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Interview with Naama Bergman

 Naama Bergman lives and works in Munich, Germany. She studied Jewellery and Fashion at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, Israel, and then went to the Art Academy in Munich to study Jewellery in the class of Otto Künzli and Karen Pontoppidan. After graduating as a jewellery designer, she became a full-time jewellery artist and she is now following a two-month residency at DIVA.

Through her jewellery and vessels she exploits the idea of change: emergence, growth, decay and the tension that accrues between cultural heritage, physical matter and fleeting time. By combining contradictory materials such as salt and iron, she questions the essence of creation and potential transformation. She is looking for a confrontation between preservation and decomposition and at the same time asking questions about the function and mutability of mediums and forms.

In August 2022 Naama Bergman and Tom Iriks met up on Zoom for a chat.

Why did you decide to become a jewellery artist?

I have always been interested in art and also studied art in high school. I remember going as a high school student to the graduate exhibitions of the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. I was very interested in the jewellery and fashion department there. The things they made all revolved around the body and that really excited me. The body is such an important political tool to work with and I fell in love with the way jewellery is used to convey complex messages and to define identity in human life. When I started studying jewellery at the Bezalel Academy, I immediately felt at home, and expressing myself through this medium felt natural.

How would you describe your work?

The idea of change is an axis around which my work revolves, and so is the notion of growth and decay as inherent stages in every life cycle. I’m interested in the constructive and destructive potential my objects embody and how they face the risk of being affected by time and user alike. In many of my works, I combine contradictory materials such as salt and iron that react to one another, creating a constant process of change. When viewing my work you witness the processes, though you can hardly notice the slow changing of the object. I focus my intention on creating an experience, a process. The process is of excavating and crystallising a private experience in a truthful way so that it can live on and resonate with others. Ultimately, I hope to draw out something from my private being that others will connect to.

Salt Brooch 08 | Salt, Iron wire | 2017 (c) Naama Bergman

Salt Brooch 08 | Salt, Iron wire | 2017 (c) Naama Bergman

What inspired you to use salt?  

I started to work with salt as my main material soon after arriving in Munich. At that time I was working with another natural material - intestines - and kept it in a salt solution to preserve the material longer while working with it. So, in fact, salt was present in my work process for a long time. Living in Germany after leaving Tel-Aviv, I came to ask myself what the role of belonging is, how self-definition emerges, what life looks like when heritage and tradition are put aside and replaced with transience and foreignness. I realised I can use the salt as a material to convey the inherent paradoxes of life. The salt acts as two opposing forces in my work - it helps to reinforce the delicate metal structures, but at the same time “digests” them from the inside. So even though salt is usually known and praised for its preserving qualities, I wanted to celebrate its instability. Salt is such a sacred element because it lends permanence to perishable things, but it is also the most common of all substances.

Salt Pearl Necklace | Salt, Iron wire, 18K gold | 2015 (c) Naama Bergman

Salt Pearl Necklace | Salt, Iron wire, 18K gold | 2015 (c) Naama Bergman

How much of your Israeli background did you take with you?

Tradition and nostalgia play major roles in my aesthetic. As an Israeli of Eastern European heritage, I regard my work as a connecting thread between familial roots and present day reality. Living in Germany, with its complex history, allows me to examine these question regarding how identity is constructed. The echoes of the past keep resonating in the present; things don’t really get lost. The present is affected by the past, despite forgetfulness, be it natural or intentional, which is one of the coping mechanisms used by individuals and societies.

Is working with salt a technical challenge?

Like many things, working with salt is about discovering, using existing knowledge, but also trying to build up new knowledge and find your own little path that excites you and leads you in new directions. I embrace the fact that salt is so fragile, but in doing so, with each new piece - I need to let go. In many ways I’m a control freak, and it’s an exercise for the object and for myself to learn how to let go, and each time I still struggle to do so. So there are different kinds of challenges in working with salt.

2_801°c_Salt Rings

801°c Series | Salt Rings | Salt | 2018-9 (c) Naama Bergman

 
3_801°c_Oval Signet Ring

801°c Series | Oval Signet Ring | Salt | 2018-9 (c) Naama Bergman

There is a certain amount of luck involved?

I can never fully control the process and the outcome. I can only predict what will happen next and I’m making room to embrace the surprises that will emerge. I experience the creative process as a dialogue with the material, about the very existence or rather lack of control. In my process I create a preliminary construction and define the specific environment in which a certain aesthetic will emerge.

How fragile is a work made out of salt? When does it starts decaying?

Salt causes decay in materials often perceived as very strong such as iron or steel, however it is also a fragile material itself - brittle and water solvent. My work decays by design. I don’t treat my salt objects in any way, and they are exposed to the elements. I embrace the afterlife of my pieces and define the point of creation as fluid in time. Although constantly changing, these objects and jewels are simultaneously frozen in time. They possess existential and cultural references - meant to be viewed as reminders of their former natural life.

