Appreciating art from home

The “Mundane Heights” exhibition, which opened virtually a couple of weeks ago, is an aptly and oxymoronically named venture.

‘MAGIC’ CLEANING sponges served as a useful raw material for some of Inbal Hoffman’s creations. (photo credit: THE ISRAEL MUSEUM/ELIE POSNER)
‘MAGIC’ CLEANING sponges served as a useful raw material for some of Inbal Hoffman’s creations.
Lockdown is a trial for everyone. Some negotiate the physical, and ensuing emotional, strictures thereof better than others. There are those who offload tension by running around the block or backyard, or hopping on an indoor trainer cycling gizmo, while the more creatively minded somehow eke out a modicum of physical and spiritual space to put their accumulated feelings and thoughts into visual and/or tangible form.
Judging by the works currently laid out at Anna Ticho House, Inbal Hoffman managed the lockdown maneuver conundrum with aplomb, but not just the enforced stay-at-home period. The show references the ebb and flow that is the lot of millions of parents around the globe, particularly that of mothers who constantly juggle domestic routine with professional and personal pursuits.
The “Mundane Heights” exhibition, which was curated by Shua Ben-Ari and designed by Oz Biri, and opened virtually a couple of weeks ago, is an aptly and oxymoronically named venture. The backdrop to the Hoffman offering should resonate with many of us, although few generate the artistic mileage currently ensconced at the downtown Israel Museum outlet.
As they say, it’s not what you have at your disposal but what you do with it that really matters. Over the course of several largely domestic-bound months, Hoffman got down and dirty with a wide array of definitively utilitarian and, seemingly, uninspiring materials.
The concept for the current venture coalesced with Hoffman’s familial and personal timeline.
“The story of ‘a mom running away from the bourgeoisie dream’ is a kind of story framework of my life, a tale that loosely encompasses everything that bothers me together with everything I’d like to happen. That is the story that has been with me for many years. That has been with me through numerous projects – the theme of the home, and working with ‘domestic materials,’ mainly relating to cleaning and maintenance. That has been with me since [my 10-year-old daughter] Nil was born.”
The exhibition incorporates a bunch of weird and wonderfully crafted items that demonstrate just how far you can go with basic household articles that run the prosaic stretch from garbage bags to Styrofoam trays, and from “magic” cleaning sponges to watering hoses. Finding some unexpected aesthetic value in these materials, the 47-year-old artist gives them new life as she takes unabashed advantage of them to create fantastic sculptural landscapes.
As the museum blurb has it, Hoffman put in “hour after hour of painstaking work” to produce “virtuoso artworks that raise us from the earthbound ordinary to the heights of the sublime.”
Poetic license aside, Hoffman pulled out all the stops in what might seem to be something of a pointless exercise.
“The coronavirus brought us all kinds of mishaps,” she notes. “For example, we set up an exhibition that isn’t opening [to the public, for now].”
Then again, there are lessons to be conveyed and taken aboard. “How I could break out of a place which has closed in around me is something we are all experiencing at the moment,” she posits.
We are indeed, but we don’t all have the talent and creative drive to achieve such a sublimational end product.
And, as should be the case with artistic endeavor of all disciplines, there are few taboos, and all substances and takes are fair game. Hoffman not only sparks quotidian wares into an alluring and intriguing second coming of sorts, she also revisits, revitalizes and extends some of her more attractive accoutrements in the process.
One such is a fetching vintage velvety upholstered rocking chair.
“I go into my studio and I have a few moments of respite before I start thinking about how my artistic day is going to pan out,” Hoffman says.
The exhibition includes one work that is clearly not of the throwaway, ostensibly environmentally unfriendly variety, as the burgundy fabric-and-wood combo gains a new lease of life way beyond the physical confines of the original piece of furniture. The work is a sort of reprise of the rocking chair, leading the viewer’s gaze away from the seasoned seat to a more amorphous and statuesque affair which incorporates the same textural blend.
“I am always unconsciously playing around with the fabric and furniture maker studs with my hands, so I started making things with studs and red material,” Hoffman explains. Time for some curatorial input. “Shua said to me: ‘Can’t you see it all comes from the same place? The armchair has to be in the exhibition.’” Hoffman says it all made for a natural fit, on various levels, including some interactive input. “That sort of completed a circle and resonated with the venerable fixtures in Anna Ticho House. And having the armchair there allows visitors to the exhibition to sit in my chair and gives them an opportunity to walk in my shoes, so to speak. It is a sort of interface between my artistic journeys and the host venue.”
THE ARTIST (left) settles down with curator Shua Ben-Ari for a Zoom discussion session. THE ARTIST (left) settles down with curator Shua Ben-Ari for a Zoom discussion session.
