One day a six year old convinced his mother that they must enter the contemporary art gallery Hiromart Gallery in Tokyo, located amongst Japanese gardens and frequently visited by an International crowd thanks to the neighboring hotels. After having spent a good two and a half hour indulging critically in the art works, the young man decided which painting he loved the most. The mother tried to convince her son that the smallest (and therefore the cheapest) painting was his favorite, but he was not impressed by the colors in the small painting. Gallery owner Hiromi was watching with great surprise when the six year old signed the contract and declared the painting sold.
“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will posses yourself of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”
Virginia Woolf, 1928, excerpt from A Room of One’s Own
“..it is very hard to always be very strong, but I try to do it, and to have a lot of courage and faith. It is not that I am doing the right thing; I am doing the only thing I can do. There is no other way I can do my work. I cannot think about what will happen and who will see it and what will they think? I can only do what my heart says, because if I lie… I cannot lie. The artwork will not let me lie. I think it is beyond me, really, beyond me as a person and as an artist.”
“To understand a Boystown it is necessary to appreciate that in the borderland there are a number of divides; geographic, economic, religious and cultural. In a maquilladoro, a factory on the Mexican side of the border often owned by an international business, a woman might earn eight dollars a day. Working as a prostitute she will earn $40 to $120 for thirty to forty five minutes. The client usually pays $10 to $20 to the club for the rental of the room. Two clients a night seems to be average. For the prostitute there is a performance in doing her job well and conforming to the expectations of the customer. In some clubs if the client does not have an orgasm he can demand his money back for services not successfully rendered. His payment will be
The morgue happened for me when the Vietnam War ended, a war which I saw as an obscenity. We were still watching stuff on television and listening to things like “We got 43 and a half of them and only two and a half of us!” That is weird, to watch dinner while you are watching people being blown away. I was fortunate to get out of the draft. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me and in 1972, when I decided to make the morgue pictures, it was a different world and Rhode Island was a small place. I went up to the Attorney General, who was probably the only honest politician around at the time, and told him about what I was interested in. His office was across the street from where I went to school, which at that point still had a good reputation, and we talked for an hour. Finally he said “I don’t see any problem with what you propose. We are not the best department, but we don’t have anything to hide.” There was a little bit of delay in terms of formal letters, but then I was given permission over the telephone. His secretary shouted to him “It’s a photographer guy; he wants to know if he can go to the morgue?” And that was it!
You also went to some people’s homes?
Yes, there were pick-ups. Since I had clearance the police let me in.
“To be able to do my work I have to be both male and female. A woman with balls, balls of steel. I had a g-string made of little sparkling silver beads sewn onto my futuristic silver suit with massive shoulder pads like a silver platter, like a man.”
In your video Mitzvah Tantz from 2005, we see a Jewish ceremony intersected with video footage of your belly-dance followed by flashes of an Arabic belly dancer towards the end. Mitzvah Tantz means ‘mitzvah dance’ or ‘commandment dance’ and this is the tradition of the men dancing before the bride on the wedding night, after the wedding has taken place.
There is an air of you struggling towards something, your mind appears to be slightly bothered and interfering with the movement of your body as your eyes stare thoughtfully into space, possibly watching the video while you are dancing. You are lightly dressed in a plain white belly dancing outfit that is designed to evoke desire and passion and to allow the body to move freely without restriction.
How did you learn belly dancing, did you teach yourself or did you study?
Well I knew for a long time that I wanted to learn belly dancing and I don’t know what comes first; my art or my life? Because many times I combine my passions in my art and it is like an excuse to learn something or to go through an experience. I tell myself that it is for the art. For a long time I wanted to make work about belly dancing, but it took me years to feel like I was ready. Belly dancing is very provocative and very erotic. You have to be a woman, you cannot be a girl and I just didn’t feel like I was ready. And then in 2005 for my final year of the BA at Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, I was determined I would do it. I studied in various studios, under several teachers, but I studied mainly in Jerusalem at a Centre for Dance called Arabesque. After I made this piece in 2005 I became a belly dancer dancing professionally. I was even on TV with it and I taught it as well. I have the funniest stories of ending up dancing on bars, almost falling over all the bottles. One night I was dancing in front of my art teachers by mistake, but they didn’t recognize me. I fell off the bar and landed straight near their table saying ‘”Hi!” They couldn’t believe their eyes! I also made my own costumes, because I didn’t have money to buy professional ones.
Photo: Stills from Mitzvah Tanz, 2005, All rights reserved
When I became a teacher I developed a certain way of teaching combining contemporary dance with belly dancing and Tantra. It is all about freeing your pelvis; your inner woman and your passions. You really have to be freed and I used to be very tight, very in control all the time and I only let myself go when I made art. So it was very hard for me. Eventually, for the video Mitzvah Tantz, I recorded myself learning. What I show in the video is the process of learning; it is not a great amazing sexy dancer. It is a child learning to walk. It is the clumsy awkward movement; it is the body not doing what the mind wants it to do. It is the lack of control and too much control. I would take out the camera from school, position it in front of me in my room and practice, wearing provisory outfits, like a scarf wrapped around me. When I looked back at it, all those moments when my body didn’t do what I wanted it to do; I loved those specifically. I concentrated only on two movements out of the entire dictionary of dance and I repeated them throughout that whole film.
In Mitzvah Tantz, and with my painting at the time, I wanted to show the moment when a woman stops being innocent, when a woman sees that she is being looked at for the first time. The first time a woman realizes that she has a man’s gaze on her and she blushes. The first time a woman exposes herself to a man. I thought “Where is this innocence?”
I don’t know what I am doing. The day you know what you are doing, it’s time to stop, because then you are simply repeating a formula and the creativity is lost. I never sit down and try to do something. To me it is a search, a bit like gathering ingredients, not to use the well worn food analogy and I am actually a terrible cook. I gather elements from here and there, which could be thought of as different materials; textiles, paper or whatever. I weave some of them into shape, chop things down and end up with a collage. What I come out with is usually some sort of bastardized version of what I started off with.
What are your thoughts regarding the exhibition medium and does the fact that you are represented by commercial galleries have an impact on your work?
“I always make pictures and I don’t consider the viewer, at all. While I am editing I am driven by the question “Was this getting what I want?” “Was this getting what I am interested in?” Somewhere down the line, hopefully it is distant, I wonder “Gee! Maybe there is a sucker out there that would buy this stuff?” And then I send it off, or don’t. Preferably I let it wait a couple of years and see if it still has resonance. So you make things and you let go of some controls and it really is a kind of addiction of a microsecond. Although, for a while I made long exposures so I got more fulfillment. There is a thrill there.”