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>> Portrait Cornelia Parker
>> Gerard Byrne: The world is a stage
>> Annelies Strba: Idyllic Worlds
>> Interview: Yehudit Sasportas

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"I’ve always inhabited two worlds"
A Conversation with Yehudit Sasportas

Her drawings look as though Caspar David Friedrich’s landscape paintings had been converted into a modern, high-tech form. Lonely stretches of woods, huge dead trees, and snowy mountain ranges are drawn in precise filigree lines, reflected in murky waters, or covered in grids that recall the bar codes of product packaging. At first glance, the works of Yehudit Sasportas oscillate between nature and architecture, ecological catastrophe and romantic utopia. Yet in reality, the 36-year-old Israeli artist is not interested in reproducing nature, but in creating a topography of the human psyche, an existential investigation of the depths of the subconscious that affect our perception of reality. Over the past ten years, Sasportas has developed a sophisticated sign system in which autobiographical material is crossbred with analytical Minimalist structures. The results are drawings, paintings, and installations that function like psychological spaces the viewer can enter into both mentally and physically. Sasportas is currently creating a work for the Israeli Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Andrea Scrima visited the artist in her Berlin studio and talked to her about postmodernism, childhood memories, and hybrid organisms.

Yehudit Sasportas
Photo: Yehudit Sasportas

Andrea Scrima: You used to travel back and forth frequently between Germany and Israel; these days you still keep a studio in Tel Aviv, but spend most of your time in Berlin. Has living here changed the way you make art?

Yehudit Sasportas: The move here was a good decision. Tel Aviv is one of the most intense places I know. It’s like a car that runs so fast that it sometimes loses its connection to the ground. Here, I touch down. I can delve so much more deeply into my work. In Israel, the sun is intense from the moment it rises, while in Berlin, there’s hardly any light in the wintertime at all. It’s like two different systems: the light here in December is amazing. It influences your metabolism, your whole body. This creates a different kind of energy that can be very conducive to making art, to contemplation. I find myself investigating some very basic questions of drawing here. In Israel, the energy is very high due to the intensity of the light and the structure of everyday life; it casts things into high relief, and my drawings tend to be more black and white, more conceptual. In Berlin, I allowed my work to become softer, more reflective; I’ve noticed the appearance of a whole new spectrum of greys in the work.

Yehudit Sasportas
"The Ink Rain", 2006
Deutsche Bank Collection

You’re currently working on your contribution to the Israeli Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The sculptural and architectural elements are being built in Israel, while you’re working on the other parts of your installation here in Berlin. Does this moving back and forth between two different locations affect the development of the work?

It forces me to focus on the work in a very particular way. It’s a matter of keeping all these disparate elements of a single installation connected in my mind and together on a single page, as it were. But it also allows me to view things from a multitude of perspectives. It’s a working process that reflects a basic split in my way of thinking, like a co-existence of two voices in a single person. And I think that living in two different places supports this split in a productive way.

Yehudit Sasportas
"The Shadow's Wall", 2006
courtesy Galerie EIGEN+ART Leipzig/Berlin

When you begin exhibiting widely, you have to travel quite a bit to look at the spaces you’re working with. But while you’re thinking about your projects, you’re always somehow anxious to get back to the studio. It became an almost philosophical question for me: how to remain active on the international exhibition circuit and still retain the original aura of the work. Actually, the main part of my work resides in the craft: it’s manual; everything is handmade. And so when I began working with a 3-D program to assist me in developing a virtual concept for an exhibition space, this sudden introduction of technology was amazing. I use the software as an initial instrument to view my designs from above, to feel out the basic properties of things. For instance, after I went to see the pavilion in Venice, we created a 3-D model of the exhibition space on the computer. Then I started making small models of my artworks that I felt would be appropriate to the space; these were the outcome of a very intuitive process.

The Guardians of the Threshold, your installation for the Israeli Pavilion, consists of a complex arrangement of sculptures, projections, and paintings mounted onto sliding panels. These architectural elements enter into a dialogue with the building’s modernist architecture; at the same time, they suggest a malleability of basic concepts of space, an inversion of inside and outside, of continuousness and discontinuousness. Could you explain some of the concepts behind this work?

The pavilion is a Bauhaus building from the fifties designed by Zeev and Yaacov Rechter, two famous Israeli architects and father and son. There are three floors in the pavilion; the walls will be painted a deep blue, creating a dramatic atmosphere that is further enhanced by a sound piece. The installation’s components interact with the architecture in such a way as to subvert clear categories of entry and exit, interior and exterior. On the second floor, for instance, there will be a gate six meters wide bearing movable doors on wheels; paintings are mounted on sliding panels that essentially open onto nothing. Adjacent to this is a projection depicting a window with a landscape outside. It’s a vertical landscape, like a Caspar David Friedrich painting, but the light isn’t actually coming from anywhere; it’s an illusion. And this illusion is very important for the work; the source of this light is another emptiness. The window projection depicts a swamp in the very early morning, a little foggy. The image is ambiguous: it could be the first morning after an ecological catastrophe or war, but it could also be a very beautiful utopia. My drawings and paintings often deal with two realities existing simultaneously. Conceptually, it’s like an ellipse; there are two centers to the work: nature and architecture. Both function as psychological spaces, structures of the inner self.

Yehudit Sasportas
"Koudin", 2006
Deutsche Bank Collection

It’s like the thin line between the reflection and the "reality" in the upper part of your pictures: there’s always this invisible division, as in Koudin, your diptych from 2006 that was recently acquired for the Deutsche Bank Collection.

The relationship between the conscious mind and the subconscious is a major motif in my drawings. I deal a lot with the roots of things, the unconscious: all the wounds, hidden feelings, and memories that surface from time to time, like another reality existing all the while beneath you, another person controlling your behavior without your knowledge. The unconscious creates a kind of a filter through which you perceive reality. If you had a constant stain on your glasses, it would be superimposed everything you’d see – until you discovered the origin of the stain.

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