Unresolved (Issues): New Glass from IsraelMarch 21st – May 5th, 2018
Curated by Jennifer-Navva Milliken
Featuring the work of: Miri Admoni, Alexandra Ben-Abba, Ghiora Aharoni, Roi Carmeli, Nirit Dekel, Dafna Kaffeman, Li Chen and Gregori Zilber, and Shahaf Predilailo and Gregori Zilber.
March 21- May 5, 2018
Opening reception: March 21, 6 - 8 pm
Join curator Jennifer Navva-Milliken for a guided tour of the exhibition on April 28th at 3pm.
“Unresolved” describes a situation that lacks certainty or finality, a condition requiring further examination or processing. Unresolved issues, residing deep in the psyche, haunt and obscure cognition, impacting judgment and undermining attempts to cultivate relationships. For artists and makers, however, an unresolved issue—a skill that needs mastering or an idea that needs refining—can be the driving force in the process of creation, catalyzing critical decisions that test an artist’s technical and conceptual acuity.
The exhibition Unresolved (Issues) considers an artist’s evolving relationship with a specific material—glass—in parallel to its history in a region whose present-day identity remains unresolved. Researching ancient and contemporary practice in the material of glass in and around Israel is a complex endeavor. Due to the wealth of sand and soda found along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean coastline, some of the earliest sites of glass-centered production were located here, spawning multiple, diverging timelines and varying influences. From the early experiments documented by historians Pliny, Josephus, and Tacitus dating back more than 2,000 years, to hundreds of years of dynastic practice by a Palestinian family in Hebron that continues to this day, the glass industry in this small but focal part of the Middle East has waxed and waned along with the civilizations that rose and fell upon its sands. How does this complicated history impact a new, globally oriented generation of glass artists whose work is physically built upon the archaeological, political, and cultural strata that lies beneath it?
Following the development of an international community of glass artists, an examination of “place” now seems extraneous and provincial. And yet, at a time when glass as an art medium is gaining traction among artists in Israel due in part to the accessibility of a bolstered academic degree program, digital documentation, social media, and international exchange, the ancient history of glass in the region provides a fertile backdrop for a study of the contemporary practices taking shape.
Ruth Dayan, the indefatigable advocate for Israeli craft, claimed, “…to learn about anything current in Israel is also to refer to the past.” A close look at each of the works in this exhibition, conceived over forty years following Dayan’s statement, reveals an admixture comprising layers of symbolism absorbed from ancient tradition enmeshed with the tumult of contemporary experience. The transparency of the material in which these artists work belies the depth and complexity of the ideas invested in it, as well as the complicated reality of existence in this country. But the properties of glass that compel these artists to dedicate their work to interrogating it are as multifarious as the myriad of opinions and voices that crowd the public space.
Shever, a non-narrative video work by Li Chen and Gregori Zilber, draws parallels between the physical and metaphorical qualities of glass, and the treacherous world of interpersonal relationships. In four vignettes, we view the artists romp, rage, and regroup in a Surreal landscape that is revealed, upon closer inspection, to be acres of broken glass. Each fresh from a difficult breakup, the artists are seen commiserating in this strangely beautiful setting, itself a portrait not only of the artists as they struggle against their self-destructive nature, but of the material in which they choose to work. In another evocation of landscape, Miri Admoni’s Desert Bloom is an expression of the entanglement that shades much of Israel’s history. While reflecting the beauty of the Negev Desert, Desert Bloom also considers first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s legendary aspiration to “make the desert bloom.” While the collaborative nature of her work is reminiscent of twentieth-century efforts in Israel to deploy craft skills to provide sustainable sources of income for impoverished refugees, Admoni focuses on the question of resolution across many perspectives—from a dream to cultivate the desert, to the question of preserving the heritage of the native populations who dwell in it.
In Genesis (Bereshit): The Seven Days, Ghiora Aharoni layers two ancient texts detailing the creation myth—the Book of Genesis and the Babylonian Enûma Eliš—upon vintage glass laboratory vessels to present a composite origin story that is both specific and universal, spiritual and rational. In doing so, Aharoni proposes that the story of creation is, in his words, “a symbiotic, generative process—whether ascribed to the divine or to humanity—that is on-going, without end.” On the other hand, offering a sense of finality to questions of process, Roi Carmeli’s One Game Only depicts—in explicit visual detail—the progression of an exquisitely executed glass-blown object toward its own certain destruction. Set incongruously in a forest, a makeshift bowling lane is the site for this cataclysmic event, during which time is stretched in order to prolong an inevitable confrontation with fragility.
In the early years of Israeli statehood, immigrants and refugees arrived from Diaspora countries by the thousands, bringing with them a panoply of languages and cultures. Connecting the population with the land and its native flora and fauna was seen as one way to foster a sense of rootedness, and the names and symbols of plant life continue to resonate among subsequent generations. Dafna Kaffeman’s Cotton Plants print series and her flame-worked representations of plant specimens, when viewed together, answer to both sides of the establishment of place through efforts to know—and thus to claim—the land. The portrayal of the cotton plant, known for its white softness, is rendered here in deep black ink, suggesting burning and acts of destruction, while the verisimilitude of the thorn-laden Silybum Marianum seems to say that although naming and cataloguing have brought the reality of Israel into sharp focus, its tenuous hold on claims of morality prevents it from achieving any tangible sense of resolution or clarity.
