The reindeer drew me in, Mediterranean sunlight streaming in on their bright, translucent forms, creatures from another world, standing on the shimmering snow. Below them, the darkness opens up to reveal the soil neatly dug out to create an underground chamber fitted with bunk beds, and discarded military boots. All this on, in, and around an old-fashioned wooden bed.
As I looked at these different worlds, trying to understand what I was seeing, I noticed that I was standing on a patch of artificial green grass; I was already inside.
BeOlam Aher Hayit Adam Aher (In a Different World You Would Be A Different Person) is the graduation project of Nelli Lorch, who has just completed her studies at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem. Nelli majored in Glass Design with a minor in sculpting, and her installation is currently on display at the Bezalel Har Hatzofim Campus End of Year Exhibition. Nelli and I began talking about her project when I visited Bezalel last week, and continued our conversation via skype, as she discussed the work and its origins.
“I feel that this project stands on a long line of thought I’ve been developing since childhood,” said Nelli, “the root of this thought might come from the fact that my mother is from Finland, and is not Jewish. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, and that’s kind of brought me to start thinking about the feeling of belonging, and how a person starts defining himself according to his surroundings… I think most of my work, if not all, is somehow about that – having different roots, the feeling of being two people at once, trying to decide who I am… this [project] I kind of started with what defines me and what’s made me who I am. I think it’s actually even funny how I am so much me and I actually do know where I belong, and what I believe in, and where I’m from, and I’m very Israeli.”
Yet, just as the installation is composed of many different elements and the view from different angles reveals other aspects, Nelli’s view of her identity is far from simple or simplistic.
“I also sometimes think about the fact that it’s just a bubble,” she said, adding that this sense of identity is “the outcome of quite random decisions made by me, by my parents, by my grandparents… that brought me here, and so that’s part of an illusion that I believe in so strongly and can be turned every other way.”
Nelli began working on the project, which she describes as “really intensive” 10 months ago, and it has evolved along the way.
“I knew I wanted reindeer,” she said, “so I started making reindeer right away.” Nelli had used reindeer in a previous project made two years ago, and says, “I knew how difficult it is to make them, I have tens or hundreds of reindeer that didn’t work out. I had the idea of what I wanted to create, different worlds, and I didn’t know how I wanted it to come together.”
Nelli describes the installation as being formed of different layers, with her bed “yeah, it’s my actual bed from home” as the center. Yet even the bed has a past, Nelli originally found it discarded on the street then took it home and refinished it to use as a bed, until she decided about five months ago that she would use it in the installation.
“It’s my most private thing in the world, and holds within itself the things that made me so. There’s the Lapland or Finnish fantasy on top of it. We used to go every summer for the whole summer, for two months but I never went to school there. I did live in the US for three years, it was very difficult for me, when I was 12. It was already too late for me to become an American cheer leader, I had too much Israeli cynicism, I couldn’t get into the American bubble anymore.”
Nelli returned to Israel with her family at age fifteen, where she attended high school, followed by the usual Israeli stint in the IDF. She says, “I was very into the army bubble. I belonged to a very elite paratrooper unit, I had a lot of contact with the fighters and I did their camouflage.”
This Israeli aspect Nelli says “contains some fear in it, that’s the part of the ground, kind of a grave, some people say it makes them think of the Holocaust, which is also part of my past on my father’s side… the whole Israeli part is kind of contradicting the Finnish fantasy. Finland is not actually the fantasy that I’ve created here, it’s not that perfect… frozen, as far away as can be from here, I mean, not geographically. Some people have an American fantasy, or Canadian fantasy for some people…”
For those who are as fascinated by the reindeer as I am, Nelli explained that she has a reusable silicon mold in which she puts a special wax. When she opens the mold the reindeer have to be cut out of it, and often the complex, delicate tangle of antlers is damaged in the process. Yet that is not too severe a problem, as this is not yet the end of the process. The wax (which, as Nelli disclosed, unfortunately smells bad) responds well to heat, making it possible for her to work on each reindeer, creating a different stance and individual details on each one before casting in glass employing a honeycomb technique with plaster/silica and fiberglass mold. She learned this technique last summer in Pittsburgh after receiving a scholarship from Bezalel to attend a program at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, and using her Israeli (Finnish?) initiative to set up more opportunities for summer learning.
What does the future hold?
Nelli plans to continue working in glass and is looking forward to another summer of study in the US at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Corning in Upstate New York, where she would like to develop her skills in torch work, of which she says: “I love it a lot.”
The End of the Year Exhibition at Bezalel will be open through August 2, 2013. The opening hours are: Sun – Thurs 10:00 – 21:00; Friday 10:00 – 16:00.