“…With a bag full of anxious, moaning and singing stuffed animals…”
Unlike most parts of London, Hackney is not over-crowded by police in these ambiguous times. An upset man threw his bicycle down the stairs at Hackney Rail Station and yelled “You don’t know me! Welcome to fucking East London!!”
The welcoming atmosphere at Angus Hughes Gallery on Lower Clapton Road offered much more warmth and entertainment during last night’s show ‘Acoustic Sessions’.
The man who caught my eye and smile was Goldsmiths Graduate Frog Morris. With a bag full of anxious, moaning and singing stuffed animals and a hilarious folk poetic pop repertoire based on contemporary fables, he gave us all a new perspective on the gloomy and sometimes heartbreaking reality of the Horse, the Badger, the Donkey and more.
Today I met Iconoclastic Artist Neal Fox at Daniel Blau in Hoxton Square, where his ongoing exhibition ‘Beware of the God’ is situated. The exhibition consists of twelve 2,5 meter high Stained Glass Windows; twelve alternative apostles who aimed a firm kick towards Christianity and kicked hard. Next door, at the White Cube, the Chapman Brothers have carved away patches of skin in the face of both Jesus and Mary. The sculptures are numerous and very well made, but I doubt that “Jake or Dinos Chapman” are the sculptors. They are (probably) the messengers, which is fine, but it is more fascinating to see Neal Fox’s work next door because he is the creator – from sketch to final product. To create Stained Glass Windows is an intricate process with a thousand-year history.
It should have been expected: Neal Fox turned up an hour late for the interview with drowsy but sparkling eyes and invited me to a coffee in an apologetic manner. He fits perfectly into the artist stereotype – always slightly absent as if constructing intricate drawings in his mind as we speak. Neal is gifted with a great sense of humor and a sharp mind, no one else had pointed out to me with a smile on the lips that the recent rioters made sure to leave KFC in an impeccable state. Why would they demolish their favorite restaurant? This is exactly why we love Neal’s art; he looks at the world and goes ‘this is/was going on, whether we like it or not. To me it is comedy, because I want life to be fun.’ Then he adds eight more dimensions to the story to make it even more fun. Many times the world is based on his grandfather’s debauched life story, but there are also more recent characters depicted.
I understand that your grandfather, John Watson, who was a debauched Soho socialite, has had remarkable influence on your life, although he died when you were still very young. Who was Mr. Watson?
My grandfather was a bomber pilot in WW2, a writer, a TV-host and a heavy drinker. I grew up surrounded by my family’s memories of him. After WW2 he was tortured by awful dreams throughout his life, until he eventually died from his heavy whiskey sessions at a fairly early age. We can’t imagine what they all went through, back then there was no therapy for soldiers. The torturing nightmares with dead children and innocent civilians drove him to seek comfort in the bottoms of a thousand empty whiskey bottles. I read his auto-biographical book when I was 21, which is the same age that he was in at that time, up in the air, dropping bombs. It is strange to think about now, when young people are stuck in front of their PlayStation.
My grandfather also wrote American-style detective paperback books and he was the one to publish Burrough’s Naked Lunch in London. I have always been fascinated by his life and he has guided me through an imaginary world of excessive behavior; a world where I imagine them all to meet and there is always room for new characters to enter. Whenever I read a book, watch a movie or drink; it is research! My grandfather used to call it drinking research. It is all feeding my brain and my future drawings.
Who has told you the tales of your grandfather?
My grandmother, who is an amazing old lady, has told me everything about my grandfather. My grandmother is still going strong; always up for a laugh and drinking plenty of whiskey although she is 88 years old. She is in my grandfather’s Stained Glass Window at the exhibition, on the top; they are dancing. Hopefully my grandfather would have been proud to see himself there depicted like an alternative saint.
My father, who is a great painter although he is not commercially focused, has also told me endless stories and introduced me to many great authors. In fact, I am named after Neal Cassady who was Jack Kerouac’s friend and the inspiration for Dean in On the Road.
I can see the resemblance! Did your grandfather meet any of the others in person?
I don’t know and that has always been a great source of inspiration for me; that question really fuels my imagination. Most of my work has been an investigation of the dark realm of my grandfather’s experiences, or that is at least where it all begins. Soho was very different back then and there are few places that have been left untouched. Most if it is gone now, but no-one can touch my inner world!
I am sure you could have chosen to create the Stained Glass Windows without using as much color as you eventually did. Have you travelled somewhere recently that infused all those colors in you?
It is more likely to be related to an amazing psychedelic trip at the house of late Paulita Sedgwick, late cousin of Edie Sedgwick; one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. Paulita was a painter and her colorful, intense and magical paintings were all over the place; they came alive and served as windows to a different world. We ended up staying inside for several days, because we were too afraid to go outside. A bumper sticker on her front door said ‘Beware of the God’ and I decided to make it the title for my exhibition at Daniel Blau. Paulita was an extraordinary and generous woman, who suffered from brain cancer and tried to cure herself with magic.
I used to work mainly in black and white, but life has been more colorful since that experience. Also, working with stained glass as a medium sort of required it of me and it is still just a few but strong basic colors.
Jean Genet, Neal Fox, 2010-11, Leaded stained glass in steel frame
How would you describe the impact these strong personalities have had on your life; did you ever inject bug powder or “sit in your house for days on end staring at the roses in the closet”?
No, not yet. I’ve never stared at the roses in my closet, but maybe I should! I have mainly been inspired by the strong integrity and self-belief in these iconoclasts; they did it their own way, completely untouched by present ideas, restrictions and beliefs. They broke new ground and although there is a small portion of irony in my exhibition of Stained Glass Windows, (a hint towards today’s celebrity culture) I feel that these are the people that deserve praise and honor for the impact they have had on writers, musicians and artists.
In earlier exhibitions you have gone wild with the interiors; covering everything in patterns. I imagine that stepping inside must have been a real trip. The show you are having now at Daniel Blau is pretty straight forward in comparison. Was this your decision or did the gallery limit your expression?
Well, it is when we create shows as the Le Gun Collective that we tend to go outside the frames and all over the place, because we accelerate each other and improvise like musicians. But you are giving me ideas now!
Your big drawings suggest novel sized narratives; do you ever write stories connected to your drawings?
I write when I work on pieces, it is a part of the creative process, but I haven’t included any written narratives in my finished works so far. An image says a thousand words, as they say. The mind-map sort of drawings that I create suggest narratives, it is a crazy trip through my mind with references to pop culture; it is a mind within a mind within a mind! It all makes sense to me, but I’m not sure anyone else gets it. It could perhaps be interesting to write a novel.
That would be a mad, mad adventure. In the interview with Dazed and Confused you mention having strange dreams in the stained glass factory. Please tell me about those dreams!
I was staying in a flat above the stained glass factory, working at night all by myself in this huge space full of medieval Stained Glass Windows depicting angels and saints. I was told that there was a lady ghost haunting the factory, which kind of freaked me out. This one night when I was working on the Aleister Crowley-piece I was haunted by him in my dreams. Crowley was pissed off at me for doing this window and put a curse on me. Earlier that night when I was leaving the studio downstairs I heard a loud crash behind me; I turned back, but nothing had happened. I don’t know what that was all about.
There are many stories woven around Crowley’s persona involving ghosts, demons and curses. Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin used to live in the Boleskine House, Aleister Crowley’s old residence next to Loch Ness, and he said that the house was haunted by a decapitated head. There are also some who believe that the Loch Ness monster was created by demons summoned by Crowley during one of his seances. We don’t know what is real and what has been imagined in people’s heads, but no matter what; Crowley not the kind of person you want to piss off.
He should be proud if anything to be in there with the others, I understand that it was a delicate procedure to create the Stained Glass Windows.
Yes, I like to believe that he sees it as a compliment.
I came across James Unsworth’s Turtle Sex movie at the exhibition Parallel Connections at Wayward Gallery in June, curated by my friend John Angel. It is a truly mind-blowing piece of work and can easily be compared to your work. Have the two of you ever thought of collaborating? It would be an exponential equation.
