Friday, January 17, 2014

Our Private Shiviti

Mizrah-ShivitiThis is a difficult Artists’ Lab to capture in words for it was largely about movement and sound. We began the session with a rendition of a poem/song by David Harris. The piece, Arcs of Light, was commissioned by Sher Tikva and created by Jan Gilbert ten years ago based on the poetry of Yehuda HaLevi a poet in medieval Spain. One of the women in the lab had heard David perform it in the one performance that had been done ten years ago, remembered it and suggested he do it for the lab. Its theme was on light, but light through sound, hearing light with different frequencies and distances. As someone who can’t carry a tune, I am amazed when someone opens their mouth and beautiful and harmonious sounds emerge. It seems like magic to me and this performance was indeed magical in a spiritual way. David commented that you never know how something that you performed or presented may have touched another person. Here he was performing the piece again ten years later from just such an occurrence.

The second part of our lab was a light inspired movement workshop lead by local dancer Judith Brin Ingber. Judith distributed richly colored purple scarves and asked us to cover our eyes with them. Scarves knotted around our eyes, we held onto each other’s hands and shoulders as we tentatively shuffled forward following her directions to move through the building. As we entered different rooms we felt changes in sound and temperature, even the floor beneath our feet. Gradually we worked our way to the dance studio, squeezing into what seemed an enormous elevator. In the studio we removed our blindfolds as David sang the morning prayer in which we thank God for giving sight to the blind. As I have been considering developing my artwork around the experience of a friend of mine who is legally blind it seemed particularly appropriate.

Judith distributed copies of shiviti, what is best described as word images which are used as tools for meditation. Many had a menorah as a central image or circles or the suggestion of houses. Some were images of papercuts, all contained Hebrew words. We were asked to contemplate these and then create our own out of movement. With one hand we wrote our name, letting the other hand pick it up as it reached behind us. We then created a unique form that we interjected into our words, a house, a circle, a bird. Reaching high, reaching low, we varied the size and form of our letters, sometimes writing in English, sometimes in Hebrew. Judith divided us into two groups and instructed one group to continue with the exercise while the other watched, then switching from doing to watching. I was amazed at our grace, transformed to modern dance, our movements flowed as we encrypted our names in air, our private shiviti.

Finally we shifted our attention to the morning prayers as she led us through some of them aloud. Many address the physical functions that allow us to go through our day. We bless God who releases the bound (sitting up and stretching), who straightens the bent (getting out of bed) and who creates the very orifices and openings of our body that allow us to function. Virtually everything we take for granted is worthy of a blessing. And of course our theme of light is addressed through a prayer as well in which we address the "Creator of the day and night, who rolls back light before the dark and dark before the light." 

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.

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