Review of Noam Edry’s solo show and performance ‘The Silver Salver’ at the Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Israel, which marked the end of 2011 and the inauguration of the new Miron Sima Auditorium
Photo: Guy Barkan
We love the pink low-calorie lychee these days, its sweet and perfumy flesh makes a fabulous cocktail and it is the perfect smoothie ingredient with its high levels of Vitamin C, fiber and potassium. There are, however, good lychees and bad lychees, so make sure to buy the right one. If two legs are embracing the pit of the moaning, groaning and sighing lychee, moving from hysteria to orgasm and back again, you might have encountered an Israeli lychee. There are also bad dates and oranges which will bleed, moan, shit and cry.
The silver coated floor of The Ein Harod Museum of Art was stained by an uncontrollable flow of blood during the opening of Noam Edry’s solo museum show The Silver Salver and the coinciding inauguration of the new Miron Sima Auditorium, which was celebrated with the unveiling of a gigantic rock’n’roll war machine chickpea. Women, men and children in the audience searched for pieces of tissue to give the bleeding orange a helping hand, when a screaming woman suddenly shot through the crowd. The first part of the shocking performance lasted 90 minutes, during which the lychee, the date and the bleeding orange were rattling and shaking on the silver floor (the silver platter), moving around and between the spectators and wreaking havoc across the entire museum.
Photo: Guy Barkan
Photo: Guy Barkan
The emotional reality of the helplessness experienced in a country with mandatory military service and where people blow themselves up to kill others is only one aspect of the multi-layered silver platter. By using elements deeply embedded in the language of performance art, Edry invites the audience to reflect upon values as well as the lack of values, both on a personal and a political level. Edry’s combination of performance art and sculpture allows her to oversee the extravaganza like the director of a chaotic circus.
In the artist’s own words, “‘The Silver Salver‘ examines the real “fruits” exported by Israeli society; what is the price of being Israeli, what part does the individual play in it? From a feminist point of view, it is about the forced sacrifices of Israeli women and in many ways, all women. We sacrifice our womanhood in this society and in every society; served on silver platters like exotic fruits. You want exotic fruits? Here, you can have them. They are going to scream, yell, faint, puke, bleed, get wet and get dry and all that. You want a woman – you get a woman.”
Photo: Omer Ben Zvi
In this work, the woman is reduced to an equation of her circumstances, random coincidences of life and controlling structures of political, biological and social systems. From this point of view womanhood is not a pretty sight and the collective illusion, i.e. our shared beliefs about what the real, successful and complete woman is like, are torn to pieces because of the undeniably human element of the liquids and sounds coming out of the sculptures’ bodies. Edry’s position is still critical towards current frames of thought and it might be suggested that she is asking her fellow women to get a grip and to stop victimizing themselves despite the inherited burdens; they will not ”go away”, action is required. Her recent shows have made both women and men cry, because this is a struggle all conscious human beings will recognize; it is a fight for individual freedom within society.
After the surprisingly wide-spanning, coherent and powerful MFA graduation show Conversation Pieces – Scenes of Unfashionable Life at Goldsmiths in London (July 2011), Edry received the commission from Dr Galia Bar Or, Curator and Director of The Museum of Art, Ein Harod. The main inspiration for the show was the poem The Silver Salver, written in 1947 by Nathan Alterman. The poem is based on the saying “The state will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter”, attributed to Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann. The dream of an equal and functional two state solution lives on among both Arabs and Jews, but the conflict persists. The hysterical date and the sexually repressed lychee can be understood as symbols of the Israeli people’s moaning and groaning about the situation. The political dimension of the work is a double-edged sword, where Edry is communicating the national sacrifice as well as the responsibility of each individual citizen to face reality and to put their shoulder to the wheel. “We sacrifice the possibility of contributing to the world, because we are being boycotted and barred from academies. Are we going to continue this stale mate?” the artist continues. “Are my children going to have to go to the army? We think we are in control, but life is dictated to us by men in positions of power.”
Photo: Reut Kersz
Photo: Guy Barkan
The inauguration itself was the grand finale of the performance in which the giant chickpea monument covered in royal blue satin with a golden ribbon, was unveiled by Edry and the chief curator. They were both dressed in silver and conducted the ceremony like a couple of space army generals. One of the four crewmen, the armed almighty rock star, appeared on top of the sculpture and started humping his gun aggressively, causing the entire sculpture to rattle in line with a loud bass beat and an increasingly mad harmonica melody coming from inside of the sculpture. Two adjacent larger-than-life wall projections transmitted what was going on inside and outside the chickpea, culminating in a beautifully grotesque image of the hero’s naked bottom wobbling uncontrollably. Smoke and strobe lights created an urgent feeling of rock’n’roll war á la Hollywood. He was the cool guy, wasn’t he? We have seen him in many film productions. He is the bad guy who gets the pretty woman and he is the face of Israel. Was it a coincidence that the chickpea resembled an obese bottom or a giant pair of testicles, rattling and shaking like fat? The man in control made love to the weapon until he finally reached a climax and shot hundreds of boiled chickpeas towards the audience.
