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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Child's Play

We arrived at the Artists' Lab sneaking nervous glances towards the closed door of the gallery, curious to see the work Robyn has been busy organizing for the gallery opening this week. After warning us that the arrangement is still subject to change she allowed us to wander through and marvel at the range and quality of the work that came out of our group. Text and statements are still pending so this evening we could react on solely a visual level. 

In the gallery Alison Morse directed our attention to her work which is a collaboration with local artist Rachel Breen. The installation includes Breen's sculptures and two prose poems by Alison in the form of letters, one from a Rana Plaza factory worker, and one from a Triangle Shirtwaist factory worker. Her final portion has yet to be formed with both our assistance and that of those attending the exhibition. With that input she will create a written piece that she will read at the closing. She poses such questions as "What do the clothes you're wearing right now look like? Where were they made? What do you usually do when you wear them? Other questions are more pointed, addressing our sense of connection to the two disasters. Do we think about the source of what we wear and the people who make it? From the audience responses she will weave a cloth of words. 

We then heard from Avigail (Avi)Manneberg, our Artist in Residence about both the work that she has done previously and how her new work has developed in the context of this show. Avi had a rather full plate this year as she was creating a baby during the early part of the lab even as she was also creating a new body of work.
Avi’s past work has focused on the sunflower, a subject that her grandmother, also an artist, had often painted. Avi grew up near fields of sunflowers and remembers gathering sunflowers to bring to her grandmother to paint. She became intrigued with the sunflower,especially its seedpods, as a symbol of potential and began to incorporate them into her work.
 

Interestingly her earlier work was not in color, but rather in black and white. She shared work with us that made use of canvas coated with gesso to form large sculptural forms with seed pods embedded in their folds. Similarly she used sunflower seeds painted black to form grids, pointing out towards the viewer.

In her current work she asked herself the question of what is her light? Just as the sunflower follows the sun, what does she follow? She found that if she looked close by she found her own light in her family. Avi’s work became a collaboration of sorts with her young daughter who would start a line drawing which Avi would use as the underlying structure for her painting in oil pastels. Now working in color she created forms that looked very akin to her earlier seedpods. When I looked at her work I saw a lyricism and playfulness that invited the viewer in. She laughed that her daughter sometimes protested when she wanted her help in starting a drawing. Perhaps she’ll have to begin training her newest child to step in as her own personal Artist in Residence.

We then turned our attention to a display that will occupy the hallway outside of the gallery. We were given grids that will fasten into a frame and working with the theme of light, built them out into shimmering images replete with stained glass, shiny objects and imagery of light. Using the quotes on light that we had discussed at our retreat, we were asked to align the images with the most appropriate quotes. Robyn will then mount the grids and quotes on the wall as a display to accompany the gallery exhibition.

Read more about the work of both of our arts facilitators at TCJewfolk.
To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to the Jewish 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.



Friday, May 30, 2014

Visual Poetry

In an earlier lab we were introduced to the concept of shiviti through movement. This week we experienced it as a visual poem. Shiviti is a means of meditation and prayer through a visual representation of words in the form of calligraphic image. I was feeling quite knowledgeable that I even knew what shiviti were, when I learned there were yet more layers of meaning, a gradual unfolding.

Had I been proficient in Hebrew, perhaps some of this awareness might have struck earlier for I learned that all shiviti make use of Psalm 67. There is a reason for that. We were asked to count the Hebrew words in each line of the psalm after the first line which is a musical direction. A clear and symetrical rhythm emerged. 7-6-6-11-6-6-7. We then summed those words to arrive at a total of 49. What period was the focus of this psalm? Why the harvest for we are told in line 7 "the earth has yielded her produce". Next week is Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah, but also a time of harvest at the time this was written in the 6th century BC. We count the days from Passover to Shavuot, counting the Omer. And how many days are there? - 49. We were then asked to observe the symmetry within this poetic form. Each line is written in couplets, the second phrase amplifying the one before with lines 4 and 6 repeating. Because of its symmetry this psalm is used in shiviti. It is often called the "Menorah Psalm" as this symmetrical structure lends itself to this visual form.

In addition to Psalm 67, the other essential element of a shiviti is the verse of Psalm 16:8. The verse of the Psalm is, "I have set God always before me", a natural prelude to prayer. While other text may also be included, these two components are found in all shiviti.

I resonate with this. I love the intrinsic logic of numbers and words, the rhythm and buried meanings, the deciphering process. And in the vein of mysteries... Early in the Psalm we encounter the line echoing the familiar benediction, "May God be gracious to us and bless us. May he cause his face to shine upon us. selah." Rabbi Davis informed us that "selah" was an untranslatable term. It is believed to represent a pause to emphasize the passage immediately before and most of its 74 mentions are found in the Psalms. Some posit that it comes from two Hebrew words: s_lah, "to praise"; and s_lal, "to lift up." Others believe it derives from the Hebrew root word for "to hang", meaning to weigh.
There is much to weigh in this psalm and far more than I've related here as greater meaning is read into the words and letters. There is actually a process you can read more of for how one uses shiviti in meditation.

