Finding a Path
Emilie Brzezinski & Dalya Luttwak: A Conversation
American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center
September 4 - December 16, 2018
From curator, Aneta Georgievska-Shine:
Emilie Brzezinski and Dalya Luttwak have much in common as artists, yet they have never shown their works together. Brzezinski's massive, rough-hewn wood sculptures embody the vital energy of trees as archetypes of being. Luttwak's brilliantly colored metal creations are inspired by another essential aspect of universal growth and decay in nature -- plant roots. This site-specific installation is a conversation on their approaches to nature as a means of understanding one's path through the world, and indeed, life itself.
A private commission in Givaat Ha Shlosha, Israel
From Honoring the Future:
When Dalya Luttwak was invited to create a sculpture for the Venice Biennale, she asked, “How can I honor Venice?” Global Warning: First Tropical Mangrove in Venice is her profound, inspiring sculptural answer.
Mangroves do not grow in Venice, but they are potent symbols for their role in protecting coastal zones in warmer climes. Hardy and ingenuous, mangroves thrive where salt, temperature, and water levels vary with the tide. Their roots, like stilts, prop their breathing pores above muddy water. The roots work in concert, forming massive structures that disperse waves and trap sediment, protecting coastlines from hurricanes, tsunamis, and erosion. And they host a wide diversity of marine organisms – oysters, shrimp, and crabs – that support the coastal food chain.
“Mangroves are resilient because they are adapted to highly challenging environments,” observes Fran Dubrowski, Director of Honoring the Future. Dalya Luttwak’s sculpture is a metaphor for the challenge facing Venetians and their 500,000+ Biennale visitors. “Can we, like the mangroves, meet the test of our time – climate change – and respond as creatively and cooperatively? Her fire-engine red sculpture sounds a warning, but its soaring 10-foot height, set against Venice’s landmarks, expresses optimism that we are up to the task,” Dubrowski adds.
(Final photo — Credit: Maxwell MacKenzie)
Castello Lanza di Trabia
Trabia, Sicily, Italy
I have been working on a series of large-scale metal sculptures that symbolically represent the root systems of various plants. My sculptures are site-specific or site-responsive; at times, I work from the roots themselves, which I dug out of the earth; other times, I photograph, copy, or draw roots as the basis for my work.
When I was commissioned to address the Castello Lanza di Trabia in Sicily, Italy -- its outer walls, tower, and aqueduct, my primary goal was to respect and honor the significance and remnants of this historic castle. Once the site of tax collectors during the Roman Empire, then an Arab fortress from AD 827 -- in the last 800 years, the castle has belonged to the princely Lanza family.
As an American sculptor, I chose to bring the root system of a sweet potato plant to Castello Lanza. Depicting roots on the façade of the castle seemed an appropriate challenge, considering its varied history. I wanted to draw attention to the many architectural details of the space – the crossbow slits used to defend the castle, the bell-tower, and the aqueduct with its unique archways. My work is intended to glorify and highlight these details. By covering this great expanse with a system of thin tendrils of reflective gold, I wanted to produce a work that did not draw attention only to itself. Rather, I wanted to create an installation that allows contemporary time to converse with the past.
About Castello Lanza di Trabia
In Trabia, northern Sicily, situated on the coastal road between Palermo and Cefalù, stands Castello Lanza di Trabia. This architectural marvel has a rich and varied history that begins with General Aausman Ben Muhammad, who first established his fortress there in AD 827. In the 11th century, the castle was donated to Captain Conrad Lanza, whose descendants would keep the property for 900 years. In the 17th century, Ottavio Lanza made extensive changes to the fortress, which had maintained its stronghold as a site for major strategic military decisions. Prince Raimondo Lanza di Trabia (1915-1954), a bon vivant whose successes are something of Sicilian legend, was the last member of the Lanza family to live in the castle, entertaining such renowned figures as his one-time partner Rita Hayworth, and Aristotle Onassis.
