Monday, 30 October 2017

From Within

I was recently lucky enough to see an extraordinary exhibition at the Jaffa Port, "From Within", by the artist Nirit Levav Packer. I was already familiar with Nirit's work through her Dog series, which I have seen in several high-end gift shops in the Tel Aviv area, but this was exhibition something extra special. Her life-size statues of pregnant women, made mainly of metals (motorcycle and car parts), as well as coat hangers, branches and more were at the centre of the exhibit. The Dog series "Unchained", and dresses made of various materials, were an extra treat, and showed me just how imaginative and talented Nirit Levav Packer really is.
Nirit Levav Packer was born in 1963. She graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York with a degree in fashion design, then proceeded to develop a career in fashion, specialising in wedding dresses.
Nirit acquired most of her early training as an artist at her father's theatre sets workshop. The workshop was often visited by renowned sculptors and painters and Nirit would spend her vacations helping her father. He taught her welding, metal cutting and most importantly of all, not to fear experimenting with various ideas and substances. This training was complemented by her mother, a crafts teacher and a hobbyist seamstress. 
After a number of years, Nirit realised that she was no longer fulfilled by being solely a fashion designer. Though there was a creative element to making wedding dresses, she was limited to a certain type of cloth and colour. Parallel to her other occupations, she started to explore other creative avenues and broaden her education by studying jewellery, pottery, ceramic sculpture and iron sculpting. After a random visit to a bike shop, where she asked for the shop's accumulated junk and received a box full of bicycle chains, she decided to focus on a single raw material - recycled bicycle chains, and on a single theme - dogs. The Dog series began, and the 20 or so figures in the "From Within" series followed.
The sculptures, composed of junk collected by the artist, illustrate her ability to humanise and instill delicacy and softness into hard, cold metal. In them she merges her full femininity (mother of 4, former designer of delicate, white wedding dresses) with the masculine power within her - metal work, welding and cutting, lifting heavy weights, rummaging through garbage containers and more.
"Curly", above, features a kneeling pregnant woman, with arms raised and placed on her head. This piece is made of motorcycle connecting rods but they give the impression of being skin-like. Other alluring figures in the main section of the exhibition include "Dotty", made of motorcycle ball bearings; "Jumpy", naturally out of car engine springs; and "Prayer" for which Nirit used motorcycle roller bearing cages. 
Of course the former clothes designer could not entirely neglect her former breadwinning line. In addition to the wonderful "From Within" series was a display of dresses you simply wanted to slip over your head, despite the fact that they were made from metals, cogs and bicycle chains. Eight dresses were on show, including one particularly attractive item made of light bulbs, above, and another put together from house keys.
The "Unchained" section of the exhibition, which is devoted to a motley collection of canine shapes, was delightful! There was a comical sculpture of an English bulldog made of watches and an oversized Afghan Hound made of bicycle chains. A miniature poodle waits eagerly for her treat. From Rottweilers to Dachshunds to cute little Yorkshire Terriers, the artist has managed to turn metal fragments into a wide variety of different breeds, and has captured the dogs' gentleness and sensitivity, despite the use of scrap metal. I was particularly fond of the Boxer, above, with his nodding head.
"From Within" was a charming exhibition, full of original works and brilliant ideas, and situated in the most amazing space at the Jaffa Port. I enjoyed it so much that I went back for a second look another day!
Sunday Snap

Thursday, 26 October 2017

21 Today

Twins Gabi and Adi recently celebrated their 21st birthday. I have mentioned before that my cards have become an essential part of their family's birthday celebrations and that these two young men spend the run-up to their big day guessing what the theme will be that year!
Well, this year Mum asked me to create a card for Gabi, right and below, as a reminder of the ceremony he went to earlier in the year at the President's Residence, Beit HaNassi, the official residence of the President of Israel. Back in May he was chosen to receive the Award for Excellence from the President of the State of Israel, President Ruvi Rivlin. Mum is justifiably proud of her son's achievements and asked me to once again show Gabi meeting the President, on his birthday card. She sent me a photo of them shaking hands. Gabi is a wearing his olive green Israeli army uniform and the brown beret of the Golani Brigade. The Emblem of the State of Israel, which shows a menorah surrounded by an olive branch on each side, and the writing "ישראל" (Hebrew for Israel) below it, is in the background.
Adi just graduated with top marks in his maths and computers degree. Mum asked me to show him wearing a black mortar board with a tassel. I gave him a sign in which he proudly declares that he got top marks in his studies. I also added some mathematical symbols and a laptop computer in the background. A big number 21 marks their age on both cards.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Naomi and Nir