Edry explains, “I wanted to make people understand that this is what we look like from the outside. The spectacle of the female fruits hadn’t changed a thing, because despite their impact, influence and inspiration, we were still stuck with this enormous thing spraying the audience with its seeds of war. It is about our lack of control in this social order.”
Mother’s Day drawing at the age of 3, Edry’s earliest recollection of overpainting
”It is pretty amazing, looking back at life, how I have always had the privilege of being supported. Sometimes I don’t believe in myself, but when there are so many people who do believe in you, it strengthens you to continue on the artist’s journey.” – Noam Edry
In 2008 I got to know a Canadian abstract painter in his mid twenties whose parents dedicated the entire basement to his artistic endeavors. The first time I entered his studio I felt as if I had stepped into a dream world. There were hundreds upon hundreds of huge high quality canvases stacked along the walls like CDs at HMV. They were all beautiful and experimental abstract paintings, strongly influenced by Gerhard Richter. Wandering around in Wonderland, I stumbled on a mountain chain of used oil paint tubes. Luckily enough, I was wearing the epic studio guest-slippers, which were already covered in a Pollock pattern, including the soles. I suspect that those canvases have multiplied themselves without leaving the house, because it doesn’t matter how well you are taken care of by your family and other supporters; in order to succeed as an artist, you need to have Edry’s almost frightening impetus and a determination to keep on going no matter what anyone says.
Edry’s childhood is a wonderful story to be told: At the age of three she was discovered by the local kibbutz artist, who worked as a handy man in her kindergarten. When the man was called in to work, he always found her in the middle of a new drawing and started calling her ‘the painter’. Eventually the very young artist was invited by the experienced artist to have private lessons.
“I remember going to his studio and being totally fascinated by the smells and the colors, thinking ‘Wow, this is what a real artist does, I want to be a real artist!’ He tried teaching me to paint with aquarelle, in a specific technique which I found very rigid. I didn’t understand why I had to paint in his way. I found it very hard, but I also enjoyed the privilege that he was giving me.”
Most kids enjoy making cards for birthdays and special occasions and they are always really sweet with glued on deformed hearts and misspelled declarations of love. I can’t recall ever having seen a child covering a Mother’s Day card in a crayon colored square grid, but I didn’t go to daycare with Edry. For Mothers Day, when she was three, the daycare provided the kids with a square sheet of paper mounted on a wooden frame. Edry started drawing circles and thought it looked really nice, but decided to add a grid and at this point there was no return. The three year old had to keep going, exploring and pushing the limits until the point where the whole white square sheet of paper was full of crayon colors. Smiling at the memory, Edry said “I think that is my earliest recollection of ruining a painting; of over-painting“.
By recommendation of the painter, Edry’s parents bought Windsor and Newton watercolors and the specified brushes for their four year old daughter. One year later it was time for the family to move to London and in their new house, a little painting cove was built inside one of the wardrobes. Whenever the five year old decided to paint with her high quality materials, she would open the door of the wardrobe, sit down and paint. On occasion the little artist would be critical of her creation and throw it in the bin, but it was always rescued by her father.
The most fundamental requirement to achieve success in any field must be to have a limitless interest, a sincere passion for the subject, unless the ultimate goal is financial gain. One of Edry’s pre-school teachers was studying psychology and one day she conducted an experiment on the children. She gave them all a lump of clay and recorded the amount of time they were playing with it. Later on, Edry’s mother was told that everyone abandoned the lump of clay within 2-5 minutes, except for her daughter, who spent half an hour battling with this lump, sculpting it and molding it with her tiny little hands.
“My parents always recognized this gift that I have and they always made sure I had the room to do it. When we lived in London in our second house, we had this wonderful dining room with wooden paneling all over, including the ceiling and a beautiful fire place. They sacrificed the whole room and made it into my studio. I painted enormous paintings inside“.
Edry’s political engagement became evident one day at the orthodox Jewish school she attended in London. It was a strictly religious school, but it was her only option as a Jewish woman in London and despite not being religious, she was fascinated by the opportunity to get an insight into her culture and identity. Early on Edry was discovered by the art teacher Hinda Golding, who gave her leave from various classes to paint massive scenery billboards for the school play. The artist struggled to find her own identity within the school uniform and uniformity of thought, and decided to shave her head at the age of 14. It was a feminist gesture provoked by the conservative policies of the school, in which the male Morning Prayer went ‘Blessed be He for not making me a woman’, and the women’s version went ‘Blessed be the Lord for making me as he made me, according to his will.’
