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.