Vessels

2017 Jerusalem Biennale, Israel.

Solo exhibition. Curator: Rami Ozeri

A series of mixed-media installations exploring the tension between the dual physical-spiritual nature of religious objects.

 

The project was born of a frustration from the universal human tendency to focus on objects and ceremonies, rather on the underlying messages and ethics; and of the relentless tension inherent in objects which are simultaneously spiritual and physical.

The installations explore the concept through symbolic use of Jewish religious objects. These objects are fetishized, exaggerated, and their physical traits – usually relegated to a minor and utilitarian role – are brought to bear on the physical needs of living, real-world subjects. This renders them a means of control, of appropriation, creating tension-filled installations where one gaze negates another; where meager resources are doled out in frustratingly small quantities; where needs and their fulfillment are inherently out of synch, perpetually doomed to be on opposite sides of the metaphysical divide.

Shna'im Ohazin

The piece comprises a black tefillin box placed on a pedestal in the center of the space. Inside the box is an abstract wooden sculpture, and on two sides of the box are peep holes beckoning viewers to look inside. Each peep hole is covered by a black, sliding wooden flap, connected to a leather strap. Pulling on one strap to uncover one peephole brings down the flap on the opposite side, blocking the other peep hole.

 

The piece is based on the Mishna of the same name, which concerns two people laying claim to the same object, and determining ownership when title cannot be asserted. The piece is an interactive installation where the physical work, and the sculpture within, are simply placeholders meant to create conflict. The installation uses the viewers as an integral part of the work to create physical tension where two people, the religious object between them, hold opposite ends of the same leather strap, but only one at a time can view the tree hidden inside the box.

Tefillin

The piece comprises an anthropomorphic bonsai tree (alive), fully-wired with black aluminum wire, and restrained by black leather tefillin straps.

The piece focuses on the visual similarity between bonsai wires, used to direct and shape the branches, and the leather bands of the Jewish tefillin, wrapped around one’s body. The piece explores various aspects of similarity between these worlds, and the boundaries of discipline and beauty.

Netila

A pendulum rod is fitted with a small olive tree (live) on the bottom, and with a netila cup on the top. A hidden pump drives water from a reservoir to the cup through hidden pipes. As the pendulum reaches its maximum swing, water escapes from the netila cup. Because the tree and cup are on opposite ends of the same rod, the water always misses the tree and is collected in a metal bowl below, for re-use.

 

The title of the piece plays on a dual meaning – netila meaning both the ceremonial washing and cleansing, but also ‘to deprive’ or ‘to take away/withhold’. The piece creates a strong tension between the tree, which yearns for water, and the netila cup, which dispenses it. These two interconnected elements – one spiritual, and one earthly - are structurally, inherently out of sync.

Yad

The piece comprises a white acrylic box, with a small olive tree (live) in the middle. Dozens of cast-marble rods, with yad pointers at the tip, pierce the box to point, poke and prod the tree.

 

The yad, or Torah pointer, is generally used to direct a person’s gaze or attention. To keep it focused, in line, and in its proper place. The piece explores the unsettling, unnatural nature of this static gaze, by applying it to a living tree – an object perpetually in motion.

Untitled (site-specific installation)

A set of four, black, 12-meter tefillin straps .were run through the length of the room, connected to a motor on one end.

The motor winds and unwinds the straps in extremely slow cycles, so that the whole piece, while continuously in motion, always appears static to the viewer.

© 2019 by Ofer Grunwald

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