Matan daub, 2017
Scientists estimate that humanity generates approximately nine billion tons of greenhouse gas each year, most of it by burning fossil fuels. In her current exhibition, displayed in the showroom of an automobile company, artist shira zelwer has built a greenhouse filled with domestic plants made of wax. Man’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is a significant theme of the exhibition. Visitors may contemplate the irony of using industrial wax – a byproduct of the oil industry – to create the plants, which are a major element in preventing the greenhouse effect.Art has the unique ability to accommodate contradictions which are difficult to engage in reality.
Zelwer suggests that we consider the greenhouse effect not just as a physical and ecological phenomenon, but also as a cognitive one. As is the case with climate change, there are those who hasten to deny any human involvement. Cultivating domestic plants, visiting a greenhouse on weekends, giving plants as gifts on special occasions, are common practice in israeli society. Plants made of wax already appeared in zelwer’s rst solo exhibition (artists’ house, jerusalem, 2006), and have reemerged throughout her career. For many israelis, plants are more than decorative items. Rather, they are a sign of collective identity.
As such, they indicate the collective preference for the practical over the strictly aesthetic, or the national desire to tame the proverbial wilderness. These are all rituals not instinctively understood by non-israeli viewers. Zelwer’s choice of a greenhouse is therefore a statement about the way israeli society relates to ora. Like plants, wax is not impervious to the passage of time, and responds to changes in its environment. In this exhibition, the sculptures’ materiality remains obscure, as they appear to imitate the capacity of regular plants to adapt to a changing environment. Both wax sculptures and plants can mend after having being damaged, although scars will inevitably remain. Similar to wax plants, the human soul can adapt to changing environments, but again, not without being affected. The greenhouse is therefore a safe, protective space, with a watch dog keeping vigil against intruders.
Creating ora from wax is therefore an act that exposes the tension between fragility and durability. In an act of trust, zelwer presents her artwork to the public without setting up any barriers to protect it. Despite the risks, zelwer invites the public to physically enter her work. She trusts the visitors to respect it, effectively bestowing upon them the responsibility of guardianship. Like in o. Henry’s “the last leaf” (1907), zelwer’s greenhouse is a source of inspiration, strength, and hope.