Sunday, April 20, 2014

Encountering Colour

- a workshop at Oxford Brookes University introducing Goethe's Colour Theory 

On March 6th I gave a workshop on Goethe's Colour Theory (1) in the Department for Social Sculpture at Brookes University. The workshop proposed an experiential and synthetic approach to the world of colour phenomena as opposed to the analytic approach of Newtonian science.

Apart from providing hands-on experiences of how colour comes about in the meeting of light and darkness, the Goethe's Colour Theory served as an introduction to his scientific method. (2)

participants notes of the workshop

Goethe considered his treatise on colour, which was based on 20 years of painstaking research into each and every aspect of colour, including its effect on the human being, as his most important achievement - less because of its contents but rather because of the unique method of research.
Performing some of the key experiments we followed Goethe's explorations through the two first main compartments of his theory:

observing and drawing complementary colours

  • physiological colours (including coloured shadows)
  • physical colours (colours in the atmosphere, prismatic colours)

observing colours in the fishtank

We explored the complementary nature of additive and subtractive colour mixing:

subtractive colour mixing 
additive colour mixing

Eventually we had a taste of the "sensual-moral qualities of colours by walking around the campus with coloured foils in front of our eyes:

Here are some feedbacks from course-participants:

"Thanks for sharing your magic and helping us to see!!!"
 "...'Colours are the deeds & sufferings of light'- J.W Goethe.  Ascendant & encountered after a day with the fabulous Axel Ewald who hosted the Goethe: 'Encountering Colour' workshop today...much gratitude!"
Axel with participant Dianne Regisford


(1) Goethe, J.W.von (2000): Goethe's Theory of Colours. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: M.I.T. Press; reproduced from: (1840) London: John Murray
(2) for an introduction to Goethe's scientific method: Bortoft, H. (1996). The Wholeness of Nature.  Edinburgh: Floris Books

thanks to Helena Fox and Dianne Regisford for the photographs

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Space for Bees

-  Inauguration of the first Bio-Dynamic Beehive Project in Israel

On coming back to Israel after my stay in Oxford I made some surprising and heart-warming discoveries. Meeting the farmers who are running the 'Gan Habeit' organic vegetable garden, I learned about some developments which had occured in surprising parallel to the things I had met during my studies and which I was hoping to further in Israel:
  • the farmers more and more see their vegetable garden as a community enterprise and are very keen to cooperate on the development of artistic / environmental / social initiatives
  • the farmers teamed up with Yossi Aud who proposed to inaugurate the first Bio-Dynamic educational beehive project on the lands of 'Gan Habeit'. This is seen as a small first step towards dealing with the worldwide beehive crisis (1)
  • this beehive project is a joint project with the newly-founded Initiative for Social Three-folding in Israel (2)
I was thrilled to hear about these developments and offered my cooperation. After meeting with Yossi we agreed that I shall take responsibility for the artistic shaping of the landscape setting for beehive project and also make a contribution to the inauguration ceremony.

The Galilee landscape chosen as the setting for the Beehive project
In March 2014 a group of volunteers from the Harduf community prepared under my guidance prepared the site which was chosen as the germinal point for the beehive community. An existing heap of field stones was utilized to create a simple sculptural gesture as a focus point for the first group of beehives.

Soon after the first 8 beehives arrived and were placed around the sculpture. The project will eventually comprise up to 200 beehives, providing an economic basis for this three-folding project.

The first beehives in situ
the inauguration ceremony of the beehive project, photo by Nelly Gluzman

wiggle-dance of the worker bee
For the inauguration ceremony on March 1st I prepared a social sculpture practice which was based on the 'waggle-dance' of the bees. On coming back from a promising source of nectar in the environment a worker bee performs a kind of dance on the honeycombs, following a distinct choreography. The bee repeatedly follows a figure-of-eight pattern with a straight middle section during which she waggles her tail section. This central part conveys the direction of the food-source relative to the direction of the sun.

