Tag radical art

Jeffrey Silverthorne Live in London – part 2 – Desire, Struggle and Confusion

6th September 2011

Live interview with Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau London
During exhibition Haunting the Chapel – Photography and Dissolution

© Jeffrey Silverthorne, From Boystown, The Perfume of Desire

 

“The land along the Texas-Mexico border, a borderland, is a place for a psychological or physical passage/transgression.

A Boystown is a group of bars or clubs that gringos and some Mexicans go to for entertainment, and or to have sex with a prostitute, usually a woman, sometimes a female impersonator. I did not see an openly gay or lesbian club, though I saw gays and lesbians. Boystowns are located on the Mexican side of the border, and traditionally are physically and medically much safer than having sex with a prostitute working on the US side.

To understand a Boystown it is necessary to appreciate that in the borderland there are a number of divides; geographic, economic, religious and cultural. In a maquilladoro, a factory on the Mexican side of the border often owned by an international business, a woman might earn eight dollars a day. Working as a prostitute she will earn $40 to $120 for thirty to forty five minutes. The client usually pays $10 to $20 to the club for the rental of the room. Two clients a night seems to be average. For the prostitute there is a performance in doing her job well and conforming to the expectations of the customer. In some clubs if the client does not have an orgasm he can demand his money back for services not successfully rendered. His payment will be refunded.

I began my Boystown work in Nuevo Laredo, and it was there, in various clubs, and in Ciudad Acuna that I made most of these pictures. My motivations for photographing are both specific and vague, honorable and defenseless. On a simplistic and juvenile level, a Boystown is a celebration of life, a candy store of flesh, with any psychological or medical consequences deferred. On an adult level, Boystown is a direct observation of a spiritual poverty and economic failure that both countries and cultures share.

Jeffrey Silverthorne”

(http://agencevu.eu/stories/index.php?id=787&p=213)

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Jeffrey Silverthorne Interview Series

Part 2 – Desire, Struggle and Confusion
6th September 2011

Live interview with Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau London
During exhibition Haunting the Chapel – Photography and Dissolution

© Jeffrey Silverthorne, From Boystown, The Perfume of Desire

What was your initial attraction towards the Texas-Mexico border?

I started going there with an older student and I didn’t even know that Boystowns existed; it was suggested to us by a taxi-driver. We were new to the territory and started walking around photographing. Later on the government gave me a grant to photograph prostitution in Mexico. Rather than commenting on the degree of humiliation, I was curious about the energy and the social friction. I was also spending time with the border patrol, who were tracking people and hunting for illegals. The Boystown series consists of many photos from the border control, more than the monograph is suggesting. I remember one of the agents saying: ‘These people leave their homes, travel for long distances with no money, risk their life crossing the river, because they can’t swim, to take jobs in places where people in the USA will not work and they send most of the money back home; and we call them lazy?’

The portrait German Man, 1994, is one of my personal favorites; it is a sort of anti-portrait, in the sense that it is portraying the photographer more so than the German Man himself.  This is where you are so unique; a, because you chose to go ahead and take that picture with his piercing eyes looking back at you, where most of us would’ve decided that it was ‘wrong’ to do so and b, because something about you seems to encourage people to be themselves; to not shy away from what they are feeling, despite the intrusive lens of your camera. Did you have many negatives of the German Man?

The photographer Peter Hujar, who made lots of wonderful pictures, used to work as a commercial photographer for the business magazine Fords. One time, I assume that this was in the early eighties, he went out take the portraits of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and during the break Cage sat down on a chair and fell asleep. I said to Peter ‘Did you photograph him?’ Peter looked at me as if I had said ‘You have just grown three extra penises.’ He said: ‘No, I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know him.’ It is interesting how different photographers respond to a situation. With the German Man I think I shot a roll of 35 and some of his wife. The two of them were standing there as if thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ and he was very keen on presenting himself. It was sort of a question of me being still and waiting to let them settle in to their presentation.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne German Man,1994

To me, with my vivid imagination, it looks like you were passing by and he happened to sit there so you asked him ‘May I take your picture?’ He looks at you as if wondering why on earth you would want to do that and the question resides within the image.

Mmm, but that is not what happened at all. I took the chair out of the kitchen to the backyard and said: ‘Sit here, let’s see how that works.’ But imagination is a wonderful thing. It is like photography, it tells the truth and it doesn’t, because of the information added by the viewer.

The photograph Coney Island, July 4, shot in 1990, is included in your book Directions for Leaving. It was taken on Independence Day and it is striking how unreal this ordinary photograph of an ordinary woman seems in comparison to the rest of the book.

