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“.
In Berlin artist Christian Moeller’s own words: “I create a picturesque room, by making the invisible visible. My works that appear very dramatic are always also directed to the shady sides and the mental abyss of the human existence, with all their facets: What lies in the secrecy and poses questions to me. They address subjects like destruction, pain, violence, horror and chaos. My worldly wisdom is the agitated one in which you cannot breathe.”
CT took a closer look at some of Christian Moeller’s ball pen drawings. They are all untitled and dimensions are 14,8 x 21 cm and 12 x 29,7 cm. Moeller’s visual language is dominated by vast amounts of confidently directed energy, in painting as well as in drawing. The balanced compositions dictates the eye, entices the mind and upsets the body; like a firm grip around the neck slowly choking you. That which is not spoken of – don’t worry be happy – and perhaps that which cannot be explained, is communicated and experienced via Christian Moeller’s work.
above a spiky lady, in heart patterned PJs and a massive syringe wrapped around her shoulder, is holding a box above somebody’s head. the person is either looked after or abandoned by an angel. black matter is distorting the head of the syringe lady. a bird is frozen in the air with its wings spread out and the angel’s wings are spread out as well. the pattern is repeated in the movement around the box. is the syringe lady an eros(a) delegating emotional burdens? this could be a comment on the concept of love – or a comment on the contradictions in human behavior…
above a giant toaster is rushing through town, spitting out burnt slices of bread. the plug is inserted in the impossible wall and two mechanical arms enter the picture. one mechanical arm is either supplying an open coffin with flowers or depriving it of the same. a black rock-shaped object seems to have flown out of the coffin and ended on the side-walk. abstract horror reality… uncanny… here, the lack of rationality in combination with the dominating mechanics paints an image of a hollow society in which the inhabitants are ruled by systems and accidents.
above pretty straight forward…
above coming together in this drawing is a gigantic girl in a heart patterned dress with syringes in her hair (and a flower), a tiny little man and the devil himself. the girl is firmly pointing in two directions and her enormous proportions suggest that she is either a goddess (of addiction and love) or incredibly full of herself. hyyyybris?
above an ordinary suburban spot revealed of its undercurrent energy forces… (ever wondered why you feel funny in certain locations?) subjective or objective; the dark forces of anxiety, horror and pain distorts and interferes with the space and with the viewer. this is physically penetrating and mentally disturbing, yet too strong and powerful to resist.
above spiky lady has grown bigger, darker and… no, she has transformed into a monster with two tired/pleading eyes staring at the viewer. it is raining and two people are staring at the creature. the man is holding a heart balloon, possibly rallying for peace and love along with the lady behind him who is standing in a field of flowers. the monster’s right arm seems to be disintegrating in the rain. poor little monster, its body resembles a tree trunk covered in aim targets and the balloon man, who looks a bit like a nutty professor, is expecting victory.
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.
“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