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Suissa, Albert. The Rolling Stone. Jerusalem, All Sity. 8.5.98

Rolling Stones
The sculptor Or-nah Ran
On a clear summer morning, we went looking after the famous Jerusalem stone, to see what in it brings along so much dullness into our lives and oppresses our eyes. Or-nah Ran showed that stone is not passé yet. A journey on the traces of her sculpturing works.

By Albert Suissa. Photos by Orna Itamar.

Each person has a wall in his life. One he’s come to know within like a dear friend, and beside which he has been marching for years, dragging a forlorn finger over bumps, scratching himself in nooks and protrusions, raising ghosts of the past like a sensitive seismograph, unveiling his innermost secrets. Sometimes, however, coming back to this wall after years went by, he is surprised how plain, gloomy and unattractive the confident of his young days looks now. A child is capable to arouse powerful emotions, seeing masterpieces in trifles; the artist, who does not have this gift any more, tries to repair his loss.
The splendor of Jerusalem architecture is the stone, but it sometime seems to be mummified in stone. One of the most notable things in the satellite neighborhoods of Jerusalem is the extended system of retaining walls, sometimes gigantic, built of dull stones, inducing estranged sheer drops, which create an atmosphere of imperceptible suffocation, oppression, anxiety and hardness which seep into Jerusalem blood. And beyond preconceived ideas, everybody recognized the tremendous difference between a simple terracing wall, profusion of nuances and romance, in an old orchard in the Jerusalem surroundings, and the dull wall, which borders his neighborhood.
Victor Hugo already foresaw the death of architecture as an art, when he said that that the printing technique, which conferred writing and books to the masses, will bring along an end to architecture, to the historic, emotional and spiritual writing into stone. Artists such as Antoni Gaudí, Yitzhak Danziger, Isamu Noguchi and Or-nah Ran showed, through desperate tenacity, that stone is not passé yet, and that it is still capable of arousing feelings and of telling a story.
On a clear summer morning, the Jerusalemite architect Nehemiah Goraly and I went looking after the famous Jerusalem stone, to see what in it brings along so much dullness into our lives and oppresses our eyes to the point of not standing the view any more. Goraly refused, as a matter of principle, to speak about his work or to pay any attention to the bitterness of my tone. He led me along several amazing walls that constitute a landscape environment by themselves and become genuine artworks, built by Or-nah Ran, an unusual character in the branch of environmental sculpture, a unique artist who sprouted there among us, unnoticed, in the shade of the stone.

1. Without any contractors

Along Menachem Begin Blvd, at the Mall and Stadium junction, facing a compound of buildings, standing apart from the surroundings and estranged to them, and particularly dull and hostile retaining walls, one wall is being built and raised up; it was first supposed to be only to protect the residents of the neighborhood from noise nuisance. The Arab workers working on it were puzzled: this time, the person who gave them working instructions was not a contractor or an engineer or even not the owner, but a capricious woman, a fascinating combination of soft tolerance and firmness, proficient in handling stones, a saw or a stone-cutter’s hammer, and also expert of a kind which they never came upon, in probing attentively gigantic boulders and plain stones, where they rolled from and where they should seat, from a point of view which aroused in them much amazement.
This rich panel – a poetic time sequence, textures, memories, rhythm and color compositions, surprising and changing heaps of stone, amorphic gathered stones, flat stratum stones, old building stones from the ruins of Mamilla, window sills, bored affixing accessories, tar spots, a milling stone, a tombstone and a sealed gate – extends along some two hundred meters over a height of about three meters, and it constitutes a genuine artwork. The worked christened the wall “Mellawin”, which means in Arabic: colorful, varied, because for the first time they could put aside the hate surging in their building energy and love, yes, simply love one odd wall, which somehow took a personal emotional meaning for them. And soon, when, on their maneuvers and bypasses on days of quarantine, they saw some unusual boulders and stones, they said: this one, we’ll keep it for Or-nah, for the “Mellawin”.
In these narrating terraces, Or-nah revives a rare and not particularly known experience by Yitzhak Danziger, in the Siach Creek, near Haifa, of creating a sculpture environment that carries on an intimate dialog with the magnificent ancient local culture, in which stones, trees and fauna are the only remaining mute participants. Only Or-nah goes further than Danziger; she creates a kind of meditation Zen garden in the occidental and mid-east spirit, which makes of “spazieren” (a stroll) along it a rich investigating experience of the most split-off cultural mystery, which, in our quarters, has been concealed under the Israeli stone and concrete; and raising, for who walks along its length, an inner landscape as a compensation for the real view which has actually been confined between walls.