The girls had to pray every week at a general assembly, segregated from the boys. They stood quiet and still, because they were not allowed to join the men. One day Edry had enough and told the girls ‘Ok, we are going to sing today. Take it after me, I will start and you will follow.’ As the leader of the service announced the name of the prayer she had chosen, she started singing and everyone joined in. Once the girls started singing, the rabbi didn’t know what to do. They were not allowed to hear a woman’s voice, so they had to join in.
“From having this monotonous drilling on with mumblings of speech, it became a full sing along prayer. Everyone was shocked afterwards, wondering what had just happened. I was called as the representative of the girls to speak to the Head of Jewish Studies. He asked me ‘So, what do you want?’ I found myself sitting there negotiating the terms for the entire female congregation. I couldn’t say that I wanted women to be equal members of the prayer, because it was still a conservative school, but what we did achieve was to have an all-female prayer as well, where we could sing aloud and do what we wanted to do.”
At the age of 17 it was time to say goodbye to London and go back to Israel. From painting almost non-stop and selling works, Edry had to lock up her passion and learn how to serve the country. In order to say goodbye to London, she spent an entire month sketching a different favorite location every day. Her father would often accompany her for safety reasons and sometimes her siblings joined in as well. The series was called ‘My kind of London’. One day when Edry was sketching her own house, a person walking by took a liking to the drawing and asked her to come and sketch his house. The trend spread and the commissions started pouring in, but it was time for the family to leave the UK.
Back in Israel everything changed. After a fortnight of basic military training followed by a few weeks of specific training for her unit, Edry became depressed and didn’t understand why. “I had never been depressed before, I just felt completely lost. The meaning of life escaped me entirely. When I finally made the connection, I smuggled some art materials into my army post. It was completely forbidden. I had nothing to paint, other than four walls. I don’t remember if there was even a window. I sat there and sketched my left hand”. However interesting it is to sketch hands, the day comes when you get sick of it. Eventually, Edry gathered the courage to venture outside to sketch the surroundings of the military base, which was situated on the edge of a cliff. The military base, the netting, the atmosphere, the military camouflage and the fishermen were among her subject matters. When it leaked out that Edry was breaking the rules, the commander was very encouraging and gave her permission to use his office as a studio when he was away. Colleagues from the UN were given drawings as a gesture of good will and they still follow Edry’s career.
Noam Edry, Study of my Hand 2000 I and II, pencil on paper, 30 x 42 cm
With regards to her present preoccupations, a series of commissions from Israeli art museums, Edry says “The most important thing to me is to not conform, but to stay true to who I am. What is the point of art if it doesn’t engender social change? How long can an artist be preoccupied only with the inner crevasses of the soul and not be a socially productive human being? I strive now to blur the boundaries of what is art and what is social. I wish it will have some kind of effect beyond the art institution“.
“Finally, on 2 October, ‘Sensation’ opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Members of the Catholic League attended the opening, handing out sick bags, singing hymns and praying. The following day, President Clinton let it be known that he supported his wife’s position and that, regardless of the uproar, the Institution should continue to receive funds. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush sided with Mayor Giuliani, saying ‘I don’t think we ought to be using public monies to denigrate religion.’ As a result of all the shenanigans in New York, the National Gallery in Australia decided at the height of the controversy to break off from the ‘Sensation’ tour, claiming that the events had ‘obscured discussion of the artistic merit of the works of art’.”
Gregor Muir, Lucky Kunst – The Rise and Fall of Young British Art (p.299-230)
Detail: Painting ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Oil Stain’
Noam Edry’s Graduation Show ‘Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life’ had no ready-made opinions or moral lessons for the viewers to pick up on. Edry’s show was an objective and just mirror of the world as it is; entirely contradictive and bizarre with bombs falling as necks and thighs are being rubbed by educated professionals. She managed to take me somewhere; an experience strongly enforced by the performance where Edry made us, the audience, stand in a ring in the exhibition space and imagine a hole in the middle for one minute. We were focusing on that hole when all of a sudden a woman ran into the room screaming in panic, dressed in a skin colored body suit as if she was naked. The woman ran through our circle, over the hole, and dove into a sculpture on the floor; a hole. She was absolutely screaming in horror; terrifying! As if she had stepped out of the video installation ‘Groovy Little War Mix’ which was screened just next to us.
What do you think Art is capable of communicating?