It is accurate what you say. In the book it is one of its kind, but I have made many pictures with a similar flavor. Years ago, when I was an undergraduate somewhere around 1967, I was trying out street photography.  I really enjoyed photographing relaxed people on holiday and Independence Day gives people an extra excuse to go to Coney Island just to enjoy themselves. I realized at an early stage that street photography simply wasn’t one of my strengths. However, Susanna and the Elders expresses a similar kind of stillness.

You have been teaching at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island since 2002, becoming a full Professor in 2011. What methods are you teaching your students to guide them toward, I quote, “to convey the contradictory natures of making things”? (Quote from University website)

It is an interesting place to teach, but teaching photography is both simple and impossible. In the eighties I was teaching at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. At that time I was in frequent contact with the photographer Robert Frank and in one of our phone conversations I told him about one of my students. This young man’s work was sort of mediocre, but he told me about his father who was making weird and kinky films in his garden. I said to him: ‘That sounds great! Why don’t you bring them in and we will show them in class?’ I was discussing with Frank about how the kid brought in this borrowed courage into his own work. I think that people who are starting often need to borrow courage from some place, to be able to understand that they can do that and to start experimenting on their own. What is so great with photography is that on a 35mm roll of film you have 36 opportunities to fail; 36 opportunities to try something that you think you can’t do.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Susanna and The Elders, 2004

The two Elders, from the Hebrew Bible ‘Book of Daniel’, tried to force young beautiful Susanna into sexual intercourse. In your take on ‘Susanna and the Elders’ in 2004, we see a color photography with you laying down in a sort of tub dressed in drapery and a young woman pouring water over you from a watering can. It would be interesting to know why you have given Susanna the dominating position, since she is originally the one who is struggling against the dominating elders.

Mythology and religion are very potent influences on the culture that I live in. I was interested in getting the literal content matter dealing with the subject matter. I am wondering where some of the behaviors and body language come from and how images are constructed. That is some of the reasons to why I enjoy looking at Giotto and artists both before and after. I don’t think I would begin with Jeff Wall, and neither does Jeff Wall, there is a long range of references. To tap into what some of the positions meant socially, I wanted to take that and use it in these culture stories. I have been interested in working with these motivations or this impetus and putting it into some kind of frame work that momentarily makes sense to me.

In Susanna and the Elders there is a motivation from the Bible story, but I don’t feel that I have to follow it. I use the parts that I am interested in and make up other pieces. With the shutter in my hand, I am giving her permission to do my will. Water is both cleansing, used to ‘get the Devil out of people’, and used as a form of torture and killing. She is pouring it out of a watering-can; I get to be her garden. On a pedestal you have a piece of wood, which has been neatly cut; I am sure it is not a phallic symbol. It is some of this play that I was curious about.

One year later, you created the work ‘Betrayal, Susanna and the Elders’ where we see the betrayed middle-age woman curled up in bed staring into a void, with the man standing by the side of the bed fully dressed and we can only see the male figure from the shoulders down to the knees. With your attraction towards the mundane and how one persons’ Mon-Fri appears extravagant to others; is this your way of suggesting a new sort of every-day mythology with a narrative closer to contemporary household-complications?

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Betrayal, Susanna and The Elders, 2005

There is the idea of the bathing with stones and a sponge, as opposed to water. I responded to Rembrandt’s paintings Bathsheba and Susanna and the Elders much more strongly than others from the same time period. What the Biblical story offered the painters of that time was a justifiable way to paint naked women. What that offered the client was a justifiable way to have a picture of a naked woman in their house. We look at the figures of Rembrandt’s Bathsheba and Susanna today and their physical features correspond to the ideals of that time. So, it’s not just a rendering of a Biblical story, it also ties to the culture of beauty of that time. Susanna and The Elders was motivated as much by Harold Pinter. In one his writings he is talking about the making of a theater play which begins with one character on stage. As the second actor/actress enters the stage, the totality of the energy is shifted and the viewer is no longer feeding off the energy of that one person. There is also this impenetrable distance between the two of them that I was interested in and a lot of my work since the morgue work deals with not getting what you think you want.

In 2006, in the photograph ‘Staircase’ we see you naked touching a naked young woman with curling pins in a staircase. The same year you also shot an image of young ‘Lauren’ in the bathroom fiddling with her curl pins dressed in panties. These photographs are serene, yet problematic. In what way are these images communicating age and desire?

It is like a defeat of sexuality. It comments on what Kafka said, that many of those things you think you were going to do, many of those things you want to do; they are not going to happen. I was interested in that struggle.

Are we likely to find more mythological references in your work in the future?

I am sure there will be, but I am not working on anything directly.