The occasion which was attended by some 80 people, including many families with small children, was opened by singing and some introductory words by Yossi, by beekeeper Hilmar Conman and Yuval Elad who represented the Social Threefolding Initiative. Then I introduced the Social Sculpture practice and its relationship to the bee community. Participants were asked to break up into small groups, look for a beautiful spot in the 'bees garden', closely observe the place and share impressions.  Each group then had perform three tasks:

  • to choose one sentence which summarizes the groups impression of the place and share it with the community
  • to bring back a small quantity of one representative natural material from the place and place this in one of the 'honeycombs' which another group had prepared next to the beehives
  • to perform a group 'waggle dance' informing the community of where the group's place is situated 
the 'honeycombs' are gradually getting filled
with special materials from the environment
photo: Nelly Gluzman

one group performs the 'waggle-dance'
This was followed by a communal meal and planting of fruit trees.

planting of fruit trees

The following video clip summarizes the event:

(1) For further information about the beehive crisis and how it is related to the prevailing scientific consciousness, see the excellent book:  Kornberger, H. (2012). Global Hive, Bee Crisis and Compassionate Ecology.  Hamilton Hill: Integral Arts Press. For more information about Bio-Dynamic beekeeping in Israel see Yossi Aud's facebook page 'BioBees'.

(2) The idea of Social Threefolding was introduced by Rudolf Steiner after the first world war. It promotes a separation of the three spheres of social life: the economic, social/legal and spiritual sphere. For more information: Steiner, Rudolf (1996) Threefold the Social Order, New Economy Publications / Rudolf Steiner Archive Series. For information about the Social Threefolding Initiative in Israel see the facebook group 'המשולש החברתי' (in Hebrew)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Environmental Sculpture: Nature, Art, Ecology and Society

- draft for an article in the "Adam Olam" Magazine

Megalithic Stone Row, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Although the concept of 'Environmental Sculpture' is an invention of the late 20th century, its focus on how human beings can creatively get involved with the natural environment has been a major concern of human beings for thousands of years. Prehistoric cultures and tribal societies venerated landscape - rivers, mountains and trees as well as wind, rain and the stars - as a symphonic whole animated by spiritual presence. Sculptural monuments like the stone circles and stone alignments of the megalithic culture were carefully integrated into this living fabric and orientated to specific landmarks and the movement of sun, moon and star constellations during the year.
The nineteenth century and the Industrial Revolution brought almost total estrangement from nature. The artworks of western civilisation became detached from any living context, tucked away in sterile museums and galleries - homeless children of an intellectual and analytical consciousness which was no longer capable or even interested in grasping any living wholeness. Our current ecological crisis is a direct outcome of this mode of thinking which sees nature as a mere commodity and resource for exploitation.

Richard Long
Line Made by Walking
Artists reacted to this loss of context  by concentrating on the only kind of integrity they could still rely upon - the inner lawfulness of the artistic elements of colour, line, form and space. In an attempt to grasp the spiritual essence of colour and form, artists resorted to ever more reduced, minimalistic creations.
Land-Art, or Environmental Sculpture, was born at and out of this moment of utter reduction, as it were, on the edge of nothingness. One of the first and perhaps most pivotal works of Land-Art was 'Line Made By Walking', created in 1967 by the British sculptor Richard Long. It consists of a straight line, brought about by the artist repeatedly and intentionally walking back and forth on a South West England meadow. This seemingly banal work breaks with many well-honed art traditions. It replaces the narrow restrictions of studio and gallery walls with the open natural landscape and, instead of presenting a refined aesthetic product, promotes the artist's primal, wilful activity of walking the land as a potent agent of creativity. With this it also reiterates Paul Klee's claim that "all creation derives from movement". From this pivotal point onwards, Richard Long has been walking the globe, over mountains and deserts, leaving behind him humble, ephemeral traces on the ground in the form  of straight lines and circles. In these works an exciting (although not utterly new) realm of exploration opened up for him and the following generations of environmental artists: how many different ways are there to create a straight line in a landscape and how does each of these lines interact with the specific landscape setting, the topography, specific landmarks, changing weather conditions and so on? Just because the form is so simple and universal ("it belongs to everybody" as Long remarks), its 'site-specific' placement and orientation can speak in a very articulate way - not about itself, but about the place where it appears.
Andy Goldworthy, another British pioneer of Environmental Sculpture, started his career by escaping art school and becoming a naturalist: sleeping outside, waking with the dawn, walking bare-feet, splashing in the water and digging in the mud. He felt the urge to expose himself to the elements, explore and play like a child. "When I began working outside, I had to establish instincts and feelings for Nature. I needed a physical link before a personal approach and relationship could be formed." This immediate, physical, "hands-on" relationship to nature enabled him to develop new sensitivities and organs for nature.

