Past Exhibitions

Earth Echoes, Ceramic sculptures

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi and Anat Turobowicz

Earth Echoes, Ceramic sculptures
Curators: Shir Meller-Yamaguchi and Anat Turobowicz

Earth Echoes, Ceramic sculptures

“Tzu-Chi once said:” The great earth inhales and exhales. This is what we call ‘Spirit'”. When she is quiet, nothing happens. When she awakens, thousands of pores in the ground sigh and sob. Do you not hear the sound of her breeze, long and lasting? … ”
Chuang-Tze ¹
From the dawn of time and to this day, man has used clay, which comes from the earth. The hands of artists from different cultures kneaded and molded it to make useful /utensils, ritual artifacts, idols and statues. The fire burned them into earthenware and they eventually returned to the earth, becoming remnants of their culture. The beauty and the qualities inherent in clay are revealed to the artists who choose to work with it today as much as in the past. But the earth from which the clay is extracted today, has undergone many changes that have profoundly altered it. For millions of years forces of nature shaped the landscape. However, in current times human beings have attempted to straighten the earth rapidly so as to adapt it to their needs; the earth’s resources are consumed in unprecedented speed and force, bringing about radical climate changes and destroying the ecological equilibrium. In this exhibition we wish to give a voice to the earth and its existential state today, and raise awareness to the broader meanings of the relationship between the creator-clay–earth.

  • Avner Zinger

Changes that have occurred to the forms of life in the modern era have brought about a change in the way we use terms relating to the world in which we live. The term “nature”, which in the classic sense of the word expresses everything that is external to man, was abandoned in favor of the term “environment”, which actually refers to natural and manmade phenomena alike. The areas that have not been touched by the human hand are gradually diminishing. Even if man has not physically reached every place, the change has been felt all over the Earth. However, in recent decades, the awareness of the damage our actions are creating has grown, and art today takes part in the protest over environmental issues, functioning as a seismograph that picks up on current distress signals and warns of approaching dangers.

The connection between art and the landscape is an ancient one, but the immediate connection between the artist and the environment started in the 1960s, when a group of American artists left the galleries and began to sculpt the landscape itself. This movement, called Earth Art, is unique in the sense that the earth is the medium and the message. In Israel, artists such as Micha Ullman and Avital Geva, adopted another version since the land in Israel has a more loaded meaning related to borders. Ullman dug pits in the ground and exchanged the soil between the Arab village Meiser and Kibbutz Metzer, while in his Kibbutz Geva he blurred the paths that cut through the grass. Later he exhibited at the Venice Biennale a greenhouse that illustrates ecological balance in action. SimilarlThe artist Yigal Tumarkin had studied the relationship between man and earth in his works as well as in ancient civilizations He writes about it in his book “Earth”:
“Mud, the substance from which humanity rose, […] Mud: Earth, which according to tradition, man springs from, and to it he returns. Mud, wonderful architecture without the architects …”

In Gideon Ofrat’s paper: “The Art of Clay” that reviews the first thirty years of ceramic art in Israel, he emphasizes that the challenge the first ceramic artists who immigrated to Israel faced was to emerge from the land. They searched for local clay and matching methods of expression.
The need to take root in the new land and create appropriate forms of expression lead Hedwig Grossman, one of the pioneers of ceramic art in Israel, to renounce decorations and glazing in order to emphasize the earthy colors of the clay. Grossman describes the relationship between the artist and the land as such:
“Man is created from the earth, man and earth – a preliminary couple. The earth is the clay. The creative man is the potter. Pottery is the mother of sculpture. The pot is the simplification of the figure of man, plant or animal.”
Gdola Ogen, one of Hedwig Grossman’s students who was the head of the Department of Ceramic Design at Bezalel during the first 18 years of its existence, continued in her work the connection to the bare land. She created clay tools for sculpting as well as large and architectural hanging pieces. Hannah Zunz, who came to Israel from Germany with extensive knowledge about ceramic materials, greatly contributed to the field with her research on types of local soil in different areas and which colors can be produced from them.
The proximity to the earth was expressed not only in the organic forms and the natural colors of the clay, but also in subject choices. The first generations of clay/ceramic artists sought for a local identity that draws its inspiration from archeology, ancient Near Eastern cultures and from the Israeli landscape. Clay artists such as Moshe Shek and Shelly Harari created hybrids of earthenware and archaic animals and plants.
Yitzhak Danziger, the father of environmental art in Israel, saw the work of art as an expression of the relationship between man, animal, plant and the landscape. Ceramic sculpture merges and contains within it the connection between all life on earth, as Ofrat writes:
“Land, plant, woman, bull, ancient bird, does not ceramic art eliminate the boundaries between these categories of nature? Is not ceramic art an act of a myth, uniting categories of space and time? … animal, vegetable, mineral – all unite, as figures of god, the angel, man, animal, etc. united in the work of clay.”

The topics that arise from dealing with the earth/land range from fertility to death; from the imaginary plants made by Lydia Zavadski, sculptures of the Negev landscape by Nora and Naomi through to Ziona Shimshi’s quarries.

The earth’s sensuality that characterized the works of artists who created prior to the establishment of the state of Israel and during the first decades of the country’s existence, gave way to depictions of destruction and dryness that describe the earth’s struggle to survive. For example, Gal Weinstein’s floor installation Huleh Valley, exhibited at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion in 2005, in which he illustrated fissured clay soil made of chipboard. The detachment from the actual soil becomes particularly prominent in the artificial material selected to represent it.

For this exhibition we asked ceramics artists to relate directly to the earth by paying close attention to the material they work with. The earth’s ‘voices’ are varied and direct one’s attention to many issues on the environmental agenda. Some artists took their work toward the forces and processes that operate both on the earth and on man; some referred to the ecological characteristics of certain phenomena of our time, such as acid rain, assimilation of waste in the land, the drying of the Dead Sea and the extinction of the coral reefs. While others turned their gaze to the construction that eats away at the landscape and highways that bite chunks out of open spaces and animal’s natural habitats. Another issue that was expressed in the works of several artists, is the relationship between the surface and that which it covers, the earth’s life cycles, birth and death, fertility and aridity. Other works look at our planet from a distance, through futuristic eyes.
Much of the ceramic work today purposely distances itself from works that emphasize material and manual work, and rather stresses the conceptual content. Such are the works in this exhibition, including mediums that vary from video art and installation, which until recently where completely alien to the field of ceramics.