Since you have begun to take part in front of the camera, it has sometimes been with the help of altered mythological stories, scenographic design, facial paint etc. Has it been necessary for you to do this in order to create a distance from yourself or is it unrelated to your participation?

It is to step into the world of an actor and author, and not to disguise who I am. Although it is difficult to interfere, I am willing to do it. I could probably find some old person to photograph, but I don’t think they would have the mental concentration that I am looking for. Certainly the self-portrait of the artist at work is not a new theme. Judith Leyster painted a wonderful portrait in 1609, where she is looking out at the viewer, whilst painting a fiddler. Max Beckmann did a wonderful self-portrait of himself in a tuxedo (Self-Portrait in Tuxedo, 1927), presenting himself as an author and a participant of a community. I find that positioning interesting and sometimes confusing.

©Jeffrey Silverthorne Susan with a light bulb, 2006

Did you ever have an idea that was too controversial to execute?

Honestly, no. I was in Seville last year and I met some wonderful people who took me to a bullfight. I have seen bullfights before, but this time I was there photographing. I made some pictures which I think verge on a kind of ideal, which is the tourist post card and something that goes further into both the visual history and the culture specific to Seville, in my understanding. I am not Spanish, I am not trying to experience the world through Spanish eyes and I don’t understand their need to kill bulls, but they do have that need. In some versions of Peruvian bullfighting, they take an Andean Condor and they cut the back of the bull and they sew the condor into bull, so the bull comes out into the bullring with a bird on it and the bird pecks out the bull’s eyes while the matador fights it. I don’t know what to say other than that it is fucked. At the bullfight I came to think about blood, bodies, Diego Velàzquez, sacrifice, rituals, transgression, transformation and torture, while watching the banderilla men doing their dance. And then, linking all this back to modern life, I was thinking of women’s menstrual cycle and some of the taboos and sacrifices and of the idea of blood as transformation and I thought ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be neat to photograph menstrual cycles?’, but I haven’t gotten too far on that project yet.

Is it actually too controversial?

No, it is just bothersome. There is a crudity, I think, when you go out to make pictures. You take advantage of people. You don’t need to be mean about it, but you definitely impose yourself. None of my models would lie back like that, people don’t do that.

Thank you, Jeffrey. It has been a great pleasure and been an honour meeting you. 

 

 

Jeffrey Silverthorne is currently exhibiting at Daniel Blau in London (www.danielblau.com) and Galerie VU in Paris (www.galerievu.com)

 

Originally posted on www.contemporarytalks.com

 

Click to read Part 1 – “I am speaking through hundreds of tongues”

Review:: ‘This Bloody Excrement Is My Testament’

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.”

Live interview – Meet Jeffrey Silverthorne

Meet Jeffrey Silverthorne at Daniel Blau
::6th September 7 pm::

Introduction Brad Feuerhelm, Director of Daniel Blau Gallery London
+ Photography slide show
+ Live interview with Elinros Henriksdotter

American photographer Jeffrey Silverthorne is visiting the gallery for a comprehensive live interview with Elinros Henriksdotter from ContemporaryTalks.com in connection with his participation in “Haunting the Chapel  – Photography and Dissolution” (1 Sept – 8 Oct 2011); an exhibition of vintage, anonymous, vernacular and spirit photography.

Jeffrey Silverthorne invites his audience to hidden worlds that are fully ignored by most –because of their danger, ugliness and difficult nature. He is an anonymous spectator, who instantly steps aside from his point of view and leave us alone with our experience.

What it is like to stand next to an unidentified dead person in the morgue? Do questions bombard your mind, and if, what are the answers sought for? Maybe it is a mind-numbing experience that silences you for days. Is it possible to go so far as to imagine oneself in that position; the body cold and stiff and everyone deprived of the last goodbye?

The slide show will take you on two rapid photographic journeys; first we will visit the morgue and secondly the borderland located on the Mexican side of the Texas-Mexico border, where prostitutes in high heels are seen on and off duty in bathrooms and bedrooms. Outside awaits guarding dogs, railroad tracks, illegals and newspaper editors.

Through Silverthorne’s photography we are presented reality’s inherent complexity via simplicity. The world might stop for a few seconds and take on a new significance.

