Going with the flow, and back again, at the Artists' House

While one might expect to see some promise in the work of a novice, Laub gives the impression of having achieved early maturity.

Expression of early maturity: Renana Laub, Untitled. (photo credit: MAZAL BEN-YISHAI)
Expression of early maturity: Renana Laub, Untitled.
(photo credit: MAZAL BEN-YISHAI)
There is some impressive stuff on show at the Artists’ House at the moment. Four new exhibitions opened last Saturday evening and, when we met the day after the opening, director Ruti Zedaka was in a particularly good mood.
“With the stormy weather we had last night, I didn’t think anyone was going to turn up, but the place was packed,” she says happily.
Zedaka is also enthused about the works of art on display and is especially taken with the ground floor “Whispers” exhibition, curated by Maya Israel. It features an intriguing collection of works by 24-year-old Renana Laub, a graduate of Emuna – Academic College of Education for Art and Education. Laub was offered some wall space at the venerable Jerusalem exhibition facility as part of the ongoing Nidbach series, which enables talented young artists to venture out of their academic cocoon and gain some sort of foothold in the real, street-level world, thereby enabling them to chalk up their first solo show on their incipient CV.
While one might expect to see some promise in the work of a novice, Laub gives the impression of having achieved early maturity.
There is a boldness to her work that suggests she is willing and able to venture into uncharted areas and to share some of the stops in her creative odyssey. In addition to the items on the walls, Laub allows members of the public to leaf through some of her sketchbooks. It is fascinating to gain an inkling of how her ideas bubbled up and gradually came to a boil.
Laub employs a range of disciplines and materials to convey her intent, and there is a clear oxymoronic strand that runs through all the works.
There is an alluring mix of the freshness one would expect to see in a young artist’s work, fused with the go-for-broke ethos that is part of any creative process.
“It is very rare to find someone who works with their entire inner world, including their anxieties, through their artistic world too,” notes Zedaka. “This is so intricate.
It is a bit like stepping into Alice’s Wonderland.”
Interestingly, the principal recurrent element in “Whispers” is a bridal gown, which appears in various guises and sizes, most strikingly in a large, wall-sized reproduction, inspired by a painting by Moshe Castel, which features a sweeping gush of white. Laub recently got married, although the works predate the nuptials by some time.
“Look at all these wedding dresses,” says Zedaka. “I think it is very powerful.”
Laub stretches the thematic-textural swath even further with a fetching arrangement of mosses on the window sill, which counteracts and complements the pools of red and white that run through the mixed-discipline works on the walls.
While Laub’s work is palpably the product of intense emotion, Yael Reshef’s “Cypresses’ Shadow” exhibition is stunning in its intricacy and Reshef’s unstinting dedication to getting the job done, come what may.
The exhibition is described as being about “the relations between memory, landscape and the act of creation.”
“There is a sort of ebbing and flowing here between the artist’s interior and the interior of the domestic domain,” notes Zedaka.
That yin and yang spirit also comes across in various visual and tactile ways. There is a prevalent flow between what the curator terms “concreteness and abstraction.” Reshef also complements her painstaking attention to detail and the almost bewildering abundance of elements in her work by leaving some spots bare and, in fact, removing the “topsoil” of the physical backdrop.
There are works that mainly comprise dense crisscrosses of strips of colored dried glue, which form a packed web-like fabric. One cannot help but be bowled over by the labor intensity of the creations. Even so, Reshef never makes you feel short of breath as you are inexorably drawn into the very warp and woof that underscore the work. But there is nothing technical or cold about the grid formations, and a multitude of textures, shades and forms make their presence felt throughout.
Anne Ben-Or’s “Paintings” exhibition, curated by Ron Bartos, is a very different kettle of fish. Ben-Or’s pictures offer a clear connection with more classic painting techniques and, again, there is a sense of to and fro – as is the case with all four of the exhibitions – as she dips into artistic heritage while following a contemporary mind-set and themes.
“Paintings” is an intimate affair, with members of Ben-Or’s family providing the principal source of inspiration, although the group settings seem somehow familiar from elsewhere along the art’s timeline.
Some works appear to be almost pastoral in their spirit, but there is often an underlying sense of tension that offsets and enhances the emotional bottom line.
Ben Lam also takes a dual-pronged approach to his work, dipping into both the storefront and intimate sides of the domestic domains of three of the country’s highest profile personalities. The photo exhibition, curated by Sophia Dekel-Caspi, is called “Mania, Vera and Paula,” referring, respectively, to the wives of preeminent poet Haim Nahman Bialik; Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann; and our first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Lam’s sumptuously presented prints run the gamut of “downstairs” domesticity to “upstairs” hosting, featuring intriguing shots of a bathroom, a sewing area, a polishing kit and a kitchen towel rack, alongside both unassuming and lavish seating arrangements. The photographs display private and public spaces and, in the case of Bialik’s office, also highlight the cultural crossroads occupied by the incipient State of Israel as, for example, the Russian-born poet took on the colors, energies and spirit of the Levant.
Lam deftly captures the personalities of the long-departed occupants by allowing us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life at Ben-Gurion’s modest Kibbutz Sde Boker abode and his official and far more luxurious Tel Aviv dwelling, although the relative comfort of the latter pales in comparison with the Edwardian splendor of the Weizmanns’ residence in 1930s Rehovot.
The title of the exhibition conveys a sense of cozy, simple family life, as the wives ensured that their feted partners were well fed and well cared for. Lam manages to capture the essence of the people behind the stately personas with a variety of delightfully personal and intimate items, such as shots of several of Bialik’s hats and enchantingly basic pictures of a typical Paula Ben-Gurion daily menu – featuring her famed cheesebased porridge – and her husband’s slippers nestled neatly by his simple bed at Sde Boker.
The exhibitions are on display at the Artists’ House until February 27. Free. For more information: (02) 625-3653 and www.art.org.il