Are the jewellery pieces you made with salt wearable?

They are wearable and also fragile. Whoever owns or wears them needs to accept these objects as they are. They are not eternal; they won't last forever. It is their destiny to change over time and they might break or dissolve. The jewellery I make is all wearable, having working mechanisms. Actually, as a maker I really enjoy that part, but I’m not sure these objects have to be worn. I find that jewellery indicates the presence of a body even in its absence.

4_801°c_Salt Glasses

801°c Series | Salt Glasses | Salt | 2018-9 (c) Naama Bergman

Can you talk about your series 801°c?

I was already working with salt, but mainly with crystals. Submerging my metal structures in a salt solution and letting the crystals build on them. After some research I discovered that salt melts at 801° Celsius, hence the name of the series. I was keen on trying this out. This series consists of both jewellery and vessels made from molten salt. I heat salt grains in a furnace to reach a fluid substance and then pour into a cavity pressed in sand, reversing the extraction of salt from water. The vessels are opaque drinking glasses that have a paradoxically to them. A vessel for drinking, but if you use it for its purpose it will dissolve and disappear, and if you do manage to drink from it, it will be too salty for humans to consume. Similarly cast are the salt rings. Their surface is smooth and sealed, but once broken from their casting sprue their upper planes are fractured and shimmer like precious stones. The works in this series gives a sense of silence, as if condensed time has stopped there.

You studied in the jewellery class of Otto Künzli and Karen Pontoppidan at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Munich, Germany. How was that experience?

When I arrived in Munich, it felt very much like being in the Mecca of the contemporary jewellery world, so it was very exciting for me to experience this first-hand, in real life and not transmitted through another medium. I think my experience at the academy helped me refine my own voice and my artistic language. I feel lucky to have worked alongside and among committed fellow artists, acting separately and together as a strong group of individuals who strive for a profound contribution to the field of contemporary jewellery. Interacting and exchanging knowledge, ideas and views were significant factors in my artistic and professional growth.

You graduated in 2019. How is life for a jewellery designer after graduating?

You think you are ready. Especially coming from in the Munich Academy. There you are from the beginning responsible for your own time and your own outcomes. In that sense it is very similar after graduating, but you can't avoid the fact that the academy is still a very protective place, whether you like it or not. It now takes a different kind of effort to sustain a community of artists and creative powers around you.

What was your main motivation to apply for the residency at DIVA?

I see the DIVA residency as an opportunity to carve out for myself time and space to concentrate on my work and deepen my research, something that is not that easy in our everyday hectic lives. It is also a great opportunity to get to know a new place and gain a new perspective through new experiences. I also like the idea of being a guest for one moment in a foreign city, in the sense of being present and absent at the same time. and having the city itself as a replacement for the sense of home.

What are you planning to research and improve during the residency?

I want to further examine the idea of objects in a state of transit. I would like to construct tableware that looks like it’s been excavated from an unknown depth of time and space, like an archaeological artifact. Recently, I experimented with constructing fragile structures out of sand on or in which to exhibit the salt objects. It is the same sand that I use for the sand casting process. I wish to pursue this more and to emphasize the negative spaces created in the sand and the idea of the absent. I want to see how the voids created refer to memories of home but also of exile, and to see how you can hold on to the past while starting anew.

Do you write or draw when are developing new work?

I write down key sentences and ideas and I always collect texts from different sources (interviews, academic texts, fiction novels..). I have this ongoing script of quotes and text fragments that I keep adding to. In my creative process I’m alternating between material and concept, as allegorical qualities become embodied in the objects. I go back and forth between my material-research-laboratory and the research into ideas and stories I want to convey. The two inform each other constantly, when a new revelation on one side impacts and pushes forward the next steps on the other.

Do you work alone?

So far, I am mainly a one-woman show. Hands-on experience is really important for me. On the other hand, I would like to try making much bigger objects and castings, and then I probably need to find a foundry that will help me with that. I think it can be an interesting experience, and off course I do get to collaborate with other people when working on group exhibitions.

Are you currently working on something new?

Yes, I am trying out a new material. Chickpeas.

Chickpeas?

Somehow, I see the kitchen as an extension of the studio. Food has such strong cultural meaning, and cooking is of course a creative process in itself. I started experimenting with this material at a point when I was really homesick. Hummus is made out of chickpeas, and it’s an emotionally charged dish, which took an interesting route: from a Palestinian dish, which was almost unknown in Jewish society, to one of the ultimate signs of Israeliness. Therefore it’s a material that allows me to reflect upon spatial and cultural politics in Israel and in Palestine. So, we will see if something comes out of it.

Thank you for this interview.

You’re welcome.