Naomi ordered a 6th year wedding anniversary card for her husband back in September. She sent me a photo of their wedding day and asked me to recreate it for the card.
The blue-eyed bride is blonde, and her husband is dark. He wore a cream suit with a gold waistcoat on their wedding day, and the bride wore ivory. She sent me a short inscription for the front, and asked me to add a 6 somewhere on the card.
It seems that Naomi was thrilled with the card. "It's amazing how much it looks like our photo" she wrote to me. I was delighted when she shared my work on Facebook too. We both belong to an Israeli women entrepreneurs' networking group and Naomi shared her excitement over the card there.
"Check out this amazing card that Lisa Isaacs made for my husband for our anniversary. Not only did she only have a thumbnail photo to deal with, but at 9am yesterday morning after telling her our anniversary is on the 18th, I messaged her that our Jewish date [the Jewish calendar has its own unique months] was last night and any chance it was ready. It wasn't, but she made sure I could pick it up yesterday. For any special cards, I highly recommend talking to Lisa."

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Lior and Ori

Lior was turning 17. His Dad told me that he loves his electric bike and horses, and asked me to include his iPhone, a bowl of noodles and some sushi on his birthday card as well. I modelled the horse on this one, a longtime favourite project of mine. The Hebrew greeting on the card says "Happy Birthday Lior" and it opens in the Hebrew direction, from the right, because the Hebrew language is read from right to left instead of left to right like English.
20-year-old Ori, below, is into the CrossFit fitness programme, so Mum asked me to show him lifting weights on his birthday card. He has also just got a new military rank in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) so, despite the fact that I have shown him in black sportswear and not in his olive green army uniform, I made sure to add those special stripes in the background. Mum was also keen for me to include Ori's army symbol on the card. It is similar to the Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power and good health, though I have absolutely no idea what it has to do with Ori or the Israel Defence Forces!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Ai Weiwei

