Hannah Altman & Isabel Mattia Rachel Fein-Smolinski & Shterna Goldbloom Charlie Manion & Izah Ransohoff SaraNoa Mark & Roni Packer Tamar Paley & Ze’ev + Leigh Val Schlosberg & Olive Stefanski Suzanne Silver & Michael Swartz
Heaven Gallery, 1550 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Havruta October 29 - December 5, 2021
Havruta (from Aramaic for “Friend”) is a traditional approach to studying Jewish texts with a partner. Unlike other modes of study, havruta learning is often boisterous and animated: students read text and commentary aloud and analyze, question, and debate until they reach a mutual understanding. As they construct and reconstruct the text, students are known to gesture wildly or even shout at each other. The meaning comes from the relationship formed between the three partners, two people and one text. In a world that views students as vessels to fill with knowledge, this approach is a radical one. Students become co-creators of knowledge, shaping and changing the texts through the intimate experience of listening, and questioning. For Havruta, seven pairs of artists studied Jewish texts and made new works together. Responding to the way that the pandemic has distorted our days and weeks, the texts we selected to focus on Jewish conceptions of time. They range from traditional Talmud, Yiddish and Hebrew Poetry, and Jewish philosophy. In this moment where our sense of community has become precarious, we view this show as an opportunity to facilitate an intimate and generative experience of creating art through and across time. By bringing together artists from across the city and the country, we hope to nurture and develop these collaborations to create even more moments of heated discussion, exaggerated gestures, and strange questions.
—Shterna Goldbloom & Liam Ze’ev O’Connor
Charlie Manion & Izah Ransohoff GoGoGolem Painted wood, brass hinges, fabric, broom, rope, carpet. 2021. Charlie and Izah are two Jews who grew up in Cincinnati, but didn’t meet until moving to Chicago. Though they are both object makers and teachers, Izah is a dancer/performance artist and Charlie is a glassmaker/musician. After watching an X-Files episode about a Golem, they bought a broom and decided to make one themselves. Unlike its gloomy folk ancestors, “GoGoGolem” is animated by curiosity and play. Simply activated by pulling the rope, it clacks and dances unpredictably, unearthing questions about automation, servitude, autonomy, and fun. Is it absurd to ask what “GoGoGolem” wants? How might we find out?
Val Schlosberg & Olive Stefanski The Mouth of the Earth Cotton thread. Olive Stefanski, 2021. The psychedelic pattern shown in this handwoven textile was created by the artist and inspired by the Mouth of the Earth, mentioned as one of the ten mysterious things created on the eve of the sabbath at twilight in Pirkei Avot 5:6. “The Mouth of the Earth” is a compelling supernatural image present in the Torah in which the earth itself opens up and swallows those who claim false authority. This asks the question: What is a false authority? In the artist’s interpretation, this false authority references those who profane the sacredness of creation through empire, capitalism and oppression. The Zohar, a 12th century Jewish mystical text written in Spain, also states that the Earth is a space that the Shekinah, the feminine indwelling presence of the divine, surrounds and fills. This same text also states that the Earth is an altar, or a space to meet the sacred. The earth itself emits an energetic frequency of 7.38 hertz, which is the same frequency that is emitted from the palms of the hands of energyworkers as they lay their hands on others. “The Mouth of the Earth” provides us with an an image of mystical reckoning and an opportunity to develop a relationship to all of creation with righteous love, protection and reverence. From left: The Manna/Leviathan The Rod of Moshe/Grave of Moshe The Rainbow Mouth of the She-Ass/Ram of Abraham The Shamir Stoneware. Val Schlosberg, 5782.
