Tel Aviv-based multimedia artist Yaniv Yehuda Eiger in influenced by a background as a curator, critic, gallerist, and designer. His digital and new media works address ideas around innocence and individuality, memory and human experience. A couple of videos below, and make sure to check out more at the links following the interview!
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m 37 and based in Tel Aviv. I was a very young artist when started, then left, spent 40 years in the desert when it comes to making art, and then came back to it as a different person in a different world. You can say in that sense that I’m both an early and a late bloomer. Or like this soldier that you see in those movies, you know, where he pops up one day from nowhere. He has a long beard and lots of scars on his body and inside his soul because he saw things and done things that no human should, and he’s knocking on the door of what used to be his home, long after disappearing in the woods somewhere and considered to be dead for years by everyone. And then his brother opens it and freezes and you can hear the voice of that young and beautiful wife of his that he left behind, saying from the inside: “Bruce, honey, there’s someone at the door. Can you please check to see who it is?” Or something like that.
It’s a long story, really, but the general chronology is this: I had a first solo show before turning 20. I exhibited my work for another couple of years, and then destroyed it all with a great deal of pleasure and a huge sensation of purification; a feeling of being lighter and cleaner than ever. I turned to writing, and at 23 became an art critic in a paper that I used to do illustrations and a weekly visual column for. This art critic act lasted for something like six years or so, before experiencing some kind of a big nervous breakdown. Feeling like a Nazi for often butchering people in my reviews, I left the paper thinking of ways to become constructive and pay for my sins. I started curating, and when I turned 32, I opened a gallery. Showing mostly artists that were young and brilliant but far from being commercial, the gallery was celebrated in the media and by humans but wasn’t sustainable in any long-run financial terms. It went broke after nearly two years, resulting in debts that are still being paid till this day.
Anyway. So there was this long time span of reviewing or investing in other people’s work, in which creating art of my own was the rarest thing. I felt relieved and clean and protected to not do art as I mentioned, and had no plans on returning to it whatsoever…
Fast forwarding: I was in Berlin, I was 35, and had a German girlfriend. She also thought that I must make art again and kept insisting on it no matter what. So she bought me this sketchbook which I never came anywhere near to opening, but eventually I did open the laptop one day instead, hoping the Rottweiler would let me go, and started downloading and manipulating a couple of images.
The first thing that I did there was with a photo of the Swedish tennis player Björn Borg (pictured second in the scroll above), from when he won the Wimbledon tournament and was celebrating it on his knees with his hands lifted up. I erased his face, leaving only his headband floating in the air, converting him into a praying martyr surrounded by the cheering crowd that suddenly appeared to be a cruel mocking mob instead. Doing this self portrait as Burning Borg felt awfully awkward, and not so long after I left Berlin, but I decided to keep it going still, making more works.
When did you first discover art, or realize that you wanted to make it yourself?
It was probably around the time I was a superb swimmer and had a tail attached. I mean, I used to stare at stuff for hours since I can remember, fascinated by forms, textures, colors, whatever. I always, hectically, throughout my early years especially, painted like a maniac, sketched and scratched any surface available. I didn’t have siblings, or highly functioning type of parents that were present, I had to go through the days inside this brutalist project, so I just had to do something about it. Dig a tunnel. Create another world for myself to live in and to fill it with stuff in order to not be so alone all the time.
In general, I barely remember anything. If I could, I’d probably go insane and never stop crying, looking back at stuff. But when it comes to the discoveries of art – these kinds of things somehow tend to stay around and echo inside of me forever and never disappear. I mean, even today, more than three and a half decades later, I can tell you about a drawing I saw while still in diapers: a single loose pencil stroke on paper that a kid did in the daycare. This piece immediately made me a true fan of his work because he managed to capture the wind, no less, with this thin swirling line that he brilliantly draw. I can remember being in kindergarten and painting a nocturnal scene with a moon hanging above a white fence, and feeling like it’s something that the woman who ran the place simply had to see, after so much sunny imagery made by the other kids, and imagined that she will love me and hug when she see it.
Anyway, growing up, I found school to be simply too terrifying to attend and hardly showed there the baby face that I had. I became a professional drifter and spent most of my early years running away from any form of structure, becoming a teen that climbs remote hills carrying cigarettes and books, smoking and reading them and looking at the clouds after masturbating. And it was somewhere there, around the time I was 16, that I visited my mother’s house and picked up a book about modern art from a course that she took. I remember flipping the pages at a fast rate, not excited or intrigued so much, rushing through decades filled with cubists and surrealists and whatever it was in a matter of seconds, and then seeing this something that made everything stand still and forced me to stare at it for hours. It was a zip work by Barnett Newman, and it simply blew my mind for reasons that I couldn’t fully verbalize. I just looked at it, and those vertical lines of his, crossing the big red plane that he made- it took me to a different place. It appeared to be a narrow window to somewhere else. Another reality.
What do you like most about working where you do?