The city of Trabia also has the unique distinction of being considered the first home of spaghetti. It is mentioned by name in the earliest written references to pasta in AD 1154, and this important culinary tradition survives there even today – adding to the allure of this scenic coastal town.
Now privately owned, Castello Lanza has undergone major renovations in the past five years and will soon be opened as an exclusive destination.
Galleria Ca' d'Oro, New York
New York, NY
This piece is installed on the facade of one of the watchtowers at the former Lorton Reformatory, which was transformed into the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, VA in 2002.
The title, In Memory of the Suffragists Here Imprisoned, refers to the 72 members of the National Women's Party incarcerated at the Workhouse from July to November 1917, for protests advocating for women's right to vote.
Kreeger Museum Sculpture Garden, Permanent Collection
It was an honor to be asked by Judy Greenberg, the Director of the Kreeger Museum, to make an installation of my Roots on a tree in the sculpture garden for the permanent collection of the museum.
I have long been fascinated by the patterns of the roots of Poison Ivy. Their main artery is wide and thick in contrast to the thin and numerous lateral roots that come out of it, attach themselves to the tree bark and keep climbing.
This particular tree was my choice for quite a few reasons.
It is very well located and can be seen from many of the museum's balconies and windows. The tree is split so that my Root can fly in mid-air from one branch to the other. An important branch had already died and cut off, reminding us of its ephemeral nature. And last, but not least, I discovered remnants of dead Poison Ivy vines going up this tree that must have been cut down by the gardener.
My aim is to replace the dead Poison Ivy with a sculptural one made out of painted steel -- wishing, at the same time, to emphasize the beauty of the root while drawing attention to the danger of its position.
VisArts at Rockville
Rockville, MD, 2012
In this installation, I try to respond to a narrow entrance hall with a very high ceiling three floors high, with the root system of a plant called Liriope that likes to spread in every direction. "Ground Cover: Roots of Liriope" begins as a single painted line and expands into a three-dimensional steel sculpture that climbs and reaches the corners of VisArts' ground floor atrium; spreading in every direction to take hold of larger grounds. I identify with "Liriope" personally since my own ROOTS have spread through three continents with the hope of still going strong.
This installation is currently on view at VisArts, for more information click here.
For more information about this installation, click here.
EMULSION:2013, Gallery O on H
Washington, DC, 2013
Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE)
Dalya Luttwak’s work explores the subterranean support systems that anchor and nourish the plants that we harvest, cultivate and admire on the earth’s surface. Expertly forging, hammering, welding and painting steel, Luttwak transforms the rigid metal into artworks that evoke the sinuous forms of roots, exposing and magnifying what is usually hidden. In this body of work, the gold elements that punctuate each black sculpture symbolically represent the plant cultivated on the surface but sustained by the hidden network of roots below. “The intention,” Luttwak explains, “is to reveal that out of the black roots of the underground the golden essence of the plant emerges.”
Born in Israel, Luttwak was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has resided in the United States since 1972. Always drawn to metal work, the artist created jewelry early in her career, but progressively shifted her focus to sculpture. In 2007, Luttwak began to explore roots as a subject for her art and created her first root sculpture. Among her early influences was a reference book entitled Plant Roots: The Hidden Half, by Amram Eshel and Tom Beeckman, exploring the little-considered subject of root systems. (Later she would come into contact with one of the scientists who authored the text, who speculated that Luttwak might be the only artist creating artistic interpretations of roots. He subsequently used images of some of her root sculptures on the cover of the fourth edition of the text.) Luttwak began to observe and research roots, and collected specimens from her yard ranging from lowly unwanted “weeds” to shrubs and trees. Several of the specimens she collected and utilized in her studio are included in this exhibition, offering a glimpse into the artist’s inspiration and working processes.