Val Schlosberg & Olive Stefanski The Shamir Stoneware. Val Schlosberg, 5782. According to a passage in Pirkei Avot, ten mysterious things/words were created at twilight on the eve of the first Shabbat. Among these ten is he Shamir, a mysterious and magical worm that is used in the construction of the Temple. A workaround to the prohibition against using tools of war to construct the Temple, legend says that King Schlomo procured the Shamir, a creature the size of a grain of barley, which was known for its ability to cut through any stone with just a glance. This vessel illustrates the epic story found in the Talmud (Gittin 68a) of King Schlomo’s quest to obtain the Shamir, with the help of Ashmedai, the king of demons. Along with being the king of demons, Ashmedai is a disciplined student of both heavenly and earthly yeshivot. After torturing a different pair of demons to discern his location, Schlomo’s attendant kidnaps Ashmedai and binds him with a chain inscribed with the name of G-d. But Ashmedai doesn’t have the Shamir! He tells Schlomo that the Shamir belongs to the Prince of the Sea, who has entrusted it to a bird, who uses it to split barren rocks and plant seeds in uninhabitable high-up places. Schlomo’s attendant tricks the bird and captures the Shamir. While the Temple is being built with the help of the Shamir, Ashmedai remains chained in the palace. But Schlomo’s curiousity gets the better of him. He unchains Ashmedai with the hope that Ashmedai will show him his great powers. But Ashmedai uses his mighty wings to throw Schlomo across the world. While Shlomo wanders, trying to convince people that he is the King, Ashmedai takes his place in the Kingdom, disguised as Schlomo. In some tellings, Ashmedai is found out when someone thinks to inspect his feet (all demons have bird feet!) and realizes he hasn’t been seen without stockings in some months. In other tellings, Ashmedai’s deception is never discovered!
Rachel Fein-Smolinski & Shterna Goldbloom Watermelon grows amidst the pines Inkjet phototex print, mixed media sculpture Shterna Goldbloom, 2021. In How Many Years Will It Bear Fruit? Archival pigment on Phototex and silk organza, avocado pits, resin, ceramic tiles, grout, wood stain. Rachel Fein-Smolinski, 2021. Safety is a relative, time-based, and site-specific practice and one’s access point (e.g. direct, indirect, in person, virtually mediated) to a safety/danger system impacts their empathetic response. How does legislative classification of the landscape and the planting of either an olive grove or a pine forest reflect and perpetuate the ongoing violence inflicted on Palestinian peoples by the Israeli State under a false alignment of a cultural identity with said regime? How can this be visualized using the literal and metaphorical treeroot structure and documentation of the planting and nurturing of seedlings whose flora hold histories in and of themselves? This work uses tree/root structure with avocado seeds at varying levels of growth and failure, archival angiographic images that resemble this rhizomatic structure, and images from the artist’s familial archive all coated in the preservationist material of resin with significant influence from Irus Braverman’s 2014 text “Planted Flags: Trees, Loss, and Land in Israel/Palestine.”
Hannah Altman & Isabel Mattia Tethered Glass, lamb’s blood, breast milk, water, houseplants, photograph. Isabel Mattia, 2021. When we started, I was rotundly pregnant and nervously avoiding interaction due to Covid safety. Hannah visited our farm multiple times to photograph the simultaneous pregnancies of our sheep and myself. 21 lambs were born in the cold nights of February– most, smoothly on their own– but two needed my help. I knelt in the damp hay in the barn, reaching past my own swollen pregnant belly to help usher two little lambs, wet and sneezing, into this realm. A month later, before daybreak on Passover, my baby came in our living room. As I felt my firstborn child emerging from her internal world, I also felt the presence of death hovering, watching us. I called out, “put lamb’s blood on the door!” My partner fished a packet of lamb chops out of the freezer and placed it on our front porch, which was the best we could do under the circumstances. The baby arrived safely, but was followed by a gratuitous river of blood. My midwives called out to keep me awake as the baby nursed vigorously and kicked my belly, helping the bleeding to stop. Our new baby, my partner, our doula, and the midwives all worked together to stop my bleeding, and to keep me firmly on this earth. “Tethered” is a glass vessel which holds equal volumes of lamb’s blood and my breast milk. I photographed it on the spot where our baby was born, the spot where I felt the curtain between the worlds open. The work is a meditation on that moment. It places the blood and the milk in balance, as two sides of an equation; each bodily fluid standing in for experiences of the continually unfolding sacrifices that tether together parenting, art-making, work, identity, farming, collaboration, and living during a pandemic. Hannah’s photographs and my sculpture function as call-andresponse companion works: two distinct views of the same events.
