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Fabrics Remember

Fabrics Remember

The artists, who participate in this exhibition, are artists who inherited table-cloths, napkins, pillows, aprons and paintings from their families. The touching and observation of those fabric objects summoned within them stories, memories and interpretations, and even lead them to an exploration which is either favorable, or crushing, seperating between the purifying and the bitter portions of the cultural-social fabric in which they were created. For the participants, the exhibition serves as a motion picture screen projecting their reactions. It is fascinating, that a single two-syllable word, fabric, carries all those implications. I chose the word 'remember' because it is an on- going process, which takes place in different times, and varying manners, and it does not have, the ceremonial, almost official-impersonal burden that the word 'memory' carries.

"Memories come crowding when we look back upon the shelf on which lace-trimmed batiste and muslin pieces lay on top of the heavier materials"{Gaston Bachlerd, The Poetics of Space}*

From conversations and visits with the artists, a few interesting themes begun to emerge. One might say that all of our parents came from houses, that even though not rich, were immersed in Bourgeois values, in the good sense of the word, that is, comfortable orderly homes, where table-cloths, sometimes in three layers, covered tables where tea was served, with a small plate of confiture, served on tea-trolleys with napkins, and additional napkins were layed under the 'Vases', to protect the 'Buffet', or the backs of the armchairs, an apron protected each dress, and clothes were buttoned up to the neck. A clean ironed handkerchief for wiping one's nose, or if you should fall or hurt yourself, and another clean, starched handkerchief, 'just for show', in the jacket pocket. The hands forever in constant motion, creating yet another napkin, and one more table-cloth, or an additional gobelin to cover the walls, and lest we forget the linnen closet, all ironed, starched, and folded in strictly arranged stacks. Everything radiated that this is a hierarchical, ordered system where everyone knew their place and their role. Time and money were put into teaching the boys ' a Trade' while the girls were guided towards becoming housewives in a modern version of the Woman of Worth in Proverbs 31: "She hath sought wool and flax, and with delight she worketh with her hands...she hath girded with might her loins, and doth strengthens her arms..she maketh herself coverings of tapestry.." and like mother and grandmother before them, they started, in their teen years to prepare the dowry in thousands of tiny stitches using only a needle and a thimble.

It was amazing to find that in all of us, there are similar remnants, even though not identical, of the same authentic-established tradition, with "DOs" and "DON'Ts". While at the same time it had a lot of make up, cover up, hiding, and ignoring the uncomfortable, the disturbing, but people lived with what they had, and believed that external manners and characteristics were a vital part of "culture". It was odd, since our parents had distanced themselves from it, whether by their own will and ideology, or due to the necessity and hardship of creating a new society. I could not avoid comparing the feeling of empathy, and the respectable manner, which my partners to this exhibition employ in working with their/our own cultural symbols and heritage, even when they do not accept all those values, with the feeling of sacrilege and discomfort I feel, for the cheap exploitation of those ideas in the political slogans that we see and hear nowadays.

It is almost not coincidental, that not a day goes by that we do not hear or read interested parties, soundnig expressions on all the questions treated here so sensitively and gently by my artist friends. We all examine, explore and wonder in a scientific archeological way, the roots of the cultural order of our present being. Haya Ran emphasizes that there is no nostalgia in any of the works. Haim Maor views the reconstructions and preservation of these fabrics a symbol of a pure pre-annihilation age, strives to try to understand what sort of culture he really grew up in. Avishay Ayal brings across the feeling that next to the tea table, the aunts and grandmothers are seating, and that in a short while they will fall, and disappear. Oli Grausz, replies to all of us, that even if we behave ourselves, according to all the rules, there might still be tragic consequences. In various conversations and meetings, Oli Grausz thought that she sees cynicism in my work, and I was glad that she felt it.

Everyone responded when I asked them to write about their own works, with the exception of my grandmother Sophie Cohen-Kleermaker, about whom I asked her son- my father, to write, and I also included portions of her diary which were published.

One might say that the exhibition was first conceived when I received Oma Sophia's table-cloth, but was born from the fact that over recent years I inherited a lot of embroidered, sewn, or crocheted napkins, some of which were already torn and tattered. I was wondering how I could preserve them, and respect the memory of their makers. I realized that I have an 'album' of works that represents and commemorates them, and what they liked to do. Some of them I had known, and heard from them about their own work, but even those I have never met, I know a little, the characteristic touch they used with the materials, and my historical knowledge on the customs of the period, made me extend my hand out and say "How nice to meet you..!"

I had no doubt that my grandmother is an artist equal to the rest of us. Since she was an artist, even though at that time, her being a woman, and an orthodox one, she was said to be 'talented with golden hands'. She worked in clay, and the 'heads' of the entire family decorated the wooden beams under the roof, she gave them for firing in the "Saints Factory", as I called the Icon Factory in the next street, in my childish innocense. She sewed, knitted, and embroidered. The table-cloth shown here is one of several from her original dowry which were saved by her neighbors, or the workers of the Umbrella Factory, and were returned to her when she returned from Treisznstadt and the hospital. The table-cloths were tattered, and were patched in many places, until one day someone scribbled a ball of threads and wrote - Er is steekje los - there is a loose stitch here, Oma embroidered on the script, and since then, every guest, acquaintance, any one who came for dinner, was invited to write on the table-cloth, and grandma embroidered it. Unfortunately, I only have one of them. I estimate that it is about a hundred years old. The dowry layer was embroidered at around 1896, the guests layers was embroidered at around 1948-195? [ near the clock at the center there is a date October 15 1948].

I recalled seeing at Haim Maor's "The Spirit of Ophelia" and his piece on "DJIN-EOLOGY", and I assumed that there are other artists working with heritage- fabrics. So I turned to Sima Sela asking-wondering, whether this wouldn't be an idea for an exhibition. She immediately threw it back into my lap and offered me to curate this exhibition as well, set a date, and before I knew what I was comitting myself to, I became the curator of the exhibition.

I called on Haya Ran and Oli Grausz out of deep appreciation to the way they work, each in her own special way, on matters that concern me as well, and on emotional materials, which are part of my art making.

I invited Avishay Ayal when Haim Maor told me that he visited him, and found works that simply fit the fabric of the exhibition.

My work grew naturally, all the napkins that came from my husband's family Bruck are on light blue pages, all the napkins that came from my family Cohen are on pink pages. On both sides appear additional names of the maternal grandmothers. I tried to get the details as precise as possible. Several exciting things happened to me. The monograms with the name of my grandmother, and my mother's maiden name I found hidden at the edge of a table-cloth, under a laundry label sewn with a coarse thread, it is obvious that they were handled by me, washed and folded by me numerous times, but only now, for some unknown reason, I felt the need to undo the thread and find them. Were they waiting for me all those years?

A relative whom I told about the exhibition, suddenly told me additional family details about my mother's aunt, [also called Regina, like my mother's mother], of whose existence I didn't even know, and that she was also skilled in all fiber crafts.

I thank all the wonderful artists who helped me both in participating in this exhibition and also in many discussions during this year, to embroider a few more stitches in the table-cloth-map of my life, and to Sima Sela who gave the place, and is a full partner in bringnig this exhibition about, and for every possible assistance she could give.

Mirjam [Marion] Bruck-Cohen
Haifa April 1999

Bibliography and Quotations

Translated by Uri Bruck