Unintended Consequences

I was intrigued to hear on the radio one day a report about the soon to be unveiled 108 Steps, a work of art by Khan Lee. I live a few minutes’ walking distance from it. I saw the preparations for its installation before I was aware of its future purpose.

And the talk about the glass cladding to protect the work from climbing is what caught my attention most. It’s one of public art’s troubling challenges these days. Democratization of our institutions has brought a lot of progress to our lives. However, a creeping, unintended side of this process can be noticed in the occasional behavior of normal people. One that can be called “lack of respect or appreciation”. I see it as a basically natural behavior. If you can climb something, you will always find someone willing to do that.

But in urban public space this simple human trait invokes a counter reaction. On the one hand that reaction is just as natural as the urge to climb, yet on the other, just as occasionally – misguided, authoritarian or plain stupid. Let’s protect the public (in this case) from climbing.

Nothing of what I have said so far and about to say is in any way intended to dismiss the value of 108 steps as a piece of art. I like it a lot. I’d love to climb it yet I have no intention of doing so.

For the first five meters up the rungs of the sculpture, a tempered glass shield has been elegantly attached. You can hardly notice the glass. But it’s there. I walk along Kingsway admiring the piece. And my thoughts wander in amusement over the concepts of art. The questions that it raises. The debates it evokes. Isn’t the glass part of this art? 

“Glass Ceiling” I think. They brought the glass ceiling to the ground. The term originally symbolized that invisible barrier in the upper echelons of society. Women on their journey through institutional hierarchy, immigrants, minorities etc. This sculpture says no!

The glass ceiling is more democratic than that. The glass ceiling has reached street level. It is now for everyone. It is hard to notice but it’s there.

No one shall climb anymore.

Was that the intent of the artist? I’m sure it wasn’t. But this is Art

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Gotta b. kiddn’

The infinitely complex undertaking that threadless is taking – to provide a platform of engagement for a massive audience – fascinates me. They started with attracting people through competitions and now we have the Artist Shop to try out.

Yes, this is Hebrew

Stumbling upon a t-shirt prints shop in Tel Aviv, in the later years of the twentieth century started my journey of turning threads of inspiration into wearables. The English version of the one on the left is shown at the top, the image in the center comes from a book by Halbritter; the shirt on the right is my expression of frustration over the introduction of caps to Tetra Pak cartons (“Return the cap to the bottle!”).

At the time when printed t-shirts became a prominent item in the American culture, I was a bit dismissive of people making billboards of themselves. Then, in the early nineteen nineties my brother’s designs for transfer technology exposed me to the broader side of this engagement. After moving to Canada in 2002 I walked into a place that made prints on t-shirts. I was appalled to realize how expensive making one would be, maybe three times the amount it cost me in Israel. However, the idea of finding ways and venues to continue my habit of turning ideas into objects stayed.

Not available on threadless as a t-shirt anymore

Then, in 2010 my sister sent me an orange shirt with a lovely design of a fox. This was the first time I became aware of the company named threadless. Still, the price seemed appalling to me. But why worry, here is a venue where my ideas can join a stream of like-minded people, and possibly even be purchased around the world. My first submission was kindly rejected, making me feel like, why bother…

My first submission on threadless

OK, I appreciate the way things are handled here. The concept of putting your stuff out and gathering feedback, directly and indirectly, is at the core of the design process. Moving ideas from concept to reality on the threadless platform is fun and friendly. The Artist Shop is a welcome addition to the package. I’m happy to have been able to witness its initial stages of development. It’s exciting to follow a process like this (the development of an interactive, functional mechanism) and also participate in its making. Occasionally I send feedback to the threadless team. They are open to ideas and have even implemented successfully some of mine.

Some of my submissions this year, 2016

Sharing insights with unknown people for unguaranteed prospects is not easy for me. Every day requires a set of choices to be made: “Do I post a design? Should I send this feedback or keep it to myself? Is this going to be a t-shirt or a tote bag? How much more garbage does the world need?” An intangible sense of worth is constantly challenged. I solve this by trusting myself, trusting my own intentions. Whatever inspires me I try my best to keep alive and kicking.