We closed with a beautiful passage from Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel in which he advises us to "mediate on the wonders of creation, at their divine life - not like some dim phenomenon that is placed before your eyes from afar. But know the reality in which you live. Know yourself and your world. Know the thoughts of your heart, and of all who speak and think. Find the source of life inside you, higher than you, around you, the wondrous splendor of life in which you dwell. "

You can find the handout with a passage from Robert Alter- The Art of Biblical Poetry and the entire quote from Rav Kook from the Orot Hakodesh.

To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to the Jewish 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.





Thursday, May 15, 2014

Community Coalesces

The Artists' Lab regrouped post retreat and shared impressions of the retreat. The dominant theme was that of community. For those who had joined the group this year the retreat proved a turning point in feeling a sense of community both within our group and across our sister groups. Those of us who had participated in the retreat last year recalled a similar sense of the group coalescing at that point.

Our Saturday night gathering was the point where many recognized that sense of being a part of something larger. Others found that connection in the gathering of the sketchbook groups which brought members of the groups together for the first time.

The group was somewhat divided on religious content, no doubt reflecting the varied religious backgrounds that we bring to the lab. Some found the parsha discussion especially meaningful. Others found the overall retreat heavier on religious content than they preferred. Some felt challenged by the constraints created by doing the retreat over Shabbos.

We also talked about the topic selection process and the fact that those who were not present didn't have an opportunity to weigh in. It was generally felt that all of the topics were broad enough to offer considerable scope regardless of what was selected.

For our creative segment Avi and Anat supplied us with a table of shimmering, colorful and translucent materials to be used in a collaborative installation that will be on display in the Sabes JCC Shared Walls exhibition area. It will be displayed in conjunction with the final exhibition. We were to select a theme related to light and develop it using some of the provided materials. My group worked with the contrast between light and dark and the component of shadow. Still more to do so we will see how well it shapes into something ready for display.

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.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Water Cities

View from the Guthrie Bridge
Today we gathered at the Guthrie for our final day in the Artist Lab retreat, a bittersweet occasion as we would soon be saying goodby to our friends from Madison and Milwaukee.

I arrived early with one of our special guests, Harlene Appelman, Director of the Covenant Foundation. The foundation has played an instrumental role in the existence of the lab, recognizing the importance of this venture with its financial support and encouragement.

A film is being produced on the lab and it was soon my time for my turn before the camera. I have done many interviews of others for my various projects, but it did feel a bit different to have the camera pointing at me, a dose of my own medicine. Camera rolling, I shared the value of the lab as I experience it. It has truly created a welcoming Jewish community as well as an artistic engine. For our external audience it contextualizes some of the study with which we engage and often relates it to the world in which we live.

We then had the opportunity to do tours of the Guthrie, from costume rooms to rehearsal rooms. I love to gather odd facts and our guide offered some interesting tidbits that intrigued me.

* The familiar feeling of the thrust stage is because they used the same blueprints as the original.

* Except for a few special circumstances such as musicals, the actors are not "miked". Acoustical panels in the ceiling or walls do an excellent job at magnifying sound.

* Rehearsal rooms mirror the layout of the stages and the floor is taped with the layout. Actors only get on the actual stage two weeks before the production and can do everything as they rehearsed because of the identical layout.

* I was struck by the black Singer sewing machines in the costume room that looked so much like the treadle sewing machine used by my Russian tailor grandfather. Totally was not expecting that.

* One theater has seats and walls of a rich red. As they were debating the tone of red to use, one person raised their hand with the computer mouse in hand and they selected the red tone of the mouse LED.

Upon our return we tackled our business item of the day, deciding on our topic of next year. I must confess to being torn as I had been an advocate of the topic of community which encompassed how we separate ourselves from a larger community into insiders and outsiders, setting boundaries that determine who belongs where. I am also intrigued by how the level of responsibility we feel for others often is affected by whether they are viewed as part of our community and the need for a more global definition in today's world.  Another topic that spoke to me because of the work I already do is that of memory and legacy, or echoes of the past as it was phrased. Having said all that, I must confess to being swayed by Rani's eloquent articulation of the theme of water which captured the environmental group to secure the greatest support and become our topic for next year. Rani's words evoked ruach - God's breath upon the water in the beginning of the world, a child in the womb and even the fact that our three cities all sit upon the water.
 
 We closed with Jody interviewing Harlene about the focus and history of the Covenant Foundation and the extensive work they do in supporting Jewish education.  Two intriguing projects that were mentioned were Projecting Freedom, a cinematic interpretation of the Haggadah and G_dcast, animated Torah, Talmud and folktales for children (and maybe some of us grownups too).