That might be a good idea actually! We have never collaborated, but I do admire James’ work and he has been one of the contributing artists for Le Gun. We are both inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and communicate similar ideas; he goes all the way.
Since I am half Swedish I am really curious to know what “wishy washy Scandinavian” means?
Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean to insult all Scandinavians, but I just find that a lot of the art being created today is wishy washy, sort of IKEA-style. It is just made to be pretty on the wall; decorative stuff. I can’t stand it.
Can you tell me more about the Le Gun “theme park”-dream mentioned in the Crane.tv video? That would be amazing.
All journalists tend to ask ‘What are you doing next?’ and the Le Gun theme-park is our standard answer to that; a bit of a joke but not really. It is something we have been dreaming about.
(Details have been censored)
Do you think that the spirits of the dead linger around in our world on a different dimension?
I believe that all great personalities who break new ground by taking on the world in an unapologetic manner are a part of our collective memory; they break down frames of thought and extend the horizon.
After a couple of drinks it was time to leave, because of a rumor that the riots were approaching. Gallery Director Brad Feuerhelm was mildly impressed as he was forced to show an interested collector out the door.
Noam Edry Interview Series 2011 Part 2 – From sharp-edged politics to an S&M club and back again, 23rd July 2011
A big date (the brown fruit from the date palm) could be seen abandoned in the middle of your gallery at Goldsmiths during yourrecent MFA Graduation Show titled ‘Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life’. During the Peeping Event, the one minute’s silence, the performer threw herself into the date, where she lay with her legs spread open while the audience held their breath; shocked by the performance. I have been told that there is a history to this enormous date?
Originally the date was created for a performance, called SAVE THE DATE. I made this costume which transformed me into a massive date, because I was talking about boycotting; about boycotting food coming from Israel as a symbol of both academic and cultural boycott of Israelis. I was refused admission to The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts because I was Israeli; that’s an academic and cultural boycott. It is a shame because Art is the way forward towards very amazing things, away from violence, prejudice and so forth. My work SAVE THE DATE was about that.
In the performance I spoke in Arabic and Hebrew. I wanted to give them the experience of facing ‘the Big Other’; being confronted with their own stereotypes and prejudices about people coming from the Middle-East, because they know very well that I am half British and speak fluent English with not such a bad accent. There I was talking like an Israeli, who not know how to speak, like dis. And I spoke in Hebrew, eh, in the middle (talking with a heavy accent). I was also asking questions in Arabic, for example “Shu is mick? What is your name?” (Speaking in Arabic) They were terrified. To me it was about showing a foreigner; how a foreigner feels in their country.
The Date came about, because I had a seminar and I had to present something and I wanted to do a performance. I wanted to sit in front of my colleagues and tell them ‘This is where I come from. This is my story’, because I never managed to. They would always start a political argument with me and I would get defensive, because I felt pushed against a wall. With this performance opportunity I would have a stage for half an hour and I wanted to just talk to them; face to face. The wonderful boyfriend that I had at the time said ‘Oh, that sounds like a terrible idea, who wants to hear your story?’ Instead I decided to dress up as a boycotted Israeli Date while telling my story. That became very controversial, because the second time I performed it in front of an audience in Korea over a webcam, and I needed a live London audience for the buzz and the adrenaline. It got boycotted; maybe three students came from both first and second years of the MFA. The rest of the audience were friends I had invited from outside of Goldsmiths.
I had publicized it so heavily and couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. Two weeks later a friend came round, who had seen the first performance, and told me ‘I was down at the pub and they are still talking about your work. They said they all boycotted it, because you are Israeli and they thought it would be some Zionist propaganda. I tried to explain to them that it is about freedom of speech and tolerance, but they didn’t believe me.’ The posters I had designed for this event had a green and red background, mimicking the anti-Israel propaganda posters. What does it mean to be pro-Palestinian? I am pro-Palestinian, I want a Palestinian state; most Israelis are. I am for a two state solution, not for a no-Israel solution. When I see these propaganda posters everywhere that really demonize my country, I don’t believe that these people are pro anything; since they totally trample on an entire country. It was neither pro nor against, but it fell into the pit of the phenomenon it was trying to raise awareness to. That’s the story.
Photo: Noam Edry, All rights reserved
Photo: Noam Edry, All rights reserved
For my end of year show, I felt I couldn’t perform as the Date because I had to orchestrate so many other events around me; I needed someone else to do it. Save the Date became Date Rape when it was performed during my MFA Graduation Show, because it had both a feminist slant, a sexist slant, while still talking about raping someone; basically silencing someone using force. I was talking about a date, but the date was human and it was about a person who was being forced into a situation. Many times I felt like I was pushed against the wall when people accused me or labeled me because I came from Israel. So I had to have a performer and artist Hannah Jones, who performed it eventually, saw me in my first SAVE THE DATE Performance and she was so impressed that she came to speak to me about it. It was a 15 minute performance and she said “How did you keep the audience at the edge of their seats? For 15 minutes you grabbed their attention. I want to know how you did it.” And we became friends.
When I realized that I needed a lady to run around the Baths Building and outside the exhibition every now and then in a screaming fit wearing a brown body suit, I decided to approach her. I had seen her perform her own works and thought she would be perfect for the part. She is a musician and singer who does really bizarre things with her voice. I saw her last performance two weeks ago. She goes into a box with a wig and sings and then leaves the box, leaving the wig inside. She comes out with tights over her hair, in a way she is naked. You see her without her wig on; it is quite horrific to see a woman like that. The voice carries on singing from inside the box; she just sits there with her bathroom robe and her slippers, with stockings on her head listening to her own voice singing. It’s about stage fright and control and separation, a relationship between performer and spectator. I was fascinated by her work and she was given complete freedom. I only explained the frame of mind to her, just like I do with everyone I work with. I simply want them to express themselves.
On the Opening Night of the show Hannah was so convincing that she was chased all the way into my exhibition by two Goldsmiths security guards, who thought that something had happened to one of the spectators. “Date Rape” never had a fixed route or form, as long as she eventually ended up in my space and lay inside the Date. Sometimes she would even fall asleep inside it. On the last day of the show, she lay in there for so long that people thought she was a sculpture, only then she would twitch in her sleep and frighten the visitors.
Photo: Anna Stephens, All rights reserved
You had a very big group of volunteers at your graduation show, which really added to the overwhelming scenery. Personally I had the feeling of them belonging in the space; the Coffee Stand in front of the entrance had the air of somebody’s kitchen and they were all so involved and comfortable in the space. How did you manage to convince all these people to participate in your show?
People around, some of the other artists, could not believe that I had all these volunteers working for me. I said “Of course they are here to volunteer, it’s because they believe in this. It’s about belief and ideology. The ideology I am presenting is about being read as a human being on a universal level; before using countries, labels, nationalities and putting people in a box. Everyone who came here believes in the freedom to be a human being.” They felt it was like a mission for them. My volunteers were walking around the show because I told them to take a break, walk around; see some art. I want you to see where you are actually placed. They were wearing the T-shirts that I had designed for them. Apparently one day a fellow artist exhibiting at Goldsmiths stopped them and asked “How much is she paying you to wear the T-shirt?” I was hurt, because they didn’t come to ask me if I had paid my volunteers, but they just could not believe it. Most of the people involved in my work even came to thank me for the opportunity to express themselves in this platform. Everyone saw it as a privilege, which is very encouraging for me, very rewarding.
In your video installation ‘If You Go Away’ from 2008 based on graceful dance executed by you and a young girl, we witness the battle between young and adult, one dressed in black and one dressed in white; you exchange the colors of your dresses throughout the video. Innocence meets rapture; it is a classic theme. This is a much more successful production than ‘Black Swan’ from 2010, which can easily be compared with your description of your video, I quote, “It is an account of dissociative identity: multiple dream identities or alter-egos are assumed in order to protect the soul while the body undergoes a trauma. Three distinct identities compete for domination, while a fourth inner-voice tries reassembling them back to form a whole.” (excerpt from synopsis) The notion of this sort of separated or multifaceted identity can also be seen in your painting Sheepdog from 2008, which I by the way need to get my hands on if it is not too late. You are the writer, director and producer as well as the dancer and the choreographer. How do you manage?
