Beyond productivity: When computers become works of art

Beyond productivity: When computers become works of art

An Israeli artist uses the detritus of the digital world to create works of art consisting of thousands of components

Almashe's 'Big Bang' (photo credit: Courtesy)
Almashe's 'Big Bang' (photo credit: Courtesy)

Computers are more than just tools for productivity; they have a dimension beyond the practical, reaching into the artistic — a facet that emerges fully only when they are no longer productive. That, anyway, is the message of Israeli artist Eduard Almashe, who takes old digital junk and turns it into highly praised works of art.

Almashe will be showing off his latest works in a second solo show, “Urban Stability in Constant Motion: Assemblage and Decoration.” In this show, Almashe presents two- and three-dimensional works made of components of computers and other digital devices that have come to the end of their productive lives. Chips, boards, screws, CD drives, plastic screens from outdated cellphones and even old watches, come together in a design that is meant to evoke “the intensity of modern life.” The show opens Saturday night, August 4, at the Amalia Arbel Gallery in the Tel Aviv Port.

He started working with watches as a result of a chance meeting, Almashe said. “One day my wife and I were walking in the Tel-Aviv Jaffa flea market when someone approached us with a plastic bag. It weighed about two kilo and he was asking approximately $4 for the whole contents.” Almashe bought the watches, mainly because he felt bad for the seller, but then realized that they still had a purpose even if they were defunct.

“I thought about the watches and thought that a watch without its timepiece is like a person without a soul — just a skeleton is left. I thought that I could make art that would be a cemetery, a tribute to all the people who died in the Holocaust.”

He began work on what would turn into a multi-decade project (he started working with the watches in 1987), which eventually expanded to include the detritus of the high-tech world.

The Holocaust has loomed large in Almashe’s life. He was born in Romania in 1946, in a city called Alba Julia in the hinterlands of Transylvania. As a child, he was a proud Romanian, and grew up to study engineering — a discipline he still works in, and which explains his affinity for high-tech components.

“It was only at the age of 34 that I learned that the Romanian Army participated in the Holocaust. Behind the Communist Iron Curtain they tried to hide the details but I found a forbidden book called ‘Snow over the Ukraine’ by Aurel Baranga.

“It was a shock for me to find out that the Romanian Army and not the German Nazis murdered 350,000 Romanian Jews. I couldn’t believe that my beloved homeland had not only done these terrible things but was also hiding the facts.”

That discovery prompted Almashe to make his way to Israel, and to continue and expand his “technology art” approach, with many of his works themed on Judaica topics.

Almashe’s previous show in 2011 consisted of works of art made mostly of old computer memory chips. The works in that show were meant to evoke modern urban life, “describing the rapid changes to the world due to the pace of technology,” Almashe said when the show was introduced. A typical Almashe contains between 3,000 and 12,000 components, depending on the size, mounted on wooden platforms and boasting a true 3D effect.

One of the reasons he does what he does, Almashe said, is because “I would like to know how people in the future, perhaps 1,000 years from now, will respond to the work I am doing based on the technology of 2012. I have the feeling that the reaction will be identical to the reaction we have when we see artistic works from the days of the Pharaohs.”

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