Just south of the town of Haifa in Israel is Michal and Noam’s home. In the garden is their workshop. A somewhat shaky video link gives me a strong sense of the place, of the surroundings, the vegetation and the colours. The place confronts itself to one’s mind with all the force of the culture which literally rests in the earth where the workshop is located. For thousands of years, people have created art and practiced crafts here, they have refined their techniques and have sold and packed their objects before sending them out across the globe. Objects that still remain powerful references in our own time. Michal and Noam’s workshop rests on craft history. It lies there open on their backyard and it permeates what they do.
The place is also marked by political and religious density. What is it like to live and work in a neighbourhood which is, and has been, the centre of such prodigious human drama? A place where, though mobility may be limited, the cultural energy almost reaches the roof?
In an earlier work, “Forbidden Lakes”, Michal portrays how, with the help of Google maps, she travels to places that she is prohibited from visiting on account of geopolitical realities. A low-voiced protest and a way of defying the restrictions.
Noam talks about his relationship with the Swedish glass tradition and how the studio culture in itself creates a sense of global affiliation. This affiliation is also present in the artists’ collaboration. Michal and Noam are a couple but they are also colleagues. With backgrounds in different fields of knowledge they have long supported each other professionally. Their collaboration has developed gradually. They are united by a belief in their material, an interest in both new and old techniques, and an ability to rest in the processes.
Their show at Galleri Glas is their first joint exhibition of glass. When Michal and Noam describe their work while preparing for the exhibition it is in terms of homecoming. Searching for a place where one belongs, for a place where expertise and participation give an understanding of whom one is. A spiritual place just as much as it is a material place.Site-specific but not necessarily in a geographical sense. Craft is the epicentre, knowledge is mobile and the homecoming is found in the making, in the encounter between tradition and execution.
For this exhibition Michal and Noam have collaborated with curator Sandra Weil. On location in Israel they have jointly chosen the works to be shown. Sandra has then planned the exhibition in dialogue with Michal and Noam. The glass has been placed freely in the room. The exposure creates an atmosphere that is reminiscent of the lighting in the glass studio in which raking light emphasizes the surface textures and light from behind increases the transparency and sense of lines and silhouettes. Photos and material from moulds used in shaping the glass, communicate the joint working process and the impact of the surroundings on the artistic work.
The exhibition is based on four themes. A scarefully positioned signposts they act as guides on our common pilgrimage.They can be seen as viewing points or as material arguments and can describe a flood of impulses based on a variety of affiliations; we can call them places, aesthetic references, craft techniques, historical events. They are the pushpins, owners’ marks, narratives and the revolving needle of a compass.
“Canvas; Amphorae” examines the classical amphora. Michal sews strips of canvas together to produce tubes or vase shapes. The tubes are then stuffed hard and plaster moulds are cast. The structure of the textile fabric remains in the surfaces of the blowing mould and is transferred to the glass. The form hands on the classical amphora, but the silhouette does not describe the tightly clothed or naked form of the female body. My thoughts rather go to the man of the 1980s dressed for the winter. Wearing a gigantic duvet jacket with large outside pockets and city shoes he would slither and slide in the melting snow of Gothenburg pavements in my childhood. The surfaces of the glass glide between shiny and matt from the strong pressure of the plaster moulds. The memory of seams in the textile fabric and the texture create patterns and directions. In nuances of grey and yellow the amphorae dance upwards with gently humorous jerks.
“Charcoal; Volumes” makes room for the site and for serendipity. Just as in several other of Noam’s earlier and experimental works, the blowing mould is given precedence as the primary artistic gesture while the glass reflects the process. Shavings and wood ends found on the backyard of Michal and Noam’s studio are joined up using clamps to serve as blowing moulds. When the hot glass meets the wood’s raw edges there is a struggle between mould and glass. Resistance gives the glass a surface that tells of a violent process, of fire and of charred wood. The result continues the tradition of modernist Finnish glass art and the heritage from designers like Tapio Wirkkala. Including black, the colour scale goes from amber yellow to turquoise blue, like the colours of glass production in classical antiquity. The place is the studio in Israel. The place is also all other studios.
“PLA; Dates” is the narrative of how glass does not just challenge place but also time. The craftsperson’s relation to material and to making is as individual as it is universal. In the encounter with a little antique glass bottle shaped like a date, Michal and Noam established direct contact with the two-thousand-year-old glassmaker who once picked up a date and blew a replica. Based on a vertiginous sense of kinship with the unknown master, they felt an impulse to continue the work on the thousand-year-old date concept. With the help of a 3D-scanner and printer they have been able to enlarge the date and create it in PLA. The moulds have then been produced and new life blown into the date.
“Terra-Cotta; Pitchers” examine the high-tech craft techniques of antiquity based on the Roman tradition of vessels. Not far from Michal and Noam’s home is the place where Ennion is thought to have had his workshop in the early years of the first century AD. Ennion was one of glass history’s equilibrists and a genuine “superstar”. He was the first known maker of decorated mould-blown glass. Some 50 objects, marked with “Ennion made me” in relief are documented and can be found in leading collections of glass all over the world. A few of these pieces are exclusive pitchers made using a four-part mould with added handles. Scholars also claim that Ennion was the first glassmaker to develop terracotta moulds in order to create multiples of, for example, drinking vessels. Michal and Noam hand on this tradition in their own work. With 3D-printed terracotta moulds they trace the mould-blown pitchers’ cultural journey from classical antiquity to the present day. At the same time they deepen their own understanding of materials.
Through repetition and implementation the map unfolds. Tradition is seized, developed and practiced without shortcuts. And when the craftsperson finally stands there with the skill, the material’s communication is limited by neither time, place or political borders. The body and the eye sense, know and conceive. Familiar paths wind their way through unfamiliar landscapes. It is “A sort of homecoming”.