Behind Lot's Wife

 

 

 

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The sculpture Lot's Wife (or Edith) was specially created for the project Chamber of Chambers: Women Without a Name, by the artist group Pathos Mathos, to which I joined as a partner for this project. For almost a year, we have been studying together a few important biblical stories, in which women characters appear, but the author chose to leave them anonymous and nameless, despite the significant role they play in the story. They are all refered to by the names of their father, husband, brother, or profession. For example, we were dealing with the stories of Jephthah's Daughter (Judg. 11), the Sorceress of Ein Dor (1 Sam. 28), the Concubine on the Hill (Judg. 19), and the Wife of Lot (Gen. 19).

The project, which I was happy to take part in, was the initiative of the founder and director of Pathos Mathos, Lilach Dekel-Avneri. The group included artists, musicians, poets, performers and researchers. We have been working together over a period of several months, and held several meetings in front of (and with) a live audience. Each such public encounter dealt with one of those four women, and with each of their individual stories. We were seeking to focus our attention specifically on the women, and on the meanings that each one of them carries as part of the biblical myth. The meetings consisted of reading and studying the scriptures together with the audience, and with various performative activities, accompanied by texts, sculptural installations and musical work. The last meeting took place at the Elma Hotel in Zichron Yaacov, Israel, and dealt with all of the four stories. The last story of the evening was that of Lot's wife.

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Lot's Wife (Edith). Photo: Shachaf Dekel.

The story of Lot's wife is described in the book of Genesis and occurs in the city of Sodom, which was a city of sinners (hence the phrase Sodomy), that the Hebrew God sought to destroy. Since Lot was considered by God to be the only righteous man in town, he and his family were pardoned by him for the impending destruction. Thus, God sent two angels (messengers) to warn the family of the catastrophe that is about to come. When Lot sought to warn his sons-in-law (husbands of his daughters), they thought he was laughing at them and refused to leave their homes. The angels seized Lot, his wife, and their two daughters, removed them from the city, and commanded them to hurry and flee, and in no way to look back, as God pours sulfur and fire upon the city. The only one who rebelled against this order and dared to look back at what had been her home until a moment ago, and at those who had until recently been her family, was Lot's wife, who immediately after turning her head back, became a pillar of salt.

Lot's wife is considered to be the rogue, sinful character of the story. She is the one who defies God and dares to violate his command. Looking-back, experiencing deliberation and remorse, the myth tells us, might make us freeze, and prevent us the progress toward a better future. But, within the refusal to obey God (or the law), there is also a story of compassion and humanity, of the difficulty in disengaging from one's past and from one's home, and perhaps even of curiosity, that no godly command has the power to conquer. And perhaps this is the ancient, biblical version of Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, turning his face to the past and his back to the future, while "the pile of rubble rises before him to heaven."

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Studies in air-dried clay.

When I came to work on the sculpture, I wanted to emphasize the movement of turning back, the rotation of the body, and the stone gaze (the gaze that turn itself into stone, as opposed to the gaze of Medusa). The moment of movement is also the moment of freezing - the transformation from flesh to stone, from biodegradable human body, into salt - a mineral of eternal preservation. Before I started to work on the big sculpture, I made a number of small figurines from air-dried clay, In which I emphasized the rotational movement. The big sculpture was made from a styrofoam block that I worked on, together with some mannikin parts I assembled together. I wrapped everything in a layer of air-dried clay, on which I worked gently to bring the figure to the finish I wanted. I called the piece  Lot's Wife but I added the name Edith, which according to one of the late Midrashim (Jewish commentaries on the Bible) from the eighth century AD, was her first name. The name Edith, is a name loaded with meaning (the word Ed in Hebrew means witness), implying that the woman was a witness to the disaster that befell her home, family and town. A witness that became an evidence made of salt.

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