A short video made by Eitan Ben-Moshe for his ‘tailor’ project, where he consults with local shamans in London.
Eitan Ben-Moshe & Yael Hersonski: In Conversation
The following interview is an excerpt from a longer conversation between Eitan Ben-Moshe and Yael Hersonski, a documentary filmmaker who was nominated for an Academy Award for her film “A Film Unfinished,” a critical analysis of The Nazi propaganda film “Das Ghetto.” To read the full interview, order a copy of the book from our shop.
YH: You sent me an early layout of Jericho Moon last week, and I initially felt like I was flung onto a rollercoaster of images – racing forward with no way out. The book constantly re-imagines the scale, context, and appearance of your pieces. This strategy proposes a new way of seeing your work, one that questions the notion of ‘what was’, and more broadly, of ‘what is.’
EBM: When I began working on the book, I started creating digital collages that incorporated images from my entire body of work. Continually transforming my pieces in the virtual world allows them to remain alive, perpetually subject to change, much like how memory works. Memories are transformed each time they are re-conjured; they are unpredictable reincarnations of past events that are equally connected to all the tenses.
A digital collage from ‘Jericho Moons’ that reimagines the scale and context of EBM’s sculpture.
YH: Beyond this constant metamorphosis, your images seem to consistently present leftover traces, remains of something that isn’t there anymore, or maybe of something that we just don’t notice. Many of the photographs, for example, are marked by fluorescent stains reminiscent of auras and energy force fields. I don’t feel that your work is involved in ‘re-writing’ the past. I see it as a ‘re-production’ from a new perspective, which transforms these ‘leftovers’ into living entities.
EBM: It’s like when a love affair ends, and turns into a friendship. Something remains, quietly disturbing the present, even if it goes unnoticed. I started to become interested in exploring ways of seeing that exceeded optical perception when I began studying art. I would give myself drawing exercises in addition to the ones assigned by my teachers. Whenever I sat in on lectures, I would attempt to draw the auras of the people who were sitting in front of me. I continued to do this kind of work for years, and when I started teaching, I gave my students similar exercises. In one class, I had fifteen students in the same room draw a naked model. I asked them to paint only his aura. I was surprised to find that most of them chose the same color scales, orange and purple. There was no color in the room that could have influenced them.
YH: How is your artistic act connected to Science Fiction? I see many parallels….
A video of someone flipping through Eitan Ben-Moshe’s book ‘Jericho Moons’.
“In one class, I had fifteen students in the same room draw a naked model. I asked them to paint only his aura. I was surprised to find that most of them chose the same color scales, orange and purple. There was no color in the room that could have influenced them.”
EBM: I can’t situate my artistic process in any one tense. This is one of the reasons I am so drawn to Science Fiction; it is marked by frequent references to ‘a-temporal’ and ‘a-historical’ places and people. This temporal fluidity is something I long for. Science Fiction movies like Battle Star Galactica have been an important conceptual and aesthetic influence for me. Some dismiss TV shows like ‘Star Gate’ as cheap and gimmicky – but I have taken enormous inspiration from these narratives. Through their clichés, they naively grapple with important ideas and concerns usually claimed by high culture and academia. By not trying to be too philosophical, they are able to express collective desires and fantasies. I haven’t been able to find good science fiction literature written in Hebrew. The Hebrew language inherently privileges the past, and this clashes with Science Fiction’s futurist longings. The Hebrew word for Hebrew, Ivrit, is etymologically derived from the word Avar, which means past. When everything is burning under your feet you are not supposed to look towards the sky. In doing art I prefer looking at the stars.
YH: Maybe this explains why your works are so unrecognizable. Even though you frequently refer to yourself as a ‘tailor’ there is something totally un-domestic about the works you are creating. Their ‘unfamiliarity’ provokes an anxiety within the viewer. I experience your sculptures as wild and untamed beasts, or evil tumors that clone themselves and swell endlessly.
A sculpture photographed by James Andrew Rosen, 2012.
EBM: There is a Hebrew expression that says that whenever evil is seen, the evil is located within the eyes of the beholder. I agree that there is a kind of excessiveness about my works that never ends. It is inherent to the works – the way they are shown, documented, and continually reinvented. This frantic growth will not come to an end with the book either.
YH: large larva looking sculpture that you installed on the base of a highway overpass – I see homeless creatures. No one really understands if the sculpture lives there, or if it’s just passing through. They provoke an anxiety within viewers. Looking at these creatures coerces a feeling of fear. It provokes a moment that exists outside of time, similar to the way a frightened animal might freeze when confronted by a predator.
