Beauty and Other Forms (detail), 2016, collaborative project with Tal Frank, oil on linen, etched mirrors, dimensions variable. Photo: Shahar Tamir
"Coming from a region in conflict," says Keren, "I am interested in exploring how or if my works can attempt to walk the border between political art and escapism. I wish to suggest a gap between them. This is the gap in which the viewer can confront the actual political questions accompanied with aesthetic-art questions." Do we suffer from a lack of imagination or from a lack of options, of livable realms where the visual possibilities, once constructed and encountered could serve to expand what is with all that could be? Is the reduction in scale of what is seen and what can be imagined in our world connected to conflict? If we are confined to a kind of sleep with no dreams, what, if not art, might reveal roads less traveled, worlds less imagined? Anavy's site-specific environments cue us in on the realm that lies just beyond the traps we've set for ourselves. The images ask of us, what do we see, and from where we see, why are such worlds not possible? In bringing out "the longing for unknown or imagined territory" Anavy unveils not just losses in imagination, or the contrasts between real-time suffering and an escapist visual oasis, on a deeper register Keren is constructing Democracies of the sensible, the aesthetic being the realm of all speaking beings, and hence the possibilities for us to imagine more than what we now have before us. "I think art moves on the axis between two extremes of acceptance and non-acceptance of the world: There are artists that accept the world and respond to it and others who choose not to accept the world and to create a strange and imaginary one, a kind of alternative." Such alternatives may be our only hope. Ones worth exploring and adopting in life and in art. What could be is a powerful antidote to what is.
AHC: What has your own personal evolution towards a life in art been like, are there a series of moments you can recall where this path, this calling, began to become the one clearly marked for you?
Keren: I can think of it more in terms of periods in my life. I remember that I was always a child who painted, it seemed very natural to me and I really enjoyed it. A significant period was at the age of 11, after watching a television show for children and youth that dealt with children's hobbies, I asked my parents to register me for a drawing class at the city's largest and central art museum. From that moment, and for many years afterwards, I went on my own by bus once a week to paint and draw in the museum. I remember that in order to get to the workshop I had to cross the exhibitions that were on display at the museum at that time. This routine was a strong observation experience that influenced me very much, as well as painting and drawing the sculptures in the galleries of the museum. It was then that I realized that I wanted to be part of this world of creativity and culture.
Keren Anavy, Ex Territory, 2016, paper cutouts, dimensions variable, Collaboration with Dance Entropy, New York
AHC: Could you explore and expand on some of the motivating ideas at work in your art and the process behind the making of them? How does the idea for you begin and what does its evolution look like during the stages of its development?
Keren: The core of my work is based on painting and its history, but my passion is not only there, but also related to materials and space. What interests me is being able to conceptualize an experience, a story, a place. Sometimes this will happen through painting, sometimes through cutouts, print and more.
In my practice, I continuously examine the spiritual and social significance's that different patterns and geometric forms around us hold. I like to work with charged, familiar and fretted images, where I often deconstruct and manipulate their existing shapes, creating new associative images, revealing and concealing the forms previous context. For example, in the work Utopia I use paper cutouts, where I amalgamate the shape of a diamond with the iconic rose window common in Gothic cathedral. In this work I simplify, deconstruct, and reconstruct existing shapes into a new syntax. This process began with a large scale ink on paper drawing, which I later duplicated in a laser cutting.
My process turns my studio into a kind of experimental laboratory where I dismantle, explore and penetrate into the depths of the image and alter it beyond recognition. While working in the studio each stage is pursued by another, moving forward step by step to reveal yet another creation, a new idea, developing in different directions, sometimes unplanned, experiments alongside planned steps precisely throughout.
My recent body of work was inspired by nature, and Chinese scroll paintings. It includes large-scale paintings, which I created on various materials, such as Mylar, linen and paper. I reference nature, however stripped down to its most abstract form, inferring fantasy. By using ink I attempt to find and express the balance between control and freedom, the liquid forms on the surface.
Keren Anavy, Untitled, 2016, ink and colored pencils on paper, triptych 70x150 inches. Photo - Stan Narten
AHC: I'm curious to know more about the element in your work that you define as being a new visual vocabulary, and a universal language, as pertains to seemingly irresolvable political conflicts and differences, this "shape itself" that takes place, when unmoored from its original context, seems to offer something on the level of poetry, that is on the level of open potential and possibility. What are your thoughts behind this shape itself, is it possible to cultivate such vision through and beyond art, in our daily lives, in our precarious, political worlds?