Also drawing from the botanical world, the objects in Nirit Dekel’s Wreaths series resemble funerary wreaths that, in their reduced scale, are situated somewhere between ceremony and the body. Comprising layers of flame-worked leaves in deep black or gleaming silver, and permeated with overgrown black threads, they also evoke an anxious sensuality that hovers uncertainly between the sacred and the profane.
Ghiora Aharoni’s Parting Waters links the ancient account of the Israelites and their procession toward freedom with the contemporary reality of displacement, a status faced by some 65 million people in the world at this time. Seventy-two glass beakers, originally used to test for the dilution of milk, are each inscribed with a different name for God according to the Kabbalah and contain the life-giving substance of water; arranged in rows, they guide the figures forward on their path to liberation.
Set in a scene familiar to many in the Middle East—a construction site—Shachaf Predilailo and Gregori Zilber’s Coffee Break speaks to the quotidian social space, the interim between labor and leisure, and the values embodied in the act of building and constructing. Under the weight of their own action, even guided by practice and skill, these principles can fracture and combust.
Nirit Dekel’s untitled collaboration with illustration artist Lena Revenko portrays monkeys captured in acts that mimic the human condition. A common pictorial device in ancient art across many cultures, the monkey cavorts and engages in acts of cowering, napping, or hoarding that are further dramatized by the tactile elements of glass in the form of leaves, rocks, and raindrops. The merger of these two- and three-dimensional mediums allows each artist to venture into new territory: for Dekel, her partner’s illustrations provide a narrative context for her decorative glass objects; for Revenko, the integration of these shining, luminous forms creates an altar-like setting for her images.
Alexandra Ben-Abba’s Reaching Across the Table: Visit to Hebron is part of an ongoing series that integrates installation, happening, and experimentation in art-making and art-gathering. In it, a table is set for a feast. The table settings, however, have been modified by the artist’s hand, altering the functionality of dishes, glasses, and utensils, while new forms of dishes—shaped out of found objects—also grace the table. A dinner takes place, and—as guests adapt to the experience of dining on altered table settings—an unscripted conversation emerges. In Visit to Hebron, dishes handmade in the Palestinian city of Hebron by the Natsheh family of glassblowers are brought to the table and placed with objects that hark to the volatile and unsustainable state of existence there. The artist aims to create opportunities for communion and kinship by devising a shared experience framed by the intimacy of handmade objects, disrupted habits of use, and the communal act of dining. Though the dinner table is an isolated microcosm bearing no consequence on the realities faced by Israelis and Palestinians, it offers space for open dialogue and, in place of resolution, hope.
Resolution, and the lack of it, is a part of the artistic process; parallel to that are the existential questions surrounding the past, present, and future of Israel. Art offers the opportunity for embracing ambiguity and a release from the fallacy of certainty. Amid discussions of concept, strategy, execution, destruction, and solution, Unresolved (Issues) creates room for contemplation of these matters in the gallery, reflected in the glass that binds them together in this exhibition.
 Ruth Dayan with Wilburt Feinberg, Crafts of Israel (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974), Introduction.
 The Kabbalah is a tradition of Jewish mysticism centered on inquiries into the essence of God.
About the curator:
Jennifer-Navva Milliken is a curator and writer whose work is inspired by the objects with which we live and the hands, tools, and ideas that shape them. Both an embedded staff member in international art museums and an independent curator, with a solid academic background in fine arts and design, she brings a fresh yet comprehensive approach to a broad diversity of arts initiatives. Her exhibitions have been presented in museums, art fairs, galleries, and unconventional spaces, and her writings have appeared in exhibition catalogues, anthologies, and publications that investigate and critique the intersecting fields of art, craft, and design. With a uniquely global perspective, honed through a life split between two continents, she is driven by the extraordinary power of the arts to challenge preconceptions and bridge divides.
In her work as an independent curator and writer, Milliken strives to connect people, media, and ideas in new and surprising ways, as demonstrated in her latest exhibitions Humaira Abid: Searching for Home and Electric Coffin: Future Machine. Her approach was honed during her work at renowned arts institutions, among them The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. Most recently, she served as Curator of Craft at Seattle’s noted Bellevue Arts Museum, where she broadened the museum’s exhibitions program to include in-depth explorations of contemporary practices among designers and makers in projects such as The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest; Atoms + Bytes: Redefining Craft in the Digital Age; and BAM Biennial 2016: Metalmorphosis. Exhibition catalogues include The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest; Foreign Body: Giving Jewelry a Second Look, and a forthcoming book examining recent work by Pakistani-American artist Humaira Abid. Other publications include essays for Shows and Tales—On Jewelry Exhibition Making (Art Jewelry Forum), ARCADE magazine, and Domus (Israel), as well as essays for monographs on the work of a number of artists. Milliken, who studied at Western Washington University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, lives in New York and Tel Aviv.
Unresolved (Issues) is supported in part by AIDA: Association of Israel's Decorative Arts, the Friends of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and the Consulate General of Israel in New York.