Do you know why it is an unfashionable life? Because it is so lo-tech. In Israel we don’t have fashion as readily available as you do here; it is so hard to get your hands on anything like that for many reasons. It’s not such a wealthy place to come from; it’s surrounded by enemy states; so it’s unfashionable. Here it is the opposite; Israel is very fashionable in the UK. It seems to be as big as China, because everyone has something to say about Israel. It is a way of not talking about the poverty in Britain, the homeless people here. It is a way of not talking about many internal problems, like the Irish situation. It is easier to make someone else the front line. So, when I called it unfashionable it was also controversial or with a pinch of salt. Everything in the show could be interpreted in many ways. Everyone thought it was a man that had made the show, with all the phallic symbols; the penises.
So in this way art is able to both reveal the viewer’s prejudices and suggest alternative perspectives and ideas.
Painting ‘The Pussycats’
Women got enraged when they saw The Pussycats (painting), thinking that a man had made it. When they met me it all changed, because it was suddenly a feminist statement on the Machoism of society, the Machoism of the media world and the art world; it is a man’s world. You have to be a woman with balls to make it.
Then there was the question ‘Are you Palestinian?’ and the funny thing was that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at Goldsmithscame on the private view and got really annoyed. I asked them ‘What is annoying you? What are you enraged about? Is it the work?’ They couldn’t understand, they couldn’t say what, because the work showed nothing that was ‘anti’ in the way they had expected it to. They were upset that I was feeling demonized as an Israeli. ‘How dare you feel demonized as an Israeli?’ ‘I do. You are the people who demonize me in your campaigns.’ So again, after that they just didn’t come. They came with the intention to crash the show or to make a protest, but they came and saw they had nothing to crash.
It was all pretty much crashed already, wasn’t it?
Yes. Exactly, it had all undermined itself and you couldn’t tell where the artist was positioned politically. So again and again ‘Are you Palestinian? Are you Israeli?’ All these questions surprised me every time and I got them until the last day. People came to the exhibition when it was closed as well. I couldn’t close the show because people kept coming. They heard about it from all walks of life; there were activists, sociologists, politicians; it ended up being publicized on Facebook by people I didn’t even know. The Israeli advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs even promoted it, even though the Israeli Embassy could not officially associate with my show, because my message was unclear. It had all these amazing effects on people.
There is a video from ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’-series on Youtube, where you approach old ladies on the street and ask them to pose for you as the Queen. It is just an excerpt and in the end one of the ladies agrees to this and invites you to come to her house. Did she pose for you?
In September 2010 I formed the BSKG British Society of Knitting Grannies. It was formed as the result of my encounter with an old lady. As my alter-ego in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I was looking for grannies on the street because I needed one to pose for me as the Queen. More accurately: I wanted to cast their ears and hands because I was making a life size effigy of the Queen. I was so used to being turned down that I was almost caught off guard when one of them agreed. This one lady said that she would love to be my model and invited me to her house; so we went there. I was still filming (in my character wanting to meet the Queen), without her really knowing it. I ended up spending an hour listening to her tell me her life story. She has got a broken hip and she has to climb all these stairs to get home; completely neglected because she lives in a rundown house. The old lady asks me why I want to meet with the Queen and I end up telling her my own life story; about leaving Israel and coming back to London where I grew up and wanting to fit in. She keeps asking “Why? And why do you need to know if the Queen loves you? And why do you need a granny; don’t you have a granny of your own?” This is a 20 minute long clip and at the end of it she tells me that she is actually Jewish; which is bizarre, since I picked her because she reminded me of the Queen. All of the grannies I approached that day turned out to be either Jewish or Irish or South African; none of them was actually English. This really shows that nobody is authentic; there is no such thing as ‘The Real Thing’. ‘The Real Thing’ isreality!
Then in one single sentence, the old lady also tells me that she has a nephew or cousin whose son was blown up in a tank in Israel and recently a 20 year old man from the other side of her family just came back in a coffin from Afghanistan.
It just sums it all up for me, because I was beginning to be too much affected by all these images in the British papers of coffins coming back from Afghanistan, with a beautiful Union Jack wrapped around them. It affected me so profoundly; I am used to mourning Israeli soldiers dying and now I am mourning the British soldiers in the exact same way.
Maybe it doesn’t matter which country I come from, maybe all that matters is that they are dying? Maybe all that matters is that I am human? Those were my thoughts when I started working on my MFA Graduation Show. I wanted to bring an army of 50 grannies and involve them in a project where they would knit a giant Union Jack throughout the show, coming and going in shifts. This is when I formed the BSKG British Society of Knitting Grannies. However, it was difficult, because many of them couldn’t leave the house. They weren’t so easy to work with, given that I had a short period of time and somehow it wasn’t close enough to what I needed to express. I still had to tell the story of Israel.
I returned to my painting and again I was bombarded with questions at school; ‘Don’t paint!’ ‘Why are you painting?’ ‘What are you painting?’
Did this harsh critique only come from the other students?