2. The Bench

Along the Hebron Road, some naïve people think that every sculpture that stands in the public space is a street statue. They maybe must be reminded that aside tractors, post signs and benches, one can also find in the Municipality warehouses a number of sculptures, ordered in advance. Not every sculpture dropped by a municipal employee in a certain environment is forcibly environmental sculpturing. Furthermore, quite a few abstract sculptures, boasting environmental rationalism and objectivity, are no more than the Israeli version of the biblical “annihilating and destroying idols off the surface of earth.” Or-nah Ran is an environmental sculptor without disguise or makeup. For her, the environment is not only a desert to be flowered up, but also a hill with some ruins, which claims its debt with the place, the time and the history.
For instance, many years ago, William Holman Hunt, a particularly restless painter, use to stay on the esplanade of the Mar Elias Monastery, facing Herodion and the wild Judean desert landscape, and he drew again and again, without getting tired of it, the Azazel and its customary inhabitants, devils, ghosts and monsters who always plane over it, until these evil spirits finally came up and killed him with a hard disease. His loving wife, who used to watch him from a distance, built a beautiful stone bench, a monument to her late husband, who used to stay there and fight against evil angels who finally overcame him. Dust, sand storms and the hassles of the roads and of time threatened to evince the bench from the esplanade, which remained desolate and neglected for many years at the road junction to Bethlehem.
Or-nah Ran, with a loving hand, embedded this bench into the Foundations sculpture, which she built on the Mar Elias Monastery esplanade, a garden made for meditation into the oriental foundations in relation with the local culture: water – northern winter; flower – eastern spring; fire – southern heat; metal – autumn and western introspection; and the earth, mother of all living. Here also everybody got swept away into the enthusiasm of unconventional building: the workers, the contractor and the Monastry Father Superior. Various basalt boulders were brought in from the Golan Plateau; a well rolling stone was the workers’ gift; and the Monastery Father Superior donated a decorated hand cleansing base and a superb relief in ancient writing, as well as a few arak shots for dessert.
The painter’s wife’s bright idea of immortalizing the view which the painter used to contemplate, even though we don’t know his drawings, gets a double and touching strengthening on the sculptor’s part, by her evocation of the woman who built the bench, which in its turn tell her story, about the woman who observes her husband fighting against ghosts, produce of his mind. This is only one example out of many in an environmental artwork that stretches along several hundreds of meters on both sides of the Hebron road in renovation; beginning with the fascinating boulders of the “Horse” and the “Camel Head”, which already mark the landscape at the traffic circle at the exit of the Jerusalem Ghilo neighborhood; continuing with the local vegetation being maintained, this term being given a double meaning, olive and pomegranate trees looking upon you like statues of a cathedral of natural horizontal; ending in low walls made of local stone, meandering, changing, avoiding decadence as well as boredom, developing into an acute sculpturing effect through a simple technique of two-layer building, creating, by the grace of the intense sun, changing shadows flowing restlessly through the hills.
Or-nah’s artwork here is a marvelous example of landscape rehabilitation of the desert border, of lifting all the nature’s and man’s foundations up from the very depths of forgetfulness and of symbolic quality enhancement of the very fact of its being a border area. Besides the exaltation of the landscape itself, the promenade evokes a historic, actual and symbolic panorama, and the two aspects merge harmoniously. It is interesting to compare with the near-by cold and high-flown Shrover promenade. It looks to me that the reason for the different inspirations is that the Hebron Road promenade constitutes a landscape by itself, which naturally binds and combines with what it reflects, while the Shrover promenade could have been located anywhere: its prestigious and grandiose character is fed from the magnificent panorama around it and it glorifies it at the most, but does not add anything to it.

3. Talking Baby

The Hagai Park, in the middle of the Haemek Garden in Giv’at Zeev, features a monumental baby that seems like surging out of the very crust of the earth, and looks upon the new world; to say that the Lord did not create man from earth, but a bi-sexual baby. Because of serious technical problems and in order not to hurt the feelings of religious people with a blunt figurative representation, the intended welcoming chubby “Little Buddha” his place to a “Wise Yanuka” (Yiddish word for “baby”), inviting children to climb and slide over his multi-armed living body, some kind of delicate, but richer replica of the “Monster” made by Niki de Saint Phalle in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel.
The emotional nature expressed by the topic of the innocent “Wise Baby”, who knows, is reminded in the recursive tension between round lines and outburst. The sculpture contains many variations of flowing around: the disk of the face, the jaws, the arch of its back, the curves of slides and the stairs, opposite to each other. But there are also a few outbursts, tears that avoid a monotonous whirl. A huge local limestone boulder has been hewn into an olive press crushing stone with, chiseled in negative on it, a charming face, shining like a Miró’s kite, in contemplation of the magnificent view of the far landscape, revealed through the Ayalon River valley. The problem of figurative representation (even in modern sculpture!) found its solution in a twofold return, to the primitive through the abstract, and to the abstract through the primitive.
And again, I am certain that this Baby will inspire into a sensitive viewer a fascinating look upon Or-nah Ran’s commitment, on one hand, when she creates an environmental sculpture, to the various aspects of the environment and, on the other hand, on the way she relates to its deep artistic and cultural heritage. Aspects that the present scope cannot fully decipher.