If I was to be honest, the primary reason for my recent visit to the Israel Museum was to see the Dan Reisinger exhibition, though the exhibition "Maybe, Maybe Not" by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, which was the big crowd-puller this summer, made my visit even more interesting.
On display for the first time in Israel, Ai's artworks included sculpture, photography, video, and his large-scale installation, "Sunflower Seeds", above. This covered the entire floor of one of the upper galleries of the museum with 23 tons of sunflower seeds, each one sculpted from porcelain and painted by hand in the city of Jingdezhen, in northeastern Jiangxi province. The town once made porcelain for the imperial court and has been saved from bankruptcy by making sunflower seeds!
Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai Weiwei is an artist and an activist, and has also been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government. His father, Ai Qing, a poet and prominent intellectual, was exiled to a labour camp when Ai was one year old, and the family was only allowed back to Beijing in 1976. He began his career on the burgeoning contemporary art scene of Beijing, but took the first opportunity to leave China for the United States in 1981. He returned in 1993 to care for his ailing father and became involved with the early Chinese avant-garde, organizing exhibitions and publishing underground books. In 2006 he started blogging, becoming a popular and unfiltered voice on political, aesthetic and societal concerns. He was detained in 2011 for 81 days without trial and had his passport confiscated for four years. He is now based in Berlin but is a hugely influential figure in China and is one of the leading Chinese artists.
Ai's works are typically massive in scale, often requiring the assistance of dozens and sometimes even hundreds of highly skilled craftsmen and craftswomen. They are politically edgy and address subjects such as labour and working conditions, the eradication of tradition in the name of development, censorship, migration and displacement, and Chinese history - recent and distant.
His "Trees" (2010), above, comprised of dead roots, trunks and branches the artist gathered in the mountains of southern China, reference the ancient tradition of collecting dry wood in appreciation of its form. The work combines different species to create a semblance of a tree, and the pretence is only apparent upon closer inspection. This exhibition, which was spread out over a number of galleries, also included examples of Ai’s signature wallpaper, the design below depicting the plight of refugees while mixing in classical images, giving it the look of a frieze from ancient Greece. 
His "Soft Ground" installation, above, has particular resonance for Israel. The 250-square-metre hand-woven carpet carefully replicates the floor of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, where the Nazis once displayed art they deemed worthy. The carpet, which was created in a weaving mill in Hebei province, took a day to bring into the museum and takes up nearly the entire floor of one gallery, with visitors allowed to walk on it barefoot.
"Dropping a Han dynasty urn" (2016) comprises three mosaic images made of Lego bricks that document an art performance carried out by Ai Weiwei in 1995. As material for his art, Ai Weiwei draws upon the society and politics of contemporary China as well as cultural artefacts such as ancient Neolithic vases and traditional Chinese furniture, whose function and perceived value he challenges and subverts.
In the wonderful sculpture "Kippe" (2006), below, he stacks pieces of dismantled Qing dynasty temple wood into a neat rectangular pile like firewood, suggesting a throw-away response to a long and valuable history.
From afar, this decorative wallpaper, above, seems to belong in a palace rather than a museum. Only from close up we can see that the gilt ornaments are made up of surveillance cameras, chains, handcuffs and more. Ever since the Chinese government installed a battery of surveillance cameras around Ai Weiwei's home, these items have become a recurring motif in his work. The wallpaper, which covers and thus conceals the wall, is a cynical allusion to the way tyrannical powers cover up their repressive acts and spy on their citizens.
His "Bicycle Basket with Flowers" (2014), below, refers to his time under house arrest. Ai Weiwei was prohibited from talking to the press, so he protested his incarceration silently by setting out a bicycle in front of his compound and placing fresh flowers in its basket every day. For the sculpture, the basket has been replicated in porcelain and filled with porcelain blossoms. These were made in Jingdezhen, a centuries-old town in China famous for its porcelain manufacturing and where Ai also had his "Sunflower Seeds" made.
For Ai, sunflower seeds - a common street snack shared by friends - carry personal associations with Mao Zedong’s brutal Cultural Revolution (1966–76). While individuals were stripped of personal freedom, propaganda images depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him. Yet Ai remembers the sharing of sunflower seeds as a gesture of human compassion, providing a space for pleasure, friendship and kindness during a time of extreme poverty, repression and uncertainty. "Sunflower Seeds" expresses Ai Weiwei’s responsibility as an artist, "Seeds grow...The crowd will have its way, eventually."
The exhibition "Maybe, Maybe Not", also premiered Ai Weiwei's new "Iron Tree" (2016), above, which is situated among the olive trees that line the Israel Museum’s promenade. The trees, which are over 8 metres tall and weigh 14 tonnes, are cast from nearly 100 fragments of trunks, branches and roots gathered in southern china and sold in the markets of Jingdezhen. Held together by nuts and bolts, the sculptures look at first glance like natural trees but a closer look reveals the illusion. By leaving them outdoors, the iron trees rust and become covered in a patina that endows them with the texture of natural trees. This allows them to blend with the Jerusalem vegetation - mainly olive trees and rosemary bushes - that surround them. Consequently, the trees-turned-sculptures complete the cyclical journey from the natural to the artificial and back to nature again.

* This post has been shared on Pictorial Tuesday, Our World TuesdayWordless Wednesday (on Tuesday), Wednesday around the WorldSeasons{wow me} wednesdayWow Us WednesdaysWednesday Blog HopThe Happy Now and City Tripping.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Golden Wedding

My customer was travelling to the UK to surprise her parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. She asked me to make two cards which she could take with her: one from her and her husband, and one from my customer's children, their grandchildren. The first card was based on the beautiful black and white photo she sent me of her parents on their wedding day. I added a gold number 50 to mark the date.
Next, she wanted a card showing her parents today. She told me that they enjoy doing crosswords and that they drink a lot of tea! I showed the couple with a hot mug of tea in their hands, which together display the number 50. A crossword next to them is filled with the words Happy Anniversary.
Apparently they loved the cards.