Mantis Relgiosa, solo exhibition , Lorch+seidel Contemporary, 19 June-30 July, 2010


exhibition catalog


Red Everlasting
10 assemblages executed in 2008 in collaboration with a group of women from the Norwegian island of Utsira where the work was exhibited in the same year

Mantis religiosa
6 assemblages executed in 2010 in collaboration with six men from Israel

As in in her previous series Persian Cyclamen from 2006, Dafna Kaffeman’s latest work again uses text fragments combined with glass objects.

The text fragments originate from Israeli newspapers and refer to the domestic political situation, for instance to an averted suicide attack in 2003 and to the Second Lebanon War of 2006-08. The texts were traced by the artist onto handkerchiefs in Hebrew or Arabic script and then converted into embroideries by a group of women from the Norwegian island of Utsira (Red Everlasting) and six men from Israel (Mantis religiosa). In executing the works, the women and men were free to add their own associations to the texts. The Norwegian women could read neither Hebrew nor Arabic; they were unfamiliar with the meanings of the words they embroidered, and their decisions were instigated by their own fantasies. The Israeli men, however,
all of whom had served in the army, were aware of the provocative contents of the texts, and responded in their additions
more like commentators.

The artist decorated these embroidered handkerchiefs with plants and insects made of flameworked glass. Her choice of motifs and arrangement supports and intensifies the meanings of the texts. The combination of plants and insects refers to their social structure and hierarchy.

The plants were chosen by the artist for their aesthetic aspects, symbolic relevance, and cultural connotations. The insects were chosen for their appearance (the Adesmia beetle resembles a target), social behaviour (the cannibalism of the Mantis religiosa), and form of life (disposition of the ants to live in colonies).

Dafna Kaffeman’s work captivates first of all by virtue of its aesthetic character and the high-quality handcrafted execution of the glass objects. The use of Hebrew and Arabic scripts compels the viewer to abandon the foreground level and to study the accompanying translations in order to understand the context and its connection to the objects. Through the involvement of outsiders in the exeuction of the embroidery, Dafna Kaffeman’s work acquires an additional level, an interrogative and documentary character.

The interplay of pictorial appearance, concealed symbolism, and exotic script highlights the gap between the apparent and the hidden, between foreground and background. In the artist’s opinion, this gap emphasizes the complexity of existence in Israel. Dafna Kaffeman’s work wants to be seen as an appeal not to concentrate exclusively on the beautiful and pleasant things in life, but instead to analyse political problems and to face the causes of oppression and violence.

The latest exhibition, composed of six works, constitutes a continuation of the two previous exhibitions Red Everlasting and Persian Cyclamen.

In line with the two previous exhibitions, here the text is also embroidered on kerchiefs and acquires a double meaning. Yet in this instance the embroidery, in Hebrew only, is executed by people who speak Hebrew, in order to rouse and move them. The text they embroider seems almost naïve, but in its original context it is charged with strong and complex meaning for those embroidering it.

The text “But I have come to detest life, although I loved a girl who was a year younger than me, and my family planned to ask for her hand, one day before I set out for the operation. I love her very much” is from an article entitled "Floating towards Heaven", by Amira Hess, published in Haaretz newspaper on April 4th 2003, and is a quote from M., whose attempt to execute a suicide attack in Israel was thwarted.

The text was divided into six parts, written in pencil on six handkerchiefs. The kerchiefs were given to six men to embroider the words with embroidery threads.

In the Red Everlasting series, also on display in the gallery, the words were embroidered by women, some of whom were expert embroiderers, residents of the island where the exhibition was held, and during the work process were asked to embroider words in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. In this series, Hebrew speaking men were asked to try to embroider the words and deal with the highly charged meaning of the text.

Viewers in Berlin understand the meaning of the embroidered sentence only when they read the translation, after initially looking at the letters and words without being able to see beyond their image. Upon comprehending the text via the translation, understanding of the complexity of life in Israel is reinforced.

Each work is composed of a group of insects, plants made of glass and one embroidered cloth kerchief. The insects and plants – some of which are taken apart, and some recurring in a type of tempo – are places in a deliberate composition, while examining the relations between them and their species or the other species.

Dismantling the plant and insect, like taking the language apart, becomes an attempt to understand the nature of things. Every plant and insect must be enciphered, its complexity understood, it must be taken apart and then reconstructed as a duplicate of the original plant or insect.

The plants used in the project are regional plants defined as Israeli plants, and were selected due to their beauty and complexity. Some were chosen based on their connotations, other due to the deconstruction and reconstruction challenge they posed. Plants include Limonium sinuatum, nicknamed the immortality plant, because its flowers never wilt; Cupressus sempervirens, displayed growing (green) and wilted (brown); common thorns; insects such as Adesmia abbreviate named a "Desert Runner", whose body has white patches on a black background, reminiscent of a target; a praying mantis with a violent
connotation because the female eats the male during copulation, and whose name was derived from the movement it makes, that looks like prayer, before it attacks its prey – this insect was selected for the name of the exhibition – Mantis Religiosa. Some of the insects feed on one another. Some are tied to plants, and some to one another. Each one of them has an unusual attribute that requires obstinate precision.