4. The pond and the cave in Gibeon

At the entrance of Givon HaHadasha, during an inspirational observation of the ancient landscape, of unequaled cultural and historic richness, one can, to his surprise, slowly discover an admirable artwork, arousing an irresistible amazement. The making of the pond and the cave in Givon HaHadasha elevates Or-nah Ran to summits of practical environmental sculpture of excellence, unseen since Gaudí. This is perhaps the most beautiful ride stop and center for friendly meetings that have ever been built in our country.
The way one would gradually discover an animal in nature, we can see a kind of delicate feminine heel, unless it is the hock of a noble gazelle, built of reddish gathered stones, one by one, rising up in a hot and sensual incline, strong curved yet continuous sight, which generates underneath it an intimate, musical and trickling space, gently inviting to shelter inside the cool cave below, an over it a widening space, an observatory with a view over panoramas, which imply each other, each landscape opening into a landscape inside another landscape.
In front, a booth with a microcosm of landscape – a pool of springing water, earth and rocks, vegetation and fauna, a well concealed delightful treasure too, which keeps jealously the pleasure of the surprise and the discovery that wait inside. Around the “The pool that was in Gibeon”, three gazelles are gathered; they came to quench their thirst in a symbolic, dramatic and touching order, featuring “biblical” stations, which are: "Sun, stand still upon Gibeon" (a doe, lying down over a boulder, full of her pregnancy and of the sunrise); “Thy beauty, O Israel, upon thy high places is slain!” (a fawn descending the slope, expressing fear of the danger and thirst for lively water); and “My beloved is like a stag” (a male, in a tense posture between watch and escape). The gazelles figures are themselves thought-well compositions of materials and symbols in complex textures of cast bronze: feet of reed stems, body carved in bee wax, elongated pinecones for the eyes, the antlers being artificial Israeli terebinth branches, weaving strings representing the handwork of old times, and more.
For a long moment, we stood there, in amazement, our stares paralyzed, next to the sculpture, absorbed in long prostrations to the view of the stretches of flowering Gibeon area, and then coming back to the peaceful circle. Inside myself, I felt jealousy and retained anger; there is, in this place, a kind of “Moses’ right hand complex”, a marvel of creation in an elitist settlement, above the people.

5. Whirlwind

A pedestrian bridge, Lifta. On our way back from Gibeon, we found ourselves swept in a terrible whirlwind generated by Menachem Begin Blvd at the top of the scarred and torn down slot of the good old Lifta Promenade: the tops of the buildings, around and above, the Magen David ridge and the highways, two giant pits crevassing the hill, the twisting branches of the Ramot Road, a prefab pedestrian bridge in a sharp curve, around and around.
The best way to escape the whirl is to let it aspire you into the deep, and then go back to emerge up. But this time it is worth investing some effort to stay a little longer in this choppy deepness, for there you shall meet Tiamat, the Mesopotamian Godess from whom the world was begotten, a huge conch, split out into two halves, its octopus arms moving and swarming around in the deepness. In the Book of Genesis, she appears as the “deep” – the matter that the Lord let exist beyond Himself. Tiamat created the noisy gods; in turn, they killed her husband in a neighbors’ quarrel. When she let out her wrath upon them, they rebelled against her, under the leadership of Marduk, fourth generation to the multi-armed matriarch. Marduk fought against Tiamat and defeated her. He split her into two parts, thereby creating heaven and earth, which begot the world.
All this is not absolutely flowing from the sculpture; the work here is more intuitive, creative, made in hard scheduling constraints and the stiffest engineers and builders’ recklessness. There is here a remarkable relation to the spiral walk of the visitor for whom the turning bridge will be the only route on the way to Lifta. The monster of the deepness highlights the whirl, she moves around her axis, like a crouched beast generating an ancient process of splitting, a prehistoric seed which came to light. In parallel with the Mesopotamian mutual fight of the mighty, in the written myths and laws, the story of the creation and the laws of the bible or Gilgamesh, the relation comes back to fundamentals and to the cycle of nature and fate, abyss – the god, the rock – man.
The architect said: Education is nothing but taming, methodical subjugation and alteration. But we’ll try to interfere as little as possible, and the child will already do all the work by himself, for we already are failing. The architect is the lost prince of an ancient tradition of writing into stone, but too much taming, corrupted education has been exerted on him. Fear, helplessness or only hate paralyzes him. The artist is a wise baby, deeply serious regarding the sensitivity that vibrates inside him. I, the engineer, the contractor, the Arab workers have been hit by a rare strike of mercy. It is a tremendous blessing that we succeeded, for one moment, to overcome the inclination to hate and to destroy that takes us apart, and even among ourselves.
In fact, it is the same as in her monumental work “Reclining Woman”, south to the Tzin Creek bridge, along the Arava highway, which creates a dialog with Goya and Picasso, only hewn into stone and rocks; this is Or-nah Ran’s way, the great artist who reclines over the shoulders of the life arteries of our mummified, expressionless city.

 

 

 

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