In the Jewish calendar, Elul is the season of self-examination and amendment: A new year begins and atonement is made. To mark the season, Old City Jewish Art Center (OCJAC) hosts an exhibit by Leib Meadvin, whose mosaics offer a literal opportunity for personal reflection.
Mirrors sharpen the message
Consisting of handcrafted tile, text, and mirrors, Meadvin’s ceramic work abstract and boldly colored. Many pieces are emblazoned with names of his relatives, including daughter Emunah and her husband Zalman Wircberg, OCJAC’s co-directors. In that mosaic, a wide band of blue and gold frames blood-red hearts and an oblong mirror, below which is the proclamation: “words that come from the heart enter the heart.” Familiar wisdom, the words are at once a wish, a blessing, and a charge – for Emunah, Zalman, and anyone who pauses to read and gaze into the reflective center.
The idea that art speaks to observers and evokes a response is nothing new. However, Meadvin transforms the act of viewing and personalizes the conversation. You look, see yourself looking, and in a blink, the observer becomes participant. A tile-inscribed message directed at anyone or no one, if nobody stops to look, is now intended just for you. “Now you’re in this,” the artist challenges, “what do you think?”
In only the most superficial way, this replicates the way in which selfies have changed picture-taking. We go on vacation and return with pictures that are not about what we saw, but what we were seen with. When Meadvin inserts the viewer into his landscape, he changes the composition, perception, and potential meaning with each new pair of eyes.
Words and music
Most of the mosaics contain scriptural text, recognizable to anyone familiar with the Bible. In Psalms 2, it’s “God is my light and my salvation,” a passage from the 27th Psalm that expresses a central theme of the Jewish high holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“Open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise,” appears in Psalms 1, a wreath of handmade rust and peach tile framing a reflective center. Taken from the 51st Psalm, the phrase is typically recited before silent devotion.
Acknowledging that religious text does not speak to everyone, Meadvin offers wisdom from alternative providers, such as the Grateful Dead. “When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me,” reads Attics 2, quoting a lyric from the Dead’s Attics of My Life.
Whether seen by Talmudic scholars, Deadheads, or those open to inspiration from any source, Meadvin’s art summons viewers to their better selves by striking reflective chords, one at a time.
A Reflection of You, to September 30; Old City Jewish Art Center, 119 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106; 215-627-2792; ocjac.org