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Playing With Mud

Visual Study

The feeling is familiar to anyone who has ever stuck their hand into the ground, into mud, into clay, basically – to all of us, at one point or another. The coolness, the wrapping, the grip, spread between the fingers, under the nails, between the skin furrows. There, inside the soil, one can feel the essence, the primeval return to the root of our being.

The game as a concept is a developmental stage, occupying a special place in the life of the soul and accompanying the person in various forms throughout their life. History shows that humans have always played, long before the appearance of the “child” concept, as different from the “adult” concept. In his book Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga regards the game as the root of civilization. Free action that goes beyond satisfying one’s physical needs and aims for pleasure and spirit. “In tackling the problem of play as a function of culture proper […] we begin where biology and psychology leave off. In culture we find play as a given magnitude existing before culture itself existed, accompanying it and pervading it from the earliest beginnings right up to the phase of civilization we are now living in. We find play present everywhere as a well-defined quality of action which is different from ‘ordinary’ life”.11 Huizinga, J. (1980 ...

In the fields of psychology and psychoanalysis, too, there is a close relationship between play and reality. The game is a kind of “bridge” between inner and outer reality and can be used as a means of self-realization. In his book “Playing and Reality”22 Winnicott, D. (2005 ... , Winnicott states that psychoanalysis and playing operate through similar mechanisms. Both allow access to the unconscious and can be considered a therapeutic tool.

Thus, “the proximity of playing to art is apparent. Like art, the game also creates an imaginary world, removed from everyday reality. The capacity of creating a simulated, self-contained world is perceived, as it is known, as a definite hallmark of art, and aesthetic theories have often equated the artwork with an island surrounded by water”.33 Huizinga, J., ibid, ...

Playing in the mud and the contact with clay make it possible to imprint them with one’s own fingerprint and provide us with an accommodating and comfortable platform to dive into and invest our inner selves.

The works presented in this paper reflect the power and beauty inherent in clay, and its natural and magical ability to be revealed in a wide variety of appearances and phases. The works closely illustrate the connection between the artists’ fingerprints and the finished artworks and emphasize the essence of the work as raw material.

Gedula Ogen.

Bird of My Spirit – Auto-Portrait.
1990s. Compacted soil, cement, dry grass.
Size: 7 X 20 cm.

Gedula Ogen. Bird of My Spirit – Auto-Portrait. 1990s. Compacted soil, cement, dry grass. Size: 7 X 20 cm. photo by: Ariel Warhaftig

This work consists of two parts: a cube and a bird. The base is a cube made of compacted, grassy soil. A bird lies on the cube, made of earth with some cement. The wings and tail are also made of dry grass.


Most of Gedula Ogen’s later works tend to be abstract and expressive, a tendency that began as early as the 1970s under the influence of American abstract art. Nature imagery has become a central motif in her work in those years, and is an indicator and reminder of material culture.

“In nature I love the detail, the joints, the encounters between forms, the break-out of one form out of another […] The combination of the segments is similar to that created in a dream and the logic is like in a dream that deconstructs reality and reconfigures it.

“Work created from an intimate dialogue with the material (any material) has a chance to project credibility. Dialogue with the work and the material means touching the material and receiving a reply from it, understanding and then to touching again… Intimacy is the opposite of principles and statements, and it offers a chance for some added value”.

These citations are from an interview with Ogen by Inna Aroetti about her exhibition at Aharon Kahana House, Ramat Gan.44 Inna Aroetti, ...

Urs Fischer

Big Clay #7, 2008-2013
Cast aluminum, chrome-steel skeleton, chrome-steel bolts
Approximate dimensions: 543 ¼ x 248 x 220 ½ inches (1380 x 629.9 x 560.1 cm)

Bill Bell Collection
© Urs Fischer. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Stefan Altenburger
Installation view: “Urs Fischer”, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2013

Urs Fischer
Big Clay #7 

Big clay #7 is a towering hunk of cast aluminum, based on a small hand-modelled clay prototype. The sculpture takes its shape from a lump of clay that the artist bluntly gripped and squeezed. The object continues to bear the marks of its facture, collapsing together the processes of basic, manual sculpting and elaborate technical production. Magnified to monumental proportions, it reconsiders the portentous language of sculptural abstraction – conflating grandiosity with the spontaneity and ruggedness of art brut. At the same time, the protuberant forms of the cast metal call to mind the semi-abstract evocations of the body found in the work of Henry Moore and other mid-century sculptures. As in much of Fischer’s work, the human form – dually awkward and shapely – underlies a seemingly abstract gesture.


– Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

The oversized transformation of a 5 cm high lump of clay into an approximately 10-meter-high aluminum sculpture required the newest technology as well as an extremely generous spatial condition. By means of computer tomography, the smallest details such as the grooves of the fingerprints on the model were thus captured in such a way that a huge, 5-axle milling machine was able to reproduce the over 100-fold enlargement in Styrofoam with accuracy in every detail. In the partner foundry in China, the 48 model-parts of the sculpture were cast in a special corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy. For this, a smelting oven built especially for this alloy was used. The stability of the sculpture required a complex inner structure made of chromium steel. For the transport in ship containers, the Big Clay was then divided into ten pieces based on a pattern designed by Urs Fischer.

With this, a huge sculpture for the exterior space was created over many months from an original model that had been molded within seconds; an oversized, temporal and material transformation.


Douglas White    

New Skin for an Old Ceremony, 2011
Clay and steel table
Dimensions: variable 

Douglas White
New Skin for an Old Ceremony
2011 photo by: Douglas White

“While traveling in East Africa in 2001, I came across the remains of an elephant. There was little left as it had been mostly scavenged. All that remained were a scattered arrangement of bones and its vast deflated skin, draped and folded like a collapsed tent. The image of that scene has always stayed with me. It was a visceral encounter. Here was a body that becomes landscape, a body both present and absent in which the distinction between the inner and outer had evaporated in the heat and decay. It was a body you could walk through”.

– Courtesy of the artist

Nurit Gur Lavi: Following Velazquez. 2016-2018.

Black porcelain and pigments.
Size: variable (width – about 15-25 cm, height – 10-20 cm)

Nurit Gur Lavi: Following Velazquez. 2016-2018. Black porcelain and pigments. Size: variable (width – about 15-25 cm, height – 10-20 cm) photo by: Shay Adam


“I have loved Velazquez since early childhood, starting with a book my parents received for their wedding from soldiers in the British army in 1945. The book was bound in gray cloth with a dedication on a brass plate, and all the photographs were black and white except for that of the little Infanta, at which we looked again and again. She was a kind of ‘childhood hero’.

“In March 2016, I went to the Prado Museum in Madrid to make copies, and I ‘met’ the older Margarita (Mariana, Margarita’s mother), who is to the right of the large painting Las Meninas.

“Perhaps her reference to Giacometti, whom I like very much, or perhaps my fondness of heaps, hills, rising compositions that lack proportions, perhaps it is the big riddle that is hiding inside – all these drew me repeatedly to the Margarita and to the attempt to sculpture her model in clay.

“I’ve made all my sculptures not from memory, but by observing closely a small reproduction in a book”.

– Courtesy of the artist.

Nurit Gur Lavi. photo by: Shay Adam

“Mariana of Austria was born on December 24th 1634 as the daughter of Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Maria Anna of Spain. When she was 15 years old, she married her uncle, Philip IV of Spain, who was 30 years older than her. It was not to be a happy marriage.

Of their five children, only two would live to adulthood. Her eldest daughter Margaret Theresa would go on to marry her own uncle, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. Her only surviving son, Charles, was born… physically and mentally disabled, most likely due to the many years of inbreeding… Mariana acted as regent for her son, and she would continue to do so for most of his life, due to his illnesses.

In 1677, Mariana was forced from Madrid by John of Austria the Younger, who was an illegitimate son of Philip IV, her late husband.

She lived in Toledo for a while but returned to Madrid upon John’s death in 1679.

In March of 1696, she finally permitted doctors to examine a lump she had noticed in her breast… she received ‘medicine’ that made her feverish and she vomited often. Mariana died on 16 May 1696, holding the crucifix of Pope Pius V.

Her line died out just four years later, and the succession to the throne of Spain was eventually settled on the heirs of Anne of Austria, Queen of France”.

https://www.historyofroyalwomen.com/the-queen-regent-series/queens-regent-mariana- austria/

Pavel Zhuravlev   

Vase of Wild Clay    2018
Size: 31cm

Pavel Zhuravlev
Vase of Wild Clay

“Only the organic process can struggle with gravity. In wild clay, I want to express how organic expansion confronts the gravity pulling into non-existence. A virus changes the structure, creating countless mutations, one of which becomes a new stage of evolution.  I take the traditional shape of the vessel as a basis and in the process of making it, I mutate it as if it is a virus. Through these forms, I want to express how a virus destroys in order to create”.

– Courtesy of the artist

Pavel Zhuravlev
Vase of Wild Clay

Wild clay is a compound of stones, sand and clay mixed by nature. This combination maintains the beauty of its randomness. Stones and sand are left in the clay and therefore play part in the naturalness and imperfection of the object. The wild clay is dug from a pit in the forest, close to the river Nerl.


The vessel was made only by hands and stones as tools for modeling, then fired in a small primitive firewood kiln where flame closely contacts the vessel. The intimate space in the kiln allowed detailed textures on the surface, created by the flames of the wood. The outcome is always unpredictable and unique.

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