Micha Ullman

What, Israel, 2009

Iron, red sand glass, 45x90x190 cm

Courtesy of the artist

Observation, Israel, 2009

Iron, red sand
Height: 143 cm, diameter: 40 cm

Artist's donation to Museum on the Seam

Micha Ullman’s iron, sand and glass sculpture is shaped as a bed. The bed’s surface is a container filled with red hamra soil, and covered with glass. In the bed’s surface are 11 holes whose position and size correspond to their locations on a woman’s body. The result is a human landscape made of earth open into the space of the room. The openings and the shapes formed in the soil refer to the human body and its functions.

These processes allude to the life cycle, decay, death and birth, all of which are in dialogue with the environment. “For 40 years now, these have been my materials, the hamra soil and the basic form of the pit have not left me,” says Ullman. “It is a form so charged with possibility which has kept me occupied with various aspects of form and content. A pit is a form that is tied to place. The environmental issue and our dialogue with place – the particularity of being here and not some other place – binds us to the soil in its different material states.”

Ullman dug his first pit on Kibbutz Metzer and in the neighboring Arab village of Meser, and exchanged the soil between the two “twin” pits. This act gained its force based on the symbolic covenant that existed between the two different settlements that have maintained neighborly and friendly relations throughout the years.

At first glance, the works of Micha Ullman seem to be simply what they appear to be – sculptures of rust, earth, and diggings. But there can be no mistake about the direct communicativeness of his works. Their inherent symbolism aspires to the minimal, and to subtleness in the expression of the idea.

“Lookout” is a commissioned work that Ullman made especially for the place where it has been erected, the lookout point of the Museum building, which during the 1950s and ’60s served as an army position overlooking the Israeli-Jordanian seam-line, located to the side of the historical Mandelbaum Gate, the only gate that connected the two sides of the city until the 1967 Six-Day War. Because the building was a border position, its window openings were blocked with concrete, and all that remained were the firing slits and the lookout, which have remained to tell the tale of hostility and suspicion.

Ullman has placed his work on the building’s highest point. From this point one can look out towards the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the roofs of the houses of the Old City to the south, the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the hills where the tomb of the prophet Samuel stands high, towards the Notre Dame monastery overlooking the horizon line of the western city, and on the other side, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus that close the view from the east.

This lookout point was the source of inspiration for the work, which has the form of a container resembling a head made of iron tin in the shape of a house lying on its side and revolving around its axis. This house/container is full of loam sand. Inside the building there are seven pipes that cross the head from one side to the other. On the outside – from in front, from behind, and from the sides – round openings can be seen: holes shaped like the seven orifices in a head.

The seven openings register information corresponding to the senses they represent, and serve as lookout slits through which one can view both the near and the distant surroundings, “A man’s eye is never filled during his entire life. And what fills it? A handful of dust” (Micha Ullman, quoting from Talmudic sources)”