I do not think that I am ever going to retire. I want to keep learning and reading and writing and teaching and developing and having whatever impact I can for good until they drop me in a hole in the ground. Actually, New York City has a nice, cheap cremation service. David Bowie used it, so I am hoping for that as well. Scatter my ashes in the Chelsea art district. In any case, I have no intention of stopping until nature blows the whistle. This is why I like Ahuva Zeloof so much. She is in her 70s now and she will not stop either. She has had an epic life – born in Iraq, moved to Israel and then to the UK. She has dedicated her life to issues of health and psychological wellness and her visual artwork, which she began at an age when most people are retiring, is a continuation of a commitment to personal growth and the humane values she has always demonstrated. She has a new show and the following is my interview with the unstoppable Ahuva Zeloof.
It is my understanding that the pieces in the current show were all completed during quarantine. How did this affect your work?
I created 5 sculptures during isolation and 2 are featured in the current show. Whilst the sculptures selected weren’t all created during the lockdown, the curation of the show is directly inspired by this period that we all endured and the new circumstances we find ourselves in and so the pieces have almost taken on a new meaning. The isolation affected my work emotionally as I live alone so sculpting was my emotional outlet, but it also imposed more limitations on the process. I couldn’t view the stones before purchasing them so I had to choose them blind and work with what I was given. The series of sculptures are individually titled as Fractured, Incomplete, Scarred Emerging and Hope, I always think there is hope at the end.
How is this show different from your last?
As I mentioned above, the emotion of the current situation is new to us all and so in light of that, the pieces tell a new story. The show is unlike anything I’ve done before, not only in the way it was produced, (remotely via Zoom meetings, Facetimes and phone calls etc) but also in terms of the end product. Social distancing measures mean the gallery will be more spacious; there will be fewer people but more air, a different energy and ultimately a different experience. I imagine pre-booking a slot to view the art will make the time spent doing so more focused, real quality time with the art. It’s a new era and no one is sure what exactly it will bring, but yes it will definitely be different.
In a previous show you were interested in the form of the female body in the process of what might be called wellness-movement. Will your current show also be about that topic?
Wellness, in body mind and soul, is something I’ll always be interested in. Coming from a background of yoga practice and teaching, the body’s movement and how that connects with the mind and soul will always be at the core of my work and definitely carries through this exhibition. I think this exhibition focuses more on the ‘mind’ aspect of ‘body mind and soul’, so alongside my signature movement sculptures you’ll find a lot of heads and faces emerging from the stone. My work aims to show the endless versatility of the human body, endless possibilities of the most efficient yet natural machine that exists.
When one of your pieces is completed, what is the relationship between the unfinished stone and the face or figure?
When I look at the stone I see what is already there, then when I sculpt. I think of my role as undressing the stone for others to see and share in my experience. I find the dialogue between the rough stone and the filed stone interesting as each emphasises the existence and beauty of the other.
How did yoga help you to create in stone and other materials?
The physical aspect of my yoga practice has allowed me to become intimately aware of the human body and form; it’s physicality, limitations and possibilities. That knowledge is something that helps me with the visuals when sculpting the body, but it also helps me to imagine what materials might best express each pose. The spiritual element of yoga has really helped me to focus and taught me to enjoy the process, not just the finished product.
Is the finished piece a reflection of your own inner state?
Every piece reflects my state of mind, as the stone takes shape it unveils my own reflection. Through the process of working on the sculpture you forge an intimate relationship between you and the stone, it's very personal and in a way, part of me becomes part of the sculpture.
How do you hope viewers will be affected by your work?
It always brings me joy to see how others relate to the sculptures I make and how they take on a different meaning for each individual. A lot of people wanted to touch and feel the stones and this is something that I encourage as it’s a way of understanding the shape of a piece and a way to experience them.
In order to derive meaning from your pieces, how should a viewer approach your work? Cognitively? Emotionally?
