Sigalit Landau has had an intense and personal relationship with the Dead Sea her whole life.
The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation in the world. It lies between Israel and Jordan. For nearly two decades, Landau has been exploring the region, its waters, unique natural resources, and its singular geopolitical function through her art. In a recent conversation with Shifting Vision, Landau discussed her relationship with the Dead Sea and its various manifestations in her work.
Spanning across mediums including video, installation, photography and salt crystal sculptures, the Dead Sea recurs in her work naturally. Its iterations are always changing amidst the constantly evolving social, cultural, and political climates in the region.
Landau outlined her various attractions to the Dead Sea as a subject: ‘It’s not a surprise that year after year I keep reinventing myself there. First, it’s a place of poetry. That makes me return to the sea again and again. But then obviously there is the ecological issue, acknowledging that the damage is done and considering how to make things better. Things will never be the same and the political situation is getting rougher. Our experience of nature in the Dead Sea region gets under my skin the more time I spend there.’
Landau also emphasized that ‘time is a big issue,’ highlighting her interest in how the body and the experience of the sea shifts. In addition, she touched on the Biblical baggage of the region itself, recalling memories of her father telling tales tied to the area such as Sodom and Gomorrah. Landau remarked that inevitably, her personal and family history is woven into her work.
The artist elaborated on a recent project in which she enlisted the help of women who were secluded in their rooms at old age homes due to COVID-19. The women needed to pass time, and Landau needed help with embroidery. Over several months she brought them tapestries which they embroidered using colourful thread. Around June or July they stretched them on frames.
The collaboration helped form two-dimensional works using the salt crystals. The first experiment using this technique was on the cover of her 2017 book Salt Years, which traces the trajectory of her Dead Sea works. Landau said that: ‘There is something special about how the fibre behaves, so it’s really trial and error.’
The works deal with landscape, but not the desert landscape. Rather, they feature a European setting with Alps and snow. Landau explained this choice: ‘Of course through nature you connect to place between seasons, so it’s me making a kind of snow in the desert, this is why it’s so poetic.’ There are now more than 30 artworks that have a unique look due to the transparencies of the salt, the colour of the thread, and their two-dimensionality.
The tapestries deeply reflect their own material, but also connect Israel and Europe. Landau discussed this: ‘Some of us were born here. I was born here, but my parents were not, so as a child from literature, and our culture, we heard about Europe,’ both before and after World War Two. Landau pointed out that people like her parents, first generation Ashkenazi Israelis, are really people who are living in a land which is completely in contrast with their memories. At large, Landau’s works are tied to memory; personal, familial, and collective, making them ideal pieces for re-looking, reinterpretation, reinvigoration and reimagining.