Everyone knows things float in the Dead Sea. But what would happen to something that couldn’t float, or was intentionally weighed down in those strange waters? Well, then you might see something interesting. The same high salt content that makes the Dead Sea so incredibly buoyant has another interesting property – intense calcification. It is this natural but entirely bizarre phenomenon that Israeli artist Sigalit Landau has made her signature style, using the unique properties of the Dead Sea to create stunning "salt sculptures” of everyday objects!
Resting 1,412 ft below the ocean, the Dead Sea holds the distinction of being the Earth’s lowest elevation on land. It is a hypersaline lake, with a salt to water ratio of 342 grams of salt to every kilogram of water. While those numbers might not mean much to a casual layman, it is an astounding ratio. To put it another way, the Dead Sea is over nine times as salty as the ocean! Truly, there is no other place like it on Earth, which makes it the perfect place for an artist to find inspiration.
Enter Jerusalem born and raised artist Sigalit Landau. Landau is an Israeli artist with international appeal. Her multimedia work spanning everything from sculptures and video installations have been the feature of shows and museums across the world, including a personal exhibit at New York’s prestigious MOMA. Her work has been described as providing symbolic bridges connecting the past to the future, the individual to the collective, and the center to the periphery, all while always using interesting materials and unique techniques that have made her a star in her field. It is this drive that led her to the Dead Sea and the creation of her incredible "salt sculptures.”
Picture a dress that can stand on its own. One where the fabric has become so stiff and brittle with time and salt exposure that it can retain individual wrinkles like it was cast in cement. Think of ordinary objects turned to crystalline structures like they had been petrified, completely frozen in time. This is the beauty of Landau’s craft, a singular art she has been perfecting for over 15 years.
The Dead Sea has always been a part of Landau’s life. In her childhood years she visited the magical spot regularly, taking inspiration from the quiet stillness of the water and the intensely personal experiences visitors would have. Individuals floating separate from each other, but still deeply connected by their shared wonderment. The idea for the project occurred spontaneously as she walked the shores one day and noticed the crystal formations that occur naturally along the water’s edge.
The process is painstaking. Landau and her team secure items to the bottom of the Dead Sea using metal weights and cables. It’s very tricky to suspend something just so to attain the proper effect, it isn’t as simple as just throwing something in the bottom of the sea and waiting. Each item is carefully considered for its emotional impact, as is the choice of material and composition of the item. Different materials calcify at different rates and by intelligently using these differences Landau is able to create texture and unique effects in her salt sculptures. Heat and the weather are also pressing factors, requiring careful monitoring and documentation to make sure nothing is extracted from the waters too early or too late. It must be perfect.
The entire process is recorded in her book "Salt Years” which serves as a kind of coda to her decade plus work. The book not only details the many incredible sculptures she created over the years and the process used to make them, but also her thoughts and the emotional connection she has to her work. How her life in Israel, the specter of the holocaust, and her fascination with how the individual functions inside a society has influenced the way she sees the world and what she creates.
"The Dead Sea tells its own stories. Its salt crystals are like prisms. Through them you can see the world anew.”
Landau’s Salt Sculptures are an achievement that is only possible thanks to the natural wonder that is the Dead Sea. Yet another example of how special the land of Israel is and what it has to offer the world.