Home Ice bergs Israeli artist turns plastic pollution into ‘Earth Poetica’

Israeli artist turns plastic pollution into ‘Earth Poetica’


JERUSALEM — When Jerusalem-based artist Beverly Barkat began creating artwork for the lobby of a building in the new World Trade Center complex overlooking Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, she aimed to offer something a specific and impactful architectural point of view, big enough to connect with the space but not huge enough to disconnect from the observer.

Barkat had a clear message to convey. Years earlier, she said, she had been struck by an image of children scavenging on a once-beautiful beach awash in plastic waste.

“It stuck with me,” she said. “We are suffocating the Earth.”

Barkat, 55, returned to her studio in Jerusalem and started experimenting, putting plastic waste in various types of transparent containers, looking for a way to connect people with nature and the world that was not geared towards people. borders, a bit like the vast floating islands. – or continents – of plastic waste that forms in the oceans and circulates.

Eventually, she settled on a method of casting plastic scraps in crystalline epoxy resin. Seen from the outside, the sphere has a sort of stained glass effect. “It went from a crumpled plastic bag,” she said, “to something that looked like jewelry” or “something very, very expensive and valuable.”

The resulting work in progress is “Earth Poetica”, an imposing sphere four meters in diameter, composed of metal-framed panels and an inner skeleton of bamboo segments filled with plastic. The outer surface of the globe, with its authentically proportioned continents and seas, shimmers with breathtaking beauty.

But when viewed closely from the inside, through a few panels that will be left open like peepholes, an ugly truth is revealed: Like the rough back of a rug, the inner surface, which reveals the work, is a chaotic setting. maelstrom of clumps and shredded fragments of plastic bags, bottles, fishing nets and consumer packaging.

We met at Barkat’s studio in downtown West Jerusalem over a three-week period as some of the last panels – a tip of North America, a few last parts of Asia, and the South Pole – were taking shape. One side of its airy, two-story space is filled with bundles of plastic bags and other trash.

Working over the past three years, she has accumulated plastic from all over the world. Once the coronavirus outbreak curtailed international travel, people who had heard of the project began sending their plastic waste to it from abroad. She salvages discarded fishing nets in Jaffa and other places along Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

And the pandemic has only improved people’s understanding of the project. “People physically felt the concept of what I was talking about,” she said, because the virus, like plastic waste, doesn’t respect borders.

She is by no means the first artist to work with plastic waste, and she said she has seen a lot of work from artists trying to tackle climate change and the environment. But it was important to her, she says, to create her own way of doing it.

“If I already know it, or if someone else has, why do it?” said Barkat, who is small and sweet. “If I surprise myself, I surprise others.”

In addition to experimenting with the behavior of materials, Barkat researched his subject using globes, Google maps, NASA images, and photos posted online. As the project evolved, it brought together many mediums and disciplines that Barkat incorporated into his journey as an artist.

Born in Johannesburg to ceramist parents, she arrived in Jerusalem in 1976, aged 10, when her family took up a year-long position at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. At the end of the year, they decided to stay in Israel. (The original home of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, founded in 1906, is across the street from its current studio.)

“My first language is sculpting in clay,” Barkat said. She then studied jewelry design and eventually married Nir Barkat, a childhood friend whom she started dating as a student. He went on to become mayor of Jerusalem and is now a favorite to succeed Benjamin Netanyahu as the future leader of the conservative Likud party, making Beverly Barkat the partner of a potential prime minister.

Before entering public life, her husband was a successful high-tech entrepreneur and traveled widely. During these years, she invested more time in the education of their three daughters.

She turned to architectural projects, including introducing libraries into schools, and from the age of around 40 she embarked on three years of intensive study in drawing and painting with the Israeli master Israel Hershberg. Along the way, she learned glassblowing in the Czech Republic.

Her husband’s years in Jerusalem on city council and as mayor gave him the opportunity to develop his voice, knowing all the time, she says, “I have art as my anchor. “

Her husband “comes to the studio, he helps, he schleps, he climbs,” she says. “He’s part of who I am as a person.” (When he was mayor, he opened a garbage recycling plant in the city, citing it as leading a “green revolution” in the country.)

Much of his past is reflected in “Earth Poetica”. The bamboo element, inspired by a conversation in Taiwan, brings nature in, and each segment is cast, or “painted,” as Barkat puts it, in a soy-based epoxy she ships from Canada.

In a true-to-life depiction, Barkat’s Pacific Ocean includes patches of plastic trash. Different shades and layers of blue and green create sea swirls and thermal changes. Much of Asia is a lush paradise. Shards of white, turquoise and translucent plastic, some pointed, some feathery, form arctic icebergs, frozen snow caps and glaciers.

Here and there, a plastic packaging logo appears – “Wonders of nature”, “100% natural” – like ironic graffiti.

Barkat’s work has been exhibited in Israel, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States, among others. The Rome-based Nomas Foundation, an art and research institute that examines contemporary art in the public sphere, provides curatorial support to “Earth Poetica”. The foundation’s president and scientific director, Raffaella Frascarelli, will lead workshops with the artist during the exhibition of the work, which the foundation also calls the Biosphere Project.

Frascarelli and Barkat first met in 2018 when Barkat was exhibiting a previous project, “After the Tribes,” in Rome.

In a phone interview, Frascarelli described Barkat as humble and shy, but driven by a powerful artistic language and an inner desire to help change the world.

“From an individual point of view, the work is a physical process, almost a performance that has been going on for three years now,” Frascarelli said of “Earth Poetica,” a work she refers to in the female form because, she says it is “deeply feminine and regenerating”.

On a collective level, Frascarelli said, “Earth Poetica” could also be seen as a sort of self-portrait of humanity summarizing “the individual and collective material and spiritual challenges we face.”

Frascarelli noted that “Earth Poetica” resembles the Renaissance rose windows often found in cathedrals, which lends the work a sacred air.

Before arriving at its permanent home in New York, in about a year, “Earth Poetica” will be installed at the Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem for at least six months starting in early February. Dedicated to the conservation of Israel’s marine habitats, the Aquarium sets up an educational program for children around the work of art. There are also plans for the installation to visit.

Once the artwork is installed, it will be possible for visitors to climb up and view it from above, peek inside, or sit and gaze at it. Barkat’s hope is to break down the barriers between people and nature in a way that will change perceptions and perhaps habits.

With today’s information overload, she says, the brain easily forgets. “If you see something that physically moves you, that’s what your body remembers,” she said, describing the power of art. “You have to experience it physically.”