Avital Sheffer


March 23 - April 6 2013

An exhibition of Avital Sheffer's hand-built ceramic art resonates the atmosphere of a sacred space. Spot lit, and standing on their plinths of varying heights, it is as if the clay vessels are rising up from Levantine antiquity to manifest a unity of enduringly complex, cross-cultural traditions. The rotund forms may be thought of as portals between realms past and future, temporal and spiritual.

"Repositories for the lived experience, the shapes of the vessels express the interconnectedness of the earth and the human body," says Sheffer. "They traverse the fertile terrain of history, archaeology and language, gathering clues to the narrative of time. Layered in the ground beneath our feet lies an archive of the human story."

To further an understanding of her Middle Eastern and Jewish heritage, Sheffer recently returned to her homeland for a residency in the Antiquity Wing of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. It proved a profoundly inspirational period. The interaction with artifacts that personified millennia of human endeavours, struggles and aspirations provided Sheffer the stimulus to create ceramic art imbued with similar import.

The Israel Museum houses the oldest art object ever found. In viewing that tiny, 233,000 years old figurine, Sheffer was moved to say, "For a brief moment I was able to inhabit the space behind the eyes of its maker and connect with the shared roots of humanity." Contemplating the museum's vast collection of votive effigies, Sheffer recognised in their form and function the paradigm of an integrated, holistic approach to living. "These ladies are full and fertile. They are about abundance and generosity; ancient memories etched on their skin are carried into the present. The ‘other' is forever present and seductive. Connecting to history in search of meaning is unpacking the archaeology of our collective subconscious."

"The intimate relationship between the human body and the created object is intricate and fundamental," continues Sheffer. She relates that her process of making an earthenware vessel is "nourished by thoughts of fertility and continuity discerned as dimensions of the human form." The work Seed II exemplifies this. Its rudimentary, arm-like handles indicate a posture or attitude. They also serve to triangulate the gestating seed and lift the swelling volume of the vessel's base. Screen-printed motifs derived from Hebrew texts and illuminated manuscripts clothe the sensuous form, the line of blue dots representing the stitching together of disparate elements. Inside the receptacle are the stories and secrets of the ages, preserved and contained by the stopper.

In describing the essence of the Chalcos vessel Sheffer says, "The undulating central line is succumbing to gravity and age. The holed handles become part of the form, just a faint memory caving into itself." But the work also holds archetypal, regenerative symbolism. Spirals of leafing branches signify a continuum and renewal while amplifying the elegant flow of form. Script from a Yemeni marriage document surrounds the grooved longitudinal division that snakes up to the tiny orifice. Embedded within the spine-like curve are the seeds of potential and new life.

"The embodiment of notions of utility, divinity and aesthetics in the vessel form is as ancient as conscious existence," concludes Sheffer. Although inspired by the archaic, her art exudes a thoroughly contemporary aesthetic and relevance. Encompassing a universal principle that transcends cultural dichotomies, the vessels offer a confluence, "a quiet conversation, suggestive of future possibilities for collaboration and interaction."




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