Hadas Auerbach I wanted to begin this talk by asking you with which hat do you want to approach this conversation? Perhaps solely as an artist, without mentioning that you are also a curator?
I. S. Kalter My mother is a curator. I am an artist. The curatorial action for me is an artistic medium - the curatorial medium. Although different from painting, it is an artistic medium just like any other. I even conceived and exhibited curatorial objects. In a sense, I think the two practices are not really separate. They are intertwined. However, this exhibition at ZONA MISTA is indeed a painting show –– the medium that has occupied most of my mind and time for a while now. For instance, many of the questions I deal with in “framing” a painting are curatorial questions.
HA How has using curation as an artistic medium influenced your work as a painter? I am asking because painting is a relatively new medium for you.
ISK Painting is not exactly a new medium for me. Until recently, I did not precisely define my work through painting. I felt closer to the medium of assemblage. Over time, I also looked reflexively at my work and started to frame it in the context of painting. In terms of formal painting studies, I did not learn "how" to paint during my art studies at Bezalel, Slade or Hunter. I taught myself how I like to paint. And I still learn it in my daily routine and explore the medium in the studio. Equally important, I learned how to look at paintings of other painters. As I see it, the curatorial medium at its core is anthropological, psychological, historical, visual and textual research about art objects, art practitioners and artistic communities. Through the curatorial medium, I interact with paintings and works of art that are not necessarily mine, and explore the curator’s practice starting from criteria of the display, building a collection, highlighting seamless forms of exhibition design etc. Nonetheless, painting is usually a pretty messy act. As we know, looking at a painting in a studio is different from seeing it installed in a white cube. I travelled to holes in the edges of the world just to see art that intrigued me. Over the years, I can say that painting is the medium that fascinates me the most.
HA I visited your studio in Tel Aviv in September. It was a painter's studio. It smelled of oil and turpentine, and lots of paintings in the same size were hung on the walls a bit lower than eye level. Then you arrived in London with a suitcase packed with completely different paintings that seem to me more objects than paintings. What happened in the process?
ISK I have been working on three exhibitions at the same time. In fact, I will present the oil paintings you mentioned in my upcoming solo exhibition at the Mishkan for Art in Ein Harod in the coming year. The exhibition currently shown at ZONA MISTA has no title. It presents two series of “paintings” that I created simultaneously in Tel Aviv - Yafo. The scale of these works was considered in advance to fit the size of one suitcase.
Covered and glued with industrial paper and a warm palette of furniture lacquer, the works in Compassion Circle (2022), in fact, conceal oil paintings. Each “painting” in the exhibition consists of a simple framing device made of a cheap diamond fence like the one surrounding the gallery. The fence is large, vertical, cut and torn. Almost at eye level of each fence fragment, an oil painting on canvas is hung. Every covered canvas is 30x40 cm, a standard size for small landscape paintings. They look dirty. Each painting has about thirty thin layers of paint made in the technique of wet on dry. This is a work that took me about three months. Then they were covered with industrial paper and lacquer, a technique of papier-mâché I invented during my six months stay in Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, in 2019. After living for a month in Paris, I was involved in a bicycle accident. When I arrived at the ER, the doctor gave me a brace and wrote a prescription for tramadol (a drug manufactured by Teva pharmaceuticals and sold as a popular street drug in the Gaza Strip). High and without any prior planning, I invented a compound of industrial paper - a material I first used in my twenties when I worked as a bartender. I simply noticed that this stuff just sticks to everything.
Human Victim Identification (2022), the second series of “paintings” is composed of four wall sculptures. The qualities of this series lie in my desire to create a convex surface for painting with a non-standard characteristic and high durability. The shape of the new surfaces, and their low-level instalment in space, may be perceived as an injured, bleeding bodily architecture of organs. Made with pipes, this series is cylindrical, elongated, light yet rough, opaque yet hollow. The pipe - a parable for transition, evolution, progress or devolution - is a symbol of dark matter that constantly passes through. From East to West, in the depth of the ocean, under the ground or inside the walls. Ceci n'est pas une pipe.
