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Neodomesticity – performance home of Lital Dotan

Interview by Jana Astanov.

Lital Dotan is an interdisciplinary artist, a recipient of a 2017 Brooklyn Arts Council award. Her works were exhibited internationally in venues such as the Israel Museum, National Museum Krakow, Queens Museum, The Kitchen NY among others and featured in magazines such as NY Times, Hyperallergic, NY Mag, Huffington Post, TAR Magazine and more. In 2010 she was invited to be an artist in residence at the Marina Abramovic Institute West in San-Francisco. She is the co-founder of Glasshouse art-house in Brooklyn and founder of Quesalmah performance-fashion brand. Her immersive stage play ‘Second Floor’ is planned to premiere in 2019. You can follower her on IG @dotanlital, Facebook ,visit her website and learn more about the Glasshouse project.

3:AM:How did it all start? What made you a performance artist?

Lital Dotan: I wish it were a passion for the esoteric… but the embarrassing truth is that it’s pure ideology. Performance allows me to touch people’s lives through art without mediation. I perceive it as the purest art form. Now, did I know it’s going to be so damn hard? No.

3:AM: Were there any people who influenced you in the choice of performance art? Do you have any mentors, artist you look up to?

LD: Many in my library influenced my path, I’ve also dedicated an homage performance to several artists as a gesture of gratitude. Ana Mendieta, Tracey Emin, Yoko Ono, Nan Goldin, Marina Abramovic, also – Allan Kapraw, Nils Udo, Tehching Hsieh and Ives Klein – but if there is one person who inspired me to become a performance artist that has to be Eyal, my partner. I remember when I was still thinking of myself as a photographer, although my presence was a key factor in my work, Eyal was showing me works of performance artists and we’d have these conversations of how still photography could be translated to action. Then came video performances. Then installations. Then it naturally evolved into live performance – eliminating all the matter and keeping only the gesture in space with audience. See, I started my path as an artist working with the photography medium. I was 13 and it was the pre-digital age. It involved process, understanding of light and time. Feeling what a split of a second is and transferring it to paper felt pure magic to me. The labor of translating time to matter… The smell of the dark room… When the digital camera took over I was already completing my bachelors degree in photography and this profoundly shook my belief in photography as a tool. I felt photography was emptied from process for me. With the digital shift that emerged, there was less room for experimentation with negative exposures and optics, no more dark room labour, no more experiments in chemistry on paper – no PROCESS…

 


2001 Nest in a Burnt Forest (photograph silver print)

3:AM: Glasshouse is a life long art project that is also described as ArtLifeLab. It seems to be an ever evolving installation, a display of your artwork and an environment for other artists’ work. How many Glasshouses have you created so far? Please tell me how you came up with this concept of a house / gallery / installation and how did it evolve leading to the current space?

Yes, Glasshouse did become a lifelong project, I can’t believe it’s our 12th year already and indeed it constantly changes and transforms. We’ve had 10 Glasshouse iterations already, each one intrinsically different from the other although some iterations happened without moving our space. It actually started in 2007 as a weekly live performance broadcast from my apartment, I called it a performance school for audience, because I felt at the time that people did not know how to look at performance and the intention was to create a “safe space” for myself to perform and audiences to watch. It was in many ways my studio, I got to test new ideas that later on became major themes in my work. But it was only at the end of that year that Glasshouse became that transformative entity it is today – a performance home. We opened the physical space for audiences in September 2008. I remember one day, a week or so before the opening, I was at the beach for my daily lunch break (because it all began in Tel Aviv) and I had this sentence looping in my head ”Art Should Be Experienced At A Place That Allows Staying”. I had this tingling rush, I guess I somehow knew it will change my life. I came home and wrote it on the wall and it remained our motto to this day. But originally Glasshouse happened as a counteraction. At the time I was working on a solo show at a major art gallery in Tel-Aviv. Our work was participating in art fairs, bought for museum collections, I had all this press and collectors following and I thought of myself as “on the right path to success”…  but after a meeting with the gallery director who essentially said – you are too present in your work – I realized this is not the right environment for my art to grow or be experienced. So I quit. I sent her an email… now was that “politically smart”? maybe not. But Glasshouse was born from this burst of independence. Out of the quest to create a nourishing environment for art. I remember I was reading about Tracey Emin’s “museum” at the time and started looking for a space. I was calling realtors and the prices were crazy. And then Eyal and I had this conversation and we started asking- how can we do this museum without spending any more money than we already do? And that’s how Glasshouse took over my apartment and became this domestic museum of performance. We started showing rotating exhibitions that were spread throughout the house, in the kitchen, on the bed, in the bath, and hosting live performances on a monthly basis. We started with a handful of audience, our peak was hosting thousands of visitors on a single day. The next year we opened a residency. The following year we moved to a storefront where the art and our lives were happening behind a large glass window viewable from the street. And it keeps evolving, expanding and contracting as it needs. I sometimes see it as a pulse.

