Like sotte voce hisses meant to be heard, Renana Laub presents her first solo exhibit Whispers at the Jerusalem Artists’ House, part of the Nidbach series in the entry-level space that is devoted to debut exhibits.
Whispers shows the visual expressions of inner thoughts, half-thoughts, and murmurings which seem to percolate from just beneath the artist’s skin.
Laub, a recent graduate of Emunah College, focuses on “the possible space between innocence and the wild.” Curator Maya Israel notes that the artist is examining the edges of life, conservation, and withering:
The attempt to conserve and repair emphasizes the gap between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Without having read the exhibition notes, I responded to it more as an exploration of erotic awakenings within the constraints of a conventional world. Perhaps subconsciously, this theme comes through as well.
The far wall of the exhibit is entirely wall-papered by a reproduction of a Moshe Castel painting altered by Laub showing a brushy wedding dress, or spirit, which engulfs the whole setting, unites the exhibit, and sets the tone as one anchored in tradition. Laub stretches the borders of two-dimensionality through found objects and confidant extensions of images, inviting us into her world.
Her journals and sketch pads are open for perusal. We can observe the chains of thought that lead to her more developed works. She includes the stains of Sabbath challah bread on parchment papers and finds in the remnants of her baking a stepping stone in her search. Jerusalem artist Motte Brim recently exhibited works from the same source of inspiration at this venue.
She conjoins dead fish shells, classic paintings, children’s story illustrations, red blossoms, dry twigs, bridal gowns, with red threads and red resin pulling the eye across the room from piece to piece.
Paradoxically, the reds that guide us from work to work recall Corot, an artist who dealt predominantly with visual observation. He was known to include red points to bring the eye through his paintings, as one would “follow the reds.” In Laub’s approach the image is an initial jumping-off point to reach deep within to what is felt.
A shallow terrarium created in the deep window ledge of the building’s Ottoman era window, echoes the rhythms she created in the room, which includes a tree-like object created from a twig that is repeated in some of the works. The live plants in this miniaturized space are grasses sprung from the raw earth, but in this garden of bonsai proportions they evoke wider and wilder open spaces.
The small expanse is echoed inside a re-purposed wooden cuckoo clock in the adjacent room (which could have benefited by some additional lighting). The normal is reversed; the outdoors comes into the house-like setting, as if uncontrolled nature has taken over domesticity and as we peek in we become voyeurs.
Associations bounce between the optimism of white wedding dresses and new beginnings set-off by blood-like stains, perhaps referencing virginal sex or violence; red threads which evoke symbols of either good fortune or protection from evil; dried twigs, plant remains, empty fish bones are shards of decay and absence.
Though Laub speaks softly in Whispers, she is carrying a big emotional and visual stick, leaving the viewer with much to ponder.
Jerusalem Artists’ House