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Extraordinary! No.3: The salt vessels and jewellery of Naama Bergman

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One of my favourite exhibitions during Munich Jewellery Week this year was Dissolved Revolved in the Akademie Galerie by Naama Bergman and Emi Fukuda. Their display was seemingly simple, but very effective. A rolling board was meandering its way into the big room and around a centered pillar. Numerous dimmed light bulbs created soft spotlights on the pieces and even though the gallery is unromantically situated in the underground station, the exhibition had a calm almost poetic atmosphere. In one of the corners, there were a few glass containers filled with a cloudy liquid. Airy white creatures were floating inside, gracious and fragile looking. These were no jellyfish, but Naama Bergman’s work in the making. Now a student in her 3rd year in the jewellery class of the Academy of Fine Arts Munich, she has been experimenting for almost two years with the process of crystallising salt on fine iron structures. I already knew her amazing jewellery pieces from this series, but these vessels were very new and I was really excited to see them. And I was far from alone there: Naama is going to have her first solo exhibition in Gallery Loupe in the USA from the 17th of September until the 8th of October 2016.

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Naama first studied jewellery at the Bezalel Academy of Fine Arts, Jerusalem from 2004-2008. I actually knew her back then, because she came as an exchange student to Munich for one semester, when I was only in my first semester. She lived and worked for a couple of years in Amsterdam before she enrolled in the Munich jewellery class in 2013. Before getting started with her salt pieces, Naama made delicate necklaces from cow intestines. It was during her work with the intestines that she started wondering about the qualities of salt, and its ability to preserve materials, which otherwise would quickly decay and disappear. Hence, the language of the salt series is all connected to the notion of collecting and containing. But in Naama’s work, the salt plays an ambiguous role. On the one hand, the salt crystals, which form around the iron, support the fine metal structures, but on the other hand, the salt is slowly eating its way into the metal. A chemist friend told Naama that probably it would take between 20-30 years until some parts of the pieces definitely fall apart and the form collapses. This makes these pieces even more attractive for me because their beauty is the kind of beauty that is drawn from life. The colours of the vessels are also intriguing. While the pieces floating in the salt brine are still completely white, the exhibited pieces had beige and brown gradients, because the iron had already started to rust. Naama told me that the colours will still change, and the pieces will get a darker hue of brown over time.

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Naama kindly answered a few of my questions about her salt series:

Carina: You mentioned that the shape of the container plays an important role in this work. Can you explain this please?

Naama: My vessels and jewellery follow the shape of containers, but are made of nets and thus cannot fulfill their designated function – to contain liquids or materials. Making those containers out of nets suspends their original function, and only allows them to keep only the idea of containing. The pieces, to me, hold things such as memories, real ones or imaginary that cannot be contained. The container, now made out of net, allows this metaphorical containing, and the ability to bring to discourse the notion of containing metaphysical, rather than physical matter.

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Carina: Please tell me a bit about the process of making these pieces. How much control do you have over the way the salt crystallising the structure? How much do you leave to chance?

Naama: The organic growth of crystals over the pieces holds a level of certainty and uncertainty at the same time. The conditions of the crystallisation process are controlled through the saturation of the salt in the water, the temperature, and the duration of crystallisation. This experience has allowed me to control and manipulate the crystallisation process and result while working with this material. However, as an organic and chaotic material, I never have had full control over the result. This lack of control and the ability to be constantly surprised with the result keeps the tension between the controlled and uncontrolled at the foundation of the pieces. As an organic matter, the pieces will continue to transform when they are ‘done’, and even longer when they are worn, which makes their life span dynamic and ever changing.

Carina: It is inevitable that the pieces will destroy themselves over time. But until then: Are the necklaces and brooches wearable? How important is the matter of wearability for you in your jewellery?

Naama: In the beginning when I was starting to experiment with iron and salt, wearability was not a primary goal. The material research and experimentation was the goal. Naturally, the first piece created was not rigid, but with time, and as I gained more experience and control over the process, the salt crystals became more and more stable up to the point where the salt covered pieces are wearable.
I believe that wearability is a limited term, and a piece does not necessarily need to be ‘wearable’ in order to act as jewellery. To me, sustainable is a more relevant term since the jewellery’s purpose and function exceeds the limited scope of wearability. It functions as a memory piece, as a collectable piece, as an emotional piece, and not necessarily limited to its ‘on-body’ purpose.

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Carina: What would you say is the thread that runs through your work?

Naama: Identity, mix identity, cultural heritage, placement and displacement are topics I find relevant to explore through my practice and those topics are definitely affected by the geography and culture I work from.
While I was working in Israel, the origins of my family’s cultural heritage were rooted in eastern Europe – and my focal point revolved around those roots, the Jewish-Ashkenazi (European-Jewish heritage), how it was perceived and its role in the emerging Israeli culture. While moving to Europe five years ago, to Amsterdam first and than Munich later, the focal point of my research naturally shifted, while remaining in similar territory. In this new geography, the focus on Jewish-Ashkenazy heritage made room for new questions, questions of identity, placement and misplacement, belonging and not belonging. The interest in the clash between my roots and the present remain the main umbrella under which I work, but the specific topics of research constantly develop.

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1 Naama Bergman: Work in progress; Photo: Masayuki Nagata
2 Naama Bergman & Emi Fukuda: Dissolved Revolved, exhibition in Munich, 2016; Photo: Masayuki Nagata
3 Naama Bergman: Untitled, vessals, 2016; Salt, iron mesh; Photo: Mirei Takeuchi
4 Naama Bergman: Untitled, brooch, 2016; Salt, iron wire; Photo: Mirei Takeuchi
5 Naama Bergman: Untitled, brooch, 2015; Salt, iron wire; Photo: Mirei Takeuchi
6 Naama Bergman: Untitled, necklace, 2015; Salt, iron wire, hemp thread; Photo: Mirei Takeuchi

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