sukkah at Beth El, artists new and old gathered for the first meeting of the Jewish Artist Lab, now in its third year. The weather was cool, the night clear and there was food and drink, of course.

Following is a brief description of how the meeting agenda played out:


Robyn opened with an invitation to be present in the sukkah. She reaffirmed the theme of “water” for the year and introduced Liba Zweigbaum Herman as the facilitator replacing Anat, who moved back to Israel this summer.
 

Rabbi Davis led us in a song and said the blessing for the sukkah. He presented a parable about a king who prefers gifts made of “clods of earth” to more conventional treasures. He posed the question for discussion: Why would the king find these simple (handmade) gifts so meaningful?

Meryl offered an article on drought conditions in Israel and talked about the importance of water in
the Middle East. She read a prayer for rain from the Siddur (p.156) asking God  to remember our patriarchs and grant rain in Israel in moderation, just the
right amount.

Then Liba introduced herself as artist and teacher and led the group through the activity of sharing personal objects that reminded each of us of water. These brief stories made for lively narratives- some humorous, some touching- all evocative of a place or emotional space we had occupied.  Among the objects, there were rocks, ritual cups, keys, shells, an artist bucket, bath toys, photos, fruit, water as solid, water bottles and even empty pockets. Liba also shared a thought-provoking piece by Rebecca Loncraine called Water and Creativity.

It is important here to welcome the new members-poets, a song writer, painters, multidisciplinary artists. Their voices and creativity will add to the already rich personality of the group.  We are artists of many stripes.  Whatever lake, river, ocean, pond  we favor has influenced each of us in very different ways. I suspect this diversity of perspectives will continue to show itself in the work produced in this coming year. 


~Diane Pecararo






Thursday, October 2, 2014

A New Approach

The Minneapolis Jewish Artists' Lab began in October 2012 and is now entering its third year.  Those of us who have participated have found it to be meaningful and inspiring on many levels.  Certainly the content has been thought-provoking, but the opportunity to work with our wonderful facilitators and build a community of artists has added an important dimension. Our group has continued to grow and that began to present a dilemma.  How do we invite new artists to share in this experience while preserving the intimacy that a smaller group affords?

In the 2014/15 year we are embarking on a new approach.  The group has been split into two with those who have participated for two years joining Lab 2.0 and those who are new or have participated for one year joining Lab 1.0.  Lab 2.0 will have more of a self-directed aspect, but the two labs will meet jointly on a periodic basis.  As the Resident Writer I have written about our discussions in this blog.  As I will be participating in Lab 2.0, I will continue to document that lab personally, but will also post information and photos that are provided from Lab 1.0.  All content will be posted on the home page, but for those interested in information just on a specific lab, you will be able to access it by the tab at the top of the page.  We will continue to have a website that you can access by the website link also above.  The website will include information on exhibitions of our members.  We encourage you to get to know the work of your fellow artists and to share your work through this site by contacting me with exhibition information.

Shana Tova.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Layers of Meaning

Our last Artists' Lab of the year. I flashback on long ago school years rolling to an end. An ending yes, but always with a new beginning in the fall. Just as then we know we will see most of our group again with a few new faces. The new of last year are now familiar friends, how quickly we melded into one group. I look around fondly at these now familiar faces, grateful for their company on this journey.

We still have the readings at our closing, but this was the end of our sessions for the 2013/2014 lab year. Meryll led us in an exploration that she prefaced as difficult, reminding us of how many of us used our art to approach difficult subjects or faced the difficulty of a new medium or approach. A pearl formed from sand, from friction and irritation. With that intro I was bracing myself as she referred us to Isaiah 49:6. I will give you "for a light of the nations". Ah, the chosen people. Are we in fact chosen? And if so, for what?

We shift in our seats in discomfort in response to this divisive concept, protesting that everyone feels they are unique. We have no monopoly on uniqueness. "A" light of the nations, not "the" light. Many Jewish groups reject the language of "chosen" people. What does "chosen" actually mean? Perhaps we choose to be Jewish even when it would be far easier to blend in with our Christian society.

Our discussion soon veered to our identification with other Jews. How we wince when a Jew behaves badly, the Madoff effect. An embarrassment to the family. We expect better, but we have our scoundrels as well as our saints. Can Jews have saints? Perhaps "mensches". We take secret pleasure in the countless Jews who have advanced our society, the disproportionate numbers on Nobel Prize lists. Twenty-two percent, but who's counting. Lutherans or Methodists don't swell with pride or wince with embarrassment at the actions of their brethren, do they? Perhaps not uniquely Jewish, but certainly unique to the visibility that accompanies minority populations.

Many expressed the feeling that Israel is held to a higher standard than its neighbors. Other countries aren't expected to return territory won when attacked. We hear nothing of the over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands. There is a sense of unfairness as we observe different treatment and expectations. Ah, but our time for discussion is up and we've not yet solved the Middle East dilemma.

It is time to shift to our closing ritual. We move to the gallery and each artist gets a few minutes to talk about their work. First a thank you to Robyn for all the amazing work that she has done to manage this process, a contribution to the gallery in her name.

Many of us have made several visits already. There is so much depth and thought in this exhibit, it helps to absorb a little at a time. For the first time I notice the byproduct of Jon's piece, the beautiful light it casts on the ceiling. One must look in all directions for enlightenment.

The artist speaking of their work adds a dimension. We are curious about technical details. Paula, what paint did you use on your photographs? Toni, what dye did you use for your beautiful sun? And did you dress to coordinate with your art?

We are also intrigued by the artist experience when something doesn't quite work as they envision. Ann talked of how she reworked her photograph on aluminum. Rani talked of recutting her exquisite pages when distraction resulted in error. Leah wasn't quite satisfied with the integration of the elements in her delicate hanging forms. There is an element of both struggle and discovery in all of our work.

We each had an opportunity to place one word by each artwork, a reaction to the artist or their work. I found myself thinking about whether one word might apply to the exhibition in total. Layered, I thought. There are many layers of both meaning and process. That is a word that would work for each and every piece.