No, no, no. I actually told one of my teachers ‘I have an idea for a painting. I want to paint the British Monarchy fleeing from an angry mob; running from something.’ I wanted to have giant ravens hovering above them, which is the symbolism for when the monarchy will fall. The teacher just laughed and said it was a stupid idea. Two weeks later when I regained my strength, I thought ‘That’s a reason to make it; I am probably on to something now. I should do it.’ My Head of Department, Gerard Hemsworth, came around afterwards and encouraged me to proceed with the painting. Hemsworth also encouraged me to combine the paintings with my other expressions.
I went to Israel and came back after Christmas and just said ‘The hell with it now, I am painting.’ It became more and more about the Israeli landscapes and the unfinished Arabic houses; the mixture of the two, which is so unique to where I come from.
Peek from MFA Graduation Show at Goldsmiths July 2011 ‘Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life’
Simon Bedwell kept saying ‘Your work is so strong; always extreme with sharp-edged politics. You mustn’t cut any branch off the tree’, which really helped me to brush off all the negativity I had around me. It was also like a license to do what I wanted to do. From mid-January I could picture this mad exhibition with a myriad of images and this brown blob, my DATE(please read Interview Part 2 for explanation), in the middle. This giant brown cocoon of a blob was to be placed on the studio floor, with its slit for the eyes and a veil over it to make it look more like a real dried up date. It somehow looks a bit like a burka, it is difficult to identify. The ambiguity of this work is very important because it opens it up for everyone to relate and create their own interpretation. Invited artists and tutors, such as Matthew Cornford from Cornford & Cross and Abigail Reynolds, came into my studio and encouraged me to include the DATE with my other works in the final show.
I have understood from our previous conversation that your painting sort of escalated into quicker work and in the end you were attacking the walls. When did you create your videos ‘Groovy Little War Mix’ and ‘The Fundamentalist’?
I got the space only a week before the Graduation Show. At that point I knew I was going to make all the videos, which also had to have this eclectic thing about them; I used snippets from YouTube videos that had constantly brewed in my mind. I wanted to show them to people, because nobody in my surroundings believed that they existed.
My colleagues would say ‘You are lying, there are no Israeli casualties.’ When I told them of friends of mine who had died and people I had seen being buried after a terrorist attack, funerals I had attended, a friend of mine that was on a bus that exploded; nobody believed me.
And I wanted to show them; Here! It is right here on YouTube! So that happened in the space, it was like working with newspaper cuttings only it was video. I made them that same night, thinking a TV needs to be here and then there was a bucket full of cement and a dead car battery near the dust bin, so I placed the TV on that. I found a wheelbarrow in a skip, which looked like the wheelbarrows on Arab construction sites in Israel. I knew I had to have it in the show and it ended up serving as the other TV-stand. The entire show was ruled by practical purposes, never esthetical and the function became the esthetic. The middle had to remain empty, because I wanted to gather all the visitors once a day for a minute of silence. I can’t bring the hole to you; I can only make you imagine it. It will be far worse in your imagination than anything I could possibly show you. You can imagine because, like me, you see it on TV and you are bombarded with images in the press. You can almost imagine being there.
Then I said, ‘Right, I can now say my message.’ Because when I had that stage for my seminar in front of the students, somebody convinced me not to do it. But now it needs to be said. I went to the Tracey Emin show at the Hayward Gallery and I just thought the best work there was the video where she is interviewed about her abortion. I watched that video twice or three times and found it to be the most artistic work in the show. Just talking about it and taking us to where it happened to her. First I recorded myself with a video camera, but it was only me and it just wasn’t enough. I needed to tell the story to a real person and I needed them to ask me questions. It was a 60 min interview and there were bits when I really choked, like when I spoke about my two brothers in the army. They are there and they are endangered every day, but they have to do it; just like I had to be in the army.
Is it mandatory for both girls and boys to serve the Israeli Army?
Yes. For me, that’s a reality. When I tell people here that I have been to the army they raise an eye-brow and they look at me like ‘Oh, my God. How could you?’ I come from a country with constant threat of war; yes, we need to have an army.
The threat of war is not just from neighboring countries; it’s from within. It is a rocket launcher placed by Hamas on rooftops of civilian homes. London’s population is almost twice the size of the entire state of Israel. If you compare that and you think ‘Right, there is a missile launcher on the rooftop of New Cross; it is trying to fire towards East London.’ Would you do something about it?
I am sure you would. But for people, Israel first of all sounds huge because of all the noise people make about the Middle-East. It sounds huge and invincible; so powerful. But it’s just a tiny country with 7,4 million people, with a 10 km width. You could cross it in a few hours by foot. Nobody knows.
