... the Israeli society itself.
Dafna Kaffeman┬┤s conceptional approach goes back to her studies at the Gerrit Rietvelt Academy in Amsterdam, where students were encouraged to take on philosophical, sociological, or political themes in their works. In 2001, after receiving her Master of Fine Arts, she returned to Israel. The political and social situation she found in her home country became more and more present in her artistic expression. Therefore her earlier more abstract series Wolves (2004) visualizes, according to Kaffeman, "fear and violence". The wolf-shaped sculptures that show glass spines in a variety of blacks, each bending in a different direction, embedded on a silicon base that is applied on an aluminum panel, have a threatening effect to the viewer.
On the basis of a mixed-media approach, Dafna Kaffeman developed a concept which underlies her following series Persian Cyclamen (2006), Red Everlasting (2008), and Mantis religiosa (2010). She combines old handkerchiefs embodied with Arab and Hebrew phrases, taken from newspapers, and filigree glass objects of native plants, insects and arachnids. Unlike in Wolves she addresses in these works the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a more direct form, and each of the elements in her assemblies has a specific meaning, which is only fully accessible to viewers with Israeli-Palestinian background knowledge. This is also true for her most recent series Invasive Plants. Here, the artist uses mostly plants that weren┬┤t originally native in Israel to express her views on Israeli society. She also includes quotes from newspapers, this time embroidered on pillow case size felt.
In an Interview with AVVA-Berlin Dafna Kaffeman talked about her art and conceptual approach of her assemblages.
AVIVA-Berlin: We read that you discovered glass as your means of expression, after you experimented some time with drawing and poetry and several mixed-media sculpture. What made you choose this material for your art?
Dafna Kaffeman: I started using glass at the Bezalel Art Academy when I was a student, but it took me a while to understand how to use it as a mean of expressing my ideas. I was always using text and drawing but only when I worked on my first solo exhibition at Lorch+sidel contemporary in 2006, did all this come together. Glass is a fascinating material. I like the ambiguous in the appearance of the material, as it is depict in very fragile and complex shapes like plants and insects.
AVIVA-Berlin: In your earlier works, like "Wolves" or "Tactual Stimulation", you sought to awaken feelings of fear in a more abstract form. You began to refer more concretely current social and political events in Israel more concretely with your series "Persian Cyclamen". Could you please tell us how this change came about?
Dafna Kaffeman: the change happened when I returned to Israel in 2003 after spending a few years abroad. I felt that I could not disregard the political situation in Israel. Artists either face political issues or not and at this point I chose to include it in my work as a mean of discussing it and facing it.
AVIVA-Berlin: In your work you seem to take on both, the Israeli and Palestinian perspective, by including Hebrew and Arabic text in your embroideries. How did you develop this approach of including text? According to which criteria do you choose your texts?
Dafna Kaffeman: The text is always the beginning of the work. I have an archive of text from the spoken and written press. I collect sentences that have some gap between the subject matter and the phrase used to describe it. It usually takes me sometime until I realize how I could use the text to built the work around it and there is many times a gap of a few years even between the publication of the text and the realization of my work. I think this time gap is necessary for me to create some distance that allows me to view the text in a different perspective and develop my ideas around it.
AVIVA-Berlin: Since the series "Persian Cyclamen" you also started to use different materials. Here, as well as in "Red Everlasting" and "Mantis religiosa" you combine handkerchiefs embroidered with texts and delicate glass sculptures of plants and insects. What were your biggest challenges working with these specific materials?
Dafna Kaffeman: Glass is the most challenging material for me. The transformation I do in my work from living insects or plants into a replica in glass is the most challenging and fascinating phase in my work. I also enjoy very much the embroidery. I have no background in this technique and I learn it as I go along. The nature of embroidering is very different to this of glass- it is much more relaxed and has not the limits of a studio, as glass is. I also like very much to challenge in both techniques and materials the traditional use of it- for example embroidery that is done by men (as in the Mantis religiosa series), or stretching the limits of the glass so that it changes it appearance (as in the wolves series)
AVIVA-Berlin: In your recent series "Invasive Plants", as well as in "Mantis Religiosa", you include insects in your narratives. What fascinates you about these animals and what do they symbolize for you?
Dafna Kaffeman: creating insects in glass was the next step in my work evolution after the plants. They are more complex in the sense of carrying more characteristics in them. The first insect I made was the mantis relgiosa. The praying mantis. The work evolved around a text of a suicide boomer and the mantis was a symbol to it as it is moving as if praying before attacking its prayer. This series was based on insects and plants. the latest series Invasive plants is created of plants with the exception of one insect: the dragonfly.