The new sculptures featured in Germination of Gold are anchored by the provocative, wall-mounted Cannabis Sativa. In this work, the artist sought the “golden balance” arising from the combination of vertical and horizontal black roots, and existing between the different elements of the Cannabis plant and their nutritious, medical, and psychedelic uses. Cannabis seeds make hemp oil and bird feed; hemp fiber from its stem can be fashioned into rope, fabric, and paper; and its flowers and leaves are consumed for recreational and medicinal purposes. This sculpture calls attention to the only underutilized element of the Cannabis plant—the root system that supports its very existence. Drawn to the tension between its planar and upright elements, the artist has interpreted the plant’s root structure as a complex network designed for tenacious growth.
Fascinated by the diversity of root systems, Luttwak has chosen to investigate a variety of vertical, horizontal, and radial structures underpinning trees (birch and beech), vegetables (soybean, sugar beet), the invasive bamboo, and the flowering Cannabis plant. Luttwak also tackles less desirable species in The Spread of the Common Weed, an elaborate metallic screen suspended from the ceiling and composed of a thick, interwoven tangle of root forms. Loosely defined as any wild plant deemed undesirable in a cultivated environment, weeds possess root systems that can be particularly dense and tenacious, lending Luttwak’sthicket-like interpretation an authenticity familiar to any gardener. In Leptomorph/ Running Bamboo (Potentially Invasive), Luttwak’s sculpture challenges the confines of the gallery (just as real roots are prone to transgress boundaries) by simultaneously occupying space both inside and outside the building. As Luttwak describes it, the work is “led and pulled by a golden core” as it penetrates the gallery window and colonizes the sidewalk outside. To some extent, then, Luttwak’s interpretation of root structures captures the behaviors of the plants they support. While the artist has historically taken artistic license with her roots, particularly with regard to coloration, in this exhibition the single gold element functions as a symbol that reveals the primary function of the root system: to germinate and support a living, terrestrial product.
While contemporary artists such as Robert Lobe and Roxy Paine have exhaustively interpreted tree forms in metal sculpture, few artists have taken so keen an interest in the lowly root. Summarizing her ongoing engagement with this theme, Luttwak observes, “I try to uncover the hidden splendor of roots, exploring the relationship between what grows above the ground and the invisible parts below of various root systems. My work reveals what nature prefers to conceal.”
Holly Koons McCullough
Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit
Washington, DC, 2012
Since 2007 I have been working on a series of large-scale steel sculptures that symbolically represent the root systems of various plants. My sculptures are site specific or site responsive; they are made out of elements by process of attachments to envelop big volumes in space, sort of painting in space. At times I work from the roots themselves, which I dig out of the earth; other times I photograph, copy or draw roots as the basis for my work. I try to uncover the hidden beauty of roots, exploring the relationship between what grows above the ground and the invisible parts below of various root systems. My sculptures reveal what nature prefers to conceal. My wish is to uncover and discover roots even when they are hidden, indeed especially when they are hidden.
In this installation I responded to this minimalist contemporary townhouse with a wish to somewhat overwhelm it but in a delicate way.
To quote Jay Sanders, who is this year’s young curator of the Whitney Biennale
“I like that ambiguity, I guess I like things that are subtly self-evident, but that are manipulated in a way so they shift their relation to reality”.
Adrienne Urbina, Dalya Luttwak Makes Art That Grows, Foggy Bottom News, July 25 2012
Michael O'Sullivan, "Foggy Bottom Goes a Little Bit Wild", The Washington Post, May 11 2012
Kriston Capps, "Parks and Resignation", Washington City Paper, April 27 2012
On the occasion of the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale
Arsenale, Venice, Italy 2011
To celebrate the 54th Venice Art Biennale (June 1 - November 27, 2011), as a tribute to the city of Venice, the Italian Navy is displaying "...WHAT IF ROOTS COULD GROW IN THE WATERS OF THE ARSENALE?...", an installation by the American sculptor, Dalya Yaari Luttwak.
This corner of Venice was the expression of the power of the Republic through the glorious Navy. In the Golden Age of Canaletto it was already decaying. Today this sculptor dreams of a new life emerging from the waters of Venice and creates an ideal aerial bridge above the traditional and solid Venetian bridges.