I don’t believe you have to approach the work in any particular manner to derive something from it. I believe that art is for everyone and everyone is creative in their own way, having a family is art, going to work is art, sculpting is art. Whether you’re a cognitive person or an emotional person or anything in-between, I think if you approach it in a manner that is natural to you, you’ll get something meaningful out of the experience.
What do you mean that your work is inspired by female movement and energy?
My experience of working with the female body whilst teaching yoga has visually and emotionally informed my work.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Knowing when a sculpture is finished can be a struggle. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it’s finished when I’m happy to look at it, other times it can be hard to tell. There have been instances when I’ve thought sculptures were finished but gone back to them months later and discovered I could do more and instances when I’ve overdone them, pushing the stone beyond its limits to breaking point. I’ve learnt throughout the process to embrace any mistakes or imperfections, they are part of the journey.
What motivated you to move from stone to other materials?
My first experience of sculpting was with clay. Working with clay is like building, you have an outline or plan that you fulfil, but I craved something with more freedom. I am excited by stone because it’s the opposite of that, there are no rules, no plans, you just go with the feeling of it. Instead of building something, I’m uncovering something, sometimes I don’t even know what that ‘something’ is when I first pick up my chisel. Wax is interesting as it is unlimited in its movement, a stretching possibility similar to that I see in yoga. Bronze presents an unbelievable elevation to the work, and glass creates such visual illusions. Each medium opens new doors for colours, textures and effects, they all bring a different element to the work. I like to create in stone and then explore other mediums that might suit the piece and what else can be said through transposing the medium. It’s exciting to see the original pieces next to the new ones such as the Mountain Profile trio that are in alabaster, smoky grey glass and gold bronze, singularly they are each beautiful but as three they become a really powerful series.
I read that you admire the work of Rodin a great deal? Why?
Rodin, and Michelangelo too, were both known for leaving areas unfinished and leaving the imprint of their fingerprints on the sculptures, allowing natural folds in the stone to become a feature of the work. That approach is something I see in my own work, like I said above, embracing the imperfections of the medium and of the artist working the medium is part of my process. Classical art is such an important foundation, the technicality of it adds this other layer of beauty, the simplicity of the method and the impressiveness of the outcome is something I find inspiring.
When you say your sculptures are organic and open, what do you mean?
When I say the work is open I mean it's open to interpretation, as I mentioned earlier the work is unfinished, so the viewer can see it and finish it off with their minds eye, using their imagination. The work is 3D so the more you go round it, take it all in, the more you see and discover. It’s organic as I work with unique and natural stone, taken from nature in the form they were created. My thought and work process are intuitive and also organic, I work with the stone, not against it.
Tell me why the current venue is good for the exhibition of your works.
Previously I’ve only ever exhibited in East London, I have a strong connection to it and the Truman Brewery. I’ve witnessed the East End evolve and unveil itself and its potential much like the stones that I work with. It’s rough around the edges with other parts that are beautifully polished and each element just emphasises the other. The Truman Brewery has also evolved over the years, it’s become a hot spot for creativity in London, and one of my New Movement sculptures is permanently exhibited in the entrance so there is a little piece of me always there. The new exhibition is at Diba Art Gallery in South London, another evolving and ever-growing art hub, and somewhere that I’m looking forward to engaging a new audience.
You are a woman who spent a great deal of time in the Middle East. How did your experiences affect your perspective and work?
I was born in Iraq and spent my early life surrounded by the dramatic landscapes of the Middle East. From a young age I saw faces and figures emerging from the mountains and sand dunes that were the backdrop to everyday life. The rough and the smooth of those landscapes and the Middle East in general no doubt influence my work.
Yoga had a huge impact on your life, has sculpture provided a type of feedback loop to yoga, has it added to how yoga has helped you develop as a person?
Yes, it has added to that feedback loop. Yoga gave me confidence in my abilities by testing and pushing through my perceived limitations, it has also given me a mindset that encourages me to embrace failure, seeing it as growth. Without that courage I wouldn’t have started sculpting, which has also furthered my self-assurance.
Ahuva Zeloof's show will start on August 20th and run until November 20th, 2020. During these unfortunate times, the exhibition can be attended by appointment only.