Noa Blass is a pretty brave soul. The 20something artist has just completed three years of study in the Department of Visual Communication of Musrara – The Naggar Multidisciplinary School of Art and Society. Her final project for her degree is currently on show on the fourth floor of the Canada House gallery on Shivtei Israel Street. Blass is just one of 31 new graduates displaying the fruits of their academic and creative continuum, and it makes for impressive viewing. If the exhibits I saw are anything to go by, Israel’s artistic future is in good adventurous hands.
Artists have an advantage over the rest of us in that they have a positive means for expressing, among other sentiments, their pent-up emotions, anxieties, and frustrations.
Blass clearly has no qualms about letting it all hang out.
Expressing all emotions in art
Take, for example, her It’s Been This Way A Long Time work, a seemingly innocuous graphically illustrated folding booklet about love and the pitfalls of romantic relationships.
“For a long time now I have been going out, meeting with people, getting to know them, but it never, ever gets off the ground,” she amplifies in her explanatory text.
“Relationships and love are not simple matters, you probably know that. In my story, the characters don’t make any difference; it is the story that repeats itself over and over.”
That sad state of affairs is presented, for the public’s viewing and internalization, on a small shelf in the corner of the hall. It seems an appropriate spot for such a personal area of Blass’s life.
“I wanted to create something intimate,” she notes. “There may be something a bit uncomfortable about it being in a [hard to get to] corner, but I think it looks good there.” I could not help but concur.
She tells the tale of love tasted but not fully or enduringly requited, in the form of two balloons, one yellow and one pink, that briefly merge but ultimately go their separate ways. The pink balloon, presumably Blass, ends up on the ground, physically, and no doubt emotionally, deflated.
It is a charming item, with pieces of string attached at both ends, which allow the user to neatly close the concertina artifact and return it to the shelf intact and, outwardly at least, unread. Blass says the folding design offers different viewing possibilities.
“You can open it at a particular place and take a look, or go right through it from start to finish. The balloons meet, merge, and then separate, and then you end up on your own,” Blass says with a somewhat wry smile.
“Then you go back to the beginning and it all starts over again. Whenever something is not quite right, I sense that.”
Hopefully, at some stage of the recent graduate’s life, some interpersonal confluence will lead to a different, more successful, conclusion.
Engaging in her own emotional life challenges can have personal therapeutic benefits, along with the artistic yield it produces.
“I had a lot of fun with making this,” she smiles. “I really bonded with the balloons. I really felt their pain.” Apparently, she wasn’t the only one. “When I showed this to the class in the last lesson, everyone went quiet. Everyone understood what it was about. It was great to bring that out. You don’t often get an opportunity to express something like that. People are not always ready to listen to things like that.”
Yes, we all have our own hurdles to surmount, and that can impinge on our ability to listen to others’ tales of woe and show a degree of empathy if not sympathy. That regrettable state of affairs is exacerbated in the world of virtual communication whereby on Facebook or other social media platforms, people can sometimes drop any form of social etiquette or sensitivity and spew out a revolting stream of vitriol behind the mask of anonymity. Perhaps in the real world if, for example, we were to pick up It’s Been This Way A Long Time and get a look at the hopeful, then forlorn, balloons with our own hands, we might react differently and more positively.
Blass is, among other things, a product of the 21st century and the Internet age. She was born into the digital world in which information is instantly retrievable at the click of a mouse button or swipe of a cellphone screen, and Zoom technology enables us to not only talk to someone on the other side of the world but also see them in real time.
But there is also something in Blass that hankers for a more tangible physical environment in which human contact conveys warmth and a palpable sense of immediacy.
That comes through, in various guises, across her debut showing as an artist looking – like her fellow Musrara graduates – to step out of the cloistered confines of academia into the feral reality of life and the demands of the marketplace.
Her final project offering follows a meandering pathway through virtual and corporeal climes, counterbalancing one against the other. Her academic swan song assignment list included assembling a material publication item paired with a digital creation. The base idea was to relate to the theme of “the home” which, Blass observes, left her with plenty of room for cerebral and aesthetic maneuver, possibly too much. She pondered the matter for quite some time until she characteristically dipped into her own domesticity.
“The exercise we were given was to make a magazine based on the topic of home,” Blass explains. “I thought about it for a while. That is a very broad concept.”