HA I remember us studying together in Slade a decade ago. You would go with open buttoned shirts and had severe wounds on your chest. When I looked at your paintings in this exhibition, the bandaged works, the amputated limbs, I had to think of them as some kind of self-portraiture. Abstract portraits of being. If we become Freudian for a second, in the exhibition text you talked about medical treatments, injuries and vulnerabilities. One of my impressions of you right now as a human being seems to be that you are actually very healthy, not just physically. It was easy to work on the exhibition together, somewhat in contrary to the difficulty that arises from the works.
ISK I completely agree with you. I was very much involved in collaborations with artists, curators, writers and art institutions in recent years. Chronologically, this exhibition was preceded by two exhibitions particularly significant for me. They followed each other and brought me back to the studio in an almost schizoid state. Both exhibitions were made as part of Ventilator, a nomadic exhibition space I run in ephemeral spaces and for non-bureaucratic periods of time, showcasing solo or group exhibitions for the duration of a few hours or a couple of days. One exhibition, Around Paros in Ninety Minutes (2021), opened last June in the Cycladic Islands of Paros and Antiparos. The exhibition was created during a month-long stay in Paros, on the roof of a house I rented with my girlfriend, illustrator Cookie Moon. Above the courtyard of Mr and Mrs Constantine, in the technique of painting in the open air (En plein air) I painted a series of eight abstract oil paintings on canvas and left them to dry in the scorching sun. These oil paintings are characterised by many layers, with thin brush strokes visible on top. At a direct glance, one can notice the colour mixes that appear either as a close-up of an abstract detail taken from a large-scale figurative painting or as a pictorial tribute to a late 19th-century painting. The torn canvases were tied with ropes on top of fruit and vegetable crates made of plywood, intended for the transport and contents of goods. In these works, the crates become simple stretching frames and serve as a framing device for the canvas. The crate is a type of ready-made. A treated object. In a further move, I decided to release the works and place them as one exhibition, which takes place at several sites. Around Paros in Ninety Minutes is accompanied by a map and displayed on the island's circumferential route. The exhibition has no official closing date, as it will run until the works will either drown, be taken or disappear. On Monday, June 28th 2021, Cookie and I installed the exhibition, especially for the eyes of two lovers. On that day, a fire spread across the island due to a sirocco, a strong Mediterranean wind typical to the summer months in the region.
HA Can you expand some more about the second show you referred to?
ISK Yes. I think one of the most complex moments for me this year, followed by me experiencing a mental breakdown, happened after working on the exhibition 'Out of the Cube' (2021). A collaboration between Ventilator and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art was displayed across Tel Aviv - Yafo. You could say that the museum was hosted in the playground of Ventilator. Ventilator is a concept, a practice, a homeless space that squats and exhibits wherever and whenever it can. In the spirit of Covid-19, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art looked for ways to exhibit outside the institution’s walls. “Out of the Cube'' was a short-term group exhibition of varying intensity, scattered throughout nineteen locations in the city. Local artists improvised their work near their habitat: within living quarters, in rented spaces, in a hotel, next to the beach, from the balcony, in the backyard, or beside existing works of art. The exhibition metaphorically extended the museum’s physical boundaries and the role of the urban space—from functional space to artistic space. The works in the exhibition were dispersed throughout a wide range of exhibition areas; they were non-monumental and sensual, their materiality was disrupted, at times hidden or devoid of defined shape. In this exhibition, the senses of the flâneur - who accidentally became a viewer of an exhibition - were sharpened and responded simultaneously to the works of art and to the daily moments chanced upon by the urban environment. “Out of the Cube” sizzled into life itself, blurred the customary concepts of time and exhibition, and was submersed like a buzz into the noisy urban landscape.