 


2018 Suspense (Rear Window Performance Series at Glasshouse

3:AM: One of the Glasshouses was created as part of Marina Abramovic residency program in San Francisco, what was your experience of working with her and what’s your relation with the grandmother of performance art?  

I met Marina right before her MoMa show. Her work was obviously a huge inspiration for me and we first met when she visited Glasshouse in Tel Aviv in late 2009. We had a long conversation about performance and the role of the artist and she ended up inviting us over for the residency. Looking back I feel privileged to have known her before that show, when she was still Marina Abramovic the artist and not a synonym of performance. She always says she left that show transformed. So during the residency that started a couple of months after the MoMa show – when she was still healing from that powerful experience, physically and mentally – she wasn’t present. We had beautiful conversations though, some are in our book The Glasshouse – In Retrospective that chronicles the first 7 iterations of Glasshouse. That residency in San Francisco, 3 months of Glasshouse in a storefront art institute, ended up being transformative for myself and for Glasshouse, instigating our move to the United States.

 


2010 Daily Routine Marina Abramovic Institute

3:AM: What was the concept behind your last year performance series at Glasshouse “Wednesdays weekly live performance broadcasts”? Do you always create a yearly theme for your work? What can we expect from the current project entitled “Rear window”?

‘Wednesdays’ opened our 11th year doing Glasshouse and it was a tribute to the first year which was named ‘Tuesdays’. So in a way we were saying – 10 years have passed but it sometimes feel like a day… so similar to the first year in 2007, Wednesdays performances rotated between four domestic spaces of the Glasshouse – living room, kitchen, bath and bed – each week explored different angles on practicing, hosting, teaching and learning performance. The main difference was that when ‘Wednesdays’ started I was already 5 months pregnant with my twin daughters… So this series was trying to maintain a structure of “business as usual” while I knew everything was changing… There were some weeks I was so huge I couldn’t move and only got out of bed for the performance… This conversation started, in the bathtub when we were both carrying a very advanced pregnancy, I actually gave birth the following week on a Wednesday! The week after delivery I was in such pain I could barely stand, but still hosted Esther Neff in our kitchen… some weeks the babies were crying nonstop and my guests were (mostly) understanding… Meeting artists on a weekly basis, discussing their work in my bathtub, or walking through the method of performance in the kitchen – in many ways Wednesdays was my anchor during that transformative year of pregnancy and early motherhood.

And yes we usually have a yearly theme, it helps us maintain a structure but also explore ideas thoroughly. In many ways the themes for Glasshouse are an expansion of my own practice: when I explore new ideas and approaches to performance I invite other artists and scholars to explore these themes as well. So there is my own practice on one hand and there is its expansion and pulse which is Glasshouse. That way ‘Edible Bodies’ in 2017 followed my ‘A Folded Storm’ immersive dinner performance series, or ‘Plays of Domesticity’ in 2015 which focused on theater for a domestic setting was an expansion of my work translating a performance to a stage play named ‘Second Floor’… This year’s series ‘Rear Window’ is also an evolution of ‘Second Floor’- my last performance at MAI in which audience were located across the street of the performance, watching it through a window. That performance ended up very traumatic with me being raped and the audience did nothing to stop it. Let’s say it’s still an open wound in many ways, a lot of my work is derived from this performance and its consequences. Actually this past year with the #metoo movement and the current #whyididntreport it feels relevant in different ways. I really wish my play ‘Second Floor’ finds a home to be produced at.

In the ‘Rear Window’ series audience is located in our backyard watching the performances that happen inside the house, potentially while the babies are sleeping… we try to find ways to maintain our hosting practice while considering the babies’ needs. The first performance in the series was my work ‘Suspense’ in which I created a dress and hovered in the house.