Andy Goldsworthy - Willow Sticks with Water Reflection, 1988

"Willow Sticks with Water Reflection" (1988) is a good illustration of his working method. He often remarked, that, as an artist, he has no personal message to express. It is only by meeting the particular situation, that his artistic imagination begins to work. In "Willow Sticks", what we see is the result of a cooperation between the artist's creation and the reflecting properties of  water. This ingenious invention clearly was inspired by the place itself. So in one way, Goldsworthy makes us aware of what anyway already exists in the place. On the other hand, he applies principles of composition, of centre and periphery, of straight and round lines in his delicate, ephemeral and aesthetically pleasing construction. With this he subtly offsets natural beauty with a creation penetrated by human consciousness, awareness and care.
Although the early masters of Environmental Sculpture did not explicitly place their works into the context of the growing environmental crisis, their research, their sensitivity and their careful interventions made a mayor contribution to a beginning shift in environmental awareness. They helped us to "see what is there" and provided striking examples of a more empathetic relationship to nature and the possibility for a truly mutual cooperation with nature. In the last two decades many environmental artists have expanded their practice by more explicitly addressing ecological concerns. This included for instance the artistic design of ecological water treatment plants and projects creating bio-spheres in urban areas.

Axel Ewald - Forest Broom, 1994

Axel Ewald - Shifting Fences, Germany, 2000
My own involvement with environmental sculpture started in England in 1989, when I attended a conference on "Sculpture and Landscape" which included as speakers all the mayor environmental artist of the time, including Andy Goldsworthy. I immediately identified in their search something akin to the holistic approach to nature introduced by J.W. von Goethe (1). Goethe, whose scientific writings formed the epistemological basis of Rudolf Steiner's spiritual science, had pursued his scientific studies of nature by employing the whole tool set of human faculties, including what he called "exact imagination", in order to grasp the wholeness of nature. Parallel to conducting Goethean Science workshops together with the Biologist Margaret Colquhoun, I started to create my first environmental sculptures. Creating artworks in situ, in an ongoing dialogue with places, their history, their material and animated fabric, for me became an exciting artistic challenge and a fitting way of answering Rudolf Steiner's call to artists:

"Painfully our Mother Earth has become mineralized. It is our task, through the work of our hands, to transform her into a spirit-filled work of art." (2)

Axel Ewald - Back to Earth - Environmental Sculpture
using waste materials, Wadi Nisnas, Haifa, Israel, 1999

Roundabout - Environmental Design Project
of students at the Artways Training Centre, Kibbutz Haruduf, 2011-12
Some of my projects attempted the "healing" of neglected places in more urban contexts, like the "Roundabout Project" in Kibbutz Harduf. The site was an empty "void", before it became transformed in the course of a communal environmental design project by a group of art students studying art in the "Artways" training in Harduf. This project included a thorough research of the situation, interviews and community participation in the execution.

