Getting High With the Rabbi



The artwork world has by no means fairly identified what to do with artists that make pipes for smoking weed. Nor have working-class artists gotten the respect they deserve. And what involves thoughts once you suppose “Jewish artist?” At greatest, Marc Chagall. At worst … effectively, given the decrease of support for Jewish art in latest a long time, nothing in any respect. So it’s about time to speak about Jeremy Grant-Levine, a Jewish glass artist who makes a speciality of each bongs and biblical objects.

Grant-Levine’s dad and mom have been each sculptors and artwork lecturers, however as an alternative of residing off of grants and large fee checks, his dad fastened washers and dryers. 

“He can be like, ‘be an artist, however be a plumber too,’” Grant-Levine instructed Hyperallergic in an interview. His father crafted lots of the household’s ritual objects by hand, providing Grant-Levine an unusually tactile relationship with Jewish custom. “My dad made mezuzot and menorahs out of metallic, so I used to be consistently interacting with these objects,” the artist mentioned. 

Jeremy Grant-Grant-Levine engaged on a glass menorah

However Grant-Levine, who additionally goes by Germ, got here to artmaking by one other religious observe: the smoky air filed Nineteen Nineties Grateful Useless concert events. “I obtained my first pipe off some hippie in New Haven, and it simply turned this software that was at all times with me,” he recounted. “It turned the middle of this social ritual. So I turned infatuated with this object; it’s virtually like a speaking stick. However I had no thought how they have been made.” 

Since you possibly can’t fairly main in Bong Design at an accredited college, Grant-Levine enrolled within the nation’s solely scientific glassblowing program at Salem Community College. That’s the place he and lots of of his classmates discovered methods to blow glass bowls in makeshift glass studios of their flats. “There was this superb information share occurring,” he remembers. One old-school pipe blower, named Spandex, would commerce the possibility to observe him work in his basement for a 6-pack of beer. 

Grant-Levine’s 2019 installation of 1,000 glass origami cranes made out of weed pipes

To pay the payments, Grant-Levine took a job in a weapons manufacturing manufacturing facility. “We made landmine triggers, missile steering programs for fighter jets,” he mentioned. “The manufacturing facility atmosphere is fairly horrible. I typically would query what we have been doing, and nobody else appeared to have an issue with it. All I wished to do was make bongs after we have been making bombs!” 

However there was one silver lining: The job had introduced him to Philadelphia, house to one of many world’s most vibrant glass communities. “So far as pipe making and flame working goes, Philly is without doubt one of the foremost hubs,” the artist mentioned. And it’s not simply because the town loves smoking weed, which has been decriminalized since 2014. Whereas deindustrialization has slowed Philly’s wealthy previous of producing, a full of life community of wooden, clay, textile, and glass artists stays, making the town a frontrunner within the craft world in the present day. 

“Dybbuk,” sculpted glass bong (2014) by Jeremy Grant-Grant-Levine, on show in Am Yisrael Excessive: The Story of Jews and Hashish a present on the YIVO Institute for Jewish Analysis

A comparatively low price of residing and a distinctively non-competitive ambiance made the right recipe for the expansion of “Piper Row,” a virtually block-long stretch of glass pipe studios north of Middle Metropolis. Grant-Levine arrange store with artists like Marble Slinger, who directed the documentary Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes (2011). “It’s sort of his fault the entire thing went mainstream,” Grant-Levine chuckled, “Which is superior.” 

A love of the herb is much from incongruent with Grant-Levine’s Jewish religion. Quite the opposite, it blends fairly properly, as is obvious from curator Eddy Portnoy’s present present on Jewish weed culture on the YIVO Institute of Jewish Analysis in New York, which additionally options a few of Grant-Levine’s work. The exhibit contains evidence of cannabis from an historic synagogue in Israel, a 1911 version of Fritz Lemmermayer’s Cannabis translated into Yiddish, and a mural of a Richard Nixon quote the place he wondered aloud why “each one of many bastards which can be out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish.” 

Grant-Levine, a former Hebrew faculty trainer, was effectively conscious of the connection earlier than Portnoy requested him to take part within the present. “I already knew fairly psychedelic Hasids in Israel. One among my pals wrote an entire e-book referred to as Cannabis Chassidis, about weed within the Torah.”

Impressed by Jewish folklore, significantly the dybbuk (a wandering spirit that searches for a human host), Grant-Levine describes his work within the YIVO present as a “gnarly, twisted rabbi determine that’s been taken over by this possessing demon.” The piece is from his previous sequence of Rabbi bongs, impressed partly by the Orthodox males who made headlines in 2015 for kidnapping husbands who refused to provide their wives spiritual divorce papers, or will get in Hebrew. The ugliness and funniness of the sequence is straight away disarming: You may’t assist however suppose twice about what it means to look religious, spiritual, and pure. 

Glassblowers and Judaica artists alike imbue magic into on a regular basis gadgets. “My curiosity in glass has at all times been its perform in ritual objects,” says Grant-Levine. “The pipe is a ritual object. A menorah is a ritual object. A mezuzah is a ritual object. A Kiddush cup is a ritual object. They’re issues that are supposed to be interacted with versus issues which can be simply put in a show case.” 

Glass wasn’t taken severely as “nice artwork” till the Nineteen Sixties, however Grant-Levine has discovered proof that tumbler staff have been making what we might name artwork at the very least because the 1800s. They might make “whimsies,” delicate glass pipes and tchotchkes formed like canes and high hats, to point out off their abilities whereas draining the furnace on the finish of the work day.

“I believe there’s an even bigger contingent of blue-collar artists on this world than folks need to take into consideration. It’s simply sort of this unexplored world.” If works like “whimsies” and “degenerate” Rabbi bongs have been missed for this lengthy, what else might the artwork world be lacking out on by not giving working-class artists their due?


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