Anat Sharon

Iron Poetry | Anat Sharon

An old iron staircase hangs on the wall, and iron waves climb it like a tide. Irit Segal's work was inspired by the Song of Ascents in the biblical book of Psalms, said to have been sung by King David when he dug pits under the Altar of the Temple and water from the abyss threatened to flood the world. This theme recurred as the sculptor worked on each step of her impressive series, creating a complex relationship between the ancient verses and the iron and rust-laden yard of her studio in the Haifa Bay area. Careful reading of the Song of Ascents reveals that it is written as a series of `recipes' for spiritual ascension, but also connects with the earth and humanity - prayers that are guides to everyday living. The iron staircase has been transmuted, has become a `going up' - a sculptural progression in iron to lofty places.

There are many verses related to seafaring in the Song of Ascents. In the Song of Ascending the first step presents the waves of the sea, the second bears a ship, and the third is the destination towards which all voyagers strive - home. The staircase connects the open, stormy desolation of the sea, where everyone is at God's mercy, to that intimate, secluded haven at journey's end. These works echo the Creation, beginning with the abyss, dividing the waters above from those below, and ultimately creating dry land - home.

The stairs that continue the series continue this dialogue with a different version of the Creation. There are animals, the first of which is Lilith, the bird of prey named for Adam's rejected first wife. The ancient writings tell us that Lilith lived in the dark among the spirits of darkness. This work, constructed of iron elements bursting out of the stair, suggests movement that Segal Israeli has created out of inanimate material, perhaps another version of the Creation, the generation of movement, of life, out of immobility. The next step is "Relationships" - a man and woman whose upper torsos are joined as if they were a single, androgynous being, though their lower parts are not connected. Here a harsher, stronger movement is registered in the iron, as the images peel out of themselves, out of the stair, out of their framework - an image of being driven out from the Garden of Eden.
Segal Israeli's rendering of the Creation is even more evident in the next work, Svmnbiosis, in which a bird, a bull, a rhinoceros and a kneeling woman are depicted. It is not Adam who names the creatures, it is woman.

As the series unfolds, the artist achieves pure beauty in her ability to convey movement in the hard, unyielding metal. This is hardly surprising, since the next work - Circles - continuing the story, is also a homage to Trit's late sister, the dancer Roni Segal. Here, the dancer bursts from the stair towards the viewer, breaching the stair that is the sculpture's base and creating an open spiral that flows upwards in an elliptical motion, transforming the Song of Ascending into an ecstatic dance. This ecstasy is amplified in Sambation, the next work, a vortex of stormy waves conveying the full force of a gale, its sound and fury, in the stillness of the iron.

The artist works with iron pipes, cutting them out to form curves and spirals. Her intention is to breathe movement into the metal, movement that extends in all directions, metamorphosing the inert iron in regard to both shape and content. This is very evident in the next work - Shells - in which some kind of insect can be seen on the stair. It seems to be sloughing its chrysalis, to be born; but it also appears to be decomposing, dying, and all this is conveyed by the content woven in and out of the iron. This work - one of the last in the series - has implications of the price that must be paid for breaking the rules, for escaping from the established framework. Loss of immortality in Paradise, condemnation to a life on the edge - in this case of the stair, of the earth. Segal Israeli's work conveys the choices, the alternatives. Remain inert, like the iron, or create movement, life, poetry, the Song of Ascending. Perhaps this continues Bialik's essay Hidden and Revealed in Language, and the love that infuses these works reveals itself in these iron sculptures on an iron staircase.

Another perspective must also be noted. Looking at the works in the context of the tradition of Shemi, Tumarkin, Dorchin, all Israeli sculptors working in iron, Dorchin's student, Irit Segal Israeli continues his themes, his rebellion against the purpose of that material, against war and violence. Segal Israeli's work hints at Shemi's Wounded Bird of the mid-fifties, created from scrap iron welded together to create a sense of both movement and vulnerability.
As a sculptor, Segal Israeli has met a cultural challenge, forging her way into a `masculine' discipline, and using iron, of all materials, as her mode of expression. Looking back to the story of the Creation, she tells it in her own, unique fashion by means of these open, gentle, evolving constructions, exposing the movement, the humanity she seeks in them. The artist handles iron intimately, extracts intimacy from it. Dorchin created opaque shells, closed cylindrical spaces, by welding iron to iron to form huge, silent territories. Segal Israeli cuts iron into small, gentle, intimate forms, unlocking the solid mass of the material, infusing it with motion and voice. The iron has a new voice, vital not only from the feminine aspect but also from a wider perspective, Israeli and human: How is it possible to portray gentle motion, those soft and subtle spaces that the Israeli so desperately misses in that hard, unyielding material? The last work in the series returns full-circle to encounter the first. This stair supports a brick wall with a window opening to the sea. An ocean at the beginning, and a hint of the ocean at the end - a metaphor of human destiny, a window opening onto that ocean from which all things come, to which all things return'? The poet Zelda once wrote - "When I die, God will unstitch my fabric thread by thread, and all my hues He will throw to the sea, to his store-room in the deeps".
Many years ago, Dorchin created a series of icons called Windows - sealed windows with no `opening to the sea'. Irit Segal Israeli presents us with a small window in the iron, an open window through which she, like ourselves, sees the sea.

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