Environmental Workshop
Michael Hall School,
Forest Row, Sussex, UK, 2012
In recent years environmental sculpture for me has increasingly become linked with the question of community involvement and social processes. Two years ago I was invited by Michael Hall Rudolf Steiner School in England to conduct an environmental sculpture workshop with the college of teachers. This workshop led to an ongoing working process in which I guided a group of teachers in a communal design process, focussing on a problematic part of the school campus. During this process we arrived, by consensus, at various design solutions, including an environmental artwork which will be constructed in a community effort this coming autumn (3).

One of the striking feed-backs, repeatedly given by participants in such workshops, was that the communal effort, apart from restoring the individuals' bond to nature and nurturing understanding for the fragile fabric of landscape, seems to have a healing effect in the social realm. Sharing our intimate observations and insights as well as participating with each other in creative work on the land can culminate in a first, humble hint of what is a lofty goal for the future of humanity - "Social Sculpture" - a non-material artistic form-creation between human beings (4)


(1) for an excellent introduction into Goethean Science: Bortoft, H. (1996). The Wholeness of Nature.  Edinburgh: Floris Books
(2) quoted from a speech given  by Rudolf Steiner celebrating the opening of the Malsch Experimental Building in 1913
(3) for more about 'consensus design' see previous blog from Oct. 2013 and the book by Christoper Day: Day, C. (2003). Consensus Design, Socially Inclusive Process.  Oxford: Architectural Press
(4) for more about 'Social Sculpture' see the previous blog from Nov. 2013

Floating Sails

-  A Social Sculpture Exploration at Brookes University - December 2013

So, here I am back, finally updating my blog with reports about events from the (not quite so) distant past.

For my final presentation concluding the semester I attended at the Master's Course in Social Sculpture at Brookes University I chose to work with the theme of 'connected-ness'. I wanted to create an installation which would convey an experience of how we - in spite of our distinctive and often conflicting egos - are connected by (invisible) threads; connected to each other and to a larger context which is beyond our finite, temporal existence - and yet dependent on us . Sometimes we can get a hint of this mutual inter-relatedness.
Shortly after I decided on this theme I had a dream, in which I saw (and heard) something like a beating, radiating heart in the centre of a dark space. People, all of whom were connected by some means to this beating centre, were moving around this heart. Some time after this dream I tried to capture this image in a drawing:

This initial image had to go through a number of metamorphoses until its materialization in the final installation. For the participatory installation I decided to involve the group of students and tutors I was studying with. As I wanted people to pick up their own 'threads of inter-connected-ness', I had to make these recognizable and specific to the individuals. Over a period of three weeks I drew 25 portraits of all the people whom I thought might come to the event. These drawings were to be placed on the floor for people to find and pick them up. Each drawing would be connected by means of a thread / string to some kind of kinetic sculptural configuration in the centre of the space. This sculpture would  be very 'responsive' to any manipulation of the threads.

The final sculptural installation was constructed of triangular frames made of willow branches which were holding thin, semi-transparent paper sheets. These 'sails' were suspended from longer willow branches in the fashion of a kinetic mobile. 25 threads were connected to strategic points of the mobile allowing participants to manipulate the movement. With so many 'strings attached' the coordination of the individual movements would be very critical in order to avoid complete chaos and I was very anxious about how people would be dealing with this.

When the group entered the dimly lit installation space on the morning of December, 10th the only instruction they found was the following note:

In the beginning people were somewhat confused and hesitant but soon began picking up their drawings. Then followed a long pause of intense silence with participants standing in a circle around the motionless central installation.

At last some of them plucked their courage, tentatively pulled their strings - and the dance of the sails began. I cannot say for how long it lasted - it was an experience of utter timelessness and magic. People operated their strings with skill and restraint, creating moments of silent communion.
The following video clip was recorded before the actual event (that means without the people). It gives an impression of the effect of the symphony of floating 'sails'. As background music I added a piece from the "Eight Japanese Folk Songs, composed by Vic Nees and performed by the choir I am part of (Kolot HaSadeh Choir, conducted by Anat Aharoni).