Gili Avissar and “Art to Wear”

Gili Avissar
“Art to Wear”

Hello Gili, thank you for your time. We are pleased to have you in Nouvel Organon magazine. How are you?

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to take part in the Nouvel Organon Interviews. We met in Paris in 2013 while I was at the Cite des Arts, and I’m happy that we’ve stayed in touch. It was really great, I miss it!

You came back from USA not long ago. What was good for you there?

I was mainly in Miami, at the Fountainhead Artist Residency, which is run by Kathryn and Dan Mikesell. It’s a very intimate residency, with three artists from different parts of the world living together for one month. It was interesting to get to know the local scene and its artists. While it is a little like Tel Aviv, because of the ocean, it is so much bigger, with a lot of art and a collectors’ scene as well. I took a brief trip to NY to have a more extensive glimpse of the art scene. It was a bit hysterical to experience “everything” in five days. What stuck in my head was a great show in the New Museum by Nari Ward, and in Miami there was a great show by Judy Chicago at the ICA.

Not long ago you had a residency in Novi Sad as well. How was that?

I loved staying at Novi Sad, it had the nicest people I ever met! It’s a small city. I took a few trips to Belgrade. I was mostly interested in the crafts they make, which I felt influenced my latest works. I don’t know how to weave, but my last works looked as if they were woven. I think it is mainly because of my trip there. As always, I met the most interesting people only on the last day. Since I was mostly by myself I did all the arty stuff, and I went to a ski resort, skiing for the first time.

I have this feeling that art is the very solitary job, despite the fact you are surrounded by others. How you see art as a job?

For the last 10 years, I’ve shared my studio with a colleague, the artist Oz Mallul. We work in different mediums, but we keep each other company. In my working process, I need to be by myself very much, since I explore the works in connection with my body. But during the process of creating the objects, I need to have someone else’s company, which gives me motivation and keeps me active.

How is it to be back in Tel Aviv?

Tel Aviv is my home, so it is always nice to come back.

How did art come into your life ,or how did you come to art?

I wanted to be a fashion designer. At age 15 I sent Vogue a letter asking them to hire me. They responded by saying I should study first. A year later I went to a fashion high school to study design. I realized there that what I create is more art than clothing. Still, what I really love is sewing, discovering new shapes, and creating new patterns.

After high school I went to the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in art.

It is interesting that many people see fashion as art. Would you agree to that? And what is your opinion about the relation between art and fashion?

I totally agree that fashion can be art, as almost everything else can be art.

For me art is the thing that is never the thing but it communicates with and has a connection to it. I like the feeling of not fully understanding what I see or what I do on a rational and conscious level.

For me, fashion, art, or architecture are just categories, it doesn’t really matter in which medium one works.

Can you please tell us more about ‘almost everything else can be art.” What brought you to this conclusion?

For me art is like pointing toward something. In that sense, art can be everywhere. In the last few days I had to stay in the hospital due to family matters. Although the situation was bad, my brain finds art in everything that surrounds us.

Can you tell us more about your art practice?

The things that excite me the most are surprises and mistakes that happen in my daily practice in the studio.

My daily routine can be quite mundane. I go to my studio very early in the morning and for eight hours I immerse myself in work, inventing my own daily mission to be accomplished. I immediately start working; I like to discover things, less so to conceptualize about what I am going to do. If I don’t like something I’ve already sewn, I know it can be either cut or detached. I usually prefer to see if my ideas are good by carrying them out, not by thinking about them first.

In many ways my work is about creating worlds, to borrow a term from the fashion world. I like the way my works are changing in time like seasons’ collections.

I also keep my works in a state of change; while I add more materials I also recycle my old works into new ones.

Why textiles?

I came to textiles through my love of fashion, and as I’ve found out that there are endless possibilities I could explore with material. I like how organic and versatile it can be, permitting me to shape and sew it in endless ways. It is also very easy to transport and fold – even my bigger pieces don’t take up much space in my studio after the moment I am done with them.