A public installation made by Eitan Ben-Moshe, installed on the side of a highway in Israel.
It reminds me of Franz Kafka’s short story, ‘The Burrow.’ In the story a mole is trying to build a home in the ground, only to find his efforts undermined by an underground monster who produces scary sounds that frighten the mole, and threaten the existence of the house. According to Kafka’s story, wherever there is a house – or a delimited sanctuary of safety and security – there is also the threat of violation. It reminds me of the Zionist claim that Anti-Semitism came from a fear of the Jew’s homelessness, and thus, his unfamiliarity.
EBM:A few years ago Tamar Geter, identified a violence within my work that she said derived from the strangeness that you are referring to. She said that my work doesn’t give the viewer’s eye a chance to rest. It never gave the viewer the chance to be comforted by the sight of something familiar. I understand what she means – but on the other hand – I approach them with the indulgence of a child who bakes a make believe chocolate cake out of moist earth, snails, and garbage. I think that an artist is a cross between an autistic person and a fashion designer.
YH: Sounds like some sort of creative alchemy…
EBM:My process is too rough to compare to the alchemists – they have a much more delicate approach towards the magical concoctions they cook up. Whereas the alchemists had an absolute belief in the unity between humanity and the cosmos, my work tends towards recognizing the turmoil of energies and force fields, with a hope that through my efforts I might help achieve some sort of catharsis.
An installation of light boxes by Eitan Ben-Moshe, featured at the Herzliyah Biennale, 2009.
The detail of a sculpture by Eitan Ben-Moshe, photographed by James Andrew Rosen, 2012.
A short video made by Eitan Ben-Moshe and scored by Charlotte Loseth.
YH: I still believe in this thing called “reality.” Would you agree that your work has real life objectives?
EBM:I think so, though perhaps we are working from different understandings of what constitutes reality. Take for instance our meeting at this coffee shop. This constitutes a shallow layer of reality. Our feelings now and what we grasp with our five senses are a tiny part of a much larger reality. Take for instance the many years we’ve known each other, or the energies we exchange without speaking. In this bigger picture, I believe that there are more levels of existence than we know. In these parallel universes, we could for instance be two ravens on a grey tree, or a brother and sister.
YH: This otherworldly perspective reminds me of the never-ending transmutations that your sculptures seem to continually undergo. On the one level, they exist as objects, material forms that occupy three-dimensional space. But you seem uninterested in letting them exist just in this phase.
EBM:The work’s constant re-incarnation induces a collapse of linear temporality. It reminds me of a scene from Star Trek where time stops. Spock wanders amongst the crew, who are stuck in time, physically frozen around him. For example, if a member of the crew is jumping in the air when time comes to a stop, Spock will see them in the air, without understanding how the character got there. The scene illustrates the collapse of cause and effect in quite a literal way. But it opens up a new space for imagining how this disconnection might look and feel. I see my sculptures as symbols of this collapse of linear time – much like the members of Spock’s crew. They look like living organisms that are in the middle of transforming. Being however static objects, this metamorphosis is petrified, frozen in time.
A hanging sculpture by Eitan Ben-Moshe.
YH: Your work has strong fractalic motifs (fractalism is when an image or a shape can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole). In the light boxes this fractalic tendency materializes through the constant duplications of small elements that collectively echo these smaller shapes. If you stand near the light boxes, and then walk further away, you will end up noticing how the piece as a whole is composed of smaller versions of this whole. In contrast, one also has the feeling that your work strives to create authentic, distinct, and original forms, even if these ‘unique’ shapes employ duplication as a device. I really feel this when looking at the large circular light boxes. In a way the fractalic notion is opposed to the authentic, because it’s based on reduction and duplication. This is in conflict with your craving for unity.
EBM:I created the circular light boxes after Battle Star Galactica, one of the great masterpieces of science fiction TV, ended. The show is about a world of humans and clones who practice a very strange religion that seeks out the original source of life. A group of these clones destroy the possibility of making more clones – some of them long to be human and have unique souls. The light box is comprised of a series of duplications made with photo-shop, but the unity of all these diverse elements creates a distinctive landscape.
YH: How much of the sculpture can you predict before it’s been made?
EBM:I begin working with an idea of what I want to create, but many unpredictable things happen along the way, both as a result of my inner process, and reactions with the material. Sometimes I feel that the works know more about the world than I do. I think I fear reality more than they do.