ISK This exhibition was postponed twice. One time because of a lockdown caused due to governmental upheavals in Israel, and the second time because of a round of war during which missiles were fired on Tel Aviv. It was finally shown for about two weeks in July. Right after Cookie and I got back from Paros. I suffer from PTSD, and for that reason, the Israeli summer is a nightmare. In military service, I participated in the Second Lebanon War. The weather gives me flashbacks. It reinforces the memories of the war. In addition, I also had a lot of responsibility towards the artists and the museum. In the war, I was a commander and had a responsibility towards the other soldiers, to bring them back alive. Everything got mixed up for me this summer. The disintegration that took place in the summer is not only mine but also that of a community of artists. “Zaritzky’s Point”, the curatorial object I was showing as part of “Out of the Cube '' was supposed to be purchased into the museum's collection. However, at the last minute, their curatorial team changed their minds. Not having access to suitable storage space, the piece was thrown into the garbage. After all of that, I feel I had to shut myself in and work on what truly matters to me in the studio. My studio is very close to my home. It is located in a store on street level, in the Old North neighbourhood of Tel Aviv by the sea. It used to be the artistic district of the city. There were lots of important galleries and artists over here. Then the area underwent gentrification. The metaphorical reflection of this neighbourhood is a bit like imagining walking in the future in a neighbourhood of artists that have not yet undergone gentrification. A minute after a minute before kind of thing. I am in this reality, in this neighbourhood, where there is no art anymore, becoming myself a relic of the past. A relic of a period that happened before I was even born. And it is important to me to be this human being who goes swimming every day and paints every day. I almost completely stopped teaching and lecturing. I rarely go to studio visits, and I don’t let people in. The curatorial medium does not really interest me at this particular moment. Something in me goes deeper inside. Painting allows me to trace my presence and get closer to the being I am. I would have probably continued on my curatorial rampage if it weren't for this period. And who knows, maybe even stopped being an artist.
HA Working in a studio is like gathering yourself. Going back to childhood — disengagement from all institutions and the big world. Concentrate on imagination and materials, and play. For me, it is very much related to disengagement from other people. In a sense, it feels mature and forgiving towards yourself. Older people only deal with “important” things. But, on the other hand, it is also childish. Like, you want to go to a studio to paint, a bit like a teenager, without responsibility for other people and exhibitions and bodies. Somehow it is a process of taking responsibility, taking significant actions and protesting, then giving up everything and going back to childhood, and taking responsibility only for yourself. Enjoying being yourself. Something pure.
As two people who grew up in the same country, we grew up immersed in similar images. I was interested in how people in London would react to your series Human Victim Identification (2022). Everyone talks about the works' physicality, not of violence or aggression but about the poetics of raw meat.
ISK That’s a very interesting observation. They are really related to each other. I thought a lot about the injuries I saw and my own PTSD and injuries. I did not mean for the works to look this way. That’s how it turned out. The wounds on my body started to appear psychosomatically after the war, and there were times when my skin was full of them.t is very much related to being stressed and anxious, and my mind finds an outlet through my skin. What are you working on now in your studio hideaway?
HA I am painting a ladybird. I am having fun. I got paper, paint, brushes, and I try not to ‘know what I do’, keep it a surprise even for myself. Sometimes you have to go for the big picture, which helps to focus on the right point. Curation is supposedly the big picture, and it helps me focus on my work. I feel we both came with a conciliated approach to the work process. The curation in both of us came from an urge to kick the system. We felt we were dealing with our anger about the art world through curation.
In general, the art world sees itself differently from other fields of occupation. Still, in the end, the social and economic systems that operate in the rest of the world also operate in the art world. These systems just look different. It is the same capitalistic market that seems a bit different in each variation. When you curate, you are closer to the system. The connection to the system is more evident. We must always remember that a significant part of art is money laundering and tax havens. But now is the time to forgive ourselves, to kick ourselves instead of kicking the institutions. I no longer feel angry, I understand where some decisions curators make come from. I've seen the lists of artists and understand how hard it is to do it differently. Once I understand their responsibility for the art institutions, I need to take responsibility for my own art, history and mistakes. I started Zona Mista in order to see what I wanted to see, to be able to make shows how I thought they should be. When you try a new pair of shoes and walk in them, you judge less and walk more.
I. S. Kelter - “I. S. Kalter”
On view by appointment
through March 6, 2022