January 5, 2001
by ERIC ROTH,
IF GOD UTTERED WORDS TO CREATE THE UNIVERSE,
it's not surprising that two L.A. artists are using the Hebrew alphabet as inspiration for their own work.
"Letters of Foundation," now at The Jewish
Federation's Bell Gallery, is a multimedia show that traces the 2,500 year
evolution of all 22 Hebrew letters. The letters are considered, in the kabbalistic tradition, to be "the
protoplasm of creation," photographer Dennis Paul says.
The project by Paul and his wife, artist Lynn Small, is a series of 24 pieces, one for each Hebrew letter, plus a cover image and an endplate; the colorful collages incorporate photographs, scribbled letters, painted images and woven fibers. Paul says each "tablet" shows every known form of each letter from approximately 400 BCE forward.
The series is dedicated to the memory of Israeli textile artist Julia Keiner Forchheimer. "We think of the work as being created by the three of us," Paul said during an interview in the couple's artfilled Fairfax-area apartment. "Each tablet has Julia's fibers, my mixed-media drawings and Dennis'-photographs," Small adds. The goal is to weave ancient symbols into modern metaphors.
Also in the gallery is work from the artists' "Kabbalah Series," more Hebrew letters and quotes juxtaposed on layered images of novas and other heavenly bodies. The dramatic "Before One" (1997-98), for example, is a large Lightjet print that includes a reconfigured NASA photograph of the Orion Nebula galaxy taken from the Hubble space telescope. "A miracle of our time is that we can view a new universe literally being created," Paul says. "Understanding that image opens new doors of perception."
And possibly, glimpses of the divine.
The exhibit is on display at The Jewish Federation's Bell Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles.
The artists' Web site is
MAY 11, 2001
Location, Location: At Installations Wedding Art to Technology, Context Is Everything
By LESLIE COHEN
Questions as to the meaning of a work of art and the significance of art in human life are a staple of modern intellectual life. By contrast, questions about where a society displays its finest works of art and to whom are rarer. Yet the place where art is exhibited, and the public it attempts to reach, reflect significant and deep-seated values.
Throughout history, cultural values have carefully circumscribed the placement of art. For instance, the largest graves to be found are the Egyptian pyramids. Many of their art treasures were buried in sealed chambers, so that none but the dead would be able to see or "use" them — an arrangement motivated by beliefs about the afterlife. Religious beliefs similarly led to the creation of monumental art and architecture throughout Asia and Europe. Unlike the pyramids, these works of art — as the Taliban is intensely aware — were meant to provide spiritual inspiration for the living.
Because modern Western society values democracy and equal rights for all people, galleries and museums in recent times have made art increasingly accessible to the public. And today even more innovative niches have been created by such artists as Americans Dennis Paul and Lynn Small and Israeli David Morris to bring fine art into the daily lives of millions.
Mr. Paul and Ms. Small's "CoLabART" Web site (www.viewart.com/colabart) features an interactive poem, music, text and visual imagery. By embedding their messages of world peace, ecological harmony, the continuity of the generations and the oneness of human beings and nature into their artwork, a strong spiritual element pervades the exhibit.
Their poem "Tapestry of Hope," for example, proclaims in its final line that "Man is but a strand in the web of life." In keeping with this, viewers are encouraged to select phrases from the original poem and elaborate on them with statements of their own. The poem expresses the artists' concern with the future well-being of the Earth and encourages viewers to become involved in an interactive manner — one of the first art pieces on the Web to do so.
Similarly, the "Landscape" series features paintings and mixed-media images accompanied by poetry, inspirational texts and music. Along with images of waterfalls, deserts and other scenic spots, the artists provide information on the places portrayed in their work, with particular regard to the ecological dangers they are facing today. They write, "Through the details of a specific landscape — the macrocosm of nature — one can meditate on the wonder of creation itself."
The artists believe that our appreciation of natural beauty is related to our spiritual awareness and obligates us to preserve the Earth.
Perhaps the most directly spiritual messages are expressed in the "Kabbalah" series. Here, the artists interpret the ancient Hebrew alphabet as analogous to the building blocks of the universe. "According to Kabbalistic thought, prior to creation," they write, "God created the Letters of Foundation. It is in the combination of these letters from which everything within creation was formed." Accordingly, they have created an artistic interpretation for every Hebrew letter.
While their presentation has a potential audience of millions, and is free to anyone with Internet access, a different way of bringing together technology and art has been created by Israeli artist David Morris, whose sculpture gallery is located on the working floor of the electrolytic paint factory on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet.
Mr. Morris's exhibit consists of 18 pieces of ceramic sculpture that line the wall facing the machinery on the factory floor. The practical aspect of displaying art on the factory floor — from the factory CEO's point of view — is to keep the work space organized and clean. And, in fact, the room in which the statues stand is spotless. From the artist's perspective, this "everyman's gallery" provides an opportunity to make one's work more accessible to the general public. Unlike a standard art gallery, the factory working floor is a place people enter on a daily basis. Since the workroom is open day and night (except on weekends), kibbutz members and visitors can view the exhibit whenever they have leisure time.
The ceramic sculptures — combining human faces and limbs with the beaks and wings of animals — are placed on wooden stands about waist high. Each is about the size of a table lamp. Several statues are bionic rather than organic, with machine-like appendages in geometrical forms. With limbs jutting out at odd angles, many of these whimsical creatures seem to be dancing. Their facial and sexual features are minimally but clearly represented.
The artist's use of recognizable features to create fantasy beings provokes a lively commentary on the human condition. Made of wood-fired terra cotta, the statues exude warmth and have become a part of the factory workers' daily lives. (The exhibit is changed several times a year, thereby encouraging people to continue visiting on a regular basis.)
While the kibbutz factory installation and "CoLabART" could not be more dissimilar, they share several principles that reflect an evolution in society's relationship to art. Easily accessible and placed in convenient settings, they weave beauty into the mundane and make fine art available to great numbers of people at no cost. Equally important, they put technology in the service of human beings, dispelling the notion that the technology in our lives is destined to dehumanize us.
Ms. Cohen, a native New Yorker who has been an active member of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet for 20 years, publishes reviews, poems and interviews in journals from Israel to New Zealand.