Photo: Noam Edry, All rights reserved
This work has never been exhibited. It is a work that nearly killed me. It was like a baby that took years to give birth to.
I was into contemporary dance and I studied ballet. I studied it as a tool, because I don’t want to become a dancer. I want to use dance as a language in my art. So, from funding these dance lessons which I somehow managed with the help of my parents, and doing all these weird jobs just to make sure that I could take my dancing lessons; to designing the costumes and making some of them myself, finding the people to film and finding the little girl, Karin Schneider, who is now a young lady; It almost cost me my health I think. At one point I was managing a set of fourteen people, most of them half volunteers and some of them paid something symbolic just to be there, with a location that was given to us free of charge for about a week. It was a massive theatre with a thousand seats that was placed at our disposal. It was in the North of Israel and I was living in Tel-Aviv at the time and this work was filmed on three different locations. The other two places were an S&M club that gave us complete access because they got so involved in my work and really believed in it and in my old nursery school, the kindergarten on my Kibbutz. We turned it into a Mikveh, which is a sacred Jewish bath.
So there were three locations and fourteen people. I had a make-up artist, but I was doing most of the make-up myself, including the little girl’s, and we changed costumes four times a day, as well as changing the make-up. I choreographed it myself, even though I had worked with several choreographers in the beginning. After that was over, for a few months I was totally shattered.
It took me another year and a half before I started editing it, because my painting took off. I had several exhibitions and commissions as well. As a result of this, I started painting really intensively and couldn’t do the editing and I didn’t know how to edit a piece that was so personal; I was in almost every single shot. I had edited all my stuff until then, and this one I was so emotionally involved with. It was such a raw and personal piece that I had to find an editor and this work was, in the end, all done by women. Most of the people on board were women. The men could not handle it; emotionally it was too complex. They didn’t even understand it because they were dazzled by the sexual aspect and the visual aesthetics. They couldn’t work with me; there was too much tension for them. I ended up firing all of them and bringing women on the scene. It went on for years until I managed to make it into a work and it’s a three screen installation which is supposed to engulf the viewer and on top of that it is a one screen film.
Photo: Reut Kersz, All rights reserved
I basically finished ‘If You Go Away’ one day before I came to London. Instead of packing my flat I was editing and I just took it on a hard-drive here to London and it has been lying on a shelf up to now. Because the moment I came here I had to start my Masters Degree and make a switch in my head. I was dealing in my art with being in Britain, not with this inner dialogue of all those elements within me. It’s like a virgin piece, but already on my website and I feel that it is too exposing. Before I have done anything with it, it’s there. That’s the story of ‘If You Go Away’. Again it was originally about the first interaction between a woman and a man. It’s the junction between the feminine world and the male world and how dramatic it is. But eventually there is no man in it, it’s more about longing, desire, childhood and womanhood and the artist who is isolated, because the main character is always very isolated and it is very staged. It’s about always being staged. The camera, as the spectator, is being very intrusive. One of the characters who is the Dominatrix wants the attention, whereas the other characters suffer from it terribly. It eventually kills them. So I don’t know what it’s about. I can’t even say. Is it about male / female encounter? Is it about love? Loss? Art?
It’s about everything; universal and open for interpretation in accordance with your other works.
It’s a piece that is totally unresolved for me. It is a sensitive piece for me because I don’t know how I feel about it.
Are you ready to exhibit‘If You Go Away’in London?
I think I would need to exhibit it. I think it could be amazing because it also has a series of loops. Every single character has tiny excerpts, sometimes it is a one second image that is being stretched, sometimes it is a five second loop or a thirty second loop, but it is a moment. Every character has about four or five of these moments, resulting in another 20 videos that are supposed to be installed in a gallery space and projected in different ways. The viewer will walk into the world where the dominatrix is swinging eternally. You see a close up of her crotch and a very dark facial feature and then you see her in another place, losing her balance. You see the girl shaking the white figure, forever, the hair moving back and forth and the Catwoman, this weird in-between character, constantly positioning herself in front of the camera; never finding her spot. All these loops, they exist; all engulfing. I feel that the viewer always has to been involved in the work.
Photo: Noam Edry, All rights reserved
Let’s go back to yourrecent MFA Graduation Show titled ‘Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life’ at Goldsmiths.Did you plan for the paintings, videos and performances to manifest as a whole, or do you work more intuitively and spontaneously?
I started with painting and it wasn’t that simple. When I started the second year I was still making work about British culture. The entire first year was spent on the project “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, which you got your hands on somehow.
Yes, in December 2010 you released a series of videos on Youtube under the title ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, with the mission to meet with the Queen, eat her scones, smell her and to ask her if she loves you. We see you practicing the Queen’s Received Pronunciation, prompting policemen guarding the Birthday Parade for creative advice etc.; the videos are pretty much unedited and direct in comparison with your earlier video works. These works would probably function well together in a Borat style film.
I was making work about coming to terms with being half British, half Israeli and never fitting in anywhere. I wanted to fit in, to be not just British but English. My character, which is basically my alter-ego, wants to be a part of this exclusive circle called Englishness. Because she knows that being naturalized is not enough. She still has an Israeli accent which is very identifiable as something foreign. Nobody can put a finger on it, but the first question she is always asked is “Where are you from?” which alienates her. She comes from a little socialist settlement in Israel, where as a child she didn’t even have her own clothes and now she’s in London where real-life princesses live. She wants a part of that as well. She also realizes that she is Jewish, so she could never really be anything but a Jewish princess; she could never be British Royalty. “Why not?” And it is all these questions.
At the same time; the more she tries the more she gets rejected. She also knows that the Queen as a mythological figure is just an ordinary granny at the end of the day and why should she not be accessible? Because in Israel you can meet the President, the Prime minister, greeting the people: “Hi, how are you doing?” It is so informal in this small country where everyone knows where you live and everyone is related or knows each other at least by a fifth degree of separation. We have the Israeli President coming over to our Kibbutz every now and then, because that’s how it works. This whole idea of a celebrity figure that is completely inaccessible is obscene to this alter-ego.
In ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ my alter-ego sets on this journey, but realizes that not only will she never be an English Rose; she mustn’t be an English Rose; because her strength, uniqueness, power and singularity is in the fact that she is Israeli. With a certain set of very deep-rooted values, she is an underdog, like any Londoner is. London is about alienation; about being a foreigner in a capital city. Not belonging. There is no more Englishness, nobody really is English. The Queen is half German, her husband is Greek; what does an English person even look like? This is an island that was conquered by several tribes. Nothing really is authentic. Every culture has been invented. So she should stick to her own roots; because that’s who she is. The character starts clinging to that Israeliness and attempts to bribe a policeman with peace in the Middle-East in return for entering the Birthday Parade, stressing that she is half Israeli half British and she has to come to terms with that dual existence. Anyone can be exclusive; it’s about excluding someone. In her naive way she is highlighting serious issues like class differences and poverty. I have a video where I rehearse for the Royal Tea in my pink slippers, Primark track suit and a Sainsbury’s Basics scone.
For that entire year that I was trying to meet the Queen for a private audience, I also collected doors and windows and furniture from squats and evicted squats and rubbish dumps in South-East London; the poorest areas. With this material I built an entire chair that mimicked the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, but it was a chair that came from people’s private moments and memories from their homes, from their less than working class homes, and it showed a different kind of London. So the work came to communicate the underdog, the class system, an absence, a lack; wanting something. What does it mean to want the Queen to love you? Doesn’t everyone want the love of the Monarch? It is about being the little man. The police video Trooping is also about terrorism and this whole age of CCTV and feeling that threat. So it spoke about all these political issues as well, through the naivety of my character. I know that naivety is very questionable, because I sound like I know what I am talking about and people have asked me “Is this real? Are you acting?” It’s a bit Seinfeld, you called it Borat. Yes, this kind of playing it naive; but knowingly.