Ultimately, as with all her other works, she looked inward for the answer and connected with one of several issues she deals with on a daily basis.
“I took the activity that is the most important for me when I get back home – washing my hands.” Blass has a thing about germs.
“I see them everywhere. There is the outside world, and there is my home. The world outside is full of bacteria, and I don’t want them to come into my own living space together with me.”
She called the magazine Packaged Claims, a pocketbook-sized affair, and conveyed the subject matter graphically on a cellphone screen on the wall behind the book. Blass hunted down her visual prey during the course of her day-to-day routine. “Public transport is a great place to find things you need, and inspire you,” she laughs. Mind you, it wasn’t just a matter of searching, identifying, and documenting. “It’s not easy taking pictures of people surreptitiously,” she notes. “I realized I’d taken on a tough job.” Sensitivity and social mores also came into it. “It’s not nice intruding on other people’s lives and space.”
I joked that she was now well-primed to apply for a berth with one of our espionage agencies. “I actually tried for that in the army,” she laughs. “I wasn’t accepted.” The Intelligence Corps’ loss is the art world’s gain.
She clearly, eventually, managed the logistical photographic minefield and, as you swipe through the customized app, you see hands of all shapes and sizes in a variety of positions and situations on all sorts of surfaces. “People touch things and don’t even think about it,” says Blass. “I guess that’s part of life.”
I presumed, then, that Blass felt comfortable with some of the COVID-19 pandemic constraints when we were often expected to disinfect our hands upon entering a store or some other public space.
“Well, I draw the line somewhere,” she counters. “It is something I am working on, this fear of germs and disease. I am trying to get away from that. Bacteria are also good for us. They are everywhere and part of what we are.” Indeed. The title of the work references that live-and-let-live learning curve. “The name of the magazine, Packaged Claims, came from the realization that washing my hands may be critical for me but not for someone else. I have the right to make this claim, while someone else can make different claims.”
“Digital Nomadism also conveys the virtual-physical equilibrium conundrum. The creation comprises printouts of posts uploaded by Israelis living all over the world, about their lives in their location of choice. Blass duly took the online info, printed it out, and fed the sheets, individually, into a cylindrical receptacle which reminded me of a typewriter platen. “Yes it does!” Blass exclaims. “I like that.” I did too. “You can read the posts one by one, from sheets of paper,” she adds.
The assignment purview also took in some video work. Blass says it was challenging to come up with an idea for that. “I thought about things that interest me, about what stirs something inside me, something genuine.” She adds that it is a work in progress – as are our entire lives, as we grow and develop every which way.
One of the exercises was to take a single word, come up with an idea for a movie based on it, and create a trailer for the intended film. Blass addressed one of the ills of quotidian Western existence. “We are always looking for something that interests us,” she posits.
That understanding led her to the video project theme. “I took the word ‘inyan’ (interest) and worked around that.” That, she argues, entails some interplay between fantasy and reality. “We look for meaning in things that may look interesting or attractive but don’t really have much intrinsic value. That’s why I used fake gemstones that shine and have all sorts of colors but are not real.”
They may not be real – and many of us may spend much of our time looking for a point to our existence on terra firma – but Blass and the other recently graduated budding artists are, at least for now, hell-bent on tracking down and exploring the real deal.
ELSEWHERE ACROSS the final project layout, there are also works by students graduating from the Photography, New Media Art, and New Music departments. The exhibition brings together creations that feed off the intersection of art and technology, photography, books, site-specific installations, performance, and sound installations. It makes for intriguing and compelling viewing.
Austin, Texas-born Haifa Zalatimo, for example, came up with several polychromic, thought-provoking collages called Surreal Life vs Mind Games that challenges our perception of everyday life situations. She describes her work as “an artistic vision that grew out of Jerusalem.”
Shay Wagner’s 55172 Installation adopts a quizzical stance on social media, while Shira Rosilio’s still photography and video installation documents various junctures along the social time line of her three-year student stint. She says the title of her work, Alone Together, stem from the fact that “it offers proof for the sense of separateness even when we are together, and the togetherness even when we are on our own.”
There is plenty to mull over at Musrara from a group of clearly talented and driven youngsters. It should be interesting to see how things develop as, hopefully, they find their place in the real art world. ❖
The exhibition closes on July 28. For more information: graduation.musrara.co.il/2023/#maps