The installation spans the two towers at the end of the Rio del Arsenale which overlooks the entrance to the Bacino del Arsenale. Emerging from the water, the sculpture climbs up along one tower nearly 15 meters then reaches across another 16 meters to the second tower appropriating the hooks eternalized by Caneletto. The sculpture, inspired by the root of the ivy, is of mild steel in bright red.
The artist has been visiting Italy for many years and found great inspiration in its magnificence and layers of history. The Arsenale is a powerful symbol of the continuing Italian naval tradition, as well as a glorious memorial to the power of the Venetian republic. The two towers of the Porta Magna built to protect the entrance to the Arsenale. The hidden beauty of "roots" finds a special echo in Venice, the city born out of water.
Since 2007 the artist has been working on a series of large-scale steel sculptures that symbolically represent the root systems of various plants. At times she works from the roots themselves, which she digs out of the earth; other times she photographs, copies or draws roots as the basis for her work. The artist tries to uncover the hidden beauty of roots, exploring the relationship between what grows above the ground and the invisible parts below. Her sculptures reveal what nature prefers to conceal. Her wish "is to uncover and discover roots even when they are hidden, indeed especially when they are hidden
The artist's work has been honored in solo exhibitions at the American University Museum's Katzen Arts Center, at James Madison University's Sawhill Gallery, and in group exhibitions in the Art Museum of the Americas, among other museums and galleries in the United States, Mexico, Germany and Israel. Her work is critically reviewed by journals such as Art Papers and Sculpture, as well as in the numerous catalogues of group exhibition. In 2010 she was Artist-in-Residence and Guest Critic for James Madison University's College of Visual and Performing Arts. The artist is scheduled to have a solo exhibition in 2012 at the Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery in Rome and other venues in Italy.
Jewish Community Center
Washington, DC, 2012
Every year during the holiday of Sukkot, for one week, Jewish families all over the world eat, pray and, weather-allowing, sleep in temporary huts (Sukkot in Hebrew) to re-live the experience of their ancestors of thousands of years ago, who dwelled in huts while wandering in the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land. We can assume that the original Sukkah (plural Sukkot) was made of fronds of the palm trees that are widespread in the Middle East and have long been used for this purpose. A palm frond, Lulav, is present in each Sukkah and is waved along with willow and myrtle branches and a citron (Etrog) in six directions in a daily ritual during the holiday.
Therefore, I decided to concentrate my interpretation of the Sukkah on images of the palm tree. Using steel as my medium, I created the walls mimicking roots of palm, while palm fronds form the roof of my Sukkah.
Meredith Jacobs, Last Chance to See "Sukkat Shalom", Washington Jewish Week, December 12 201
Sawhill Gallery, James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA, 2010
I try to figure out how to physically and aesthetically recreate roots and make them into steel sculptures; how to connect the separate parts, and how to hang the final constructions from ceilings, on walls or place them on floors. The dramatic transformation of size, scale, and material lends the works metaphoric significance.
For Sawhill Gallery -- with its heavy black, industrial ceiling, thin slatted wood walls, and cold concrete floor -- the "right roots" were asking to be painted in stark, synthetic black and white. From that moment on, I sought to bring out the formal essence of my chosen roots - that is, to stylize them into their concentrated cores and to connect them to the fabricated, factory-like character of the space.
But my new concept did not end there. In fact, it kept evolving with my travels, inspired most serendipitously by my last visit to my native Israel in May 2009. At Tel Aviv University's botanic gardens, I visited the Sarah Racine Root Laboratory -- the largest aeroponic root laboratory in the world. Extending through three vertically connected open floors spanning over 40 feet, this extraordinary facility nourishes the continuous growth of the root systems of a vast spectrum of diverse and ever-changing plants, trying to simulate their natural underground environment. It turned out, much to my surprise and delight, that this is the only place in the world where one can walk among deep roots - and experience them in the way they grow in the earth. My sculptures aim to expose the hidden parts of the plants, and most amazing, however, was the revelation that these cultivated plant roots appear black and white as they grow in the dark - just as I had envisioned my black and white steel roots in the Sawhill Gallery. This discovery, almost a prophetic encounter, in the ancient land where I put down my own first roots, has given a new depth of meaning and direction to my work.