Noam Edry Interview Series 2011 Part 1 – A constant battle for the freedom of speech in a web of taboos and envy 23rd July 2011
Your recent MFA graduation show titled ‘Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life’ at Goldsmiths was incredible to experience in all its complexity. It was a perfectly organized chaos and a feast of paradoxes, which seems to apply to your work in general, correct me if I am wrong. It was unclear for the visitor where the exhibition actually started, with a coffee stand outside, a security guard at the entrance and all sorts of noise.
We kept the Coffee Stand open every single day. It was supposed to be from 12 to 3, but since I had so many Israeli and Jewish volunteers coming, it was sometimes open from 10 sharp to 7. People just stayed on because they enjoyed it so much and they believed in it. Spectators would come to the show and not realize that the Coffee Stand was a part of my show. It looked so run down, messy and minimalist, with all these people wearing my t-shirts saying ”I come from the most hated place on earth”.
Photo: Noam Edry’s father at the MFA Graduation show at Goldsmiths
People thought it was an official bar. They walked into the show with a little glass of coffee that smelled like some kind of perfume, because it had cardamom in it. Already they were taking part in the work. Then they saw people getting a massage and the massage was real, the therapist was real. I told her “It’s your thing; your platform and you can also promote yourself. You’re a real person and it might do you some good as well.” So, they became a part of the work without realizing it and people asked “What is she going to speak to me about?” And I said, “What would you speak to your therapist about?” Eventually they were having conversations about their life, where they come from, their kids, etc. After five days people were talking about sex, bowel movements, their most intimate problems, aches and pains and they would come back to consult with her. I had people coming back the following day, and the day after; “Can you just check up on my ear, my left shoulder?” It became a proper little clinic. They completely forgot they were in an art show; maybe the noise and art in the background gave them a sense of privacy. Some people sat on the chair and said “At first we were totally overwhelmed by everything, the noise level, the work, the richness of it, we couldn’t pick anything out, but as we were getting a massage we relaxed; we went into a different time zone and we suddenly zoned in on one work and decided selectively to take it in. We realized what you were doing; you brought our guard down. Then we were totally ready for your work.”
It also says something about our culture here, doesn’t it? People are able to listen to bombs exploding; to be in the middle of war scenery and just lay down for a massage.
It is really the only thing you can do, but also it is a result of being bombarded with images on a daily basis in the press. These images have no hierarchy, so it is like in the show where you have cheerleaders or the TrannyGranny (works from the show). I took the images from the morning pages, usually from the Metro and Evening Standard, the free papers that everyone reads when they have nothing else to do on their morning commute, and I manipulated them. Because I travel one hour to school every day, I read these papers and you can see bombings in Gaza or Israel doing this or that, alongside sexual content; on the same page. It is entertainment now and read on a very superficial level. Some people feel more or less about it, but it remains on a superficial level. You don’t really experience it.
I agree, and it is like you say, it has become entertainment.
Not for the people that come from there though. I want to explain that; the gap. It is all about the gap. The image I started with is one of a hole, a crater from an explosion. I found it on Google, because I search for images on the internet a lot to see what would come up on British search engines.
So it started with the image of a gap?
I actually don’t really why I initially became obsessed with these images. I think it was because I went to Israel after the Christmas break and saw it with fresh eyes, in January this year. I had a non-Jewish boyfriend then and I took him to Israel. I was hosting him, so I tried to see Israel from his perspective. I kept thinking “What does he see?” And I also realized how beautiful this unfinished scenery is, because in Israel you have loads of Arabic villages and cities and even just tin houses. There are many different sectors of the society and they all build their houses in different ways. Compared to the Jewish houses, which are all very well built and very regular, quite symmetrical, uniformed and finished, you see unfinished Arabic houses on top of each other with no network or structure. They build them themselves because a lot of them are construction workers, with access to materials and know-how. A lot of them don’t get license to build from the councils, so they just build it. They also live on top of each other; a man never leaves the house. He brings his wife to the house and as the family starts growing it gets very crowded. You see cement, unfinished houses with no roofs and you could say it is very ugly or you could say it is very beautiful. I think it is very beautiful; there is something really interesting in this lack of estheticism. I fell in love with this. It is so different to what I see here in London and I was wondering how I could bring that back. So I started looking for photographs of that. I arrived at these demolitions and I found one image which was controversial; it appeared twice on a Google image search. Once it said ”Palestinian house demolished by Israeli rockets” and on another search it said ”Israeli house hit by Arab rocket” or ”Jewish settlers’ home hit by rocket from Gaza”; something like that. It was the same image and I just thought ”Isn’t it amazing how each side wants to be the victim and each side wants it to be their tragedy?”
I took that image and I made a painting of the big crater which I then duplicated a few months later, when I realized I had to make the other side as well. When duplicated by hand it will be clumsy, it will be very human; it will never be perfect or identical. So you could always say it is not really the same on both sides; or is it?
Photo: Alicja Rogalska, All rights reserved
I was going to paint it highly realistically, but I stopped at a very early stage and people started coming into my studio saying “Oh this is so interesting, I can see this guy falling into the hole and this guy talking on his mobile phone and wow there is a child here…” They could see things in the painting; I didn’t actually need to paint it. They were imagining things that were actually more real to them than anything I could ever paint. So I left it there, unfinished. And I thought that if I’m depicting reality I need to have human presence, someone needs to stand there and stare into a hole, almost like an extension of a painting. But I couldn’t have someone standing in my gallery staring into nowhere for the entire show. It is just not possible. And then the idea of Peeping came, this event, I call it Peeping. Where I bring people for one minute of silence to stare into a hole and it becomes real to them. Some people said that when the woman came screaming, she ran straight through the hole; “It ruined everything for me”. I said that’s the beauty, it shows how amazing your imagination is! I didn’t choreograph her. I wanted it to be real, spontaneous. Also, life in Israel is very hectic. People speak on phones at awkward times; they even answer their phone at funerals. There is no limit to… I can’t describe it. But anything could be an emergency, so people always answer their phone. It is also a part of the Israeli rudeness, the upfrontness. In my exam I answered my phone; I said I would give them the real experience. The volunteers were talking to each other in Hebrew and the examiners thought they were interrupting, but we weren’t acting.
The sound I had at the entrance of the exhibition were real voices from the Israeli markets, people screaming ”Come and get it come and get it” and trying to convince people to buy their vegetables.
From there it went on to somebody’s house being bombed, not far from my house. And the voices were people screaming because of a rocket and this blended into a group of people playing accordion and singing a folk song which is a part of our culture. And all these things are random, they have no real order, they could happen at any time and intercept each other; a real reflection of what life is like there.
You did it so well. I am still not over it. I have been to tons of exhibitions in London and what I have been looking for I really found at your exhibition. It is so entirely out of the box.
I have so many ideas, I feel like this is the beginning of something. I have always done everything. I am a painter since I can remember, but from painting everything else comes. And as I mentioned before, the urgency in an unfinished painting really communicates that there is no time, we could die at any minute. The urgency and vibrancy, the multi-facetted Israeli culture which has everything; laughter, tears, hysteria, relaxation, joy; it is all there. So how do I capture it? I don’t have time, so the paintings became less and less detailed, and more and more sketchy. The charcoal was the quickest way and in the end it went from the canvases onto the walls. So it starts from painting. But around it I have video, I perform, because I am also an actress and I need to use that tool and everything has the same hierarchy for me. It is the first show where I have really managed to combine them all in a very, I think, organic way. It wasn’t forced and there is more where that came from. I will work more with people, real people not actors. Real people that I have no control over and I tell each one of them “You have to be yourself”. With my volunteers at the Coffee Stand the original idea was to have a conversation over a cup of coffee, because there is never a conversation in politics. It is just from one side to the other, accusations towards one other; a way of silencing people. Here I wanted it to be relaxed, hospitable, and to generate conversations from what is in the coffee to the Politics of the Middle East. My volunteers kept saying “I do not represent the artist, I represent myself. I am not representing the State of Israel, I am representing myself.” It is all about individuals.
Did they get into discussions with the visitors?
