Reut Avisar, a resident of the BOLT program of the Chicago Artists Coalition, explains to me how she made the waffle cone sculptures placed about the floor of the winding room that’s been devoted to her Snakes and Ladders exhibition. “I found a kit for making your own home-made waffle cones, but instead of batter I did ceramics.” As she’s saying this, a couple of boys are playing tag through the show space, dodging the legs of adults and ducking behind the leaning towers of waffle cones. “They’re all free standing,” she says, showing absolutely zero concern for the kids who are now practicing karate kicks in the small open space between the cone towers and some heavy-looking saddle bags set up to be straddling tall, shaky, wooden ladders. “No,” she says when I ask her if anything is nailed down “each thing is individual. They’re all just balanced on each other.”
The idea for Snakes and Ladders is based off an ancient Hindu game of the same name designed to teach children about karma and the fragility of life. Every square on the board symbolizes a day in the child’s existence. On any random date something great can happen or something terrible and the effects are felt until the end of the game. In North America the game is called “Chutes and Ladders” and doesn’t have any greater meaning, but is a good way to keep the kids off your back for a while. These are the concurrent themes of the show: Souveniers, “The idea of taking a place with you into domestic place…changing the meaning in its new home.” And balance, “The potential for tragedy to ruin the world.”
The youngsters run off to terrorize some other installation and Avisar guides me to the saddlebags on the ladders. “I want to create places that transport the viewer,” she says pointing to the objects inside the bags: desert plants, glassware, trinkets. Things that would be absurd to throw across the back of a camel in the context from which these object originate, but as symbols of appropriation they’re quite aesthetically pleasing, arranged just so.
“My craft is all about objects and the research around them and how they change.” On the wall she’s put up ceramic plates. They were thrown on a potter’s wheel, glazed, and cooked in a kiln – much the same way as it was done 10,000 years ago in modern day Israel, where Avisar was born, aside from the electric lights that illuminated her work, the modern chemicals in the glaze, and the thermometer on the kiln.
The pieces in Snakes and Ladders are as much about the process as the final result. After we finish our conversation I sneak down into the Chicago Artist’s Coalition basement, where Avisar’s studio is set up. Her workspace is small and organized, with boxes and luggage lining the wall. There are power tools on the floor, but only one drawing utensil; a black pencil. Her desk is clean and strewn about it and the wall above are miniatures of her completed works. There’s a little camel and a slingshot from a previous show. Small copies of the title photo on the exhibition brochure, featuring a woman balancing a cane on her head, are taped to the wall: the first is normal, the second is turned ninety degrees, so that the cane is balancing the woman.
Avisar’s residency with BOLT will last a year, during which time she will expand her collection and add more shows to her checklist of cities: New York, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Chicago…from her first installations like A Whole New World, where she mounted an oriental rug to springs so as to look like a floating staircase, to complete shows in a devoted room like Snakes and Ladders, she is an artist who’s work is visually interesting and contextually complex – someone to watch in the decades to come.