Thursday, October 24, 2013

Journey into Light

A little bit of intro is perhaps in order. Last year I participated in the Minneapolis Jewish Artists’ Lab and found it both thought-provoking and the genesis of an evolving artist community. I maintain a personal blog on a variety of topics and included entries on the Artists' Lab sessions within it. I came from each session with synapses snapping, almost too much stimulation to absorb. It was through the act of writing that I was able to integrate it into something to which I could give voice. I’ve included links to past blog entries on the discussion page of the Artists' Lab website.

This year I was asked to serve as the Resident Writer and write a blog focused on the Artists' Lab. The blog and the website with which it is linked are designed for use by the artists within the lab to document the material discussed and to share information on each others' exhibitions and artwork. Often while writing about the lab in my personal blog, I had hesitated to share as much detail on discussions, fearing that it might not speak to a wider audience. I anticipate sharing a perhaps more abridged version on my personal blog and providing more detail within this more focused blog. I invite the larger community to follow along with us in this exploration of art and its relationship to Judaism.

Recently we began year two of the Jewish Artists’ Lab. The theme this year is Light which promises to be a rich topic. We had about twenty of the artists at the initial session which served as our intro to our facilitators and to each other. Many of those attending shared their thoughts on light and I began to have a sense of just how broad the topic could be.

The setting truly set the stage for this topic. In fact it was the stage, for we met on the theater's stage. It presented an interesting juxtaposition of velvety black darkness pierced by the glaring beams of spotlights.

Meryll Page, one of our teacher facilitators, introduced us to the Hebrew word for light “Or” and pointed out that if the first Hebrew letter aleph is swapped out for an ayin it spells “Ivver” which means blindness. She reminded us of the morning blessing that speaks of God opening the eyes of the blind.

My mind wandered to my friend, the subject of my painting for the last lab exhibition. My friend is legally blind and we have often talked of the gradual encroachment of darkness on her world. I thought of how she keeps her light alive despite that darkness. And I thought of the interviews of elders on which I base my artwork, how sharing story is a way of inviting light in.

Many of the artists spoke of the fact that light must exist in relationship to its opposite, darkness. Some felt discomfort with darkness while others found it offered a place of quiet self-containment. Our arts facilitator Anat offered a moving perspective when she spoke of the child in her womb, the source of so much light for her, yet floating in darkness. She imagined that moment when he or she would emerge from that quiet solitude into the bright light of this world.

The photographers among us had a unique relationship with light through their work and spoke of the tension between light and dark. One offered that light is not a simple construct. It can be a particle or a wave and has many facets, infrared, ultraviolet and x-ray. Another artist reminded us that there is yet another guest at the table, shadow.

At each session we do an exercise and we were asked to turn our attention to a table which contained objects related to light: a light bulb, an electric flame, a mirror, a glow stick and matches. We each selected one and wrote what it connoted for us. We then gathered with others to discuss what we had written. What to choose? I immediately began one of those “what object is different from the others” exercises and then chose the outsider, the mirror. Unlike the others which emit light, it reflects light and cannot exist as a visual presence in darkness. We talked of how we see ourselves in reverse in a mirror and often focus on the superficial. In Jewish tradition mirrors are covered when someone dies and one of our group reported that there is a Hasidic belief that children should not look into a mirror until they can verbalize what they see. Others spoke of the impression of softness reflected on a hard surface and the different perspectives a mirror affords.

And so begins our journey into light. Can't you hear the synapses snapping?

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.