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Table No. 4 1992, consists of a glass-top steel vitrine filled with red sand which bears traces of the movement of a cup buried in it. It is the third of four vitrines numbered according to the different meal times of the day. Thus, No.8, the first in the series, refers to breakfast, No.12 to lunch, No.4 to tea, No.6 to supper. Mealtimes are sacred within the Jewish culture, offering the opportunity to share, to be together as a family, to replenish and to give thanks to God. The movement of the cup in Table No.4 is a gesture of giving and taking. But the cut made into the sand is also the basic language of sculpture, a gesture made to reveal form. The trace of a past action implies the passage of time but the effect of the action is fragile and can be destroyed at any moment. Inevitably, such a work makes oblique reference to the peace settlements prevailing in the Middle East.
The large sand table, titled Yeshiva 1998, has connotations of the conference table. It is constructed from five tables of similar size, all based on Ullman's body measurements, arranged in a rectangle so that the centre of the sculpture is a void. The tables are actually trays filled with red sand. Whereas Table No.4 is an intimate piece with archaeological associations, Yeshiva is a more public statement which almost invites public participation. While the sand is intended to be raked smooth, Ullman does not object to the public touching it to 'contribute to the conference'. To touch it is to participate in a collective activity, to talk, to negotiate and to carry out a dialogue. While the work has overt political connotations, Ullman sees it in a lineage stretching back to Barnett Newman (1905-1970) and Yves Klein (1903-1970). Ullman considers his work to be somewhere between the pathos and emotiveness of Mark Rothko (1928-1962), and the subversive boldness of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).
Ullman's choice of materials is typically sand, glass and iron, all of which are intimately connected with the history of Palestine and Israel. Sand is essentially the base material and has political, historical and archaeological connotations. Sand symbolises the land of Israel. On the one hand it is inert and barren, yet the Israelis have managed to transform it into a fertile substance; it is thus full of potential. It is also a witness to history over many centuries - the desert both conceals and yields the remains of countless civilisations. It is both fragile in its propensity to movement and change, and strong and durable in that it cannot crack or break.
The sand Ullman employs is natural to the area just north of Tel Aviv where he lives, and is red. The colour red suggests danger of a historical and political nature. It is a warning of problems which lie ahead and of bloodshed in the past. The Hebrew word for blood is Dam, which is also the root of the word Adam, meaning man. Adamah in Hebrew means earth. There is thus an interconnectedness in Hebrew between the concepts of earth, red and man which are enshrined in Ullman's choice of materials.
Micha Ullman: Sand Days, exhibition catalogue, achsav.now contemporary art, Berlin 2001
Jeremy Lewison and Giorgia Bottinelli