Hannah Altman & Isabel Mattia Tethered Archival pigment prints. Hannah Altman, 2021. About a year ago, I impulsively moved to Rhode Island to housesit a beach cottage. While there, I connected with former Rhode Island School of Design MFA graduate Shterna Goldbloom, where we talked about Jewish practice, photography, and this tiny ocean state. Shterna was working with Liam to explore the Jewish concept of Havruta, in which studying in pairs reaches a deeper understanding. I was paired with fellow Rhode Island based artist Isabel Mattia, who just happened to be pregnant at the same time as the many sheep on her farm. Over the last year, Isabel and I have been photographing all stages of this beautiful kismet. These images consider cycles of care and expectancy within birth and motherhood, synching growth with the rhythms of time.
Val Schlosberg & Olive Stefanski The Mouth of the Well (left) Luck of Lucks (center) The Depth of the Beginning and the Depth of the End (right) Basket reed and indigo dye. Olive Stefanski, 2021. These are vessels woven from basket reed dyed to midnight blue in a vat of natural indigo nurtured in Olive’s studio for over a year. Indigo is a color that evokes depths of all kinds and in all cosmic directions – the sea, the sky, the psychic unconscious, time itself, the humbling mystery unveiled momentarily through contemplation of the infinite. In Pirkei Avot “The Mouth of the Well” is one of the ten mysterious things created on the eve of the sabbath at twilight. In Jewish tradition, the miraculous well of Miriam the Prophetess followed the Israelites as they traveled through the desert. If one were to look down into the mouth of a well full of water, it would be like a mirror, reflecting one’s image back to them. In Exodus, women held mirrors at the Tent of Meeting (the traveling sacred space of the Israelities). This may indicate a sacred role that women held in the community, perhaps related to divination. “Luck of Lucks” is inspired by the sefirot: the ten inscriptions of the void that divine creative force flows through. These “inscriptions” are also referenced in Pirkei Avot 5:6 as one of the ten things created on the Sabbath. Each vessel acts as a container/ non-container for empty space, that which is invisible but present. The form of the “The Depth” references the shape of an hourglass. In the words of Rabbi Jill Hammer, “the sefirot that we must contemplate are without substance: they cannot be experienced in the way we experience most things. We have to engage with them differently – not shallowly but at depth. They must be grappled with rather than seen clearly.
Tamar Paley & Ze’ev + Leigh 30 rings / ל׳ טבעות Walnut wood, sterling silver (oxidized), 14k gold. Tamar Paley, 2021. My body constantly signals the passage of time, not only by age but by single days, as I repeatedly feel, count and calculate the days of my menstrual cycle. The Hebrew word for month, Chodesh, comes from the Hebrew root Chadash which means new. Rosh Chodesh (the ‘head’ of the month) is the celebration held on the first day of each new month of the Jewish calendar. This day is typically celebrated by women. The connection between the female reproductive system, Rosh Chodesh and the lunar cycle is evident; it is the recurring expectation of renewal, a cycle that reveals the potentiality of each new month. I found a midrash, an interpretation of the biblical text, that offers an explanation for this connection. The midrash suggests that given the choice, women would have acted as a moral compass, refusing to hand over their silver and gold for the creation of “a graven and molten image” (the golden calf). And how would God reward them? He would reward them in this world and in the world to come. In this world; “That they should observe the New Moons more stringently than the men”. And in the world to come; “They are destined to be renewed like the New Moons”. In this piece, the molten metal takes the shape of 30 rings, 29 silver and one gold “full moon ring”. Each ring is engraved with Hebrew letters representing the 30 days of the Jewish month. These rings are to be used as an analog calendar or menstrual tracking tool. Each day is marked by a single ring that, after being worn, is moved to the second column, thus signaling time passed. Although it is the new moon that we celebrate (Rosh Chodesh), here the golden ring stands out as the peak of the month, when the moon is revealed to us in its entirety and our bodies prepare for ovulation; creation and continuation.
