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