Textiles allow me to be very playful, as though there are no rules. And it is important for me to keep the playfulness alive, an ongoing expedition towards the next discovery.

On a more personal level, when I was young I used to visit my grandma. In her closet there were two fabrics with different patterns: one gold and one purple. They were much larger than my size, so I wrapped myself in them, covered my body, and took on all the other forms I could be. I still act in the same way in my studio; working with large pieces and creating a new mess.

Is your studio in Tel Aviv?

Yes. As Tel Aviv is my home, I can’t keep my studio too far away. My studio is a bomb shelter that the Tel Aviv municipality rents out to artists cheaply for 6 years. The deal is that when war breaks out the artists must pack all of their stuff and evacuate their shelters within four hours. This happened last four years ago.

My six years have now passed and I need to find a new studio. It’s going to be difficult, since prices are crazy in Tel Aviv and it will be impossible for me to rent a place that isn’t subsidized. I really haven’t figured out what to do yet.

In fact, how does it feel to be living in a country in permanent conflict? How does it impact your everyday life?

It has been my reality since I was born. It is hard for me to compare it to other realities. Only when coming back after a long period aboard do I realize the stress that the government and the news provoke. In the morning, the newspaper talks about impending war, and in the evening about imminent peace, and this repeats itself on a daily basis. I gave up on trying to figure out what’s going on. I think the politicians and the media aim to keep everyone confused and sick. I don’t believe in politics and I think most people are in it for the money and power, so that there is no one to trust and no leader to follow.

What kind of reactions have you had to your work? How would you like people to react to it?

For me the pieces are very intimate. Seeing others’ reactions is something I take very personally. I feel like the works are another layer of my skin, wrapping my body. Many times, when I have an exhibition, this intimate feeling transforms into what the viewer perceives as something big and colorful. On the one hand, to make something that is spectacular, and on the other hand, this something is intimate and takes time to get into.

Like a spider that spins its web, I want to arouse the curiosity of the viewer with colors, and only later come the details, stories, and an intimate environment that is beyond beautiful colors.

How does your work engage with social and political issues? And do you think it’s necessary for art to do so?

I deal with these two questions on a daily basis but don’t have many answers.

I grew up and live in a place that is a conflict zone, and in many ways you get to feel that the conflict is normal. People grow many protective layers in order to survive such a reality.

Over the years, I’ve mostly felt that my works are apolitical because politics in this area is usually concentrated on the Jewish-Arab conflict. When I was a student in Jerusalem, the conflict has been very tangible as the city is deeply polarized between conflicting populations, and those were the days of the aftermath of the second Intifadeh. I had a very immediate, gut-felt reaction to that, so it deeply influenced my art at the time. In later years I came to feel that, paradoxically, direct political art mostly legitimizes the situation in a new way; it’s like cleansing your guilty soul but its effect is very limited. It doesn’t reach the audience it really needs to reach, since the art world in general is so pluralistic and accepting, at least allegedly.

Lately I’ve realized that even while I don’t deal with the national conflict in my art as an explicit subject, I nonetheless deal with the conflict in my soul and my body. The personal iterations of conflict are much more at hand. I believe these are different levels of the same phenomenon – the personal and the social reflect and fuel each other.

Are you represented by a gallery or you are a solo player? If you are, how does it work? If you are not, do you struggle with everyday administration, things that need to be done to keep your practice going?

I am represented in Tel Aviv by Parasite, which is a very open structure and has no gallery space of its own.

It’s good for me to have this personal/professional connection and still be in charge of every aspect of my career. Art is an around-the-clock vocation, and after working for the whole day in the studio, you still need to apply for grants and so on. I like it.

What are your future plans, if any?

I will have exhibitions in Berlin, Miami, and Brno this summer, so for now I have extremely long days in my studio.

This interview was made 3 days before airstrike on Tel Aviv. Gili Avissar had to leave his studio again.

Good luck Gili and thank you, xx

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www.giliavissar.com