Tamar Paley & Ze’ev + Leigh round & bound (kameah) 12 clay rings. Ze’ev + Leigh, 2021. We created twelve interlocking clay rings to be an analogue to Tamar’s cycle counter. The circular shape evokes a challah, and the number 12 references a calendar year. In the most common shape of challah, the braided strands form 12 “humps,” which are said to represent a whole range of specific, esoteric dozens in Jewish tradition: ceremonial loaves in the temple, the number of jewels on the ancient priest’ garments, the tribes of Israel, etc. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, challah loaves are made in a circular or spiral shape. Depending on whom you ask, the round shape represents continuity, the wheel of the seasons, or a spiral of upward progress.
SaraNoa Mark & Roni Packer with only a grim, ancient pride Collected and repurposed Oriental Institute linen, wrapped wood, canvas, enamel paint. SaraNoa Mark & Roni Packer, 2021. Artist A shipped the 6”x6” canvas and enamel piece from Tel Aviv to Chicago in June, 2021. Artist B got the piece in October. They knew immediately what to do with it. There’s no pride in making art.
Suzanne Silver & Michael Swartz Incantations and Lamentations Photograms & aluminum. Suzanne Silver & Michael Swartz, 2021. Inspired by Michael Swartz’s chapter “Verbal and Visual Aesthetics” in The Mechanics of Providence: The Workings of Ancient Jewish Magic and Mysticism, Suzanne Silver made a series of photograms and related aluminum cutouts based on magical amulets and incantation texts, and, by extension, the power of letters and words. In Jewish magic, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and ritual actions are used by practitioners to muster divine powers. In ancient Jewish and Greek amulets written on metal in the ancient Mediterranean, magicians wrote strange symbols called characters to augment their written incantations. These symbols have no known meaning but seem to have been meant to communicate with the angels. Likewise, in ancient Babylonia, Jewish magicians wrote incantations on clay bowls and buried them under houses to protect them from demons. In the center of those bowls they drew crude drawings of the demonesses, demons, and protective angelic warriors. These practices point to ritual and aesthetic functions of language beyond signification.
Val Schlosberg & Olive Stefanski 231 Gates Hand dyed and handspun wool and silk. Olive Stefanski, 2021. The 231 Gates is a mystical practice of Jewish meditation where the meditator combines each of the 22 Hebrew letters together, visualizing, writing them down or saying them out loud. All possible combinations of the Hebrew letters when combined in groups of two produces 231 combinations. There is a teaching that says that the complete Hebrew alphabet itself is one of the names of God, so combining the letters in all possible permutations within the 231 Gates meditation spells out one of the complete full names of the Divine. The Sefer Yetzirah, a mystical Jewish text concerning the creation of the universe, also states that all of creation emanated from the 22 Hebrew letters, each one a gate for particular energies of creation. The Hebrew letters are also one of the ten things created on the eve of the sabbath at twilight, referenced in Pirkei Avot 5:6. This weaving, handknotted and made completely of handspun and hand dyed yarn dyed in osage wood, is a grid like structure comprised of 231 parts. In the artist’s work, the laborious processes of weaving, spinning, and dyeing become devotional practices through which they reckon with the existential reality of time and commune with the mysterious, and the unknown. This elaborately laborious art is an indication of devotion to the infinite and is a continuation of historical Jewish art practices related to intricacy and spirituality. The practice of undertaking this weaving offers a conduit through abstraction, form and color into the expansiveness of the sacred.