Yes, we had many many discussions. Some were very casual, but there were confrontations as well. People that were very anti-Israeli accused the volunteers of lying to them. But many people walked away changed, because they realized that they had never actually spoken to an Israeli; a real one. They’d never actually been to Israel, so they heard facts they had never heard about and it stopped being about labels and slogans, and it came to be about an individual.
Photo: Anna Stephens, All rights reserved
The most exciting incident was when a man started crying after the performance; the event, the hole-incident. I think it was on Saturday or Sunday. This man had been to the exhibition for about 40 minutes, looking at all the videos and all the material as well as filming. He was about to leave when I turned everything off and started the minute’s silence and after the minute’s silence he stayed stuck in his place.
My father approached him and the man had tears in his eyes and he just said “I don’t know what to think, I feel it here, here (pointing at the heart). It feels heavy. I was actually approached by the Israel boycotters to give a donation to Gaza and I thought it would be received by the people of Gaza and then I realized that it wasn’t going to be used for humanitarian reasons, it wasn’t going to bring supplies to people who need them; I was being used. But now that I have seen your daughter’s exhibition”, he said to my father, “I realize maybe I cannot be human 2000 miles away. I can only be human to people standing right in front of me, because you have made me so moved. I see that you are human and you suffer just as much and you have your own side of the story. And now I don’t know which side to pick.” My father looked at him and said “Why pick a side? Why do you have to pick a side? Just be human, cultivate your friendships. Speaking of sides; that’s the problem.” So that was very moving. It made me feel like I’d done something meaningful and worthwhile, because that’s what it’s all about for me. To see people getting affected and moved by what I’ve done.
I have received so much feedback, people even cued up outside the show to say “We thought we were really stupid. We don’t usually understand contemporary art. Then we come to your show and we feel like we understand. We might not understand everything, but we feel like we can grasp onto something. There is a way in for us as an audience. We don’t understand so much about art, but we are affected. This is overwhelming; thank you.” I love that.
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. You have merged the wedding dress with a traditional belly dancing outfit.
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?” It is kind of lost in Western Society, because in Western Society girls as young as four wear make-up now, so where am I going to find this moment? And I looked for a Moroccan engagement ceremony, because I am also half Moroccan and half European from the other side. Traditionally the brides are young virgins and given away by their fathers to a man that they never really had that much contact with and that night they lose their innocence. However, I wasn’t able to find a recording of that, which lead me to the Hassidic Mitzvah Tantz. That is the moment when the bride is given off by her father or uncle or a male figure in their society to her fiancé. He can’t touch her; he is not even allowed to touch her hands. Only by the use of his belt of the suit is he allowed to physically connect to her. It is a moment when they are meant to contemplate, a few minutes of utter silence and then ecstasy, and they believe that the spirits of the bride’s ancestors descend upon her to bless her for her new life. I looked at it and I saw a woman more naked than me as a belly dancer. I saw a woman covered from head to toe, but more naked than I could ever be, because she is placed in the middle of all these men and it is totally unnatural to her. She comes from a society where she is secluded, where women and men are separated. She doesn’t even look at men and suddenly she has to stand as the center of attention of all these men and all she can do is rock backwards and forwards. She is not allowed to sing or to dance; she has to remain very controlled.
Eventually I thought that at the end of the day, we are very similar. I am a woman who was raised in a Western way, but we’re both Jewish and there is something universal about womanhood where we’re all kind of thrown into it. Nobody really prepares us for the encounter with the opposite sex and how we will be violated in a way, you know, penetrated. We need to expose ourselves. The first time that happens, I read it as traumatic. I wanted to show that. It was like a dialogue between me and her, which is why I placed us parallel to each other. The material that intercepts is autobiographical. A lot of it comes from my sister’s dance troupe, where she danced as a kid. They used to perform Jewish folklore and traditional dance. There are also glimpses my cousin’s religious wedding; it flashes past as she is unveiling herself. It is all about unveiling. There are only girls; there is no man in this video. For me it was about reaching a centre, equilibrium. It’s like the ancient form of ecstasy in tribal dance; the moment of ecstasy, when you reach it, is calm; you reach peace. It is an inner ecstasy. It is about “I understand now, I have had the epiphany.”
Between the years 2003-2004 you studied atEcole National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris, as an exchange student in conjunction with yourBA Fine Art at Bezalel Academy of Art & Design Jerusalem. ENSB-A is the distinguished National School of Fine Arts in Paris where Degas, Ingres, Monet, Delacroix and many more graduated. The following year, 2005, you produced a dark series of paintings titled ‘Madonnas and She-Devils’ towards your BA graduation. I find that this series echoes what you where expressing in your first year, 2003, but in a refined and intensified manner. And in 2008 you produced some seriously skilled paintings. How did you experience your year as a student in Paris?
I got accepted to do an exchange study program from Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. They gave me a scholarship and told me I could go wherever I wanted. Originally I wanted to go to Finland, because I have many friends there. But the Academy said that officially they are not going to consider me because I am Israeli.
Yeah. And I was extremely shocked, but thought “OK, it is all for the best. If I can go anywhere I will go to Paris”, because I wanted to study traditional Old Master Painting so badly. I needed the tools and I have always wanted to live in Paris. I studied painting techniques, funnily enough, with an Israeli teacher who had been teaching there for 40 years.
In Paris we have friends, so I ended up living next door to them in one of their flats. I was already speaking French, but in Paris I became really fluent. I worked there part-time as well, as a marketing assistant. It was just amazing to go to a school where I worked with pigments from artists like Louis Pasteur; that he had actually left there. I studied at the same institution where all the great artists had studied and learnt glazing techniques, mixing pigments; how to make everything from scratch; from watercolors to chalks and emulsions. It was just amazing. I learnt how to do glass painting, to make stained glass. And then I came back to Israel with one more year until my end of year exhibition, my BA Graduation Show. I came back with a kind of new set of tools which I wasn’t that proficient with yet and I spent a whole year trying to master these new techniques and to make them invisible; a tool that I could use freely to express myself, but I was constantly interrupted. . To them it was horrendous. Why would a 22 year old girl paint like this? It seemed so easy for me and they were enraged by it. I was painting young virgins, me and my sister, as these young virgins in mid- dance. I was using the folklore dancing of our Kibbutz. It spoke of the agriculture of Israel and the founding of Israeli culture, which was founded on a bit of Arabic culture mixed with European culture; it was a mishmash of everything. To them it also spoke about colonialism and about the Jewish settlement in Palestine and about the occupation. It was political and very sexual. It basically didn’t go down too well.
Were they intimidated by you?
I think so, because there were incredibly strong reactions from tutors and respected artists. I am talking of one of these artists phoning the Head of Department at midnight to scream at him “How can you let this girl do what she wants? This is abhorrent!” Another teacher came into my studio determined “to save me” from artistic suicide. They were elbowing students at my critiques, they were yelling at me and I have recorded it all. It was unbelievable; I was just standing there smiling. One teacher said “But you have painted yourself as a whore! Not as a virgin! Not as a Madonna! Do you realize how erotic these paintings are?” And I just smiled, you know, I didn’t give all the answers away, but I was too young to deal with this kind of critique from artists who considered themselves the artists of the nation of the day. Suddenly a young girl came and stole everything, by painting so easily and proficiently. You know it wasn’t about the technique, the technique was secondary to what I was doing and it was such an eyesore to them. I had the Head of Department patting me on the back saying “Make it bigger! Make it more in their face!” There I was, caught in the middle and I was really boycotted at the end, just like I found myself being boycotted here. I wanted to study in London, but there was also an option of studying a Masters in Bezalel. They would not accept me. Years later they came to my solo show where I showed the series with the Sheepdog (painting). The same teachers came and said you are phenomenal, you are virtuoso; you are an amazing painter. They gave me warm recommendations, but I had already been accepted to Goldsmiths. Now they were shaking my hand and sending me kisses, but when I was 22 I felt crucified in that school. I was so hurt, because I had made something very exposing, real and authentic. I had put myself out there.