 


2017 Wednesdays (performance broadcast series)

3:AM: I want to ask you about the phrase “hovering at low altitude”, is it an action, performance piece or a concept for bodily cocoons?

‘Hovering at Low Altitude’ is one of my favorites. I’ve had many iterations of it so far – as a video performance, as live performances, as actions and also as a daily routine during the residency at MAI. It is named after a beautiful poem by Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch. In the 2010 video performance it was a metaphor to the state of living in Israel, to how experienced life there. It was also my last major piece before relocating to the States. The principle is that I stand on an elevated platform and create a dress from a fabric that is hung from above. When the dress is ready I kick or jump off the platform (in South Africa it was a white horse) and I’m left hanging. Usually it’s a very difficult moment, because although I know I’m not going to die there’s something with the action of kicking the surface I stand on that is frightening. I always lose a heartbeat at that moment. The hovering usually happens very close to the ground, because the fabric stretches from my weight, then my face reaches the surface – thorns or water or floor – whatever it is… and it becomes a struggle of getting out of the state, of hovering. Usually the hovering part is short, it’s a lot of work to get there and a lot of work to get out of there.

 


2010 Hovering At Low Altitude (video)

3:AM: You divide your work into ephemeral, environments (living, moving and bed environments), objects (such as performance sculptures) and mechanism (of dressing, hosting and dining) are there any common themes within these divisions?

These divisions are an attempt to organize over 20 years of doing and thinking performance, because all these different approaches to performance are branching from a single trunk. It’s all part of the same vocabulary. It’s not the only way the works could be arranged obviously but it traces my thematic thinking. Because in my work performance can be a live event but it could also be an environment like Glasshouse or a mechanism like my one-to-one dressmaking label Que sal mah, or an archive like the play Second Floor… These are all different approaches to the principle of performance but I see them as one.

3:AM: How did dressmaking become a part of your artistic practice?

It started in 2007 as almost a natural evolution – to be aware of everything I wear as performance, to make sure my body carries performance wherever I go. But it wasn’t fully intentional. I was working on a video piece that attempts to create a ritual based on that basic thing we do every day which is getting dressed. Because I had a problem with the clothes sold in stores, they always felt foreign. Does it ever happen to you? So I invented this ritual of dressmaking and we shot a beautiful video which was never shown because it was supposed to be part of that solo show in 2007 that was “shelved”… Then I had all these fabrics left from the video and I felt so good wearing them. Just tying and knotting them in a different way everyday. And it became the only thing I wear. It actually started the same year as Glasshouse and I made the same mistake of not setting a duration for a project so it continues… I’m not gonna make the same mistake again! Over time it ended up being a whole fashion label because people loved it and told me it would be a hit… another big mistake! The fashion world is not for me… But it still exists as a modest fashion label, on demand. And every year I create a new collection. 7 dresses, one for every day of the week. Last year was focused on maternity, this year’s collection is for nursing moms. It all happens very naturally now… No stress around it.

 


2015 Que sal mah (website link)

3:AM: What are some of your favourite past projects?

With my own work it’s hard to identify because it all connects and I can’t separate one work from another… but if you’re talking of Glasshouse’s projects – each year I’m in love with the project we’re currently working on, but I can say I’m especially proud of the Neo Domesticity Performance Art Festival which happened last year. It was 100 consecutive hours of durational performances by 50 artists all happening at Glasshouse. It was such a powerful experience to organize and witness all of it, I was so proud of the performance community here.

3:AM: Your creative relationship with Eyal Perry seems symbiotic, the Glasshouse is your joint creation, is it the same for all your performance art work?

It’s a good question. We’ve had several phases in our creative collaboration because it’s been 20 years already and we are also life partners now and raise our twin daughters together. At the beginning it was almost inseparable because there was only art… over the years my focus on performance became so deep that it sometimes took directions that felt foreign to Eyal, because his medium is photography. So for a while he detached himself from the work, but he was always responsible for the visual documentation of it all. He is basically our archive. And he is obviously a part of everything because he is my best friend and soulmate but we don’t feel the need to sign on everything together, especially when the work has my distinct personal voice.

3:AM: In a recent interview Marina Abramović expressed her opinion on having children, according to her having kids is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. She said: “There’s plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that.” How did becoming a mother influence your work?  