Diptych ‘Yosef’s House, Yusuf’s House’
For 3-4 days, all I had at the show was the diptych Yosef’s House, Yusuf’s House. It was spread out on two separate walls. But then there was nothing else and the room became Minimalist. There was the DATE and the wheelbarrow and a few other paintings that people kept telling me to take down. I was suddenly scared, I became Minimalist again. I don’t know why, but there is an encouragement in Goldsmiths to minimalize your work.
You could really tell by the other exhibitions.
So then I took my canvases off the stretchers because for the whole year that I was painting them it was obvious that they would not be shown as classic paintings, but rather as rushed paintings; nailed onto the wall. I wanted to have rusty metal and the aesthetics had to be inspired by the demolished houses, building sites, bunkers; the stuff I had experienced in Israel, both in the army and afterwards. I wanted to go to scrap yards and get them, but it turned out I didn’t need to. I found them on my way to school and as I was going about my life. I had to incorporate all this in the installation.
As I told you earlier, I gave my father a call, because at this stage I had lost myself entirely. The pressure from outside from some of my fellow artists telling me to take down the work was just too much. After this encouraging phone call I literarily stapled the paintings onto the wall. I started painting straight on the wall. ‘What do they call you here?’ I thought to myself. ‘A Zionist, right’. It resulted in a graffitied wall full of all the accusations I had come across at Goldsmiths; now they were no longer pointed at me.
Originally it had said ‘The bad guys will win’, but I didn’t want them to win and who are the bad guys? I am the bad guy here in London. The Zionists are the bad guys, but I was raised to feel that the bad guys are the terrorists. Here I am the terrorist. But the bad guys are really the apathy I experience here. British apathy is violent.
Graffiti á la Edry
It is the apathy of looking and not just not doing, reacting or intervening; it is letting all these slogans and supposedly peaceful protests, that are not so peaceful, go ahead. It is like joining that crowd of liberalists that are not liberal at all. I think they remind me more of the right wing than anything left. I come from a country where the left is very radical. The left is almost too radical because it doesn’t understand how Israel is perceived from the outside. It doesn’t understand that no matter what these radical messages and thoughts are misconstrued here. In Israel, for us it is given that Israel must exist. It is our only home. At the same time, we believe in the right of the Arab people to exist. Even co-exist with us, as Israelis or have their own state if they don’t wish to be Israeli. There are different Arabs, there are different wishes and here it is not understood like that.
I remember being 14, kind of left radical and I was reading all that propaganda stuff. I boycotted Israeli products for about a week, until I started thinking ‘What the hell does this actually mean? Israeli people are people too; they must have the agricultural right to export their products. There is a difference between a farmer and a terrorist. I can’t choose a side.’ I was vegan and felt a bit sorry for the delicious dates. It is just never that easy, is it?
Yeah, it’s like that. We can’t choose a side. I have never been a political artist; my work has been mainly about gender politics if political at all. It has been about being a woman, but never about the conflict. It wasn’t possible in Israel. Several Arabic artists in my class, who I was quite friendly with, were very dedicated to making political work, because they are the underdogs in Israel. Here I feel like the underdog, so I can feel more comfortable making it, but in Israel there was no room for me to make political work. I always thought it was short lived and it just never interested me.
So, how the hell did I end up making an ultra-political work? The key is to see my video ‘The Fundamentalist’. My teachers know me as the most political artist on the course and they even nicknamed me the ‘Zionist Terrorist’, you know lovingly, as I had been causing so much trouble, in an encouraging way. They like that. Then they watched the video where I say ‘Before I came to Goldsmiths I had never been interested in making political work, it seemed so uncool’. It kind of undermines everything I’ve done, or maybe strengthens it, because it shows how an ordinary person can be pushed into becoming radicalized and extreme. I am not just talking about me; I am talking about politics now. This is what institutions can do to you.
Some of the teachers came after the exam and said ‘Wow, we are not allowed to speak to you now. But we have so many questions. Can we take this?’ and they all wanted to take something with them from the show.
My volunteers gave them a t-shirt. Apparently Gerard Hemsworth, my Head of Department, went home and his daughter asked him ‘Dad, where did you get this mega cool t-shirt from? I want one.’ They were all deeply touched and some of them came back to my exhibition and brought other teachers that hadn’t been to the exam. They even made a point of staying for the 8pm performance, for some of them it was the second time. They told me they couldn’t stop thinking about it. That same day of my exam, which was seven days before the private view, I spoke to my tutor David Mabb on the phone and he said ‘I’ve heard all about what you did in your exam, it has been talked about.’ They thought I was all about ‘funny haha’ and tongue-in-cheek, being enraged; while there I was just saying ‘I was a kid in the army, I was never political. You made me political, by constantly silencing me.’
Just like you allowed your show to be an organic tree by allowing the branches to co-exist and spread; it reflected on the outside world.
