SALT OF THE EARTH: EREZ NEVI PANA
By Glenn Adamson
You might think that the Dead Sea would be impervious to environmental damage. After all, it’s already inert – scarcely a living thing in it. But as it turns out, this body of water is remarkably fragile. Much of the flow into the sea has been diverted into regional use, resulting in gradual lowering of water levels, a process further worsened by climate change. Among the results has been a proliferation of sinkholes around the shoreline, at epic scale – more than 6000 over the past twenty-five years, according to one report. Nearby architecture, farmland and roads have been swallowed willy-nilly into the earth.
Given the Dead Sea’s location, along the border between Israel and Jordan, it’s tempting to frame this ecological carnage in Biblical terms: the parable of Lot’s Wife; conquered cities covered with salt, cursed never to rise again. But for the Israeli-born designer Erez Nevi Pana, this story is primarily about the present, and the future. He understands the Dead Sea as a precious wonder of nature, and some years ago, decided to use it as the generative wellspring of his work.
His research, conducted originally when he was a student at the Design Academy Eindhoven, has led to a series of objects that feel more grown than made. They are realized by depositing forms under the water surface and allowing salt crystallization to take place over weeks and months. It is a collaboration with nature. A note of savage irony is provided by the fact that Nevi Pana does this at a geographical location that is quite literally “the lowest point on earth,” a metaphorical comment, perhaps, on where we currently stand in our relationship to the climate.
In this desolate place, Nevi Pana summons objects of great beauty. In the past, he has used salt to encrust vessels of clay: two primordial materials in combination. He has also created architectural building materials – glittering white tiles of layered, melted salt that he semi-jokingly calls “marble for the poor.” The most recent works in the series, though, are revelations. They are functional furniture forms, carpentered in an improvisatory manner, lined with fibrous loofah, and then submerged. The loofah absorbs the salt like a sponge, creating a deep surface that seems at once ancient and futuristic, tough and delicate.