Monday, March 21, 2016

A Bird's Eye View

Text and photos by Susan Weinberg

I love travel, that opportunity to see the world through fresh eyes. I savor the sheer pleasure of resting weary feet at the end of a day of exploration, a day of trudging through museums and city streets. Ahh, but home, an equally satisfying journey. We sit aboard our plane taxiing on the runway back to the comforting routines of our life. There is comfort in the ordinary, in expanding beyond packed bags to the untidy clutter of everyday living. 

We have been traveling the past several weeks in Israel. Our travels to Israel with the Jewish Artists' Lab afforded us the opportunity to meet a number of Israeli artists and to travel with fellow artists and arts aficionados. I am normally a bit leery of traveling in packs. I like to be in control of my time so usually shoulder the planning and lugging of bags in exchange for that control. This time I let go of control, trusting that the Israel portion of the trip would offer experiences beyond my capabilities to create. I was not disappointed. It had the added benefit of an extremely compatible group of fellow travelers, really good companions. Our travels were booked before the spate of terrorist attacks in Paris and Israel and we noticed tight security along the way, soldiers with guns, screening equipment at every museum. Still everyone continues with their life. It is hard to be too much on guard and live normally.

Now at home I sift through our experiences putting them in some sort of order. I had let them wash over me so am left with fleeting images and impressions. When we concluded our trip in Israel we were asked about our experience. Then it was too soon for my response to take shape. I need to let things simmer, then go to my mental mountain top and get a bird's eye view, finding the common themes that echo and weave throughout.

Some impressions...Israel was filled with Purim revelers. For the week before Purim we passed groups of young people, faces painted, cat whiskers and superheroes, a young man with angel wings and a halo in the market. We went to a service on Purim. The rabbi stood at the pulpit with a large sombrero on his head as a family of ladybugs sat nearby. We too came in costume. My husband improvised with mask and shower cap creating a superhero vibe while I went feathered mask and jewelry bedecked.

And cats everywhere, real cats, not revelers in dress. Tel Aviv once had a rat infestation so in the 1930s the Brits brought in cats. Cats soon proliferated. Residents put cat food on the streets and clusters of cats dumpster dive. We look for ones like our ginger cat who craves attention as much as food, not the temperament for a wild cat. He would certainly never survive to his 20s on the street.

Tel Aviv is also known for its over 4000 buildings built in the Bauhaus style or the International style. We explored a segment of these buildings on a walking tour of Tel Aviv. Ironically this defining architecture migrated to Israel along with the Jewish architects fleeing the Nazis, the spread of ideas on the wings of persecution.

We felt as if there were many Tel Avivs as we experienced three different areas of the city. Our favorite was by the port the night before we departed. We strolled Dizengoff Street where store windows could easily pass as galleries, filled with sculpture and sculptural clothing. A charming restaurant at which we ate could easily have been found in Paris.
Another stay in Rehovet, just outside Tel Aviv, allowed us an opportunity to visit the Weizmann Institute of Science, an unexpected treasure. With clever use of interactive technology they allowed the non-scientist to appreciate often unexpected interconnections. I thought about our Artists' Lab theme of wisdom and the way in which one discipline often informs another, how wisdom of necessity must embrace interconnectedness. I was also struck with the familiarity of video statements from scientists about what drew them to their profession, how it satisfied their appetite for discovery. It was so similar to what an artist might say, a curiosity and exploratory nature is common to both.

We had many artist visits, Lisa Gross' whimsical work created out of found objects, Sabena Saad, who integrates the papers in which oranges are wrapped into her artwork. For both everything was grist for the mill, a repurposing from one source to another. A theme begins to emerge not too unlike what we observed at the Weitzmann. We are surrounded by creative sparks if we learn to view them as such. It is in how we view our surroundings, how we see the world around us. Those found objects are all around us waiting to be discovered and connected in different ways.

We had an opportunity to discover some found objects of our own as we participated in the Temple Mount sifting project, a project that allows visitors to sift through dirt removed from the Temple Mount. Pottery shards and even an ancient coin were among our discoveries. We were even allowed to take some of the rejected discoveries which were to reappear later in our trip.

In the course of our visit we went to Zippori, a Jewish city that did not revolt against the Romans, but rather incorporated elements of its art and culture into their own. There we observed mosaic floors that incorporated mythic elements. Even the synagogue floor included birds, animals, people and the zodiac.   Jewish culture has often incorporated elements of other cultures. Even Yiddish borrows from many languages. Similarly the art.

When we visited the extensive Judaica collection of Bill and Lisa Gross, Bill had pointed out the Hanukkah lamp from Vienna in the shape of a Biedermeier sofa. A Dutch lamp echoed the Dutch buildings. Another lamp was made from a Hessian Grenadiers hat, a found object repurposed.
At the studio of David Moss and Matt Berkowitz we learned to create a symbolic language to tell a story, borrowing Moss' approach to his retelling the Binding of Isaac.

And so we borrow, incorporate ideas from others and integrate disparate concepts finding the synergies and the points of connection.  We find objects and ideas wherever we go and draw on them for inspiration, repurposing them to find new meaning.  And we carry ideas into new realms like those Bauhaus architects.

At the conclusion of our trip we had the opportunity to create mosaics, often from the very found objects we had gathered along the way. Pottery shards from the Temple Mount were integrated into our mosaic of our experience in Israel, a fitting metaphor for our travels into a world of interconnection, exploration and discovery.

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