Israeli artist Sigalit Landau wades through the warm, brackish waters of the Dead Sea to inspect her latest creations – everyday objects coated in salt crystals that glisten in the bright morning sun.
Earth’s lowest point is also Landau’s workshop where she submerges objects – from a ballet dress to the metal structure of a lampshade – for weeks until they are magically transformed by layers of salt resembling ice.
“These waters are like a laboratory,” Landau said, gazing at a coil of salt-encrusted barbed wire, its sharp points now hardened and rounded thanks to the mineral-rich water heated by the scorching desert sun.
“What you’re looking at,” she said in wonder, “are the beards, which are very menacing and pointy – and how they’ve actually become quite coated and kind of sealed, snowy, flaky-looking.”
The Dead Sea, a popular tourist spot flanked by dramatic mountain cliffs, constantly offers surprises in the way it changes objects, Landau said: “You become very humble. What the sea wants is what I will get.
Landau works by suspending the objects in the salt lake from frames. Later, she carefully frees the fragile artifacts with the help of several assistants.
Some items are so heavy with the salt attached to them that they have to be carried by four people.
Landau, whose fascination with the Dead Sea began with video art decades ago, said he witnessed the “man-made disaster” that now threatens the lake, which is bordered by Israel with a side and Jordan on the other.
Israel and Jordan have long diverted the waters of the Jordan River feeding the lake while mining its minerals.
Water levels have been falling about one meter (three feet) per year in recent decades, and the Dead Sea has lost a third of its area since 1960.
Landau fears he will disappear unless government policies change. “He’s fading away and he shouldn’t,” she said. “It’s quite important and beautiful and a marvel.”
Dozens of Landau’s Dead Sea sculptures, along with old and new video art installations, will be on display at the Israel Museum in October.