THE LATTER is a major player in “Mundane Heights.” Anna Ticho House is a very different exhibition and curatorial kettle of fish than, say, the main Israel Museum complex or the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In addition to the absence of actual culture consumers at the opening and for the foreseeable future, Hoffman and Ben-Ari had to take all kinds of logistical and regulatory factors into account before they could get all the exhibits up and in their rightful display place.
“Anna Ticho House is a building governed by strict conservation rules, and there are real constraints with regard to all aspects of hanging works and the interfaces between the walls and ceiling,” Hoffman notes.
That put a pretty sizable spanner in the works, and Hoffman had to take a step or two back and regroup. “I generally create ‘parasitic’ works that stick to elements in the display spaces and respond to them. That was not possible at Ticho [House], and the works arrived in a far more finished state, and far more prepared than the way I usually do it.” The ever resourceful artist opted to cater for as many eventualities as she possibly could in generating a highly nuanced spread, and navigating her way through the premises strategic minefield.
“I prepared a load of little gestures which I spread around the other parts of the house – all sorts of ‘low-end decor’ elements in the shape of design articles from Max Stock which I ceremoniously laid out on venerable [early 19th-century German] Biedermeier sideboards that had belonged to Ms. Anna.” Hoffman believes the original owner would have been more than happy with her aesthetic initiative. “I think it would have made her laugh.”
“MUNDANE HEIGHTS” was a while in the making, and is yet another link in a long-term conceptual continuum that has had Hoffman out and about, and constantly checking out her street level milieu.
“The materials I work with are materials I have been investigating, for many years, to see whether it is possible to turn them into art. There is a kind of ritual that resurfaces ever so often whereby I do the rounds of domestic and interior design stores. It might be my local Tambour [hardware store], Max Stock, stationery shops and even IKEA. I buy all sorts of rubbish, cleaning agents, storage containers and products, cups, kettles, bags and sponges with a nice color or shape.” It is basically a trial-by-error process which may or may not deliver viable results.
“It is not always clear to me what I will do with them,” Hoffman continues. “All these materials end up in my studio, where they come into contact with adhesives and knives and other substances collected en route. Then I start to examine them, connect them, stick, cut, reduce and anything I can come up with, until new shapes begin to emerge.” It is, she says, very much a two-way street, with the creator constantly keeping her ear to the ground. “Sometimes the material dictates the form that is ultimately achieved, and sometimes it is the other way round. As it is a repetitive process, collecting and assembling again and again, new materials keep on joining the process; and others, which I feel I have finished with, leave the stage. It is like research work which takes place across the years, and which can carry on until I get fed up with it.” True to her artistic credo Hoffman says she expresses her entirety, all her accumulative life experience, in addition to her professional backdrop in design and illustration, in her output.
“My experience in carpentry, motherhood, making meals and sewing all come through in all my work.”
It is a matter of going with the flow. “I never think in terms of an idea or inspiration. The forces that guide me are curiosity and knowledge. So I practice a lot in my studio, learning new crafts which will certainly help me to do something when the right moment comes along. My toolbox is pretty varied and is really big in terms of the things I know how to do.” Hoffman believes in marrying the cerebral and the practical, in order to get the creative job done. “I don’t know if the ‘research’ side, which is part of my approach to material, could exist if I weren’t a person who works with her hands, and who knows and understands materials and processing method. All these are very useful.”
DOMESTIC MATERIALS provide the core of some wild and wacky works.DOMESTIC MATERIALS provide the core of some wild and wacky works.
IN THESE strangest of times, it seems only fitting that the opening should take on such an innovative and ephemeral guise. As Ben-Ari notes at the start of her discussion with the exhibiting artist, in the Zoom session: “It is a bit trivial, opening an exhibition now, but we’re up for the challenge.” Hoffman would, naturally, have preferred to have greeted the viewing public in person, although she says she was fine with the online version of the curtain-raiser.
“A virtual opening is great,” she states. “It is a new format and it felt like an adventure. Instead of my mother and my sister, wine and Bamba, there was a video team and a lighting technician, and we received questions from the viewers during the live session.” As impersonal as remote gatherings may be, Hoffman feels there are benefits to be had from the cutting-edge approach. “When Shua and I sat down to chat, it felt like any other pleasant conversation. The museum also produced a video, shot by the wonderful Yoav Bezaleli, who documented a sort of setup journal which shows the various parts of the projects settling in at Ticho House.” That is all well and good, but, for now, no one is setting foot in the museum. Still, hope springs eternal, and the show is due to run, at least, until December, when it is currently said cultural institutions will reopen for business. Time, and pandemic figures, will tell.