Mutter mit Kind auf Wäsche.

Aviv Szabs, It’s inspired by Ophelia, whereas I am drowning in laundry, 2021

«Historically, textiles have been community-building.»

Five Questions to Aviv Szabs

Aviv Szabs is an Israe­li artist living in Switz­er­land. In 2022, she show­ed her self-por­trait «It’s inspi­red by Ophe­lia, whe­re­as I am drow­ning in laun­dry» at the Muse­um Lan­gen­thal. The pho­to reflects her expe­ri­ence as a young Jewish mother and for­eig­ner in rural Switz­er­land. In the Jewish Museum’s book «Birth Cul­tu­re» (Schwa­be, 2022) Nao­mi Lubrich spo­ke to her about mother­hood, laun­dry and the pain­ting «Ophe­lia» by Sir John Ever­ett Millais.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Aviv, you are an artist. What is the sto­ry behind «It’s inspi­red by Ophe­lia whe­re­as I am drow­ning in laundry»? 

Aviv Szabs: In July 2021 I arri­ved in Riedt­wil with my hus­band and one year old baby. I spent win­ter days at home; I was an immi­grant and a young mother, sin­ging Hebrew baby songs 24/7. I found mys­elf with a huge pile of dir­ty clo­thes fil­ling four bags: One full of my husband’s clo­thes, one full of our daughter’s clo­thes, one full of home tex­ti­les and one full of my own clo­thes which I hadn’t mana­ged to wash on time. I had a new washing machi­ne – and an inner ten­si­on of being in char­ge of the dome­stic sphe­re and being an artist expo­sed to the public. I began to see the dai­ly actions of clea­ning and nou­ris­hing out of the con­text of the house­hold and deci­ded to move the dir­ty clo­thes into an exhi­bi­ti­on space. They were on dis­play at the Kunst­haus Lan­gen­thal from Decem­ber 2, 2021, to Janu­ary 16, 2022.

NL: Which Ophe­lia is your pho­to refer­ring to? 

AS: I’m refer­ring to the pain­ting «Ophe­lia» by Sir John Ever­ett Mil­lais (1851–1852). His Ophe­lia fell into the river while picking flowers and slow­ly drow­ned, sin­ging all the while. My pho­to­graph is prin­ted in the same size as Millais’s pain­ting, 76x112 cm, and it is shown with me sin­ging Hebrew songs for my baby. The pho­to­graph of me breast­fee­ding my daugh­ter while I’m sin­ging to her and drow­ning in laun­dry was taken on our bed by my hus­band Ema­nu­el Bau­mann. Living in an open space, which used to be an old metal foundry, gives us all crea­ti­ve free­dom, even our daugh­ter. We have no walls, a lot of space to move, to expe­ri­ment and to play with our ever­y­day objects.

NL: How are you as an Israe­li adjus­ting to life in rural Switzerland? 

AS: For me, being in the coun­try­si­de means being clo­se to natu­re, fee­ling the four sea­sons to their extre­me. While wal­king out­side, I often feel like I am insi­de a pain­ting. The coun­try is a source of inspi­ra­ti­on and rela­xa­ti­on but also of soli­tu­de. The women in the past were bound to the house and to the decis­i­ons of the men. Is it pos­si­ble that women today have simi­lar fee­lings, alt­hough their rea­li­ty is different?

NL: Is the­re such as thing as «Jewish laundry»? 

AS: His­to­ri­cal­ly, tex­ti­les have been com­mu­ni­ty-buil­ding. In our time of indi­vi­dua­li­zed spi­ri­tua­li­ty, the actions of fol­ding clean laun­dry remind me of my child­hood, when I would watch my mother fol­ding clo­thes for all the mem­bers of the fami­ly and sort­ing them by groups. It brings me back to mys­elf and to home.

NL: Does your daugh­ter under­stand Shabbat? 

AS: For my daugh­ter Ali­sha, Shab­bat starts by giving a kiss to Abba and Imma when we light the cand­les. She reminds us, in case we for­get, to give a kiss after say­ing «Shab­bat Shalom.» In the coun­try­si­de the silence on Shab­bat is beau­tiful. Being clo­se to our sur­roun­dings, to natu­re, to our neigh­bors, to home, gives our fami­ly peace for the week to come.

NL: Aviv, thank you very much for this conversation.

verfasst am 13.03.2023