Installation view of Red Winged Black Bird (detail), 2009 by Efrat Klipshtien
A few days after the opening of her SPACES installation, Red Winged Black Bird, SWAP artist Efrat Klipshtien talked with arts writer Eleanor LeBeau. Klipshtien works as a graphic designer and tour guide at Israel Zoo and Safari in Tel Aviv;her artwork is based on plants, animals and geography. Red Winged Black Bird is a magical environment that conflates plant and animal life, and is simultaneously lunar, earthly and aquatic. Black, glossy cone-shaped sculptures that sprout from the gallery floor suggest termite hills, stalagmites, coral"or even mold colonies, as viewed under a microscope. Etchings on green metallic paper of seaweed-like plants with long, feathery tendrils loop and sway in an underwater current, or are they an undiscovered fern species reaching for the suns rays? The terms (and binaries) we use to define things in the natural world collapse in Red Winged Black Bird, where everything is emergent and indeterminate.
On April 11 you introduced yourself to the community with a lecture about your work and a performance. Please tell me about the performance.
The dance performance was connected to my lecture and was about changing the moment or the situation from everyday [life] to an atmosphere of magic, music and dances. There were eight to 10 dancers from Viva Club [the Viva Dance! Studio in Cleveland] and I think from other clubs in the area. They were part of the audience; they sat and listened to the lecture like everybody else. When I finished my lecture, an Announcer stood up"he was also part of the audience"and said, Thank you for comingNow we will start the Ballroom He was the change between the lecture and the ballroom [the beginning of the performance]. And when he did it, a band at the back of the stage started playing swing music. The dancers [in the audience] stood up and moved to a big dance stage and started dancing. All the other people were surprised because they didnt expect anything and they wanted to go home. So, in the beginning the audience just watched the dancers. The lights were changed from stark fluorescent to a warm light. When the first dance finished, the dancers invited people in the audience to dance. Everyone started dancing. It was magic.
So the audience became participants. How many people were in the real audience?
About sixty. When people arrived for the lecture, we took their names. After the Announcer gave his statement, the band started to play and the dancers started to dance, and he started calling the names [of each person in the audience]; it took him something like fifteen minutes to read all the names loudly, clearly and slowly. When he finished saying the names of all the visitors, the fact that they were in the space"this is what makes the magic. When he finished reading the names, the performance was finished. The music stopped; the stark lights came back on back on; the band left the stage; and the dancers changed their shoes. He [the Announcer] gave the time; he was the rhythm.
Tell me about Red Winged Black Bird.
Red-winged blackbirds were one of the first birds I noticed here in the area. When I asked someone the name, it sounded like Red Winged Black Bird. I didnt know there was a hyphen [in red-winged], and I didnt know blackbird was one word. So it [the birds name] sounded like a poem, like haiku. It set a scene for me. And when I worked on my exhibition, to me the poem fit the atmosphere of my space.
How did the installation evolve?
Usually the things that interest me, or move me, are the materials that I am working with. They like to lead me to a sculpture or an installation. I try to listen to them, to go with them, and not try to fight them. So I was working with plaster and made the black sculptures and the green ones, and when they stood in the studio, in this environment, they reminded me of nature. It doesnt matter what the material is, Im always making nature, or I am talking about nature.
How did you decide what materials you would use for your SPACES project?
I started working with the same materials here that I was working with at my house for the last three or four months. Ive wanted to learn more about plaster and stretch the material. I had a bigger studio here and wanted to experiment.
How did the black and green sculptures in your installation emerge?
[Gently laughs.] I really dont know. I just know sometimes I have the figure or the shape in my mind and I look for the material to make it come true in a way that will interest me. I work with the plaster, and I discovered that I can work with it in a different way. I discovered that I can push plaster and use it as a soft material that you can capture, because usually plaster is used for very functional things like building houses. So here I took plaster to the poetic side of things.
How did you achieve the icing-like effects on the green sculptures?
I added glue to the plaster and it became more flexible, and I pushed the plaster through the pastry bags you use for decorating cakes. I had to be really patient, and it took a lot of time-one drop next to each other.
How did you make the squiggly red forms that seem to be emerging from, or boring into, the green sculptures?
Those are glass. I made them in Israel and brought them with me. I made them by working with glass in the same way [that I worked with the plaster on the green sculptures]. I didnt know what I was going to do with the red glass when I brought it, but I wanted to bring a few things with me from my studio in Israel.
Can you talk about the etchings mounted on the walls?
The paper has a [top] layer of green metal material. I discovered that if you are very, very careful, and scrape very gently, theres a silver layer under the green layer, and under the silver layer is white paper. So if you use a very sharp knife, you can use the green or the silver or the white layers [in the etching]. I played with it for fun.
How would you describe Red Winged Black Bird?
[Pauses.] As a creation of a landscape, or nature, or a garden. Those associations, I think, can describe this exhibition.
I used available glamour. Like shiny black paint [for the cone-shaped sculptures] and metal green [for the etchings] and aluminum foil [for the branch-like sculptures]. This simple glamour"its not cheap glamour. Im not using the right words in English, you must forgive me. If you would speak in Hebrew, it [our conversation] would be more sophisticated, my ideas would be sharper, because it is hard to discuss these concepts in English.
I understand. It must be a challenge to discuss abstract concepts in a second language.
Its interesting, because the first association you have with glamour isnt nature. Nature has glamour, but most of it is connected to animals, not flowers and trees. Like in the sea there are shiny things, but not silver shiny. The peacock is shiny, but he does not have silver in his tail. He is shiny but not like aluminum foil. I bring the connection between materials that are shiny in an artificial way and nature. These shiny materials are connected with dream or fantasy"this is the connection. In the work, I never used wood or anything real from nature. I dont use very complicate materials in my work. I use things that you can find everyday"paper, plaster, aluminum foil, paper clips, the kind of modeling clay that kids use. My point is to find the glamour and magic in everything"in the things we use everyday.
Is your SPACES installation a response in any way to your experience in Cleveland?
No, I dont think so. I started working on it a very short time after I arrived [on March 30]. I dont think this exhibition is reacting to the area, except maybe the materials. I used local materials, like the roofing tiles for the floor [of the installation]. We dont have those materials in Israel. I liked it because it looked like asphalt, like a street. It has a texture and its something you want to touch. At first people wonde
Installation view of Red Winged Black Bird (detail), 2009 by Efrat Klipshtien