When Sigalit Landau retrieved a dress from the Dead Sea, she had no intention of ever wearing it. No, this garment had been immersed in the hypersaline water here for months, and what had happened to it had made it special – too special to wear, perhaps, if one ever could. In fact, the gown had become quite the stunning natural work of art.
Art, however, is Landau’s stock in trade. Indeed, the Jerusalem-born, Tel Aviv-dwelling creative has been honing her craft for decades, with multiple exhibitions of her work now under her belt.
What’s more, Landau has become somewhat of an ambassador for her country through being part of the Venice Biennale: first in 1997 as part of a collective show, and then again 14 years later when a stand-alone selection of her works was displayed. Given how prestigious the Venice Biennale is to the art world, showing there is quite the accomplishment.
Plus, one of the works that Landau showed at the 2011 Biennale has definite thematic links to her latest dramatic piece. After all, visitors to the exhibition could see her film of a pair of shoes covered – just like the dress – in Dead Sea salt, melting the ice of a frozen Polish lake and, eventually, sinking into its waters.
For her dress project, though, Landau also drew inspiration from the now-classic play The Dybbuk. Written by S. Ansky from 1913 to 1916, the piece tells the story of a Hasidic Jewish woman who becomes seemingly controlled by the ghost of a deceased lover.
In particular, it was the gown that the play’s lead character Leah wore that Landau would take her cues from. As a result, then, a copy of the dress that was worn in 1920s stage renditions of The Dybbuk became a key part of the artist’s ambitious new endeavor.
Another major influence on the piece that Landau would eventually name “Salt Bride” was the Dead Sea itself. It has been a presence in her life ever since her childhood, when she gazed out onto its banks from her home. Today, though, she is particularly taken by its surreal qualities.
“It is like meeting with a different time system, a different logic, another planet,” she explained in an August 2016 interview with My Modern Met. And, once completed, “Salt Bride” certainly matches it for otherworldliness.
The dress itself started off as a black-colored garment that echoes the modest clothing of The Dybbuk’s Leah. Once the salt crystals present in the Dead Sea’s briny waters started to accumulate on it, though, its hue would slowly change.
And keeping it in place was a large wooden edifice attached to wires, capable of handling the gown’s ever-growing weight and of suspending it in the lake’s depths. Landau checked on the progress of the dress as the salt crystals formed over time, with photographer Yotam From capturing these moments on camera.
Interestingly, in order to reach the dress over 15 feet below the surface, From had to weigh himself down. In fact, it took no less than 150 pounds of weights to keep him stable while he snapped shots of the ever-changing gown. Now that’s dedication.
The whole process, from start to finish, took place during a period of around two months in 2014. And when the dress was finally raised out of the water, its transformation was incredible. The once dark-hued gown was snow white and encrusted with a thick layer of salt.
The sheer volume of salt that accumulated on the dress is thanks to the salinity of the water in which it was submerged. The crystallization process is the natural result of salt crystals attaching themselves to one another around a solid object.
The way that the salt turned the black fabric of the dress white, meanwhile, is intended to represent the paranormal nature of the original play. It’s as if the salt had somehow taken possession of the dress, just as the ghost of Leah’s lover does to her in The Dybbuk.
And this conversion was echoed in the act of producing the photos, too. Each image was immersed, by necessity, in a developing liquid – just as the dress was immersed in the salty water.
Those snaps of the “Salt Bride” dress were eventually narrowed down to a selection of eight, ready to be exhibited. They display the enchanting transformation of the dress from black to white and were put on show at London’s Marlborough Contemporary gallery from July to September 2016.
And “Salt Bride” is by far from the only work by Landau that features the Dead Sea. As well as the piece she exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale, entitled “Salted Lake (Salt Crystal Shoes on a Frozen Lake),” the artist herself can be seen in her 2005 piece “DeadSee” – floating on the lake’s surface while naked and amid a spiral of watermelons.
The dress, too, is just one of several objects that Landau has deposited into the lake’s super-salty waters. Previously, a fishing net, a noose and even a violin, among others, have all been subject to the same crystallizing treatment.
“It’s a little bit tantalizing, the sea in general and the crystal specifically – it’s very beautiful, it looks like milk or snow,” Landau elaborated on her fascination in a July 2016 interview with The New York Times. My Modern Met also quotes her as saying, rather elegantly, that the salt-encrusted dress looks to her “like snow, like sugar, like death’s embrace.”
It’s a piece so arresting, in fact, that Landau made another, smaller, version of the gown – which this time was originally woven from synthetic netting and fiberglass – using the same treatment. And given how stunning both versions are, we’re eager to see whatever Landau submerges next.