Ryan, Paul. "Dalya Luttwak." Art Papers 34:4 (July/August 2010): 53.
Tanguy, Sarah. "Dalya Luttwak." Sculpture 29:4 (May 2010): 68-69.
Katzman, Laura, "Planting Roots at JMU: Artist-in-residence explores invisible aspects of the natural world." Madison Magazine 33:2 (Spring/Summer 2010): 2; 6; 27-29.
American University Museum, Sylvia Berlin Katzen Sculpture Garden
Washington, DC 2008-2009
I was born in Israel's Northern Galilee, where three tributaries join to form the Jordan River.
My parents escaped from Czechoslovakia just as World War II was starting, and began to put down "roots" into the soil of the parched Middle East as new-made farmers.
My family roots have always played an important role in my life. They have been the subject of my constant curiosity, even when kept "hidden" and scarcely mentioned in my family.
In the poem "From the Book of Questions," Pablo Neruda asks "Why do trees conceal the splendor of their roots?" In this sculpture series, I dig literally and metaphorically to uncover the "hidden" structures and shapes of the roots of different plants, exploring differences and relationships between the parts above ground and the parts below. In creating an installation of welded metal sculptures, my motive is to uncover and discover roots even when they are hidden, indeed especially when they are hidden. The sculptures are made of out of steel, which like plant roots come from the earth and return to it upon decomposition.
I have installed my organic and natural sculptures of roots of various plants into the linear neutrality of The Katzen Outdoor Sculpture Garden of The American University Museum, with its high walls of gray concrete. The aim is to suggest tension and discrepancy between the delicacy of the root systems and the havoc they could bring upon the walls na dgrounds if they were the real thing.
Tanguy, Sarah. "Dalya Luttwak." Sculpture 29:4 (May 2010): 68-69.
Grapevine Before Pruning, steel and paint, 2017, 5m x 3m (15 ft x 10 ft)
The Kreeger Museum
Washington, DC, 2011
Maybe because of my broken roots, melancholy, in all its aspects, has long been intertwined with my life, hence, with my artistic work.
When selected to create a site-specific sculpture on the grounds of The Kreeger Museum, I was immediately drawn to the tennis court. Surrounded by five and one-half acres and an exquisite building, designed by architect Philip Johnson, the tennis court exemplified the Kreegers' former lifestyle until the Museum opened in 1994. Throughout the years of non-use, the floor cracked, the poles for the net rusted, and the metal fence was slowly covered with roots and vines of Ivy, Wisteria and Honey Suckle. The gardeners over time tried to get rid of those weeds but to no avail - they grew integrally into the fence and could not be separated. This situation offered me the opportunity to take advantage of the "broken roots" before the tennis court is destined for demolition.
My intension is to give importance, with my installation, to these remnants of roots and vines that could not be removed, by painting them bright red and adding some painted steel "roots" sculptures. I concentrated my attention on what there was and is no longer there - "When Nature Takes Over."
Chelsea Beroza, "When Nature Takes Over", National Museum of Women in the Arts, March 15 2012
Katlin Chadwick, "When Sculptures takes Over Kreeger Museum", Pink Line Project, October 3 2011
Kriston Capps, "Nature Trumps Tennis at Kreeger Museum". Washington City Paper, November 8 2011
McGuireWoods Gallery, Workhouse Arts Center
Lorton, VA, 2013
In this work I try to depict and uncover the root system of Winter Wheat, in stages from ten days old to full maturity -- from its birth to full blossom; at the same time, the dying process is beginning.
Click on Photos to See Individual Series!