Bus Ride Reading (Ignorance is bliss – The Hebrew Version)

ב 2009 כשהורי ביקרו אותנו כאן בוונקובר, יצא לי להבין בהפתעה קלה משהו, שהטריד את יוחנן בתור אבא לילדים שגדלו בבית דובר עברית. באחד מטיולי הבוקר הוא ציין את תחושת היתרון שיש לנו בהשוואה אליו, שגדל אצל הורים דוברי שפות זרות. בשיתוף הזה מצידו, היה משהו מעורר מחשבה. זו אמירה שמכילה רבדים של תחושות כמו תסכול, קנאה והערכה. לפעמים אנחנו עיוורים למכלול המציאות בה אנחנו חלק, עד שמי שאיתנו חולק מה שאצלו. את יכולת ההבעה והכתיבה אני ממילא מנסה לשפר ולזקק בלי קשר. אבל היכולת הזו מיועדת גם לקהל, שבלעדיו אין לה הרבה תכלית

אולי פרט אירוני במחשבות העולות תוך כתיבת הדברים שכאן, הוא שאף פעם לא הבחנתי אצל אבא במגבלה ביכולת ההבעה. אבל השיחה שבה הוא הצליח להביע את ההכרה שלו באותה מגבלה, ממשיכה להעסיק אותי במפגשים עם אנשים אחרים. אלה שאני מעריך את יכולת ההבעה שלהם כטובה משלי, מהם אני מנסה ללמוד. אלה שיכולת ההבעה שלהם אולי פחותה, איתם אני מנסה להקפיד, מצד אחד על סבלנות ומצד שני על תמיכה. סבלנות בהקשבה ותמיכה במאמץ לנסות. לקראת יום השלושים לפטירת יוחנן שטרן, הייתי עסוק בכתיבת החיבור בהמשך תוך נסיעה בתחבורה ציבורית. הקשר לפתיחה שלמעלה אולי לא מיידי אם כי טבעי עבורי במכלול החוויות העוברות עלי

(קריאה בתחבורה ציבורית (בורות היא אושר

במה אנחנו מחפשים תעסוקה? אני קורא ספר בשם ‘קריאת רשות’ (‘קריאה בלתי נחוצה’ בתרגום לאנגלית) שאת שם המחברת אולי יום אחד אצליח לזכור ולהגות. השאלה שלמעלה מעסיקה אותי בזמן הקריאה ואחריה. אני תוהה מה מוצא חן בעיני בשורות אותן אני קורא ומה גורם לי להירתע. בהמשך אני קורא פיסות מידע על ויסלבה שימבורסקה

הבירור הזריז הזה מחזיר אותי ל’קאמפר’ הראשונות שקניתי. ברחובות מילנו 1999, עברתי ליד חלון ראווה שבו הוצג זוג נעלים שגרם לי לעצור. כאילו מצאתי משהו שכל החיים חיפשתי. הן היו יפות באופן לא מובחן כמעט. היופי שלהן הכיל שלוה, נינוחות, ביטחון עצמי. אפשר היה לעבור לידן מבלי להרגיש בכלל. ובכל זאת הן כאילו חיכו לי. כשמדדתי, הנוחות שלהן הפתיעה רק על רקע נסיון העבר, בו מה שנראה נוח מסתבר בדרך כלל כפחות אם בכלל

הכתיבה של שימבורסקה, המתורגמת לאנגלית, מרגישה מוכרת, בכל זאת זרה, אולי בגלל התרגום, אולי בגלל התחביר. היא “נשמעת” קצת כמו עולה חדש מרוסיה שנמצא בישראל כבר הרבה שנים. השפה רהוטה וקולחת עם מהמורה קלה פה ושם בנגינה

כשאני מדבר אנגלית, מדי פעם חסרות לי מלים. אני ממציא ביטויים שמסבירים את מה שאני מתכוון בצירופים שחדשים לחברה מסביבי. מעמדת הקורא, אני מתרשם שהשפה של שימבורסקה מעוררת בי התרשמות דומה אולי לזו של השומעים אותי במקום בו אני נמצא. מהמקום בו אני נמצא, אני מתחבר חזרה לויסלבה

כשחזרתי מאיטליה עם הקאמפר החדשות, הסתבר לי שזה מותג ספרדי חם בשוק האפנה האירופאי, כולל ישראל. תהיתי איך הייתי מתייחס לנעליים בחלון אם הייתי יודע על כך מראש. לא מפריע לי להסתובב עם מותג. מפריע לי לקנות אותו רק בגלל שהוא זה

עודד, שקרא לי בעברית חיבור אחד מתוך הספר, חסך ממני את הפרט הלא רלוונטי של פרס הנובל בו זכתה שימבורסקה. כשפניתי לקנות את הספר חשבתי לעצמי, האם אני קונה אותו בגלל שאני מושפע מהמפגש עם עודד או כיוון שמשהו בטקסט היה באמת חזק מספיק עבורי

אחת השאלות ששאלו את ויסלבה, משוררת פולנית ידועה, שנפטרה בת 89 ב 2012, היתה למה לא פרסמה יותר שירים. התשובה שלה מחזירה אותי לקרוא את החיבורים שלה, “הבלתי נחוצים”: “יש כבר סל מיחזור אצלי בחדר” . י

Bus Ride Reading (Ignorance is bliss)

In 2009, my parents visited us here in Vancouver. Somewhat unexpectedly I realized an issue that had bothered Yohanan, my dad, for years. In one of our morning walks he mentioned the advantage we’d had over him. Being Israeli born to immigrant parents, he always felt that his exposure to language was compromised.