I don’t have a studio. When I finish paying my debts, I will then be in a position to consider it, although I’m not sure I should. When I had a studio in my first round as an artist, I remember feeling dirty and stagnant about it. It’s also not very good for your survival rate, working in a studio, in case the Nazis decide to return. So for now I have my work mostly in digital format and materialize it only once it’s essential, meaning that my studio is in my laptop and on a cloud for most parts, like a wandering Jew studio should probably be in this day and age.
What ideas are you currently exploring in your practice?
First word that pops to mind: “Innocence.” I think I spend around 26 hours a day thinking about innocence and corruption. I think about small children that are hiding behind bushes or wrapping themselves with domestic curtains, fearing this world, feeling skinless, seeking for pockets to be inside, desperate to find a shelter, even a small and a thin one in a piece of fabric with flowers printed on. I go back to it again and again again. in my head and in my practice. This state of curtain cocooning. This human everyday epic war and poetic attempt to preserve innocence.
What is your process like?
It differs all the time. I get easily bored and disgusted just by the idea of having a familiar mechanism, using the same language, to work in the form of solid series and to basically repeat myself like cows do when they just keep on chewing the same piece of grass over and over.
So sometimes I go to my early years like I mentioned, and when I visit there I go back to the wound. Basically trying to see the world through those virgin eyes of me as a child and connect with the core.
Then sometimes I have an image in mind; those shoes, let’s say, that are made of concrete, standing over gushing water, aiming up but feeling so heavy. Sometimes I think about stuff that I consider to be no less than holly to me, like a hand petting a head lets say, and want art to simply keep it safe, frame it so its prayer will be preserved, dismantling any kind of noise or stain that may stick to it. This hand of my father, for example, reaching out to pull me by the curls of my hair, out of the water, when I was a child and I was drowning.
So some of the time it’s about trying to translate those memories and thoughts and images that are running in the system into something in the outside world, using what I find relevant in terms of technique at the time of doing so, and I constantly fail in overcoming this gap between the internal and the external. My works, in other words, the way I see them, are a collection of broken and abandoned bridges.
But: I keep thinking about those things. Having images running in front of me. And keep thinking about the fact that I’m a human visiting this world. So I try my best to fix those bridges, create better ones. So basically it goes like this: visualizing, trying to make this idea in mind visible to others to witness as well, looking at the result, feeling disappointed and embarrassed to the bone. I create something, and if it’s happening in a fast and a smooth fashion then it must mean that it’s wrong because I didn’t had to go through labor. And when it’s a Sisyphic process, then it means that it’s even worse because I complicated something that should be as simple as a kitchen knife.
Extremely not satisfied with the output, I do more and more and more in order to get it right this time. And if I am, somehow, managing to reach that elusive point in which I am a bit pleased with the result, the round rock stays for a second or two on the top of that hell-hill, then I become anxious as fuck thinking that this piece is my last. When that happens, I work even more, keeping this repetitive torture which is my artistic process going.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
Yes. I am interested in the relation, or tension, or confrontation, or alteration, or integration, of the visible and the hidden. Between authentic, synthetic, generic, specific, external and internal, temporary and eternal. Covers, epidermidis, peeled pieces of flesh, real and virtual, intimate and public. It’s something that was always there as a topic, like I’ve mentioned earlier, but my interest in this theme just gets more and more emphasized and amplified in each and every day. As a grandchild of holocaust survivors, I’m interested in how trauma was nesting there, in their home, silently screaming inside folkish pictures and in the wallpapers. How something so trivial and overlooked as a domestic decoration can carry the tears of the entire world without anyone noticing it sometimes.
A more recent manifestation of this fascination you can find in “Bleeding Entities” for example. A work which was made using a large pool of found images; various familiar folkish pictures of still life, countrysides and european forests; the things that are commonly hanging around old people homes and that are always considered to be low and dust sucking. The Images were all synthesized together to a point of abstraction; resulting in a kind of Keifer like looking thing. It was done through a manipulation of course, but art is a lie that dares to tell the truth, and in their case, in my mind- turning them into this macabre and expressive battlefield of a painting, exposes some of their truth as I experienced them. Something about the story that they carried, about their actual nature, about this latent total drama that was there, hiding in plain sight, on the walls of my grandparents.
Do you have a day job or another type of work that you split your time between?
I design. Mostly websites for artists.
Do you have a mentor or someone whose advice has influenced your practice?
I think that Christian Boltanski is a true genius. More than a genius. There’s him, and then comes the rest. I encountered people who accused him in manierism and somehow managed to be cynical regarding his work, but they can’t possibly pass the Turing test and prove to be more than a pissing computer. If you in fact have a heart, if bleeding is a possibility to you, then his art will surely remind you of this facts.
Is there any advice that you would offer others?
