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.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Unveil

Thursday night we had our great unveil. The efforts of the past year culminated in an exhibition on light that shined, both literally and figuratively. The gallery was filled with attendees and of course the artists. I often find that openings are not good times to see the artwork, there is just too much going on. I began to view the artwork only to run into friends and then resume at some point far across the room from where I began. My meandering path through people and art was more of a buffet, filling my plate with nibbles rather than deeply savoring each piece in its entirety. That I saved for a subsequent visit.

I brought my friend to the opening. Both friend and muse, her experience was the subject of my artwork in the show. My friend is legally blind. The first time she asked me to take her to an art show I stammered,"But but, how will you see it?" She patiently explained to me how I would assist her in that effort by reading and describing everything to her. I have found that while this is sometimes taxing, it is a good way for me to fully take in a show. I look forward to our more in-depth visit next week. In the meantime here are some of my initial nibbles.

As we entered we were greeted by Toni Dachis's beautiful sun. With torn paper from past projects she recycled her work into a thing of beauty. Raised textures and colors glowed, promising and inviting.
To our right was Rani Halpern's exquisite cut paper piece that echoes the prayer which speaks of the "Creator of day and night, who rolls back light before dark". Intrigued with our sketchbook project in which she expertly cut the pages into forms and Hebrew text, Rani got a much larger sketchbook and formed it into a star, shaping it into a reflection on day turning into dusk with a background layer painted deep midnight blue. Each layer is beautifully cut with day offering glimpses of the night that is to follow.

As I walked through the gallery I noticed Leah Golberstein's work gently swaying in a breeze of movement. Her delicate handmade paper formed a berth for pomegranates, echoing the nerot tamid, the eternal light.
Behind her work, Ann Ginsburgh Hofkin's forest invited me in. Printed on aluminum was an image of a light from above illuminating the darkness of the woods in a way that caused me to expect something miraculous to follow. Perhaps capturing the moment was miracle enough.

Nearby Kris Prince's large painting also beckoned me into the woods, but in an entirely different fashion as I followed human forms guided by candlelight in a joyous procession.

I detoured to the middle to read the intriguing letters in the pockets of Alison Morse's work. The letters are written from the perspective of workers in the Rani factory disaster and that of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, I chided myself for forgetting to bring my contribution to her poem for the closing. "I will bring it when I return Alison", I silently promise. She will then take our contributions to weave into a final poem.

Louise Ribnick's work beckoned me nearby with her bright colors and the imagery of a young child running ahead, a meditation on her grandchild, soon to enter the world.

And then a stop at Robyn Awend's word find, searching for light, or at least words on light. I found for someone who loves words, I struggled to find them. With the aid of Toni and her husband, I found a few before moving on.

I glanced up to locate my friend who was in rapt attention as Jonathan Gross described his work to her; A light box of sorts which reflects dust in beams of light. Light is the vehicle to enable us to see what may already quietly exist.

As I left the gallery I noticed Joel Carter's crack in the world created from rock, the light now coming in, an eloquent meditation on the quote from Leonard Cohen, "There's a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in".

In the lobby I chatted with Anita Konikoff about her initial foray into exhibiting her beautiful stitched imagery on the light of Jewish rituals. She asked if one gets past the intimidation of showing when you do it often. "No" I thought, "it is always there on some level. You just learn to forge ahead anyway". I am so grateful to my fellow artists who forge ahead and share their work, creativity and energy.

And there is so much more than what I've mentioned here. With 25 artists, I can't speak of all of the amazing work. I merely offer a taste. Please come for the main meal and enjoy all of the artists' intriguing contributions.

Or Chadash, A New Light: Unfiltered Tychman Shapiro Gallery and Shared Walls Exhibition Area June 12-July 20, 2014
Closing Presentation July 20 5:00-7:00pm (Readings)
Free and Open to the Public

To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to theJewish Artists' Laboratory website.
*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 25 artists exploring the theme of Light through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Light is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.