Michal Gamzu, 60, has chosen some unusual ways to make her mark in the worlds of art and design. Stated simply, she makes interesting and occasionally beautiful things out of the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. At one time or another, Gamzu has created a six-foot-tall statue made of prepaid telephone cards, zip ties and plastic key markers; a huge braided halla made of black automobile tires, body jewelry made from pieces of musical instruments; a kimono made from coffee sacks; more body jewelry, made from luffa sponge gourds; cypress tree sculptures made out of thousands of small boats fashioned from pink and yellow pages of newsprint; and yet more body jewelry, made from Scotch Brite scouring pads.
She presently has a solo exhibition ongoing at the Periscope Gallery in Tel Aviv, consisting of body jewelry necklaces, bracelets, as well as two blouses – and a hat – made chiefly from strips of medical gauze and plaster bandages. Make no mistake, however, this woman is far from the “crazy, unstable artist” her father was afraid she would become.
Gamzu’s father was the late Dr. Haim Gamzu, the highly revered director of the Tel Aviv Museum, founder of the Beit Zvi School of Acting in Ramat Gan, as well as Ha’aretz’s art and theater critic.
What was it like growing up with so illustrious a father?
“It was hard,” Gamzu recalls. “Very demanding. Total exposure all my life. Even if I went someplace where nobody knew me, I would get the feeling that everybody did. It denied me my privacy. But I got used to it.”
Being her father’s daughter subjected Gamzu to some often diametrically opposed influences.
“I was very, very connected to my father, from early childhood,” she says. “I was already going with him to artists’ studios at the age of three or four. He used to ask my opinions and listen very carefully to what I had to say.”
“He used to bring me to all of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art exhibition openings that he attended as director, as well as to other exhibitions he attended as Ha’aretz’s art critic,” Gamzu continues. “This had a very big impact on me. I took in art like mother’s milk. But the funny thing was – and this was always unsaid but very deeply felt – that no one in our family was supposed to actually be an artist. It was okay to love art, collect art, be a patron of the arts and to constantly be going to art exhibitions and galleries, but artists themselves were thought to be crazy and unstable.”
“Art was simply not an appropriate career to want for a son or daughter,” she says. “And also, the people that I used to meet at my parents’ house were really not the most sane people in the world.”
Then, she says, there were the twin problems of gender and public relations.
“The artists I met growing up were usually somewhat unstable, and back then they were mostly men,” she explains. “They each needed a wife who not only had a full-time job, but who was also prepared to do most of the promotional work for her artist husband. All of the PR, everything.”
“Being an artist’s wife is still a very important role and a big job,” she adds. “Whenever you see a successful artist, it’s often because of the wife that he was able to survive, develop and become famous.”
Men, says Gamzu, were not ready to play the role of a female artist’s husband. And, according to her, nor are they now.
“We’re not at that stage yet. Feminism is still really light-years away,” she says.
SO GAMZU began her adulthood as a musician, studying the piano and cello, with hopes of becoming a musicologist. And although that was not to be, she declares, “Music is my real world. I create in the plastic arts. But my real, inner world is music. For me, it’s like oxygen. Without it I cannot live.”
Her son Yoel, 21, whom she raised alone, inherited her love of music, studied conducting in Italy, and has conducted the International Mahler Orchestra and the Jerusalem Camerata Orchestra.
After her military service, Gamzu studied literature for three years, received a scholarship from the Rothschild family and enrolled at a prestigious school of restoration in Switzerland, where she studied for four years. Later, she worked on Giotto’s frescos at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Rafael’s frescos in Perugia, and restored mosaics in Ravenna. This was then followed by advanced studies at the National Institute of Documents and Maps in Madrid.
She returned to Israel at the age of 29 and was
appointed to supervise paper restoration projects at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. During the years that followed, she designed costumes and scenery for the Bat Dor Dance Troupe and for shows by Miki Gurevich, Rina Yerushalmi and others.
Beginning around 2001, however, the artist within her, so long suppressed, started to force its way out. Who could have expected that when it did so, it would be with an explosive cascade of telephone cards, cigar tubes, dishwashing pads and the pink pages of a newspaper’s financial section?
“I want to take the most banal, most immediate and commonplace things and make you view them differently,” she says.
Gamzu’s idea for her current exhibition, “Gaza Strip,” came during a visit to Sderot, to a factory that makes strips of medical gauze. Although she was looking for the gauze to embellish a work for a previous exhibition, a Kassam rocket attack that occurred while she was there made Gamzu keenly aware of the use for gauze as a bandaging material for wounds. In a moment of epiphany, Gamzu saw the almost unlimited possibilities of creating art and beauty out of material used for often very unbeautiful reasons.
“The jewelry displayed at this exhibition takes the simplest material – a strip of white gauze, stressing the duality of the material and its connotations: The wound, the blood, the war, hospitals and death – and pits it against its textural nature of softness and tenderness,” says Periscope Gallery curator Sari Paran.
“In stark comparison to the associations connected with the material,” Gamzu adds, “I wanted to take this simple, sterile material – used to bandage wounds and steeped in blood and body excretions – and turn it into a work of art that would evoke a smile.”
The result is a collection of different types of “jewelry,” intended to be worn as bracelets and necklaces, made from strips of medical gauze and other materials such as industrial rubber, copper wire, cotton ribbons, fur, feathers, plastic beads and various kinds of nets.
“I wanted the material to be the real hero of this exhibition,” Gamzu says. “Gauze is a difficult medium to master. It was in many ways a struggle to create these pieces. I had to rape this material into being jewelry.”
Asked if the exhibition is intended to convey any sort of political statement – especially with the name “Gaza Strip” – Gamzu replies, “It is intended to give another point of view on our life. This is a time of hyper-politics. Everybody always has to have a political opinion – pro, con, whatever – and it’s very tiring. It affects us all.”
“Somehow,” she continues, “artists find themselves deprived of the freedom to be just stupid artists who want to get up in the morning, go to the studio, not have any opinions, and just create. That is something that I miss a lot here. So I wanted to take this humorously and say yes, this is a strip of gauze, but there is nothing political here. No protests. No flag waving. No Left or Right. Just working within a framework of aesthetic decisions.”
What’s ahead for Michal Gamzu? Surprisingly, Gamzu is planning an upcoming show in painting, a medium in which she has worked, but has thus far kept from the public.
“I’m in the middle of a series of paintings I call, ‘The Agony of the Cyclamen,’” she says.
As for why she has chosen to paint the cyclamen, a small winter-blooming Middle Eastern flower, Gamzu explains, “The cyclamen is a very shy flower that has all sorts of secrets. It begins closed and slowly, slowly opens to reveal a bit more. To me, it is an emblem of eroticism as it used to be. Sex is everywhere, but eroticism is disappearing.”
Gamzu hopes to finish the paintings – on large panels – and exhibit
them, somewhere, by the end of this year. She is also writing poems, as
well as a book for children.
“Gaza Strip” is showing until
February 6, 2010 at the Periscope Gallery, 176 Rehov Ben Yehuda, Tel
Aviv. Mon.-Thu. 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Tel. (03) 522-6815.