He expressed awareness to the fact that we, his children, grew up in a Hebrew speaking household. That confession provoked layers of thought in me. I could sense the frustration in him, the envy as well as appreciation and respect. We are sometimes blind to the complex reality we live in until the person with us shares their own. My drive to improve and distil my own process of expression and writing is already established. However, my skills are deemed futile without an audience.

As I am writing these words, the irony in my dad’s state of mind has not escaped me. I have never considered his level of expression as missing much. But our chat in which he managed to express his awareness to that perceived fault, keeps me alert in my encounters with other people. From those I appreciate the level of
expression as superior to mine I try to learn. With the ones whose level might be lower I try to be careful, on the one hand with patience and on the other – support; being patient in listening and supportive of the effort to try. This memory came back to me as the thirty days from my dad’s passing away (on 21 November 2015) approached. I was just about to complete a piece of commentary following a few days of commuting on bus to work. The link between the opening above and my commentary seems natural to me if not immediately obvious.

Bus Ride Reading (Ignorance is bliss)

What do we occupy ourselves with? I am reading a book, named ‘Non-required Reading’ (initially introduced to me in Hebrew as ‘Optional Reading’). One day I might remember its author’s name and manage to pronounce it. The question above rolls in my head as I am reading and beyond. I wonder what it is that attracts me to it and what turns me off.

Later I read snippets of information about Wislawa Szymborska. This quick exploration throws me back to the first ‘Campers’ I have purchased.

In the streets of Milan, 1999, I passed by a window where a pair of shoes made me stop. It was as if I found something I had been looking for my whole life. They were beautiful in an almost unnoticeable way. And yet they were waiting for me. When I tried them on, their comfort was only surprising in light of past experiences, where what looks comfortable turns out to be less so or even not at all.

Szymborska’s writing, translated into English, feels familiar yet still foreign. Maybe because of the translation, maybe due to its syntax. She “sounds” a bit like a new comer from Russia who’s already been away from her homeland for many years. The language is fluent and flawless with a screech here and there in its music.

When I speak English, occasionally my vocabulary fails me. I invent expressions that explain my ideas in combinations that are new to my listeners. From the reader’s point of view, my impression of Szymborska’s language is probably similar to that of my audience, in the place where I am. From where I am, I re-connect with Wislawa.

When I returned from Italy to Israel with my new Campers, I realized that they had been a hot Spanish brand in the European fashion world including that of Israel. I was wondering how I would have treated the shoes had I known about that in advance. Not that I am worried about being dressed in a brand name. I am simply averse to buying a brand name just because of it.

Oded, my friend who introduced ‘optional reading’ to me, read one of the book’s pieces in Hebrew. He had spared me the irrelevant knowledge of Scymborska’s being a Nobel prize for literature winner. Still, when I considered buying the book I asked myself whether I was buying it just because of my meeting with Oded or thanks truly to the strength of the book’s text.

Wislawa, who died at 89 in 2012, was a well known Polish poet. She was asked once how come she hadn’t published more poems. Her response draws me back to her “non-required” essays: “My room already has a recycling bin.”

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Audience Looking for a Story

Process needs a storyboard; results need an audience.

Some breaking is done by hand, other times tools are used

I’ve been developing a glass mosaic making course in the last few weeks. Starting with a discussion at Kona Stained Glass on Knight & 33rd, I wanted to get my hands “dirty” so that I can get a sense of what my students are about to experience.

Cutting glass is magical. You scratch the surface slightly and with very little pressure you drive the whole piece to open into two. Even with a straight line it still fascinates me to hold my fingers at the base of the score line and crack my door into the material. But then come the meandering lines. The glass can just as easily follow your path.

Starting with the image of an actual scene, surfaces are defined to generate the proposed concept.

Not everyone who joins a glass mosaic making course is comfortable or skilled enough to plunge into every step of the way with confidence. This is why people sign up to take courses in the first place. You might not expect all the revelations that will inspire you to continue but you sure hope to get rewarded for your investment.

Dividing the surface into a grid generates a playful module

But the making of mosaics is not about mosaics and not about making. It’s about storytelling. The story is personal and evolving. It can be the process of making the mosaic piece that will become the story; what brought you here can be part of it; and maybe there’s an image that bubbled inside your head that is waiting to be expressed.

The better the pieces fit together – the better the result

Who is the audience for this result and where in the storyboard can you see them coming from?