Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Until the 20th of October 2012, Contemporary Applied Arts Gallery in London is hosting an exhibition called “Domestic matters” (website). Simultaneously they have a Focus exhibition featuring three artists. Among them is Adi Toch, a silversmith dubbed “One of the most exciting young makers“ by Corinne Julius in the Evening Standard. I met Adi when I was studying for my MA and, I have been keeping up with her work since then.

Adi Toch completed her MA at the Cass, London, in 2009 following her BA with First Class Honours from Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. Since then her work has been exhibited internationally and is included in the permanent collections of The Goldsmiths’ Company, Crafts Council and Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge.

Adi exhibiting at Goldsmith’s in 2010

I am a big fan of Adi’s work and every time she shows new pieces I tell myself: “wow, she did it again”…  But what exactly is she doing? To try and understand this attraction, I interviewed her in her workshop and also asked a few people to tell me what they felt about Adi’s work during the private view of the CAA’s exhibition. “I want to touch it”, “it is beautiful”, “I want to hold it in my hands”, “it is very original” were amongst the comments I heard that evening.

There are some pictures of her work, beginning with her “tactile series”, as it is where everything started.

Red sand bowl, 2010. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg  

Those bowls are made of silver or other metals and they are especially designed to contain substances, which cannot be retrieved. In her website Adi writes: ”The series of tactile vessels invites the observer to touch, play and discover unexpected sounds and motion. Turning the vessels around triggers both compelling sound and mesmerizing fluidity of the particles held inside like tiny pearls, sand or ball bearings. The contained particles cannot fall out due to the special structure”.

This series started with a “happy mistake” as Adi calls it. She was participating in a one-week workshop in the Czech Republic “Bohemian Paradise” area, where precious stones are found and she described to me how there were lots of little garnet stones on the benches carelessly stored in plastic cups. Adi was amazed to see how they were treated like coarse gravel and stored in disposable containers. She loved the fluidity caused by this type of grouping in large quantities. She wanted to find a way of setting the stones but at the same time giving them some freedom of movement. And came this amazing shape, which is now recurrent in some Adi’s work.

A pinch of salt, 2008. Courtesy of the artist     

This gold plated “Pinch of salt” piece uses the same idea but this time the hole allows two fingers to grab a pinch of salt.

Adi’s pieces usually start with a shape and not with a function in mind. She makes a quick drawing and moves strait to the metal, starting from very basic forms. She lets the shape develop so the object grows when making it, the metal sometimes “tells” her where to go as she describes. She doesn’t like the word inspiration but she reckons that she collects a lot of objects or bits of things in her cupboards. They are somehow stored in her mind as well and they reappear randomly when she works on a piece. Two things are always present in her work: containers and tactility…

Sound vessel, 2009. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg  

This picture summarizes perfectly what one is tempted to do when seeing her work: hold it in your hands and cuddle it. “My intention is to provoke interactions,” says Adi. And it really works: the round shapes are inviting, the size fits perfectly in your palms and the matt surface makes it irresistible. Adi is fascinated by the idea of capturing the inside and outside by creating vessels and containers. Watching her 18 months old daughter playing, endlessly filling and emptying all kinds of vessels at home is very inspiring too as it reminds her how our early world was defined by this simple task of testing how to contain things. For Adi, a room is a container and the palm of your hands or the body are imaginary containers.

Body Autobiography. Ear. Courtesy of the artist   

This piece is an early work done during her BA in Israel, but it revolves already around the concept of containers. Here a plaster mould has been made trapping the gap created between the head and the shoulder and then Adi has raised the form in metal by hand. This project was very personal and intimate but it started her reflection about inside/outside and her love for working with metal as well.

When asked if she could work with another material, Adi says she is really open but she seems to have developed a very intimate relation with metal. She likes the idea that metal has character:  It is like an old friend” she says, “you expect what will happen next but at the same time you might be surprised”. She also loves the fact that metal becomes warm when you hold it in your hands and reverts to cold when you leave it aside. “It is like fresh linen in your bed. The first impression is coolness and progressively it takes the temperature of your body”.

Oil drizzler, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

When asked about techniques and how important they are, Adi considers that they are only here to serve the shape she wants to make. The piece above shows how skilled she is, but that is not her technical skills she wants to advertise. I have seen her at work, and I found the finish of her pieces particularly interesting: she can spend hours removing the fire stain (NB: when heated and soldered, a layer of oxides forms on the surface of silver) and obtaining the right surface finish on a piece of silver. She even jokes about it comparing it to a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder… The result is however always striking and worth the effort as the bowl below can testify.

One drop plus one drop makes a bigger drop, 2009. Photo: Simon Armitt  

To my great surprise, Adi has also developed a body of works where randomness plays a serious part. After putting the hours obtaining the right finish, Adi sometimes patinates some of her pieces with a result that can’t be predicted. For one of her piece, the process of patination took her only 30 seconds.... “You need guts to do it,” she says “but in some ways it counterbalances my obsession with the finished surface”. The result is somehow psychedelic with a palette of amazing colours.

Reflection bowl, 2009. Photo: Simon Armitt  

Passage, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Oil drizzler”, “berry bowl”, “oil and vinegar” or “bowl with hollow handle” are amongst the names Adi has given to her works. I couldn’t help thinking function was important to her even if she claims the contrary. When asked about this apparent contradiction, she stuck to her motto: “function never drives my work. But you are somehow right as I want my pieces to have a purpose” she replied. “Purpose can be simple things as to hold, to see, to move. When I make my oil drizzler, I imagine oil pouring. But the shape always come first and then I want a dialogue with the person through the pieces. So, yes they do have a purpose

Oil drizzlers, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Oil and vinegar, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Berry bowl, 2010. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Bowl with hollow handle, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

I would like to finish this portrait with some of her newest works, which surprisingly incorporate balloons. One can wonder why balloons? Again it has to do with Adi’s fascination with containers. Balloons contain air and define a space. And contrary to the metal, they are very flexible and also perishable. Shapes are changing according to the amount of air you put inside and with time they inevitable shrink, leaving space between the piece and the balloon, as she explains. Those are fascinating ways of defining space.

Balloon vessels, 2011. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Room to grow, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Her last project is called “room to grow”. Adi describes them as a way of “questioning where the container endsWhen you look at a hemisphere, you can imagine the rest of the shape. The balloon completes the shape here“.

There again you might want to hold those pieces in your hands and cuddle them as if they were little creatures. I think I now understand better why I am so fond of her work: her pieces are seductive and they wait for you to take them in your palms. In my post about “Blobjects and Bachelard” (post), I mentioned some quotes from Gaston Bachelard’s book “The poetics of space”: “everything round invites a caress” or “the round being propagates its roundness, together with the calm of all roundness”. Adi has managed to transfer this feeling of roundness to her work and her objects play amazingly with our emotions. 

If you want to see and “cuddle” her work, she will be exhibiting at Goldsmiths' Fair from Tuesday, October 2 to Sunday, October 7.

Adi Toch’s website