Friday, April 1, 2016

Honoring the Objects:Finding the Story

March 22, 2016 Visions of Israel Blog-The Minneapolis Jewish Artists' Lab Israel Trip
During the Artists' Lab trip to Israel we are inviting our participants to write a blog entry. We hope to capture the trip through many eyes.

Blog by Lucy Rose Fischer
March 22 2016
We spent this morning with a remarkable couple. Lisa Gross is an artist who creates whimsical creatures using found objects. Her husband Bill Gross has an amazing collection of Judaica.
We visited Lisa’s studio early in the morning. It is located on a dusty street in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Not long ago, this city was just a few houses; now it is a major urban area—known especially as a city for children, with a children’s museum and many other activities designed for children. We first entered an outer room of her studio—it is filled with figures of all sorts and sizes—sheep, a cow, quasi-humans—all quite friendly and composed of various found materials.
Some of our group had seen Lisa’s work when she had an exhibit at the Sabes JCC in 2007. For others it was all new. For all of us, seeing the collections in her large studio was an amazing experience. She had pieces on the walls and on tables and suspended from the ceiling. She told us how she finds objects and they inspire her. She tends to walk with her head looking down, so she can spot interesting objects. Sometimes she uses natural objects as models, such as palm fronds, and creates molds. Her work is imaginative and delightful. For Lisa, “garbage” is an opportunity to create art.
Our next stop was their home, in a very beautiful neighborhood in Ramat Aviv, another Tel Aviv suburb. It’s hard to convey the scope of the Judaica collection that Bill Gross has collected. Three large glass cases encircle their large living room and other spaces are also filled with his collection. But what is really impressive is his knowledge about Judaica and the context of his collection. He has arranged his objects into 10 groups, corresponding to different cultural areas where Jews lived. He said that there is a myth that objects such as Hanukah menorahs were found in most private homes. But in fact most Jews were very poor. The silver items that we were viewing were used in synagogues and in the homes of the very, very wealthy. The Jews were even poorer than the non Jews where they lived because Jews were not allowed to own land or engage in most professions. They were limited to a very few occupations and therefore there was huge competition and most could barely scratch out a living. So, Jews in the Ukraine, for example, if they wanted to like Hanukah candles, would take a potato and make holes…
Bill also told us how the Judaica reflected the places and cultures where Jews lived. For example, an 1840 Hanukah menorah from Vienna is in the shape of a sofa, like the furniture that would have been in wealthy homes at that time. He showed us a menorah from Algeria from the early 20th century that had a star and crescent.
After lunch at the Tel Aviv port, we began a tour of Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv. We began at Shalom Tour, viewing beautiful glass mosaics about the founding of Tel Aviv. The first Jewish neighborhood was Neve Tzedek where the architecture was more European, Mediterranean, with red tile roofs. The Bauhaus architecture was brought by German architects, who designed functional buildings that fit with the environment.
We saw the building where Ben Gurion declared the Independence of the state of Israel in 1948.
Editor's note -Susan Weinberg
Lucy was unable to join us for our evening activities and lest they go uncaptured I wanted to add a few remarks on them. Back when our theme in the Lab was Light, one of our lab members described a restaurant in Tel Aviv where the waiters were blind and customers ate in a totally dark environment. We were captivated by this idea and remembered it when we created our itinerary.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live without sight? How about without sight and hearing? One of the most unusual experiences that we have had in our visit to Israel was at the Nalaga'at Center. Nalaga'at means "Please Touch", a request that makes perfect sense when you learn about its history. The center was started by people with an unusual disease, Usher Syndrome. People with this disease are born deaf, but in their first decade typically lose their sight as well. When young they learn sign language and by touching the communicator as they sign they learn to read it even without the visual cues.

Today the center offers plays, education and a restaurant in which we are blinded by darkness. The waiters and actors are either deaf or visually impaired or some combination. We began our visit with a workshop led by two deaf people who taught us how to sign basic words, lip read and pantomime specific words. We ascribed names through gestures which expanded on some descriptor, either physical or perhaps based on personal likes. We learned that sign language reflects the culture out of which it comes. For example the sign for "food" in the United States is holding a hamburger, in Chinese sign language it is manipulating chopsticks.

Following our workshop we moved to the dinner portion of our evening. We selected our dinner before entering the dining room. I was careful not to select the fettuccine as I end up wearing it even with advantage of sight. We were also asked to put cellphones and other belongings in a locker prior to entering, lest we or the waiters trip over them. We entered the dining room in train fashion, our hands resting on the shoulders of one of our table mates. As we entered we joined a world of darkness that our waiters were far more adept at navigating. This was not a blackness to which one's eyes adjust, it was a velvety darkness that allowed no light to gain a foothold. I felt my stomach lurch as we entered and thought of those yoga balance poses that become infinitely more difficult if one closes one's eyes. I felt off balance.

We were guided to our table by our waiter. He then taught us how to pour water into our glass with our finger in the glass so we didn't overflow. I missed the glass anyway dampening the table, but I discovered an advantage in this world of darkness, no one could see it. We heard the jingle of bells approaching, signaling our waiter Mohammed nearby with our meals. There was no waiting until everyone was served as there was no way to determine that. My husband and I reached across the table identifying each other's location. That coveted taste of my husband's meal was going to be difficult. I'd be lucky if I found my own plate. The inability of others to see quickly eliminated any table manners. After a few empty forkfuls, I quickly developed a stabbing strategy with the objective of navigating food to mouth. It wasn't pretty, but then no one saw me. The food was actually quite flavorful, perhaps enhanced by a focusing of our senses. My special treat at the end was when my husband had the waiter bring some of my husband's leftover meal to me to taste. We left in train style, grateful for the anchor of the person in front, blinking as we moved back into light as we adjusted to the world of the sighted.

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