Photo: Noam Edry (The Pigman, 2003), All rights reserved
Before I went to Paris I was making work that was slightly more kind of punchy, funny ‘haha’, even ironic in a way. I knew how to manipulate my audience, it was easy for me. I went to Paris and I had an inner change, I really did. I discovered things about myself; it was kind of a mystical experience for me. And when I came back I couldn’t paint these baroque, grotesque things that I had made before. I couldn’t use gold anymore or talk about decadence. I had to peel the layers and talk about something a lot more simple, inner and pure. And I got Shit for that. So after finishing my BA I couldn’t paint for years. I would try painting and I felt like a four year old child, everything came out like scribbles. I didn’t want to go to any art openings and I didn’t want to see these people. So I studied acting, I turned to dance and I became an actress as well as a dance instructor. I made the film with Yosi Ohayon, an amazing script that I will talk about. One day an artist friend called me and said “I need your help, you are the only one who knows about this pigment stuff and I need to learn how to mix.” I went there, put on an apron and started mixing in his studio and mid-way I said “Yoni, I am so sorry but I really have to go now” and I ran to my studio, which was a tiny balcony in my room, where I had locked everything up.
Photo: Noam Edry (Sheepdog, 2008), All rights reserved
That moment I brought it all out. I started painting and I haven’t stopped ever since. It was a really tough time, but it all just poured out of me after that. I no longer had all the voices in my head of my teachers saying “Do this, do that. Don’t do this, don’t do that”.
I think that coming to Goldsmiths I was a lot stronger, I needed that strength. I got the same kind of controversy. I had people coming in to my studio every day commenting about my painting, I got ten people telling me how to finish the paintings and what to paint and what to leave out. My teachers heavily criticized me, especially the painting teachers; they wanted me to universalize my work, to make it less specific, to thin the paint. Even while setting up the show it was hell; although I worked in a secluded area. I kept getting visitors, uninvited colleagues of mine, who had to see what I was doing; telling me “Take down this painting” “Don’t paint like this” ”This one is too much.” I just had to tell them “Please, I need my space. Leave me alone. Good-bye.” At first I rolled up all the paintings and put them away. I phoned my parents in Israel and I said “I have lost myself, I think I am going mad. I don’t know what to do.” My father had to take the phone and literally yell at me “PUT YOUR PAINTINGS BACK ON THE WALL! Do what you planned! Where is Noam? You have had this show in your head for a year now! You know what to do – Do it!” But again it was a question of combating all these people and I asked my friends if they got the same kind of nosing around and they said that nobody came to their studio to interfere. How is it that I attract so much attention before the work is even born?
Because you break conventions and you do your own thing.
Yeah, so 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 work will not let me lie. I think it is beyond me, really; beyond me as a person and as an artist.
Photo: Dr Andrew Renton, Head of MA curating at Goldsmiths and Noam Edry, Anna Stephens, All rights reserved
As I have a strong interest in Asia I would describe it with the words of Rabindranath Tagore: “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” For me and my personal work it is important to see the image before I make it and this “process” takes some time. Digital photography has made it easy for photographers to take thousand of pictures, but within those thousand pictures one can get lost and loose the sense-perception of photography, ‘painting with light’. Photography is a lifetime process of seeing and I‘m still learning.
According to your biography, your work mainly communicates “the conflict between Thai identity and the globalized living conditions”. The Thai installation artist Surasi Kusolwong, who is mainly known for his works about social interaction over economic exchange in modern consumer society, said the following in regards to “the consequences of globalization on the people (in Bangkok) and their cultural tradition.”(1):
“We are good at adapting but sometimes we are too open. However, in general, we are not worried about this kind of globalization, we just flow flexibly and use it in our own way, meaning and understanding…”(2)
How would you describe “Thai identity” and the globalized living conditions?
The Kingdom of Thailand or Kingdom of Siam is the only nation in Southeast Asia which has never been colonized by the westerner. Most of the population is Buddhist of Theravada School. The country has a long tradition of agriculture such as growing rice, vegetable, fruits, gum trees and palm oil. Between 1985 and 1995 Thailand experienced rapid economic growth and became the new industrialized country. With the ongoing westernization and globalization Thai people – mostly the new generation, the youngster – want to take part as well in the economic growth. But I think many people now realize that the consumerist paradigm isn’t sustainable from an ecological and sociological standpoint.
His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej has introduced the philosophy of sufficiency economics‘ 30 years ago to the Thai society. The sufficiency economy theme‘s relevance can be understood at several levels. At individual levels, they provide a sensible approach to economic life and are also helpful at firm and community levels. Nationally, the themes are highly relevant for countries adjusting to rapidly changing global environments. Sufficiency means to have enough to live on. Sufficiency also means to lead a reasonably comfortable life, without excess, or overindulgence in luxury, but enough. Some things may seem to be extravagant, but if it brings happiness, it is permissible as long as it is within the means of the individual, which I think is the only way out.
I have never been to Thailand myself and my conception of the country relies heavily on photography and media. Your documentary work offers the viewer a delightfully intimate peek into the everyday life on the streets of Bangkok. Since Thailand has gained a reputation as a hub for excessive sexual behavior, which is not at all present in your work, I feel that your work is important in terms of bringing forth a broader understanding of Thai culture. How big is the sex industry in Thailand?
You‘re right. Well, you‘ve mentioned it. Ask someone about Thailand and he will tell you about sex tourism or sandy beaches, ask someone about New York and he will tell you about art, design, creativity and many other positive things. The sex tourism industry in Thailand came with the American G.I.‘s during the Vietnam war. The US used Thailand as a hub to Vietnam and to heal their wounds from the war. This is how Thailand gained international notoriety among travelers from many countries as a sex tourism destination. Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, although in practice it is tolerated and partly regulated. The sex industry isn‘t much bigger than in any other country, it‘s just MADE bigger than it actually is by word-of-mouth. Thailand has a lot more to offer, the people and the country are so creative.
You live and work in Munich and Bangkok with design and photography. What brought you to Thailand initially?
My interest in Asia has been there since I was a child. At that time I had a strong interest in Chinese films, which I never lost, and it developed into a strong interest into Bangkok. Speaking about Chinese films at that time, you have to keep in mind that there was no Internet or mobile phones at all and the only hub to the world in our village was the video rental store. I went there nearly every day looking for something new and from that on I grew the interest in Asian films.
Your series “SHOPHOUSES”, which can be enjoyed in your monograph “Shophouses – 4 x 8 m Bangkok”, depicts commercial spaces cluttered with both personal belongings and items that are for sale. The Hair Salon with a big fridge bombarded with colorful stickers, potato peels gathered on a blanket on the floor and a laundry basket suggest that the space is filling many functions! I understand from the description of the series on Wikipedia (“… For many of them the mostly two-storey shop, that on the lower level is open to the street, is workplace and living space in one….”) that these shops are highly personalized because the shop owners reside on the second floor. I imagine whole families living together and children, uncles and aunties walking in and out of the commercial space; is this correct?
Yes, that‘s true and I like the stickers on the fridge as well. The big one says “Haeng Haeng Haeng” in Thai, which means “Luck, Luck, Luck”. The SHOPHOUSES photographs are arrangements that have developed from the necessities of everyday life and work in one limited space, which is mostly 4 x 8 m. I wanted the observer to be drawn in at eye level. I wanted to take a deep, satisfying look to immerse myself in the rich colors, the confusion of cheap junk and traditional treasures, the clever forms of self-marketing and idiosyncratic living arrangements and simultaneously insist on maintaining a distance in order to preserve everyone’s dignity: Both the observer and the observed.
Talking about the “Hair Salon”, the main image of the series, I wanted to give the viewer a real impression on such a situation with the time-lapse. Whilst the people are getting nice haircuts, the owner of this mamma and papa house is preparing food for her lunch. You can see the potato peelings lying on the floor in the final fine-art photography at time code 02:46 – which is permanently exhibited in the entrance at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bangkok – shown at the end of the time-lapse.
The photograph “Frame Maker” suggests a very peaceful moment in the life of a frame maker, who is seated in the back room with a bare chest. It looks like he is talking to you; what did he say?