Yea Marina always said she is not a feminist…. Artists like Marina or Tracey Emin have expressed similar ideas lately about motherhood. I respect women’s choice whatever it is but we live in a different world now. I don’t feel any need to compromise an inch of myself to be a great artist. On the contrary… After a long time of stress around becoming a mother because, hey it wasn’t easy for me! And for a while my ovaries took over and all I could think of was babybaby. Now I feel this sense of liberation – I’m not pregnant, I don’t intend to be pregnant again, and my body is back to be my canvas.

 


2017 Last Hug (Childhood)

3:AM: One of your performance is called Daily Routine? What is your current daily routine? Is there any time for artistic practice while raising two baby girls?

The daily routine is actually not a performance but a way to give a structure to the daily. In a way its my studio practice. Obviously the first few months after giving birth to twins I had no daily routine for myself, hack, there were days I didn’t have time to make my food and found myself eating whatever from the fridge, days I didn’t shower… It wasn’t pretty at first because there was no nanny at sight. Now I slowly let go and give in to the whole nanny concept… and the daily routine gradually rebuilds itself.

 


2012 I Am Not Resisting – Homage To Ana Mendieta

3:AM: You often create homage performances what’s yours process and concept behind those?

The Homage performances are to me a way to learn collectively from past works. In 2008, when I started the homage series at Glasshouse I was focused on exploring iconic participatory performances such as VALIE EXPORT’s ‘Tap and Touch Cinema’, Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ and Marina Abramovic’s ‘Rythm 0’. When I perform these pieces myself I mostly observe, looking at people’s eyes as they approach me, listening to them breath, it’s my way to learn these artists works but also learn about human nature in the time and place I’m at. When we opened Glasshouse in Brooklyn in 2012 we started a monthly Homage performance series, and it was a collective attempt to pay tribute to artists I felt shaped the way we think about performance art. I love this homage series. Whenever I teach workshops about performance I always incorporate the notion of homage because in my eyes it’s the only way to really learn a work. Just doing it.

The last time I did an homage was at The Kitchen during the Emergency Index Launch. I chose to revisit my homage to Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ when I’m 7 months pregnant. I was curious to see if my advanced pregnancy would change how people approach me; how I can trust strangers as they approach when I’m the most vulnerable.

 


2017 Homage Performance To Yoko Ono at The Kitchen

3:AM: I remember well that performance, I was glad you held a brush in your hand as an alteration of Yoko Ono’s piece and an opinion to gently brush your hair rather than cut a dress on your pregnant body… I am curious what you experienced in contact with the audience?  

Regarding ‘Probably Asking For It’ the Homage to Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’, it’s a good question because this piece has been always for me  about the audience. About choosing to come forward and get closer, daring to act, choosing between the hair brush and the scissors… I’ve done it several times in Tel Aviv and it was always very dramatic but in San Francisco this performance became very intense. There was a real “battle” between those who chose to cut the dress and those who chose to mend. At one point a participant stole the scissors. People chased her and she had to be convinced to bring it back… Then an audience member cut my hair. She was female by the way… Then another one approached, grabbed my entire hair and was about to scalp me or something until Eyal screamed and she stopped. She was so offended, said it’s not art if she can’t act freely… anyway the performance lasted 4 hours and ended when the dress was gone. So there was already a personal history for this homage when I performed that last iteration carrying advanced pregnancy. At the time I felt the influence my pregnancy has on people, it really softened my experience of society. So I was interested how this performance that in the past became so violent would unfold. My dress was handwritten with sentences extracted from philosophy books in my library. It was an invitation to come closer, take time to read, not only act.. But if we’re talking about my experience of that performance – I try not to come with expectations to participatory performances. I never judge audience for their choices, I only observe. My motto is that whatever happens in a performance is the performance.

3:AM: What’s your current reading list?

My current book is ‘The Way of Tea’ which talks about the lifelong refinement of becoming a master of tea. It’s interesting how in many ways the ‘Teaism’ ideas about life and art align with how I feel about Glasshouse and performance. It’s a lifelong process full of imperfections.

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

I guess there could be two aspects to my answer – one has to do with the role of the artist as a community generator and I hope Glasshouse serves as a model for younger artists to create a true counterculture, especially from the domestic sphere. The other has to do with acknowledging other artists – I know that in my work I keep pushing the physical and theoretical boundaries of performance, but I see a crucial significance in paying homage to the works and artists that inspire my process, because performance is so elusive, it’s an instance, it could vanish from memory if not tended carefully.

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 7th, 2018.