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Life and Art in Israel Today

From the Melting Pot Into The Fire: Contemporary Ceramics in Israel

By: Catherine Kustanczy

Published: February 11th, 2010 in Culture » Art » Reviews

Life and Art in Israel Today

Walking into the bright, broad space of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts in Toronto, one is greeted by a collection of teapots running the length of one wall. The unusually-shaped vessels are part of a current exhibit titled “From the Melting Pot Into The Fire: Contemporary Ceramics In Israel,” a comprehensive survey of ceramic arts on now through May 9th. The 37 works that comprise the exhibit run the gamut from literal depictions of cultural identity, to more conceptual pieces exploring history, identity, and home in contemporary Israel.

Curator Charles Mason says the exhibit is a demonstration of “the diversity of experience among the presenting artists,” adding that the museum was home to the “union of ideas and culture” present in Israeli ceramic arts when it presented “Object Factory” in 2008.

The Gardiner’s Executive Director, Alexandra Montgomery, notes that “each artist and each piece tells a different story,” adding that she hopes the pieces in the exhibit will “inspire discussion among our visitors, who share as many differing perspectives on the notions of identity and home as the participating artists.”

“From The Melting Pot Into The Fire” does not endorse any single political, social, or artistic point of view, but it does provide a variety of expressions extant within the Israeli ceramic art community one, says participating artist Yael Novak, that receives very little support in Israel itself. On a recent tour of the exhibit, the artist noted that there is plenty of education in the ceramic arts field, but very little in the way of support for artistic practise. Knowing this makes viewing the pieces all the more powerful their messages, of identity, history, and the modern melding of the two, become all the more pungent with the understanding that these artists have struggled to have their voices heard because of their chosen medium of expression.

Marcelle Klein and Tami Bar-Lev’s unusual “Lie of the Land” consists of two wheel-thrown stoneware bowls: a larger one sits positioned beneath a smaller one that has a tiny hole through which grains of red sand flow. The effect of an hourglass, with time ticking away, is marked, as are the shifting boundaries of sand making up the lower topography of the piece. Mirvat Issa’s “Our Daily Bread” is a collection of dried-out clay discs. The sole Arab-Israeli artist in the exhibit, her work is deceptively simple with its use of shape and colour (or lack thereof). Contrasting with this is Dori Zanger Schechtel’s lively, colourful “Hand-warmers,” a collection of mold-pressed earthenware balls set upon a mandala-like wooden circle. The warmers themselves are colourfully painted with symbols of old and new aspects of Israeli life: farm animals, Coca-Cola bottles, the flag of Israeli, cartoon-like men in suits. Equally, the board they sit on is painted with whimsical colours, full of images of past, present, and possible future.

Yael Novak’s work is also featured as part of the exhibit. “In Between the Pots” is a massive work that runs the length of one wall and explores Israel’s history through the clever use of negative space. The iconic images of Israel (kibbutz houses, balconies, Cyprus trees) are represented through carefully placed pieces of slip-cast earthenware, and the viewer is forced to consider the piece from a variety of angles and distances –an effect perhaps intentional on Novak’s part. Israel ceramics are also represented via video, but it isn’t instructional Roy Maayan and Anat Katz imitate the process of creating in clay, with the dancer in the piece becoming the finished ceramic work itself. The exhibit also features sly humour mixed with potent symbolism, as Dina Shahar’s work demonstrates. The artist has used polymer-coated ceramic tiles to portray Tel Aviv apartment buildings in a kaleidoscope of colour and shape. Anna Kirzner’s “Free Space” integrates ceramics and video literally, with a screen encased within a porcelain suitcase. Ada Yoels’ “Si(x) O(y)” is a thoughtful, interactive piece that forces the viewer to become part of a living, immediate history by walking beneath a glass “bridge” that has mold-cast stoneware pieces resembling archaeological finds placed on top of it. Walking beneath the makeshift bridge, one is bathed in the shadows of the shapes, becoming, in effect, part of the buried layers of a past yet to be excavated.

“From The Melting Pot Into The Fire” is a comprehensive and deeply affecting survey of the contemporary Israeli ceramic art scene. Though it consists of many modern works, they’re nonetheless entirely approachable and clear in their explorations of history, belonging, and contemporary Jewish identity.

The exhibition will run till May 9, 2010. For more information, please visit www.gardinermuseum.on.ca/index.aspx

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