AVIVA-Berlin: You had several exhibitions not only in Israel, but also in Europe and the USA and you worked as a guest lecturer at the Institute of Ceramic and Glass Arts, Koblenz University, Westerwald-Campus, in H├Âhr-Grenzhausen. How do you generally follow your career and what makes you decide for the places where want work or exhibit?
Dafna Kaffeman: I try to show my work in an art context which is tolerant to my ideas and sometimes is connected to what I deal with in my work. In Germany I find it very interesting to show my work, because of the complex connection between Israel and Germany, and because my family originally came to Israel from Germany in the 1930┬┤.
In other cases the location is so unique that it creates a possibility to stretch my ideas - like in the lighthouse on Utsira, Norway, where I exhibited "Red Everlasting", I involved 10 of the women from the island in embroidering the work.
AVIVA-Berlin: One of the assemblages in your series "Invasive Plants" includes a reference to a rumor from WWII that you heard during your stay in Westerwald. According to this rumor, the allied were said to have used Colorado beetles as a biological weapon against Germany. Could you tell us the background to the idea of including this story in your work?
Dafna Kaffeman: When I planned my exhibition in the museum in Westerwald I knew I wanted to react to the WWII but I did not want to do it too directly. I also wanted to somehow involve people who live there in my work. I asked two of the students in the IKKG (Institute of Ceramic and Glass Arts, Koblenz University) - Maria Wedekind and Masami Hirohata, to collect memories of elderly people of the village, from insects and plants they remember from the WWII. The potato beetle was an important memory for the elderly people- they remembered collecting the larva and for some the memory carries a strong reaction. They believed that the insect was used as a biological weapon against them in the WWII. I thought that this point was a strong connection in my work because it refers to a few aspects in deferent levels-the actual insect, what it represents, the transition it takes in the work and the context it I placed in.
AVIVA-Berlin: Apart for the reference to this particular story from WWII, all plants, insects, language as well as the meaning of the quotes you use in your texts are related to specifically Israeli-Palestinian issues. These are not easily understood by non-Israelis without any background information. How does the perception of your work change in an international context?
Dafna Kaffeman: The work is originally meant to be seen by a non speaking audience. The are 4 levels of viewing the work- the first is as an image, and it is important for me that the image will be very tempting and seductive. The second level is reading the translation. The third level is reading the context of the text used in the work. Sometimes it creates a great tension. The final view is of the overall work after understanding all of the complexity in it. I feel that in this way the complexity of my region is stretched out and it is clear that nothing is as it is seen, and that everything is open to different perspectives.
AVIVA-Berlin: In "Invasive Plants" you also show the process of the making, by including the paper templates for the embroidering in the work. Which effect did you intend to achieve by showing how the assemblies were created?
Dafna Kaffeman: I felt that it gives a more complete understanding if how my work is done, and I found that they have esthetics strength by themselves which is affecting the total viewing of the show. The actual practice of embroidering started to be more dominant in my work in the past years and I think it is natural that this aspect gets more room in my exhibitions.
AVIVA-Berlin: Could you please tell us something about your future projects? How do you find your subjects, do you consciously take on current event, or do you capture certain atmosphere on more subconscious level?
Dafna Kaffeman: The direction I am taking now is to create larger assemblage. I use now a more social text (rather than political text) which relates to the social revolution and uprising which started in Israel in 2011. Next year I am committed to a large show in a museum in America.
Thank you so much, looking forward meeting again!
The Artist: Dafna Kaffeman born 1972 in Jerusalem, studied at the Bezalel Academy forArts and Design (1994-96), graduated from the Gerrit-Rietvelt-Akademie(BFA 1999) and the Sandberg Institut (MFA 2002). She has one person shows, among others, at the American University Museum in Washington (2011) and the loch+seidel gallery in Berlin (2006, 2010, 2013). In 2011 she was awarded the price Price for the Advancement for the Arts (Israel) Kaffeman┬┤s works are exhibited in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, MY, the Montr├ęal Museum of Contemporary Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum London, the Kunstsammlung der Veste Coburg (DE), and others. Dafna Kaffeman lives in Tel Aviv and is head of the Glass Studies Department of the Bezalel Academy for Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
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Copyright Fotos von Dafna Kaffeman: Sharon Adler
(Quellen: Galerie Lorch+Seidel, Dafna Kaffeman Homepage)