Keren: My works shift between reality, distress and beauty. For example, a pattern that I regularly use in my work is appropriated from the kaffiyah (a traditional Arab headdress frequently seen in Israel, and the Middle East where I grew up) and a tiger’s fur. This work embodies notions of beauty and distress. Similar to the Kaffiyah, which is often represented by the media as a symbol of violence and resistance, the tiger’s appearance too suggests notions of a camouflage element, beauty and threat.
When I use this element in both my two and three dimensional works, the repetitive shapes appearing on the original fabric become both recognizable and nonrepresentational at the same time. By manipulating these shapes, I create a new vocabulary, a universal language that loses its political and social context and focuses on a pure visual experience. This strategy and working process is the point of departure for my large-scale work, and often site-specific installation. I choose to work with forms that reflect on the boundary between concrete and abstract, be it shapes from nature, architecture or everyday life. I do not think I want to get rid of the image's shaped meaning. I think it’s something having to do more with my process of practice and my development of a more accurate expression for me as an artist. Coming from a region in conflict, I am interested in exploring how or if my works can attempt to walk the border between political art and escapism. I wish to suggest a gap between them. This is the gap in which the viewer can confront the actual political questions accompanied with aesthetic-art questions that have to do with the history of Art. As a result of this process, sometimes the outcome may look escapist and will require the viewers to ask themselves what the source of these images are.
Keren Anavy, House & Garden, 2015, site-specific installation (detail) paper cutouts, dimensions variable. Photo - Yigal Pardo
My tendency for escapism in recent years stood out in my solo exhibition ‘House & Garden’ (2015), in which I created a diminished virtual house overlooking an exterior world of nature and fantasy. The perplexing space occupied by the house raises questions on images and their representational capacity. “House & Garden” raised questions on locality and the longing for unknown or imagined territory. I continued this process in New York in my first collaboration with the dance company Dance Entropy at my site-specific installation 'Ex Territory' (2016). I believe that escapism is also an equally strong political position.
Keren Anavy, Crossover, 2013, (detail), collaborative project with Tal Frank,
water-color, graphite, ink on paper, etched mirrors, dimensions variable
AHC: Who are some of your artistic influences? Is there anyone outside of the art world who has had a huge impact on you and your work or who just generally inspire you on some level, writers, filmmakers, comedians, musicians etc?
Keren: “Most of the new forms are not created from zero but from a slow distortion of a previous form. The vessel adapts itself, very gradually; it absorbs light changes, and the innovation derives from the integrated effect of those changes, becoming revealed most often only at the very end, once the form has been fully realized...”
Michel Houellebecq, To remain alive, 1991.
This text, for example, written by Michel Houellebecq, is one of the writers I most value. Similar to this statement, my images undergo transformation and deformation. The changes create new images that recall a little of their former selves. They are representative in form and conceptually in universal contexts, linking nature and culture. Houellebecq has a special talent for making connections in his writing between current political and social realities and ars-poetics. I am greatly inspired by the connections that he creates between life and art. Other artists who strongly influence me are choreographers such as Pina Bausch, whose visual choices give birth to powerful, symbolic images. The film Pina directed by Wim Wenders highlights this element, handling in an inspiring way with familiar images, materials and places. Ohad Naharin is another important choreographer from whom I am inspired by the connection he creates between body, movement and space. Also as a good example to the expression of political ideas in a minimalist and abstract way.
Keren Anavy, Hothouse, 2012, collaborative project with Tal Frank, ink on paper (detail) Photo - Yigal Pardo
AHC: What do you consider, personally, to be the most sacred and enduring aspects of art? How does it enrich our world and our cultural memory? How has it enriched or altered your own life? In your opinion, what does art, at its finest moments, bring into the world that would otherwise leave us more impoverished without it?
Keren: I think art moves on the axis between two extremes of acceptance and non-acceptance of the world: There are artists that accept the world and respond to it and others who choose not to accept the world and to create a strange and imaginary one, a kind of alternative. Art can illuminate aspects that are difficult for people to see in the daily turmoil of life. In doing so, it produces an event of stalling that stimulates the senses and activates thought. It's because of this that art is first and foremost an event of occurrence, an experience that activates the viewer's thoughts about his own being. Art should not be politically correct.
