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Not much lives in the Dead Sea — but this artist’s work comes out of it

The Dead Sea is about 10 times saltier than the ocean and nearly devoid of life. In summer, temperatures surrounding its southern basin regularly top 100 degrees. Yet it serves as studio for Israeli artist Sigalit Ethel Landau, who submerges both handcrafted pieces and everyday items in the hypersaline water. As Julia Griffin reports, the ensuing crystallization process profoundly transforms them.

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  • William Brangham:

    Finally tonight, our "NewsHour" Shares, which is something that caught our eye.

    Sculptors traditionally use bronze or marble or even wood. But one Israeli artist works with a rather striking material.

    The "NewsHour"'s Julia Griffin explains.

  • Julia Griffin:

    From the waters of the Dead Sea recently emerged the glistening, dripping form of a ballerina's tutu. It wasn't weighted down by the heft of water, but crystallized in salt, a dancer's costume frozen in time.

  • Sigalit Ethel Landau:

    This mineral is really like rocks. You put something completely flimsy and weightless, and after the sea and the crystal accumulation, you're raising something which has multiplied its weight times 10, times 20.

  • Julia Griffin:

    Sigalit Ethel Landau is an Israeli sculptor, video creator and installation artist. But, for nearly 15 years, the Southern Basin of the Dead Sea has been her studio.

  • Sigalit Ethel Landau:

    It's not the easiest water. It's not the nicest place to be in August. But I have a language going on there, definitely.

  • Julia Griffin:

    At more than 1,400 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea lies on the lowest piece on land on Earth. Its mineral-rich water is nearly 10 times saltier than the ocean and nearly devoid of all life. But it has attracted health-conscious tourists for millennia.

    In the summer, temperatures in the area regularly top 100 degrees, and because heat speeds up the crystallization process, summer is when the Dead Sea becomes Ethel Landau's artistic partner.

  • Sigalit Ethel Landau:

    Anybody can just come and you can put your glasses in. And if you take good care and if you are lucky, you might end up with a beautiful piece of art. But there is a limit. And there's a right size and there's a right time of year.

  • Julia Griffin:

    As a child, Ethel Landau spent many Saturdays with her family relaxing on the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea. After working indoors for years, she first experimented creating art using its hypersaline waters in 2003.

    Since then, she has placed nearly 100 handcrafted pieces and everyday items, such as shoes and musical instruments, underwater. Some objects, like the ballerina's tutu, have biographical ties. Ethel Landau used to be a dancer.

    Others play off the water's ability to transform, like this traditional Yiddish mourning gown, now a sparking wedding dress, or blue flags turned white.

  • Sigalit Ethel Landau:

    With a white flag, you can go to a president and say, look, this is a kind of healing process. A white flag says something about sharing, about water, about coping, about healing.

  • Julia Griffin:

    And while Ethel Landau's salt sculptures have traveled the world for museum exhibitions, she never loses the constant pull of the Dead Sea.

  • Sigalit Ethel Landau:

    I work in many mediums, but there is something about the Dead Sea, that I'm proud of realizing that I chose to stay close to it.

  • Julia Griffin:

    A book chronicling Ethel Landau's work in the Dead Sea will be released in the spring.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Julia Griffin.

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