The Glass Menagerie
YouOctober 20, 2004
Only 32 years old, glass artisan Dafna Kaffeman already has 13 group exhibits under her belt, and now, she will have a solo exhibit in the prestigious Heller Gallery in New York. She wants to go to Chelsea.
Last month, Dafna Kaffeman held a solo exhibit in the Heller Gallery in New York. Kaffeman, a young Israeli artist (32), exhibited in the gallery which is located in the heart of the gallery district in Chelsea, Manhattan. The Heller Gallery is considered to be one of the leading galleries in the world in the domain of contemporary glass art, a home for great artists in this field, among them is the Swedish artist Bertil Vallien.
The Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA, founded by Andrea and Charles Bronfman and Dale and Doug Anderson) was instrumental in initiating contact with the Gallery. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided support and assistance, and more than anything, this is a milestone in the long process demonstrated by Kaffeman’s meticulous and precise creativity.
Glass, as is clay, wood, metal, and stone, is like putty in an artist’s hands. A variety of different creations can be produced, but the basis is always the intimate and fundamental familiarity with the matter; its advantages and its limitations. In order to expand the limits of the original material, it is possible to use other materials alongside the glass, thereby creating a fascinating interaction between materials.
This is what Kaffeman does. She combines glass and silicone (animalistic) giving the glass attribute of flexibility, a quality glass does not possess in its natural state. She combines glass with simple sponges (synapse) and creates a hybrid between the simple and the elegant, between the soft and the hard, fashioning a work that is reminiscent coral, a sea sponge, maybe an enlargement of a close-up photograph of hirsute body parts. She creates images of animals that are at once esthetic and shocking: small skeletons of horses, skinned pelts of unidentified animals positioned as rugs.
Under the heading I Was Trained Hunting Wolves, she presented a series of works in New York that contend with the subject of the hunt, a need to turn a live item into a decorative object. Works that, as she says, create a feeling of attraction and rejection simultaneously. Kaffeman explains, “the glass serves as an enticing, decorative element that also creates for us a creature that has been put to death. There are endeavors to use the attributes of glass with which we are familiar by manipulating it – we are aware of the fact that glass is a delicate and breakable material, and as in the skeletons of horses, it serves as a three-dimensional drawing of an animal skeleton, creating a paradox between the character of the work and the material from which it is composed.
Kaffeman began in the Department of Glass and Ceramic Design in Bezalel, Israel. Today she teaches there, mostly “transmitting ideas”, as she puts it. As part of an exchange program, she studied at the Ritvelt Academy in Amsterdam, where she received her B.A. in Art, majoring in glass. She continued for a Master’s degree in Art in the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. She worked as the assistant to a glass artisan in Murano, Italy, and was awarded an advanced study grant to the Creative Glass Center, a center dedicated to glass art, to which artists come from all over the world. Despite the fact that she completed her studies only three years ago, Kaffeman has already added 13 group exhibits to her resume with exhibits in the U.S., Holland, Germany and Portugal. Her work has been exhibited in museums such as the The Museum of American Glass and in a number of private collections. She has acquired a number of awards and grants. She has also published articles in magazines dedicated to glass art as well as having many articles written about her and her work.
She is well-versed in all methods of glass art: glass-blowing, casting, pouring, fusing, printing, but she works mainly with a burner, where her works of art are created by holding a glass rod in one hand and cutting it to the desired shape with the other hand. Working with a burner makes it possible for Kaffeman to be closely in touch with the material, to access it and to maintain maximum control over it. The use of a variety of colors makes it possible for her to play with the feeling that the glass lives – at times soft and gentle and fragile, and at times, almost plastic.
When working, Kaffeman concentrates mainly on the material and its combination with the other material, but other things become obvious. The attraction is to animal figures, concentrating on the animal essence that exists in man, the striving towards the skeleton, which is the main thing, handling the skin and that which is underneath. “My work with glass is sometimes very fundamental and makes it necessary to ceaselessly repeat an action in order to create a large complicated work from small parts. It is very important to me that the material provide a way of transmitting the idea. Over the past few years, the main inspiration that guides me is the connection between man and animal: the attempt to crush the essential instincts that exist in us, so that we see things in a certain manner. For example, we see an animal as a decoration, because we imagine it that way.”
She fashioned the skeletons of horses after a visit to Spain, where she saw cheap souvenir images of Don Quixote in all store windows, and was attracted by the figure of Rocinante, Don Quixote’s skinny horse. On his way to capture the heart of his beloved, Dulcinea Don Quixote, the hero of Cervantes’ book, rides a long-legged horse whose ribs look as if they are cutting through the skin. To create the wolves, she stuck together dozens of small pieces of glass that look like sharp multi-colored hair follicles onto heated silicone surfaces, as if she were creating an artificial fur out of the two materials.
Glass art has been developed for many generations in Europe, particularly in the Czech Republic, in Scandinavia and in Italy. In the United States, particularly since the breakthrough made by Chihuly, this art form is being fully enjoyed and carries many artists in its wake. It is only now beginning to make itself known in Israel. It will be something worth waiting for.