Making art is a way of life for me. On the one hand, I do what I love most, but on the other hand it's a way of life that requires a lot of discipline and focus. To create art is to try to achieve something complete, which of course is a sisyphean action that causes a state of constant discomfort.
Keren Anavy, Untitled (detail) 2016, ink and colored pencils on paper (detail) Photo - Stan Narten
Keren Anavy, Untitled, 2014, metal cut, burnt hamra soil, dimensions variable
Photo - Ashdod Art Museum, Israel
AHC: What is the first work of art you encountered that took your breath away that lit a fire in you?
Keren: I probably do not sound so original with my artist choice: Robert Rauschenberg. The works are The Anagram, Arcadian Retreat and Anagram (A Pun) series, from the mid-1990s. I like the powerful new technique that Rauschenberg developed in these works combining dye transfer, large-scale paper and polylaminate panels. Rauschenberg, both in his works and his approach to art - in his collaborations with other artists, visually and conceptually, definitely lit a fire in me.
I was also amazed by the first video I saw of Shirin Neshat Fervor Excerpt, 2000. I was an art student and visiting the Whitney Biennale in 2000. I remember the power of its aesthetics, I loved the congruence created between content - ideas and form and how they are presented to the viewer.
A lot of different artists, diverse and even contrasting in their styles took my breath away and affected my creativity, I feel that I do not stop learning for a single moment. I take from these impressions what is relevant to me at the time: it could be the related aspects, technique, or the way things are put together.
Keren Anavy, House & Garden, 2015, site-specific installation (detail) paper and wood cutouts. Photo - Shahar Tamir
AHC: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for young artists and other creatives who are experiencing self-doubt in their art, frustration or blocks? What are the types of things that have helped you to move past moments where you may have become stuck creatively?
Keren: Explore as many exhibitions as you can, recommended in various fields, not only in art. Go around with a good camera. Keep working in the studio even if you do not have a clear idea or a clear goal. Working with diverse materials engenders new associations and ideas. This can trigger all sorts of new surprising processes, that you are not always aware of when you are only thinking and not doing: Work leads to new work.
Try to collaborate with artist who are different from you and acquire other skills. This can lead to a productive and most enjoyable process.
Meet with fellow artists, curators and friends and talk about your ideas with others. Create a dialogue and be generous: share your thoughts about their projects, your knowledge and experience. Don’t be afraid to express yourself, and listen to what others have to say about your work, especially when it is in the process stage.
Keren Anavy, Untitled, 2017, ink and colored pencils on mylar, 118X36 inches. Photo - Stan Narten
Keren Anavy, Untitled, 2015, oil on canvas, 86X66 inches, wood cutout, 47x66 inches
AHC: Do you have any upcoming exhibits or new projects you'd like to tell people about?
Keren: Since my arrival in New York towards the end of 2015, I have been exploring the subject of contrasting elements, of nature and urbanism through gardens dispersed around New York City’s neighborhoods. During my research I have visited and studied many botanical gardens around the United States as well as public gardens and the differences between them. I have conducted research about garden's history and philosophy: from the Persian Islamic garden to the Japanese gardens via the Baroque garden. I am examining the concept of gardens and their political and social context. A place where different natural and human forms of control are exercised. Expanding on these ideas my new projects will also question the medium of painting and its representational value. My new projects stem from this researches and my processes in the studio.
I will have a solo show in New York during 2018 of site-specific installation in contexts outside of the white-cube gallery setting, an official public announcement on behalf of the site will be published soon.
I will be Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades Nature Reserve (AIRIE) program in Florida, for a full one month during 2018, together with my friend and colleague Tal Frank, as a continuation of our ongoing collaboration.
I have recently started my second collaboration with the dance company: Dance Entropy based in New York, for their new performance season in 2018.
Also, Next month I will participate in two exhibitions in Israel: at the Haifa Museum of Art and at The Contemporary Gallery at Nature Museum Beit Hankin, Israel.
I am participating in NARS Foundation Fall Open Studio weekend: October 13 and 14, 2017, you are all welcome to visit me in my studio!
Keren Anavy, Utopia, 2017, paper cutouts, each pillar 118X36, Photo - Hadar Saifan, MUSA, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv
All images © Keren Anavy
For more visit www.kerenanavy.com/
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