It looks very peaceful, but just behind me you‘ll have the sky train and a 4-lane street passing this shop house near the Emporium Shopping Mall. He didn‘t talk to me in that situation, although it looks like he does. But we have been talking afterwards.
In great contrast to the personal and intriguing interiors in the “SHOPHOUSES” series, we are shown the sales people in the malls of Bangkok during the moments between customers in “Wait for Service”; some are thoughtful, others are emotional. I am curious to know which series came first, unless you were working on them simultaneously and how you see them working in relation to each other.
I started the “Wait for Service” series two years ago, some months later than the SHOPHOUSES. It‘s an ongoing urban study. I wanted to show the complete opposite site of Thailand – compared to the warm and peaceful family business in SHOPHOUSES – the glamorous and commercial world that is build upon manpower, manpower and manpower. The buzzing malls and their customers seem to flow in a rhythm that sets the pace, but whilst looking at the salesperson the mall comes to a standstill for a brief moment, they wait for service the customer. I wanted to picture those moments of great authenticity when the salesperson feel unobserved, waiting, lost in thought or deep in conversation, staring at nothing and the mall holds its breath for a moment.
For my personal fine-art photography and documentary work, I always start with text sketches writing down my concept. Leave it for some days and then get back to it, correct it and finalize the script. Then when I go out to take the images, I try to forget all about the concept and just try to feel and see the images. The idea is still in my mind, but without thinking too much when shooting. I believe that the translation from concept to final without tracing helps me correct my mistakes as I go.
Do you think that new technology is mainly to the advantage or disadvantage of fine art photography?
I think it‘s an advantage. You can‘t change the process of modernization, so I decided for myself to embrace it. As I learned from Milton Glaser, while he was talking about fear of failure: “You have to embrace the failure … this is the only way out …”
The series “DANGER – Never Open When Hot” gives us a peek into the Thais creative approach to vehicle maintenance. It is both fun and impressive to see the solutions they come up with. In Thailand they are obviously not tied to the strict regulations we have to follow in Europe. Would you be able to describe what’s going on in “Mounting”?
Improvisation in general is a great skill of Thai mentality; I would call the Thai people the true masters of improvisation. The Thai art of improvised tuning demonstrates the Thais’ great level of tolerance, stoicism and, yes, importance of freedom, rising above the dogmatic and narrow-minded bureaucracies in the West. It often looks funny and peculiar, and sometimes mind-boggling, but it works. In “Mounting” we see a simple, but effective way of using a snap hook for placing a typical Thai beverage bag with straw. And it‘s multifunctional at the same time.
Your work is revered in Thailand and can be found in the AAA Archive (Asia Art Archive Collection), BACC – Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, Thai Art Archives, Bangkok and in the German Embassy, Bangkok. What is the contemporary photography scene like in Thailand?
To speak it respectfully it‘s still growing. Compared to other Southeast Asian cities, like for example Shanghai or Singapore, the contemporary fine-art photography scene is still in a process of finding themselves and the interest in contemporary photography is still in the early stages of development.
I am struck by the vivid colors in your work! Bangkok must be vibrating with this radiance. How does it feel to come back to Munich after a long period in Thailand?
This can really bring you down to earth. One could say worlds are colliding. It‘s not only the light that is different, it‘s also the speed of living. But both countries have their pros and cons.
In the series “Urban Identities” you take us on a journey around Bangkok to places like Siam Square, Santipachaiprakan Park and Soi Thong Lo. What do these places have in common in terms of shaping urban identities?
They all are public spaces taken by the people trying to do their own way of respectful living within the public without disturbing each other. All places in Bangkok seem to look at first sight very chaotic and busy. Siam Square for example doesn‘t look at first sight very tempting, but if you stay at this place you will notice that the scenery is very peaceful and Buddhistic, and Soi Thong Lo looks very chaotic and stressful, but within that chaos you‘ll find your own way of tidiness.
What is your favorite camera?
I love to shoot with the Canon EOS 5D MKII, my iPhone and I would love to have a Digital Hasselblad for larger fine-art prints in 2 x 2 m.
Does your love of the streets, which is present in most of your work, stem from your days on the skateboard?
I haven‘t thought about that yet, but yes, I think you‘re right. Back in the days I was more involved into the action sports scene and co-founded the Skate- & Snowboard magazine called “Playboard”. But after having serious problems with my back I began to look for alternatives without losing contact to the action sport scene in Germany.
I always like it when I‘m on the move and travel light with just one camera.
(1), (2) Surasi Kusolwong in conversation with Gerald Matt in 2005, INTERVIEWS by Gerald Matt
“I wake up; open my eyes and I just know that I have done something.
My thought process changes a bit and I feel a migraine coming on.”
Lee Hadwin, the World’s Sleep Artist, baffles the world with his night time adventures full of creative output. With wide-open eyes, Lee gets out of bed and sleep walks his way to the nearest pencil or pen and starts drawing at an incredible speed without out a blink. ”It makes him laugh” was the PA’s reply to what Donald Trump thought of his new Lee Hadwin original. Unless there is a piece of paper available, the sleeping artist will draw on floors, walls and furniture. It makes us laugh, because while thousands of artists struggle against artist’s blocks and fight for their life to reach an audience; Lee is not even interested in art.
The last couple of weeks have been hectic with a global media coverage ranging from BBC to Alarabiya News for the Middle East, Americas “Right This Minute” TV show and Latin America and US News NTN24. Curators, collectors and journalists all over the world are amazed by the mystery of the World’s Sleep Artist.
Do you meet a lot of skepticism?
I used to, but not so much now, because I have been to the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic quite a few times and gone through proper examinations. When I first got involved with the press ten years ago, the hardest thing I had to do was to prove that I couldn’t draw when I was awake. When I did the documentary for BBC I also had to go through my old school reports to prove that I have never had an interest in art. In 2008 I was filmed sleeping in my bedroom when I got up and started drawing a fairy. I am just staring, not even blinking. In January 2011 I did a documentary for Japan and they were filming me moving my hands in my sleep. They were also saying that I held the pen differently in my hand when I was awake. At this point even hotels have video footage of me getting up at night and the few people out there who still doubt are welcome to do so.
You were saying that you tend to be more creative when you go to bed really drunk. How is this related to sleep walking?
Yes, alcohol brings it all out. When I went to the Edinburgh Sleep Clinic five years ago with ITV we were told that both alcohol drinking and sleep deprivation brings sleep walking on, which is why you have to stay awake for 40 hours without sleep at Edinburgh Sleep Clinic.
Do you go out drinking to bring on an episode of creative sleep walking?
No, I drink because I like drinking. I might do some tonight. Many people think I do portraits every night, but I might just scribble a little bit one night and then go three weeks without drawing. It is very sporadic.
Ideally I should interview you when you are asleep, because that is when I’d be interviewing the artist, but I understand from the YouTube videos that I have seen of you that it is impossible get any response from you as you are sleep walking and drawing. Is that correct?
Have you ever left paints and brushes out for your night-time adventures?
I keep pencils, pens, brushes and acrylic paints in the drawer next to my bed. Even though I have paint brushes available I always choose to paint with my fingers, but that might change in the future because I only started drawing in color in 2009. These days I only bur acrylic paints, because it is too messy with oils.
Most of your works are signed; do you ever sign them in your sleep?
No, I sign them afterwards.
How do you feel when you wake up?
I wake up; open my eyes and I just know that I have done something. My thought process changes a bit and I feel a migraine coming on. I know that I have done something, but not what I have done.Then I have a migraine for 5-6 hours, because of the exhaustion.
This sounds very tiring, do you sleep walk a lot?
No, I might do a drawing once or twice in a week and sometimes five weeks can go by without any drawing.
The drawing ‘Fall of Being’ depicts a fairy between two falling leaves whose wings and arms are dissolving in the wind, and ‘The Game’ is a drawing of fairies in various positions under the full moon, with elements of what appears to be a tail and legs of a leopard. Also, one of the fairies is falling helplessly from the sky or struggling towards abstract forces. Do you have any level of interest in fairies whilst awake?
The only thing I have a connection to is the 11:11 drawings, because I also see 11:11 when I am awake, although the American flag might have been related to my upcoming trip to the US.
