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The Quest of Material Assemblage into the Textures of Beauty / Doron Polak

Helen and Asnat’s works of art combine a naiveté and yearning for the secrets of olden local tradition and culture with an up-to-date presentation of Israeli handiwork, marked by their own personal insight, thus generating a dramatic encounter with the conventional boundaries of Israeli art. The works reopen the discussion about the line that separated art from craft, distinguishing the explicable, well-reasoned, conceptual-theoretical work of art from a handiwork that strikes emotional chords and is based on authentic work gathered in situ and executed in the here-and-now.

While it is commonly accepted that the debate between so-called high art and the more popular craft which engages mainly in decoration, is largely semantic, it is hard to ignore the striking visual wealth that runs through the works: most of them are executed on background surfaces made of massive industrial iron, invoking dramatic tension with the spectacular cultural items made from wood, colorful weaving, or silver. Original in their designs and different from what we are accustomed to seeing around us, these unusual works reintroduce, as aforesaid, quandaries about art’s limiting definitions. The artists extract their raw materials from leftover Bedouin and Oriental rugs, weaving therein parts of rare Yemenite jewelry and silver coins. The texture is further enhanced by traditional objects of Judaica, and supplemented by sculptural pieces made of railway sleeper wood. The resulting combinations are highly unusual. 

The definition of art and its products - works of art - has undergone extensive metamorphoses throughout the ages and throughout the world, in keeping with its diverse functions. A citizen of today’s Europe may perceive works of art as portable commodities purchased for their prestige or in order to give their owner pleasure. In other generations and in different parts of the world, works of art were regarded as magical symbols, ritual foci, or the incarnations of myth and legend, facilitating spiritual meditation. As a result of the profuse expansion of abstract art and its variegation, an intrinsic system of allusions and quality criteria was formed. Furthermore, in the course of time it has become clear that many of these criteria are closely linked with those of traditional figurative art and its basic constituents – line and form, rhythm and a recurring pattern, mass and space, light and shade, color and texture.

Helen and Asnat’s combined works are executed in a unique assemblage technique all their own. The art objects populating the surface of the work always carry a double function. On the one hand, they infuse the work with an idiosyncratic associative content alluding to its origin, while on the other – they must blend into the color and formal texture of its components.

Assemblage is a technique in which the picture is comprised, entirely or in part, from found or industrially manufactured objects and materials. It is based on assembled objects that are incorporated into a new work in process. In his Encyclopedia of Painting and Sculpture, art historian David Piper maintains that such art forms have enabled contemporary artists to cross the boundary between one artistic category and another. Early works created in mixed media in previous generations were usually cherished by their makers for being precious objects intended for worship, and were beautified by gilding, leaf and precious stones. In contrast, the source for the imagery and materials comprising twentieth-century assemblages is often a junkyard and a flea market stall. Responding to the flood of visual stimuli poured down on them, artists of recent generations have proved that the formal elements of line and form, color and texture, can be created from a virtually unlimited selection of elements. Art critics thus hold that the ease with which one may install, shift, remove or reassemble the various parts in an assemblage and a collage greatly enhances the contrast between these artistic categories and other categories typical of pre-twentieth-century western art. The art objects assembled by Asnat and Helen were extracted from unknown collections, from primary sources, and they are all offered to the viewers within the texture of the new work of art. As the makers of a new art work, they enable the viewers to approach objects from which they are usually distanced in a museum.

Artist Boris Schatz, founder of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem, asserted that “art is a means to convey sentiments to others”. In his biography about Schatz, art curator Yigal Zalmona explains that this was his definition of typical Romantic art, which regards the experiencing individual as the cause and condition for the work of art. Schatz is said to have always emphasized art’s being the expression of the people’s “personal collective”. Helen and Asnat’s work combines, as they attest, authentic elements from the past in modern minimalist compositions. The viewers will feel close to the cultures represented by these elements. Combining past and present, their new works are likely to spark a renewed interest among viewers unfamiliar with these styles. Of special consequence is the exposure of attributes of our local culture and that of our immediate neighbors. A more profound acquaintance and deeper understanding of the other will undoubtedly contribute to an atmosphere of collaboration and co-existence, while promoting understanding and tolerance among our nations.

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