I must say that another teacher who really inspired me was Susan Taylor. Susan is a performance and sound artist; a very special woman who was not just a teacher but also a friend. I hadn’t even seen Goldsmiths before I came to study there. I sent my application from Israel about a month after the deadline, thinking I would probably not be considered. About two weeks later I received an offer from them. I felt like it was meant to be. It was Susan who wrote to me and suggested that I could come for a tour of the campus. I never did, I just came the next September to study there.
Susan turned out to be an extraordinary woman; always always encouraging me to be who I am, to be different as I am; telling me thatall people are different. ‘Just be you’ she said. Susan also encouraged me as a woman, because she understood the struggle as a woman to make work in a very male dominated field. I think that the art world is a male dominated field, like all fields are, despite the Feminist Revolution. Even though she has now retired, she saw me this year a few months before my show and I told her what was going on and she said ‘This isn’t like you’. I was being vague because I kept getting told: ‘You’re being too specific. You need to be universal. We don’t want to hear about the Middle-East or about Israel. We want to understand; otherwise we feel alienated’. Susan said ‘Why not be specific? You always have something to say’. Curators that came over the course of the year did not discuss my art, but rather tried to guess my political persuasion. I was tired of it. Susan said ‘No, you are a very strong artist with a strong message. You have to speak up. Where is Noam, where is your voice?’ She also convinced me to duplicate that painting, because I wanted to do it. One of my teachers had said ‘I don’t want you to do it, because politically I disagree with you.’ And I said ‘I never told you where I stand politically; why do you suppose that we are on two different sides of the spectrum? Have you asked what I think?’ All I got was ‘I have had this impression from your work and if you duplicate the painting you will be insinuating that both sides suffer the same.’ And I said ‘A death is a death, suffering is suffering. And why does it matter who is suffering? I can be as upset that an Arab Palestinian child has been killed; I can be just as upset if it is an Arab. Why do you suppose I would be more upset if it is an Israeli?’ Susan is the one who convinced me to do everything I am doing. She came to my show. They all came and both Susan Taylor and Simon Bedwell stayed for the Minute’s Silence. I was very touched.
It has been such an extraordinary struggle.
Yes and it still is a struggle.
I got thinking about Tracey Emin. There was a Study Day at the Southbank Centre on the 13th of June and the discussion panel consisted of six people, but there was so much talk about Tracey as a private person. Her Tent is not about her own sexual experiences; she is communicating something universal – we all have a history of people we have slept with and next to. When we enter the Tent all those memories come back to us. Just like you, she is communicating all that crap we want to ignore and forget with works like her neon sign “People like you need to fuck people like me”, although I find that you are expressing far more complicated issues.
In my seminar, in the first performance of SAVETHEDATE, the work was hardly discussed. It was just about my political persuasion and I was also accused of being a Right Wing Artist – hilarious! Here I am rallying for Freedom of Speech and I am telling you that youare the bigoted ones, if anything. You look at me but you don’t see anything but Israel in my face. I never label people by wings, so why do you have to do it to me?
That’s where “Rehabilitating the Left” fits in. A lot of people in my exhibition said ‘Wow, I really like this. ‘Rehabilitating the Left’, yeah. The Israeli left really does need rehabilitating.’ And I happened to be there and I said, ‘Do you see any Israelis lying on the table?’
Peek from MFA Graduation Show at Goldsmiths July 2011 ‘Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life’
You don’t want to see what the Israeli left is, it is so radical. It is so different to the left in Britain, it deals with different issues; it is a different approach. You can’t compare them, but why compare them? This constant labeling; I just find it funny. I find it very limiting.
Are you staying in London?
Yes yes. Now I am convinced I have to, because after the way in which this exhibition was received it has to be the start of a new mode of working for me. I want to make more and more of these ambitious shows. By ambitious I don’t mean bigger or more extravagant, I mean more thought-provoking and personal and with more interaction with other people. I am looking for new and exciting projects. At the same time I keep in touch on a very close level with Israel because I believe in that art scene which has some really fresh and punchy voices. I am preparing for two solo shows now. It is going to be an intensive period for me. I have also been approached by dealers and collectors, which is very encouraging. I am so well connected now with friends and receiving many offers from curators, that it is a matter of figuring out what is worthwhile.
After a slightly anxious sleep in riot crazed London, I stumbled down to Hoxton Square to see the Chapman Brothers’ show ‘Jake or Dinos Chapman’ at the White Cube Gallery. My first thought was that Dinos’ and Jake’s vision was based on a clear and intelligent rendering of today’s London.