Texts The artists in Havruta were invited to study the following texts to help guide their collaborative learning and making. “The Sabbath” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel “Ikh bin geven a mol a yingling (I was once a handsome boy)” by Anna Margolin “Two Elements” by Zelda “I Wasn’t One of the Six Million: And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open” by Yehuda Amichai “Nocturne” by Agi Mishol “Prayer for the Ability to Pray Alone by Reb Natan of Nemirov from the teachings of Rebbe Nahman” by Reb Natan of Nemirov Pirkei Avot 5:6 : “Ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath at twilight...” Berakhot 9b:12 : “It was taught in a baraita: Rabbi Meir says that the day begins...” Taanit 23a: 15 : “One day, he was walking along the road when he saw a certain man planting a carob tree…” Additional Text: Michael D. Swartz “Verbal and Visual Aesthetics,” in The Mechanics of Providence: The Workings of Ancient Jewish Magic and Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), 135-149.
Bios Hannah Altman is a Jewish-American artist from New Jersey. She holds an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Through photographic based media, her work interprets relationships between gestures, the body, lineage, and interior space. Rachel Fein-Smolinski, is an artist based in Champaign, IL. She was raised in Buffalo, NY and holds a B.F.A. in Studio Art from the San Francisco Art Institute and an M.F.A. in Photography from Syracuse University. Her work uses sci-fi and adopts the authoritative aesthetics of biology and medicine to deal with courage and pain through the saving graces of neurosis and intellectualism. Shterna Goldbloom is an ex-hasid invested in creating more visibility for feygeles like themself. She is an artist + educator based in Chicago, Illinois. Charlie Manion is an artist exploring the gap between subjective experiences and objective materials. Trained as a scientific glassblower, he teaches with Project Fire, a trauma recovery glassblowing program at Firebird Community Arts in Chicago, IL. SaraNoa Mark pursues a drawing practice that reflects a desire to evidence the constant and invisible activity of time. Mark’s work has been supported by a Fulbright art research award in Turkey to research Anatolian Living Rock Monuments and the Art of Place. She is a codirector at the 4th Ward Project Space in Chicago. Isabel Mattia is an artist, teacher, and birth support professional living on a small farm in Rural rhode Island. Her work explores the ever intersecting and overlapping cycles of birth, death, emptiness, fullness, love, loss, rot, and fecundity that make up the fabric of existence and experience. Roni Packer is an artist raised in Tel Aviv. Roni completed a BA in philosophy and a BFA before moving to the United States in 2014. She received her MFA from The University of Illinois-Chicago in 2017, and was a BOLT resident at the Chicago Artists Coalition in 2017-2018.
Tamar Paley is a Tel Aviv-based jewelry designer and artist. Her work is developed from concepts that reflect her surroundings and life’s experience, combining material and form of cultural and personal significance, such as textiles, paper, and found objects, framed by handmade metal structures. Her work explores the politics of Jewish and gendered identities and reimagining sacred rituals and the objects that accompany them. Izah Ransohoff is a Chicago based performance artist, metal and clay worker, and a florist. They use movement and contortion to play with intimacy, assumption, and queerness. Val Schlosberg is a writer, ceramics artist, and educator currently based in Zhigaagoong (Chicago, IL). Val is interested in queer magic, Jewish mysticism, and summoning golems. Suzanne Silver is an artist living and working in Columbus, Ohio where she is Associate Professor of Art at The Ohio State University. Silver has exhibited her work internationally. Olive Stefanski (they/she) is a queer Jewish artist and teacher who makes weavings currently inspired by Jewish mystical texts and practices related to cosmology and creation, time, the void, death, the divine feminine, and dimensions of the universe. They hold an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and live and work on Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe land (Chicago, IL). Michael Swartz is a professor of Jewish Studies at The Ohio State University. Swartz specializes in the cultural history of Judaism in late antiquity, rabbinic studies, early Jewish mysticism and magic, and ritual studies. Ze’ev + Leigh is the artistic collaboration of Oakland-based artists Liam Ze’ev O’Connor & Jillian Hansen-Lewis. Liam holds an MFA from the Ohio State University in Sculpture, and Jillian holds a BFA in Photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Catalog design by Liam Ze’ev O’Connor