Water, Heart, Face – Jerusalem Biennale

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(article originally posted on intlfineartfund.com.)

The Jerusalem Biennale has presented a variety of Jewish voices in the arts since 2013.  This year, the theme of “Watershed” was explored in spiritual searching, masculine Jewish identity, the relationship between church and state, and heaven and earth, among many others.  The image of the watershed, geological bodies of water that converge and separate in different places, is a metaphor for the connections and disparities between people, as well as pivotal moments in history. 

The Jerusalem Biennale will be held from October 1 – November 16, 2017.  26 Exhibitions are held throughout various locations in the city, with the work of 200 artists on display. 

We spent four days touring the exhibitions and meeting with artists to capture what is happening in the fine arts in Jerusalem.

Water, Heart, Face

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart” (Proverbs 27:19)

Curator Avital Naor Wexler describes her exhibition Water, Heart, Face as such: “It’s about the gathering of people as a reflection.  It could be a mirror, but it is water face to face.  I think that if the sentence [in Proverbs] says something about water, it says something else than the objective reflection, like in a mirror.  It has more depth.  It has more movement.”  Water is a vehicle for a variety of experiences and connections.  Naor Wexler found this to be a diverse theme for the exhibition.  The story of Narcissus comes to mind, a man obsessed with his own reflection, “but in this sentence, it talks about the heart as well.  It talks about a relationship between two people, more than one, not with yourself.  I think that it is interesting because the art is a kind of pond, a lake, something that is a reflection between the artist and the audience.”

Naor Wexler believes that when someone sees a piece of art they are drawn to what they see of themselves or the person who created the work in it.   “When you meet art the thing that attracts you is because you find yourself or you find the artist, or someone else within the work.”  She wanted to compare Narcissus and Proverbs to explore the variety of reflections in art.  “I chose several artworks that are self-portraits, but with a twist.”  The artists, or symbols of themselves, are in various emotional states with the presence of water and reflections.

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One of the works by Vered Aharanovitch features a character who she has labeled as representing herself.  This young girl is depicted in four sculptures as a mermaid within fishbowls.  Twisting and turning, drawing her own blood with sea urchins, her expressions are aloof, pained, and frustrated.  In the glass, observers see her pain as she maturing through heartache, just as they see their own face reflected.

Naor Wexler designed the exhibition to be “something that you can come and meet, and something that will come to you from the art itself.”  The question of what attracts a person to a work of art remains an open question to Wexler, one that Water, Heart, Face,provides space for.

Water, Heart, Face includes the work of: Aharon Kritzer, Alma Shneor, Carolina Bonfil, Debbie Kampel, Eliad Landau, Eliran Jan, Einat Arif-Galanti, Gideon Rubin, Merav Shin Ben-Alon, Matan Ben Tolila, Noa Arad Yairi, Renana Salmon, Shulamit Etsion, Vered Aharonovitch, Yoni Salmon, Yifat Shtainmetz Hirst.  See the exhibition, and several others, as 12 Bezeq Building, Chopin Street, Jerusalem.

Artwork: Aharon Kritzer, Vered Aharanovitch

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Matti Sirvio

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“Encounter”

In Matti Sirvio’s paintings there is time and space, the movement of the soul.  His paintings simultaneously celebrate the felt senses, the beauty in life, and the nature of a spiritual existence. “I think that colors and their composition are the key to all visual communication.  I love connecting them, experimenting the way that they relate to each other.  I sometimes do just long color meditations (sounds much more weird than it is.)”  With his eyes closed, Sirvio spends time envisioning colors and diverse patterns.  “It helps me to move objects and see how certain colors serve certain messages.”

On Sirvio’s Instagram account, it is sometimes hard to tell what is a painting and what is a photo.  The play of shadow and light on a building, cast-off objects in the sand, appear at first to be Sirvio’s painted works.  Upon closer inspection, you see that they are all pieces of the quiet town of Muscat, Oman.  In compositions that most people can witness every day without reverence, the artist sees more.

For over thirty-five years, Sirvio has been a humanitarian worker through Greater Grace World Outreach (GGWO) in Eurasia and Central Asia.  While he treasures the many places that he has lived in, Oman is now home.  “I fell in love with the Omani people.  They are very gentle, silent and friendly. For some foreigners, this country is eventless and even boring.  For me it’s a privilege.”  Fourteen years ago, he attended a conference on Mumbai, India.  Through contacts there, the opportunity to work in Oman presented itself.  It would take some years for Sirvio’s schedule to allow for him to work in Oman with GGWO.  When he was able to visit for a conference, he also found a place for his artwork.  “I was invited by the Protestant Church of Oman to do a weekend conference in Muscat.  I often travel with my art and also work in hotel rooms during my travels.  I took some of my paintings to a local gallery and connected with them.  That resulted in a solo exhibition here.”

“My artistic journey has its intensive creative times and long times of silence as well.”  Sirvio was born and raised in Finland where he studied art.  He originally wanted to purse becoming an art therapist.  But, as a young man he felt called to humanitarian work and as an artist, he felt disconnected from the art world.  “As a young person, I found the art world to be extremely selfish and self-oriented.  Besides that, I had a really hard time connecting with all the perverted art that started spreading in the seventies.  I didn’t want to be a part of it.”  Deep into his journey as a humanitarian worker art would re-emerge for him in a way that was healing.  “Twenty-seven years later I was full of art again. I just had to start painting.  I didn’t have a choice.  It didn’t just make me happy, but it helped me to manage my soul.  Art is not the most important thing in my life, the presence of God is.  Art is a helper.”

The painting “Encounter” communicates a spiritual way of experiencing what comes and goes.  The spiritual is a constant, a thread woven through every part of life.  The soul need not suffer when something meaningful ends, but have joy for the impression that was left and for the meaningful encounters that will also come and go in the future.

Two figures are in the shape of doorways, each one emitting some of kind of movement.  The one on the left appears to contain light, while the shape on the right is red.  The light feels like a spiritual force, while the red is earthy, human.  The two are open to each other to mingle, to merge, but the temporal of nature of the “Encounter” implies that they will each return to their spaces and close their doors.

These colors and symbols illustrate the nature of an encounter from a spiritual perspective.  A person can form a lasting attachment to an experience after it has passed, returning to themselves, yet remaining somehow changed.  Also, the joy of the peak of the moment does not have to turn into despair because it ends.  If there is more to life than moments, then there is no need to mourn what is lost but celebrate what remains and what will be part of the never-ending life of the soul.

In Sirvio’s paintings, there are dreams, prayers, scents, and sensations.  The artist is a deeply spiritual person who clearly has a reverence for life.  “I love all the places where I have lived. God gives you a special love for it. Without that I could not see myself connecting with other cultures and people.”  He is writing a book about the GGWO ministry Central Asia and paints in his spare time.  “I continue dragging my paintings all over the world, exhibiting them wherever I can and praying that I could reach one more person with the love of Jesus.”

mattisirvio.com