There they were; the Riot Kids dressed in black with hoodies and an obstinate posture, gathered in front of a muddy and eerie painting depicting an illustration from a twisted children’s book. When you enter the exhibition the Kids in Black are positioned in the far end of the ground-floor gallery and while approaching them, you walk past odd sculptural structures, with tribal African artifacts and numerous discolored q-tips, and big paintings suggesting the dark side of Disney. The grouped kids’ deranged faces hits you like kick in the stomach, even though you have already seen the images before coming there; they are transforming into animals. Where there should have been a school emblem, the Swastika shines with creepy splendor accompanied by the words “They Teach Us Nothing”.
While examining their faces, wondering “What happened to you? Who did this to you?” the discomfort of the viewer reaches a crescendo; they are too many and they know too much of the world already for anyone to cradle them back into the safe zone. In George Orwell’s book “1984” there was no chance to convince the screaming adrenaline monsters in the parade during Hate Week to chill out and do something more creative and productive. With a complete sense of impotence and helplessness, it is time to enter the upstairs Gallery.
“Our Father, Who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
On the second floor, the impeccably soft-skinned Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ are covered in their own blood, with faces without skin and disfiguring elements á la Cronenberg. I recalled the porcelain plate beautifully painted with a bedtime prayer which hung on the wall above my bed in a pink room full of dolls and stuffed animals and I remembered the day when I looked at it with disappointment and decided to transfer it to a box in the basement. The plate was replaced with a sexy pop-star poster. The heroes fall steadily.
“So, where do we go from here?” is the question echoing throughout the White Cube Gallery. The comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell must be applauding The Chapman Brothers from the clouds. In a mindless political climate it takes an artist to speak the ugly truth and in short this exhibition is a contemplated reflection of a messed up world at present.
“…through town she glides like a glistening jewel towards a spot where no cars go. There is nothing but grass, trees, sun and sky accompanying her and her bike as she lies down, places the bike on top of herself and frees her breasts from the dress; they are pushed up against the bike’s cold hard steel.”
This Bike Porn Festival at Passing Clouds was brought together by engaged spirits of the east London biking community and the American Bike Smut duo Reverend Phil and Poppy Cox. For three hours all we cared about was Bike Porn and the event escalated to fulfill our wishes through an unbelievable journey starting with innocent games and ending up with men and women enjoying bikes and each other in screened movies gathered from around the world and brought to our field of vision by Bike Smut. Or, how free spirited it ended I don’t know, because I didn’t stay for the afterparty.
A fun race prior to the screenings
Everything about bikes is sexy; the ride, the wind, the sweat, the freedom, the muscles and the anarchy. I had never thought of taking it that far myself, but I can see where it’s coming from. The curiosity towards the event brought together so many people and the upstairs room at Passing Clouds proved to be too small. It was so crowded and hot that towards the end we were panting like dogs.
“Bike Porn is a collection of short erotic films made by inspired cyclists from all over the world. It is creative, clever, funny, and aware! The Bike Porn Film Festival is now in its 5th year and has never been just a single person’s vision, rather, a coalition of the horny work together to bring this synthesis of transportation and sexuality to life.” Bikesmut.com
This is in fact not a male dominated community; a fair amount of female orgasms were played out before our eyes and female masturbation was specifically encouraged and visually experimented in several of the videos. Imagine: A woman wakes up in the morning in her bed next to her partner; he is sleeping. A feeling of excitement comes over her as she is visualizing biking down a country side road; her hair plays in the wind as she is seated firmly on the seat pushing against her crouch. The woman starts caressing her round soft breasts and she approaches him, her hand sliding down under the duvet… He grunts and turns to the side. (This is where the male presenter who can be shown in the introduction yells ‘LOOOOSEER!’)
She gets up, puts on a pretty dress, does her make-up and walks down to the bicycle with bright red smiling lips to set out on a journey without her boring boyfriend; through town she glides like a glistening jewel towards a spot where no cars go. There is nothing but grass, trees, sun and sky accompanying her and her bike as she lies down, places the bike on top of herself and frees her breasts from the dress; they are pushed up against the bike’s cold hard steel. A few minutes of her smiling pleasure as she is giving herself what she deserves, with all the close-ups expected at a Bike Porn Festival, but it never gets ugly or wrong. The woman is loving it and in her hands she has the power to steer the pleasure into sweet ecstasy.
This is all I am allowed to show you (excuse me for screaming into the mic)
In another movie, we saw a woman masturbating with all the energy she could assemble; rattling in bed as if she was having an Epileptic seizure. Right after her pulsating orgasm, her girlfriend comes home with a new DIY tall bike with fabulous features and is enraged to see what her girl had been getting off on: catalogues with shiny, expensively manufactured custom-made bikes. We had seen her creating the tall bike in a garage; welding, joining, grinding and sawing, only to come home and discover thisbetrayal. She punished her girlfriend thoroughly by tying her arm wrists thoroughly to the tall bike and spanking her.
This is what Bike Smut and The Bike Porn Festival is all about; sexual freedom and, yes, bikes.
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
“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