What are your present concerns regarding ’11:11’? I have seen 11:11 on and off for many years as well, sometimes very frequently, in all sorts of situations.
I had just done the ITV documentary in December 2008 when it started happening. I could switch my mobile on now and it would say 11:11 even though it was 13:20. I went to Barcelona with my partner and it was platform 11, seat 11, time 11:11; really full on. There are millions of people around the world that see 11:11 and there are different theories. Generally it is believed to have a connection to the spiritual world and some people say that it is a way for spirits or angels to contact people on earth, to draw your attention.
If this is a way of contacting you, what happens after you have seen 11:11? What happens when they have you attention?
I don’t know. I get a nice feeling, but it is nothing more than that.
Do you think that you are lead by spirits when you do art in your sleep?
When I was on BBC the doctor was saying that we are all more conscious when we are asleep, meaning that we are using our subconscious more. The doctor also said that it is impossible to create stuff when you are asleep, but I disagree with that, because musicians like Paul McCartney create music in their sleep. I do believe that as human beings we have lost our sixth sense a lot. When we are asleep, we might be more receptive. What confuse the doctors the most is that I can’t draw when I am awake.
Some of your drawings are slightly eerie. The drawing ‘un-titled’ consists of the three numbers 5, 1 and 8. Have you tried to figure out what it means? ‘Together’ is similar in the sense that it only consists of numbers. It is something a bit scary about it, like something out of a thriller film.
It is the numbers that get me, I think about what they mean. I have done this all my life, so to me there is nothing eerie about it.
Your piece ‘Awakening’ includes words like ‘ARSE’, ‘Fuck’, ‘Love’ and ‘Please’ as well as numbers and signs. It appears to have taken a good couple of hours to create. For how long do your drawing sessions usually last?
I did that when I was 15-16 and it took 25 minutes. Sometimes my hand moves so fast that what make take an artist 3 hours to create, takes me 15 minutes. There is video footage of my hand moving at that speed.
Would you be interested in trying to do clay sculptures or do you feel indifferent towards different artistic expressions?
I have never tried it before, but it might be interesting. A gentleman asked me the same question yesterday and I thought ‘Don’t get me started on creating pottery in my sleep!’ I might do it though, but I’d be going to bed with clay all over me.
It doesn’t have to be messy, you can use oil based clays like Plasticine. What was your dream profession as a child? I know that you never had any artistic ambitions.
I wanted to become a TV-presenter. I would still love to read the news, but I am not any good at it.
Do you support yourself solely on your art, and if, are you worried that the sleeping artist inside of you will vanish?
Back in North Wales I cared for people with brain injuries and when I moved to London I started working for migration. I never dreamt of an artistic career, but since I have been offered a huge, beautiful space in East London for two months, I am now planning an exhibition with over 200 works. It is going to be a show to remember, because the space calls for it. I don’t worry about whether the sleep art will stop one day or not; life is too short and there are more important things to worry about in life!
How do you choose the titles?
I only started titling my drawings five years ago. I look at stuff, try to think what it means and find words with the help of a dictionary. A lot of the circle ones I do make me think about the universe and space so I give them names like ‘Vortex’ and ‘The Abyss’.
Would you like to tell the readers about the charity ‘missing people’, which you are supporting?
When I was 14 or 15 years old I ran away to London for four days and it caused my parents a lot of grief. I came in contact with Missing People through a breakfast show on GMTV (ITV Breakfast Limited). In the green room back stage I met Richard Branson and a woman who had lost her sister; she was obviously out of her head with worry. She gave me a ‘Missing People’ card and I contacted them later on. They invited me to their Head Office, where I agreed to give them a percentage on all originals.
Have you ever thought of doing a project where you sleep in an art gallery; a big room with white walls and a bed in the middle and plenty of materials positioned around the room? It would make for an interesting exhibition!
I would love to do a live installation for a couple of weeks and broadcast it live on the Internet, but the problem is that I can’t guarantee any sleep drawing.
What has Noam Edry, a female Israeli artist, born in Haifa, raised in up Kibbutz and newly graduated from Goldsmiths University in London (MFA) in common with Steven Cohen, a South African Jewish homosexual performance artist? They both make ground-breaking art with an explosive expression derived from and based upon an overwhelming life experience. Their art somehow articulates the difficulty (to the verge of impossibility) to be a human being stretched between cultures, religions, ideologies and countries.
After having spent three months in an army mental asylum when he refused to bear arms in the whites only South African Defense Force, Steven Cohen dedicated the remaining 21 months to secretly studying photographic silk screen techniques at night. Ten years later after “a decade of being hungry and angry and constantly working” (1), Mr. Cohen spent several months bed-ridden in hospital due to several diseases simultaneously. At the end of it, having forcefully experienced the “unexplored palette”(2) of his body, Mr. Cohen made the decision to use his own body as canvas. In a similar manner, although the product is entirely different, does Noam Edry reveal her inside to the audience at Goldsmiths University in London at the MA Graduate show, which can now be seen in the Ben Pimlott Building and Laurie Grove Baths. By the use of documentary video mixed with contemporary sonic and visual art, Edry manages to bring reality further, into a realm of extreme realism.
The experience started at the entrance, where the hired security guard insisted on checking our bags and I, not realizing what was ahead of me, jokingly said that my bag was indeed full of bombs. In the first section we were offered a relaxing massage by a professional, a woman was laying down receiving what looked to be a very comfortable treatment. Already at this stage it was a puzzling experience and I proceeded to the “Groovy Little War Mix”; a Video installation screened on a tiny TV, a relic from only 15 years back. The soundtrack was indeed a groovy little mix and the video footage presented documented war scenes, scratching back and forth like a hardcore edited cool music video. The original sound had been mixed in with the music, which filled the big space with a surreal mixture of war and fun. My gaze wandered back to the relaxing corner next to the entrance of the room before I proceeded further into this impossible scenery, making my way through the crowd. I had to carefully watch my step to not slip on a piece of junk that had been spread across the room as a part of the installation.
Video peek of Noam Edry’s installation ‘Groovy little war mix’
Noam Edry works with all mediums at once; big paintings, drawings, video, sound, sculpture and performance; all continuously flowing throughout the exhibition and sort of joined together into one big installation and on top of it all we were given a performance piece by Edry that I will never forget. In a beautiful white suit, elegant high heels and wild long curly hair, Edry confidently entered the exhibition room. As she reached the middle of room, Edry informed a crowd that they were in fact standing in a hole. Pointing at 4 marks on the floor, she explained that inside the marks there was nothing but a hole. The crowd emptied the area and we were all asked to take one minute to visualize a hole, while staring at the space on the floor. We did. Just as I was about to reach the acceptance of an invisible hole, a panicked woman ran in to the room screaming her heart out, screaming and screaming and finally throwing herself down on the floor and disappearing into a sculpture, which to me at that point looked like a pile of mud or perhaps a dirty blanket, where she was hiding away from that which she was running from.
Video: Performance at the opening night
I walked out in silence and I can still feel my heart beat just a bit heavier. Thereason for me to draw a parallel to the performance artist Steven Cohen is to highlight how art is able to communicate life stories, tragic and heroic all at once. It can be fun, funky, bizarre, heart-tearing and amusing at the same instant. It is real life bubbling up to the surface, revealed by artists with great courage. We will certainly be seeing more of Edry, a fresh young British artist graduating from the same University as Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas amongst others.
Event Information (3)
Location: Goldsmiths University: Ben Pimlott Building, Laurie Grove Baths
14 July 2011, 18:00 – 21:00
15 July 2011, 10:00 – 19:00
16 July 2011, 10:00 – 19:00
17 July 2011, 10:00 – 16:00
18 July 2011, 10:00 – 19:00
1. ‘Interviews’ by Gerald Matt, Director at Kunsthalle Wien, Published 2007, Interview with Steven Cohen
2. ‘Interviews’ by Gerald Matt, Director at Kunsthalle Wien, Published 2007, Interview with Steven Cohen
3. Goldsmiths University website: www.gold.ac.uk