 And so another Artists' Lab came to a close and off to my studio I went, infused with new energy to tackle my painting for our fast approaching deadline.


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.



Saturday, May 3, 2014

How the Light Gets In

This weekend we gathered for a retreat of the Jewish Artists' lab. Forty-five artists from Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee gathered to celebrate and foster community. We had decided to meet over Shabbos as our theme is light, a central aspect of Shabbos.

The retreat began for many of us with a visit to the Walker Art Institute to view the Edward Hopper show which included 20 of his paintings and many of his drawings. Ever notice how once you focus in on something, it seems to appear everywhere. Such it is with our theme of light. Many paintings had multiple light sources, often coming from an unanticipated direction. In a letter to the museum about the painting it had recently purchased, this was the detail Hopper chose to highlight. Hopper was fascinated by the voyeuristic glimpse into the buildings he passed on elevated trains and the little psychodramas that he witnessed and painted. Often the light followed the artist/voyeur's gaze.

We had been given a few assignments for the retreat. One of them was to bring candlesticks which we now aligned on the table in preparation for Shabbos. We were asked to speak to someone we didn't know and address our choice of topics, among them the story behind our candlesticks. So here's my story. Multiply it by 45 unique stories and you will get some flavor for our retreat. 

When I was a child, my grandmother lived with us for several years. She had lost her memory. She only spoke Yiddish so I really never understood the extent of her memory loss, but I can still picture her gnarled hands nervously twisting the buttons of her sweater. I grew up in a pretty secular family where Shabbos blessings were not part of our Friday night routine at home, except in those few years when my grandmother lived with us. When I did a series of paintings on family history I painted my grandmother saying the blessing over the candles. It was called Memory of Blessing as it represented my childhood memory of her saying the blessing and her residual memory of something which was still very central to her life even when so many memories had fled. When I viewed the painting, I invariably assumed my position at the imaginary table of my childhood, never standing in front of the painting, but rather to the side. My mother, touched by my recollection of her mother, had given me the candlesticks over which my grandmother had said the blessing, now imbued and polished with the story of memory.

But now we needed something to light. We were each given two flat pieces of beeswax, two wicks and two pieces of paper. Our assignment was to write on one piece of paper what we wanted to get from the retreat. On the other we were to write what we wanted to let go of, much like setting an intention in yoga. We wrapped the paper around the wick and rolled the paper and wick within the paraffin to form two candles for our Shabbos candlesticks, each containing a wish or hope to release in smoke, just as we release our yoga intention with breath. Then together we said the blessing over the candles and welcomed Shabbos into our midst.

Andrea, the rabbi from Madison, led us in a Shabbos service and then joined by Rabbi Davis we gathered around a meal, followed by a piece on light by storyteller Carla Vogel and a celebration of singing and dancing. Joel had begun our retreat by speaking of the four immutable gifts of the spirit ... singing, dancing, storytelling and ...... silence. By the end of our day 1 Shabbos celebration we had shared a little of each.

Day 2 also had an assignment. We were to bring something that inspired us that we were willing to part with. At a loss, I had taken a step back to contemplate my source of inspiration. History, mystery, story and image, those are the themes that engage and excite me. What would connote that? I recalled some amazing photographs that had found their way to me upon the death of my father's cousin. As the family historian, I am the repository for all such family detritus, grateful to receive it lest it be lost. These photos were not the typical family images, they connoted young revolutionaries, deal making cronies, each reminded me of the many stories I've read in books over the years and now attached to this unidentified imagery.

Inspiration in hand I arrived in time to participate in a morning exercise of movement and song as Judith Brin Ingber and David Jordan Harris led us in the morning prayers. Judith incorporated movement, as we gave thanks for sight and the use of our bodies. As she guided our movements, David sang the morning prayers. He also offered this little nugget as we counted the Omer, the days to Shavuot, even as Judith incorporated the count into our steps. The word for count is found in many words for story, some examples are account and recount. Judith then had us break into groups and create a movement for light and then for strength. She then joined them together into a modern dance that seemed far more graceful than any of us anticipated.

Later we broke into groups by media and responded to quotes about light, identifying those that spoke to us. Anthem, a poem by Leonard Cohen offered us this inspiring refrain,"there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in".

In the afternoon we gathered to discuss this week's parsha on you guessed it, "light". How does that happen? Chapter 24:1-4 of Leviticus addressed establishing light in the Tent of Meeting. Our discussion focused on what it means to do something consistently, with intention, for Leviticus offers directives that we are to follow.

We concluded our Saturday meetings by gathering with the artists in our sketchbook group and admiring the many beautiful sketchbook creations within the lab.

Later we gathered for dinner at the lovely art-filled home of one of our group, closing our evening with the Havdallah ceremony and the exchange of our inspirational gifts.
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.