When Boltanski made his monumental mountain of clothes at the Grand Palais, he talked to an Israeli paper. What he said in that interview was very important, I believe. He was talking there about a lie, a frequent lie, such as a newspaper reporting about an airplane crashing and killing 300 people. But there is no such thing as “300 people,” Boltanski said. There are only individuals, and each individual is unique, an entire world on his own, and when it crushes to the ground this world is forever lost. There is no substitute for this specific world, like the number “300” reductively implies. I believe that this thing that he said there is extremely important to keep in mind. That you and everyone around you are one of a kind. And it means as well that there are no real advices that you can possibly give or get which can apply all the time to everyone. It’s just about you doing your own thing, whatever it is, giving it your best and hoping for good.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
I prefer words like “camouflage,” “solitude,” “safe” and “havens” much more. They sound better and feel a lot better. The word “community” doesn’t feel right at all, I must say. Collectives are terrifying me to the Jewish core of mine since I can remember. And this feeling definitely didn’t improve throughout the years with all the technologies that arrived.
You remember this famous artwork of Marc Quinn, where he made a cast of his head from blood that he pumped out of his body? Nowadays, whenever I hear the word “community,” I have the image of this artwork in my mind, only it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s head and it’s made out of mayonnaise.
The times that I do manage to look differently, fondly, at the idea of a community, is when I visit the synagogue on holy days and see the people in prayer there together.
Do you have any routines or rituals that get you into the mindset to make work?
In general, when it comes to routines and rituals, I am a walking textbook of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Really, there are way too many eccentricities to even start counting or elaborating about, and they must remain secretive anyway. I never say what they are like, and even the fact of sharing it like I just did is extremely intimate. Those routines and rituals are of course taking a significant part in choreographing my moves regarding my work and approaching it as well.
How significant has art school been in developing your practice?
I am an autodidact. The closest I have ever got to get a formal education in art was when I went to high school art school. I went there thinking that this must be the place where I belong, after years of escaping and drifting, imagining the perfect opposite to the slaughterhouses that I knew as schools. And in less than an eye blink after passing its tests I started vandalizing this school’s property in any way that I could think of. I couldn’t be more creative than I got in this activity because I couldn’t feel more disappointed and disgusted then I did. So I stopped going there just in order to mutilate stuff something like three months after the year started, and instead spent time wandering around and putting some effort in educating myself as well.
I frequently took a bus to a bookstore that had a shelf with art books on its top floor and set there for hours, went to public libraries or picked something and took it outdoors. There was only one time since then that I flirted with the idea of signing up to an art academy, when I just left the army and wanted to exhibit my work and had no clue of where to start. But then I went with a small portfolio in my bag to knock on galleries doors and introduced myself instead, and that was it.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
The early works that I exhibited back at the turn of the millennium dealt mostly with issues such as social and technological changes. It was much of a reaction of a shocked witness to the big and sudden changes, a tsunami, that simply swept away the world that I once knew. But iut wasn’t particularly personal and it wasn’t about being emotionally bare because it had its fingers pointing outside. At this new ocean of information, reality splitting into various channels, polyphony; that kind of stuff.
It changed, I changed. This time around, I returned from a long pause understanding something that I found to be fundamental for me. Meaning, where I wish to put my fingers as an artist and what is it that they are supposed to do when they are there.
It happened thanks to a specific image, a picture that I used to stare at whenever I visited my grandparents when I was a child. It was in their living room, and it was everything that you could expect to see in one of those folkish pieces of decoration that old homes have: it was a knitted picture of running horses, which one of my aunts made when she was a child herself. Only there was something haunting about this image: everything there – the horses, the ground, the clouds in the sky- was made of only yellow and orange and red threads. So everything in this picture seemed to be burning and the whole world in it was an endless inferno turning to ashes. It was the perfect portrait… of life, of love; of everything.
So, having this image in front of me, resonating decades later, made me realize that even after seeing countless artworks, what people consider to be “high art,” still, this domestic piece at my grandparents remains the best, the most impactful, the most touching, and the most beautiful piece of art that I have ever seen in my life. That this is the kind of art that I can only wish to make. Attempting to accomplish this thing is a nothing short of a series of failures. Attempting to accomplish this thing is the Inferno itself.
How would you define “success?”
To do what you like, like what you do – at least not hate it altogether – and then sell it to someone who has an amazing taste in art before you destroy it and before it destroys you.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
I am a part of ALEPH PROJECTS. It started as an online platform which merged into a partnership that nowadays is going through changes. It should be updated and relaunched somewhere in the near future.
What are you working on right now?
The most prominent thing currently is probably a solo show, curated by a winning lottery ticket called Sally Haftel Nave. Nave is truly a brilliant Israeli curator who came to know me as a critic, a colleague curator and a gallery owner but had no idea that I started out as an artist.
She was my first choice to curate this project, so she is the first, and still among the few, which I showed my works to, two years after returning to making art. I was extremely nervous before sharing it with her a couple of months ago and had lots of second thoughts about taking this step. Thankfully, her reaction to the works was mind blowing. By far beyond my best fantasies. So we immediately started working on this show together, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner to take this journey. I am very grateful for the confidence that she gave me, especially since It was so very early and super sensitive and much important as I was just starting to do this outing of mine, and working with her on this show since, having this dialog, is nothing but a true pleasure and an enlightening experience.