 

Please RSVP to london@danielblau.com, £5 payable on arrival

The event incl: Michael Grieve in conversation with Aaron Schuman


Interview with Iconoclastic Artist Neal Fox

Today I met Iconoclastic Artist Neal Fox at Daniel Blau in Hoxton Square, where his ongoing exhibition ‘Beware of the God’ is situated. The exhibition consists of twelve 2,5 meter high Stained Glass Windows; twelve alternative apostles who aimed a firm kick towards Christianity and kicked hard. Next door, at the White Cube, the Chapman Brothers have carved away patches of skin in the face of both Jesus and Mary. The sculptures are numerous and very well made, but I doubt that “Jake or Dinos Chapman” are the sculptors. They are (probably) the messengers, which is fine, but it is more fascinating to see Neal Fox’s work next door because he is the creator – from sketch to final product. To create Stained Glass Windows is an intricate process with a thousand-year history.

Photo from www.danielblau.com – London / Neal Fox / 2 of 39 — Installation (Daytime) 12

It should have been expected: Neal Fox turned up an hour late for the interview with drowsy but sparkling eyes and invited me to a coffee in an apologetic manner. He fits perfectly into the artist stereotype – always slightly absent as if constructing intricate drawings in his mind as we speak. Neal is gifted with a great sense of humor and a sharp mind, no one else had pointed out to me with a smile on the lips that the recent rioters made sure to leave KFC in an impeccable state. Why would they demolish their favorite restaurant? This is exactly why we love Neal’s art; he looks at the world and goes ‘this is/was going on, whether we like it or not. To me it is comedy, because I want life to be fun.’ Then he adds eight more dimensions to the story to make it even more fun. Many times the world is based on his grandfather’s debauched life story, but there are also more recent characters depicted.

I understand that your grandfather, John Watson, who was a debauched Soho socialite, has had remarkable influence on your life, although he died when you were still very young. Who was Mr. Watson?

My grandfather was a bomber pilot in WW2, a writer, a TV-host and a heavy drinker. I grew up surrounded by my family’s memories of him. After WW2 he was tortured by awful dreams throughout his life, until he eventually died from his heavy whiskey sessions at a fairly early age. We can’t imagine what they all went through, back then there was no therapy for soldiers. The torturing nightmares with dead children and innocent civilians drove him to seek comfort in the bottoms of a thousand empty whiskey bottles. I read his auto-biographical book when I was 21, which is the same age that he was in at that time, up in the air, dropping bombs. It is strange to think about now, when young people are stuck in front of their PlayStation.

My grandfather also wrote American-style detective paperback books and he was the one to publish Burrough’s Naked Lunch in London. I have always been fascinated by his life and he has guided me through an imaginary world of excessive behavior; a world where I imagine them all to meet and there is always room for new characters to enter. Whenever I read a book, watch a movie or drink; it is research! My grandfather used to call it drinking research. It is all feeding my brain and my future drawings.

Who has told you the tales of your grandfather?

My grandmother, who is an amazing old lady, has told me everything about my grandfather. My grandmother is still going strong; always up for a laugh and drinking plenty of whiskey although she is 88 years old. She is in my grandfather’s Stained Glass Window at the exhibition, on the top; they are dancing. Hopefully my grandfather would have been proud to see himself there depicted like an alternative saint.

My father, who is a great painter although he is not commercially focused, has also told me endless stories and introduced me to many great authors. In fact, I am named after Neal Cassady who was Jack Kerouac’s friend and the inspiration for Dean in On the Road.

I can see the resemblance! Did your grandfather meet any of the others in person? 

I don’t know and that has always been a great source of inspiration for me; that question really fuels my imagination. Most of my work has been an investigation of the dark realm of my grandfather’s experiences, or that is at least where it all begins. Soho was very different back then and there are few places that have been left untouched. Most if it is gone now, but no-one can touch my inner world!

Installation(Daytime)1

Photo from www.danielblau.com – London / Neal Fox / 4 of 39 — Installation (Daytime) 1

I am sure you could have chosen to create the Stained Glass Windows without using as much color as you eventually did. Have you travelled somewhere recently that infused all those colors in you?

It is more likely to be related to an amazing psychedelic trip at the house of late Paulita Sedgwick, late cousin of Edie Sedgwick; one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. Paulita was a painter and her colorful, intense and magical paintings were all over the place; they came alive and served as windows to a different world. We ended up staying inside for several days, because we were too afraid to go outside. A bumper sticker on her front door said ‘Beware of the God’ and I decided to make it the title for my exhibition at Daniel Blau. Paulita was an extraordinary and generous woman, who suffered from brain cancer and tried to cure herself with magic.

I used to work mainly in black and white, but life has been more colorful since that experience. Also, working with stained glass as a medium sort of required it of me and it is still just a few but strong basic colors.

 

Jean Genet

Photo from www.danielblau.com – London / Neal Fox / 29 of 39

Jean Genet, Neal Fox, 2010-11, Leaded stained glass in steel frame

 

How would you describe the impact these strong personalities have had on your life; did you ever inject bug powder or “sit in your house for days on end staring at the roses in the closet”?