YH: Your work moves between the white cube of the gallery, and works that are installed in public spaces. I am wondering about how you negotiate the passage between these two very different ways of working and exhibiting?
“When I walked through the protestors tents in Tel-Aviv this summer, I felt like I was wandering amongst a parallel universe of the pre-historic, where people were living together in a village, collectively preparing their food. I felt that the real reason they were there was their longing to return to a feeling of togetherness. Humanity has spent too many hours in front of plasma screens lately.”
EBM:To show my art in a venue that I respect is satisfying. It is a sign of love and approval from the artistic community. But I feel much more fulfilled when my work is transplanted outside. These public interventions remind me of the reasons I started making art. They are what allow me to act into the world, to provoke feelings and ask questions amongst people who are outside of the art world.
YH: What do you think is the museum’s role nowadays?
EBM:That’s an interesting question that I have been thinking a lot about lately. I think museums need to be more like temples whose god’s are beauty, spirit, and madness. Instead many museums feel more like the branches of a bank. They are filled with the expected objects, easily written about and understood. It may be utopian, but I wish that museums would leave the market’s considerations to the commercial dealers, and busy themselves with seeking out that which is sublime.
YH: When I was in Paris I was in a museum where there were all kinds of very impressive shamanic sculptures. It was amazing. It also felt like a vast graveyard. All of its contents, which were once connected to real life rituals, now lay petrified, disconnected, and void of their real life symbolism.
EBM:It’s very common nowadays for artists to re-make ritual objects that are clearly disconnected from any community, tribe, or system of belief. They are creating a deliberate dissonance that points to the ruptures of modernity. It reminds me of what was once said about Franz Kafka’s writings – that his stories were fables without lessons, tailored for a world that had lost its rooting in faith and morality. Damien Hirst’s famous skull of diamonds is a brilliant example of this kind of sacred object. In the end, his work offers something that is very tragic. I do not think it’s enough to just point out problems to people. I believe there must be more. There must be another way.
YH: What do you mean by another way?
EBM:There are revolutions happening all over the world today. These uprisings indicate that the human spirit is tired of separation, alienation, and exploitation. The demands that have been put forth are not those really desired. The real demand is for our collective dreams to reclaim the physical world, instead of remaining relegated to the imaginative spheres. When I walked through the protestors tents in Tel-Aviv this summer, I felt like I was wandering amongst a parallel universe of the pre-historic, where people were living together in a village, collectively preparing their food. I felt that the real reason they were there was their longing to return to a feeling of togetherness. Humanity has spent too many hours in front of plasma screens lately.
YH: In the film editing process there comes a point when you are ready to show someone your first edit. The benefit of this doesn’t necessarily lie within the viewer’s critique. It is more about me being ready to see the film from someone else’s eyes. Do you experience the same with your own work?
EBM:I could have handled the creation of the book by myself, but I felt the need to get other people involved. There is something isolating about the plastic arts. In filmmaking there is a whole team that works together. In many of the exhibitions I have participated in, the curators were frequently involved at the end of my process, right before the exhibition was held. I have rarely involved other people in my process. I never let someone else hold the brush for me. In The Tailor project in Amsterdam I made sculptures for people’s homes after having conversations with them. I felt they were like sculpting mentors for me. One of those people was an art historian, and he acknowledged my work by writing a text for this book. He told me I should aspire more to have my work fit into the receiver’s home, that I should oppose less and listen more. He certainly made me reflect upon the relationship between my sculptures and the spaces that surround them. I didn’t really agree with him, but it was a lesson in the transparency of my artistic presence.
Images of spreads from the book ‘Jericho Moons.’
Jericho Moons by Eitan Ben-Moshe, Edited and Curated by Ian Sternthal, designed by Avigail Reiner. Published by Sternthal Books, 2012, 178 pages, $40.00.
Yael Hersonski on PBS.
Yael Hersonski’s “A Film Unfinished,” is a critical analysis of “Das Ghetto” – an unfinished Nazi propaganda film of the Warsaw Ghetto, simply titled “Das Ghetto” and discovered by East German archivists after the war, was used by scholars and historians as a flawed but authentic record of ghetto life. In 1998 30 minutes of outtakes showing the extent to which scenes had been deliberately staged. Over and over, in a series of takes, we see prosperouus Jews enter a butcher’s shop, ignoring kids begging outside. The propagandists’ manipulation of their half-million prisoners was clear for the first time. Hersonski interviews a variety of meticulously researched sources that represent both victims and oppressors. In the interview above she discusses the film with PBS.