It's been three weeks since I've returned to Denver from Israel. It's hard to imagine the places I saw- the dusty hillside villages aglow in honey toned washes of seemingly endless sunlight, the gritty artist studios in downtown Tel Aviv, buzzing with creative promise -any other way. My heart feels heavy in longing for those places how I saw, felt and tasted them. Today, the firing of rockets into Israel and Gaza has ceased, let's hope it stays that way.
My trip was characterized by generosity-- of time, energy and soul. I spent minutes and hours with individuals who served up fresh perspective to my consciousness. Garnering their power and directing it back to them is what I feel I can do, from here. It's my offering. For this entry I'll focus on Sigalit Landau, whose company was a highlight and nothing short of illuminating.
Internationally lauded, Sigalit Landau demanded my attention when I saw her video trilogy Dead See at MoMA NY in 2008. This mesmerizing performative piece seduces its viewer
with slowly unfolding imagery. Sigalit herself floats, locked in a spiral of 500 green watermelons; the viewer watches her nude body poised amongst the coil of fruit as it unfurls. Some of the watermelons have been cut open, exposing their brilliant red and tender flesh. (click photo to enlarge)
The day we met Sigalit in Be'er Sheva at the Negev Museum of Art, she toured us through her solo exhibition for a full three hours. At the end of our time together, I understood that this woman is a force of nature yet delicate and vulnerable, one with the watermelons.
Titled Caryatid after those ancient sculptures of women who carried roofs on their heads, Landau's exhibition in Be'er Sheva is dominated by auto-biographical themes of matriarchy, tikkun olam (healing the earth) and the private and public lives of women, specifically the women in her life. As Sigalit led us through the exhibition, she revealed painful memories. Yet she smiled as she spoke, especially when pointing towards her grandmother's living room (right), installed in the gallery just how she remembers it. Complete with her late grandmother's actual belongings- curtains, furniture, books and records- the installation is warm and inviting, I could have listened to Sigalit speak all day.
Next we view a 1950s Israeli kibbutz style kitchen that Sigalit has also single-handedly installed in a gallery.
Sigalit turns a knob on a chair that's connected by wire to the stove (below), signalling a taped recording to begin. She's recorded interviews- conversations with women in her life who have survived the Holocaust and other traumas. The interview is tinged with humor..
She turns another stove knob and a different interview begins to play. Again the voices sound lighthearted but the words spoken are weighty. We're captivated.The experience feels somewhat voyeuristic; in listening to these personal conversations we now know: without these women Sigalit wouldn't be the daughter, mother, friend, lover and artist she is today.
When we walk downstairs to view her works more political in nature, Sigalit tells us that based on her own traumatic experience in the army, she believes that women should have a choice about serving time. But I look around and see that she's most definitely some kind of warrior. In one corner we see a bicycle encrusted with salt. It's been immersed for a long period in the Dead Sea, she explains, and is now blanketed with crystals of salt; a process of petrifaction she calls ‘speed archeology'. The bicycle, along with other objects she's dipped into the Dead Sea in the past decade, illustrate the centrality of the Dead Sea in her art and thought. The lowest place on earth (456m below sea level), she reacts to the peculiarities of this site; "this damaged place, which holds within it the region's geopolitical traumas, and is the scene of an ongoing ecological disaster." Since the late 70's, the surface of the northern basin has fallen by more than 25 meters, leaving the northern and southern basins cut off from each other. Today, the water level in the northern basin is dropping by more than a meter per year. She continues, "And this is the place that gives life to the world…salt both preserves and dissolves – and it is important that I participate in the preservation and promotion of the Dead Sea, for myself and for future generations.”
In another corner we watch her newest video piece, A Tree Standing (2012). A lone olive tree is being violently shaken by a large machine, which forces the young olives off the tree before they are ripe and ready. Filmed in the olive grove of Kibbutz Revivim, the camera follows the process, which Sigalit describes as archaic. The video is hard to watch, and Sigalit tells us she's exposing this technique in hopes that farmers will be pressured to change their ways. In other olive producing countries, farmers gather the olives as they naturally release themselves from branches.
What is Sigalit working on now? The Salt Route, a salt bridge over the Dead Sea that will connect the shores of Israel and Jordan, "somewhere where it will be seen and make a difference." The ultimate dream is for a border crossing some 5-10 km, paved and adorned with salt crystals produced naturally by the sea, creating a genuine bridge and connection between Israel and Jordan—two countries that for the past several years have been walking the fine line between cold and warm relations—while helping in saving the unique Sea and encouraging civic activism.
Caryatid-like, Sigalit Landau might feel she's holding the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Bicycles after they've been lifted out of the Dead Sea (click to enlarge)
Rendering of The Salt Route (click to enlarge)
Sigalit Landau at the Be'er Sheva Museum of Art (click to enlarge)