No, not yet. I’ve never stared at the roses in my closet, but maybe I should! I have mainly been inspired by the strong integrity and self-belief in these iconoclasts; they did it their own way, completely untouched by present ideas, restrictions and beliefs. They broke new ground and although there is a small portion of irony in my exhibition of Stained Glass Windows, (a hint towards today’s celebrity culture) I feel that these are the people that deserve praise and honor for the impact they have had on writers, musicians and artists.

In earlier exhibitions you have gone wild with the interiors; covering everything in patterns. I imagine that stepping inside must have been a real trip. The show you are having now at Daniel Blau is pretty straight forward in comparison. Was this your decision or did the gallery limit your expression?

Well, it is when we create shows as the Le Gun Collective that we tend to go outside the frames and all over the place, because we accelerate each other and improvise like musicians. But you are giving me ideas now!

Your big drawings suggest novel sized narratives; do you ever write stories connected to your drawings?

I write when I work on pieces, it is a part of the creative process, but I haven’t included any written narratives in my finished works so far. An image says a thousand words, as they say. The mind-map sort of drawings that I create suggest narratives, it is a crazy trip through my mind with references to pop culture; it is a mind within a mind within a mind! It all makes sense to me, but I’m not sure anyone else gets it. It could perhaps be interesting to write a novel.

That would be a mad, mad adventure. In the interview with Dazed and Confused you mention having strange dreams in the stained glass factory. Please tell me about those dreams!

I was staying in a flat above the stained glass factory, working at night all by myself in this huge space full of medieval Stained Glass Windows depicting angels and saints. I was told that there was a lady ghost haunting the factory, which kind of freaked me out. This one night when I was working on the Aleister Crowley-piece I was haunted by him in my dreams. Crowley was pissed off at me for doing this window and put a curse on me. Earlier that night when I was leaving the studio downstairs I heard a loud crash behind me; I turned back, but nothing had happened. I don’t know what that was all about.

There are many stories woven around Crowley’s persona involving ghosts, demons and curses. Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin used to live in the Boleskine House, Aleister Crowley’s old residence next to Loch Ness, and he said that the house was haunted by a decapitated head. There are also some who believe that the Loch Ness monster was created by demons summoned by Crowley during one of his seances. We don’t know what is real and what has been imagined in people’s heads, but no matter what; Crowley not the kind of person you want to piss off.

He should be proud if anything to be in there with the others, I understand that it was a delicate procedure to create the Stained Glass Windows.

Yes, I like to believe that he sees it as a compliment.

I came across James Unsworth’s Turtle Sex movie at the exhibition Parallel Connections at Wayward Gallery in June, curated by my friend John Angel. It is a truly mind-blowing piece of work and can easily be compared to your work. Have the two of you ever thought of collaborating? It would be an exponential equation.

That might be a good idea actually! We have never collaborated, but I do admire James’ work and he has been one of the contributing artists for Le Gun. We are both inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and communicate similar ideas; he goes all the way.

Since I am half Swedish I am really curious to know what “wishy washy Scandinavian” means?

Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean to insult all Scandinavians, but I just find that a lot of the art being created today is wishy washy, sort of IKEA-style. It is just made to be pretty on the wall; decorative stuff. I can’t stand it.

Can you tell me more about the Le Gun “theme park”-dream mentioned in the Crane.tv video? That would be amazing.

All journalists tend to ask ‘What are you doing next?’ and the Le Gun theme-park is our standard answer to that; a bit of a joke but not really. It is something we have been dreaming about.

(Details have been censored)

Do you think that the spirits of the dead linger around in our world on a different dimension?

I believe that all great personalities who break new ground by taking on the world in an unapologetic manner are a part of our collective memory; they break down frames of thought and extend the horizon.

After a couple of drinks it was time to leave, because of a rumor that the riots were approaching. Gallery Director Brad Feuerhelm was mildly impressed as he was forced to show an interested collector out the door.

Elinros Henriksdotter, 09.08.2011

Noam Edry – A constant battle for the freedom of speech in a web of taboos and envy

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 at Ecole National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris, as an exchange student in conjunction with your BA 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.

What?

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.

pigman

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

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[More on Noam Edry]

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Interview Series 2011

Part 1 – A constant battle for the freedom of speech in a web of taboos and envy

Part 2 – From sharp-edged politics to an S&M club and back again

Part 3 – “I Am the Terrorist”

Feature on Childhood

Born a War Painter

Reviews

Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Israel, 2012

Goldsmiths MFA 2011