In Kabbalah, the ancient Judaic mystic school of thought, the world was created through the process of Tzimtzum, which loosely means creating something out of nothing. The Kabbalistic term references 'concealment' and 'contraction', and suggests the idea of making something new in a vacant space. In Kabbalah, this vacant space was created through the concealment of what believers saw to be the true reality, God. Challenging conceptions of truth is a point of fascination for the designer and artist Nicole Zisman, who has collaborated with the light and sonic artist Jeremy Keenan on a multimedia art installation in London exploring Kabbalah, Judaism and mental health.
Using fashion and art to explore fractured identity and assimilation from the point of view of her own identity as a young, Venezuelan-Jewish woman, Zisman is a designer who uses clothing and technology to challenge preconceptions of culture. Since her days as a BA Fashion Print student at Central Saint Martins, Zisman has used print, UV sublimation and film to create fashion which purposefully obscures readings of identity, challenging what we think we know of a garment, or indeed, a culture in the digital age. For her BA graduate collection, Zisman memorably sent TV screens down the runway as hybrid dresses. Shortly after, Zisman launched her first solo exhibition So Let It Be Your Will, exploring the social realities of the climate crisis, as part of a project with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Waltham Forest. Last year, she curated a show about breaking down Jewish stereotypes, titled We Returned, for a synagogue in Angel, and made her London Fashion Week debut as part of the Positive Fashion Exhibition at 180 Strand.
Now, Zisman has created an installation with Keenan for the Ein Sof Gallery in North London, titled ן — Tranquila, Mami, with support from Arts Council England as part of their programme looking at mental health through the Jewish body. Tranquila, Mami is a deeply personal show, exploring intergenerational trauma and survivors' guilt amongst Jewish people. Zisman focused in on the motif of the button-down white shirt, a common sight in a 'shul' (synagogue), and family home, which dangle from a metal frame in the exhibition. She then worked with Keenan who created a light and sound installation to house a moving meditation on broken and healed mental states.
Shirts hang lit like ghostly figures on wires, arms extended, as lilac and blue light beams refract through their surfaces. The three garments feature Zisman's signature laser-cut sequins, UV printing and a hand-stitched technique, which combine to create a fractured surface which in places feature X-Ray-like apparitions of button, cuff, pleating and seam details. These shirts have been a through-line in Zisman's work in the past, however the designer says that this is the first time she has explicitly referenced the shirt as a spiritual motif.
'It is...the artist’s most direct confession of her craving for the shirt’s symbolic presence within intimate male paradigms, and (ironically) its affirmations of her valour as a Jewish woman. The materiality of the pieces recalls her lifetime encounters with seas of white button-down shirts in shul, in her family home, and within her involuntary psychic obsessions, where clear, glittering shirts repeatedly shatter around her and eventually, her own body throws itself through and smashes a pristine pane of glass. In the physical realm however, the artists break their shirts intentionally, so as to practice tzimtzum in the cracks between the pieces of glass. Within the installation, breaking and brokenness become acts of Trust (bitachon, בטחון).'
Held at the Ein Sof Gallery, an artist-run gallery for Jewish contemporary artists and creatives, the show's final opening slot runs this Thursday 19 May, 21:00 BST. Book here.
Ein Sof Gallery
1-3 Elliott’s Place
London, N1 8HX