The Colors of Light

Deborah Philips holding a box with her artwork

When delivering her art works to the Jewish Museum Berlin, Deborah S. Phillips naturally wears blue nail polish © Jewish Museum Berlin. Photo: Gelia Eisert

A visit to Berlin-Neukölln, to the studio apartment of Deborah S. Phillips, who is dressed in blue, today, except for her shoes, which are green. That the artist has spent the last five years examining the color blue and is only now gradually turning her attention to hues of green is reflected thus in her apparel as well as her art.

Red was the first color to which Deborah Phillips devoted herself with a passion. The Bible story she read aloud as a 12-year-old in the synagogue on the occasion of her Bat Mizwa was about the red cow—and it haunted her for ages. It was the tale of a strange animal that had to be sacrificed so people could use its ashes to cleanse themselves of sin. Only then would they be able to enter the temple in Jerusalem. Many years later, Deborah Phillip’s reflections on the color red and its cultural significance culminated in one of her enchanting works on paper, the “Red Book,” which is the fruit also of the artist’s extensive voyages in Iran, India and Central Asia, and her affinity with Islamic cultures.

Artworks with blue rubber stamp print

“Tchelet ve Argaman,” lithograph & rubber stamp print, Deborah S. Phillips, 2015 © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Claudia Rannow

In the meantime there is a “Blue Book” too. On my visit I was allowed to leaf through the freshly finished art books, seven unique editions in all. Compiled therein are lithographs, monotypes, photo collages, lead-type-set text, block prints, and small drawings executed in nail varnish of every conceivable shade of blue.

Deborah Phillips’s fascination with the color blue is likewise of Biblical origin. The fourth Book of Moses bids the faithful to sew threads onto the four corners of their prayer cloak as a constant reminder of the Lord’s commandments. Some of the threads, it is said, should be dyed blue or “tchelet,” to use the Hebrew term. Since it was impossible to say exactly which shade of blue was meant, scholars later revoked this precept and ordained the use of white thread instead. Rabbinical discussions about “tchelet” occupied Deborah already when she was a girl. Nowadays, in Israel, the secular yet supernal term “tchelet” describes merely the color of the sky.

Artworks with blue rubber stamp print

“Tchelet Fragments,” lithograph, monotype & rubber stamp print, Deborah S. Phillips, 2014 © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Colors and sounds, letters of the alphabet, spices and smells: all these flow together in Deborah Phillips’s artistic practice—and what may thereby eventually transpire is as much a mystery to her as to anyone. Her work on the “Blue Book” gave rise, quasi as a byproduct, to the monotypes which are available in our Art Vending Machine in the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin. On half of the small works-on-paper, the artist stamped a single Hebrew word, namely “tchelet”; on the others she stamped the word “argaman.” This second word means “purple,” a royal color once worn by priests in the ancient temples of Jerusalem.

In addition to her works on paper, Deborah Phillips creates films, installations and performances. She works as a translator, coordinates cultural projects, and is an excellent cook as well as a “spice consultant.”

Wall with artworks and bookshelf

Deborah S. Phillips’ studio, March 2015
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Maren Krüger

By the way, not only colors play a major role in the (artistic) life of Deborah Phillips but also an infamous street in Neukölln, the Hermannstraße. For her mother’s maiden name was Hermann and the artist herself has lived in the Hermannstraße/ Hermannplatz neighborhood for many years. This coincidence prompted a project with the title HERMAN(N).

Colors, odors, voices and sounds, delicate, dazzling and wild, accompanied me on my way from Deborah’s studio apartment to the subway, down Hermannstraße.

Maren Krüger visited the artist Deborah S. Phillips in her studio apartment in Berlin-Neukölln.


New arrivals: artwork for the vending machine

The last few weeks have been full of hectic hustle and bustle, with boxes being passed from hand to hand, examined, unpacked, and sorted through. Such a variety of objects emerged from their cases and seemed to be disseminating in every direction through the museum.

Cards with blue printings

© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Gelia Eisert

Blue prints were spread out over a long, dark red sheet. Words seemed to glow in them – was it “tekhelet” or “argaman” or both? And what do they mean anyway?

"Magic" Card on a table in the kitchenette

© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Gelia Eisert

 

A “magic” card appeared in a kitchenette. Suddenly everything was kosher: the sink, the refrigerator, the dishes, the whole kitchen. The artist promised it would be, and thus it happened.  continue reading


“I see a land bright and clear,
and the time’s comin’ near
When we’ll live in this land, you and me…”

Pessach is approaching – the festival of exodus and freedom. This year, there is less talk of having the festive meal at large community gatherings. It is obvious, although unspoken, that smaller gatherings in the home make more sense. We are becoming alienated from our community centers through fear. Keep a low profile. Don’t speak Hebrew on the streets. Some people are removing the mezuzah from their front doorposts, a traditional object that visibly identifies a Jewish household. There is a mood of caution and nervous apprehension.

How did it get to this point?

Advertisement for the "Cycling Unites"-Critical-Mass-Tour in Berlin on 22 March 2015: Imam Ferid Heider and Rabbi Daniel Alter are cycling together

Advertisement with Imam Ferid Heider and Rabbi Daniel Alter for the “Cycling Unites”-Critical-Mass-Tour in Berlin on 22 March 2015, photo: Michal Friedlander

June, 2014
A drunken man rolls slowly off the train platform and plops onto the tracks at Friedrichstrasse station. Around sixty people witness the moment and look away, hoping that someone else will solve the stinky, awkward problem. And so it was. An Italian and an Israeli jumped down to haul the semi-conscious man to safety. The passengers walked around the startled little group, pressing forward to make the oncoming train.

July 2014
Dinner party small talk. The discussions nearest me are taking a more political turn and I am just not in the mood to talk about Israel. Too late. The young man next to me asks if I saw the recent pro-Palestinian demonstration on the Kurfürstendamm? He becomes very still and lowers his voice.  continue reading