Nothing is more powerful than the transmission of signals from one human to another. Language, music, and the arts are only a few methods we use to perform in this system, we call communication. But, the Israeli Brooklyn-based artist Ofri Cnaani employs several mediums – often at once – to create a hybrid of translatable narratives that both play on the viewer’s perspective and beckon his or her interpretation.
In her 2011 mixed media installation, The Sota Project, Cnaani covered the walls of a rectangular room with 10 connected projectors, each with different scenes. But, the scenes were all part of the same spacial narrative, which Cnaani constructed out of her own interpretation of an ancient and controversial Talmudic tale. But, each viewer saw something unique, as they had to choose between several points of focus throughout the narrative. The viewer’s position in the rectangular room often impacted his or her decision. This interactive feature formed quite literally the viewer’s interpretation. This key word, which floats between many worlds, including art and psychology, nearly bloomed into life in the Sota rectangle, which was, after all Cnaani’s re-interpretation of an ancient text written about two women, but historically interpreted by only men.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Ofri Cnaani on the phone about her latest project, Yes, Yes, Yes, which explores – through a guided tour of female ecstasy – the relationship between pleasure and creativity, as translates, say, between a typewriter and an image or a computer and a piano.
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Rena Silverman: You produce art through a lot of different mediums. How are you able to work with so many parallel tracks?
Ofri Cnaani: I work in different mediums and produce different bodies of work, but they relate to each other in terms of subject matter. I often think about these projects at same time, but in the end, they appear different. The Sota Project, which is a large scale video installation that reenact a controversial story from the Talmud, took five years to make —from working with the story from the Talmud, to writing script with the collaborator, to funding the project—but I had other, shorter projects going on at the same time, like my cyanotypes or drawings. These are much more tangible and related to the studio.
RS: In a way these mediums reflect the space you use to make them. Spatial awareness is an important part of your work. I wonder if you could talk about how you use space to explore reality and perspective?
OC: We assume we know space. We assume we know reality. We assume we know our way around. But, we only know it from our own perspectives. We rarely see the world from underneath. And when we do see the world from a lower point, we suddenly cannot access that familiar reality we though we knew. The physical space translates very quickly to a psychological space. I built a large installation from translucent material [Patrol (2003)] where I showed images below, that were projected them from above. It was a claustrophobic space, a reality from the footsteps’ perspective. It is very interesting to see those kinds of transformations, when a chair is reduced to just four dots where the legs touch the floor.
RS: How does using a projector help express that reality?
OC: Like translation there is so much space in between the medias, related to time, a moving object, or the way it’s been produced. The spatial projections are actually similar to what I do and when I work with cyanotypes and engravings. The results may look different, but the concept is very similar. When I work with cyanotypes, I place three dimensional objects and sometime my own body on a paper coated with a UV sensitive material. Although this is a photography process without camera, when I’m imprinting my own body, to create double exposures. I put myself down, then I come up. Then I go to other side of that same sheet of paper and do it again. The making of it has a it has a time-based process, just like performance and like the projections. To me, projections and cyanotypes are the same. They are both about objects and the way we think we know our way around physical word, which always seems to prove that there is a gap between what we know and how we perceive it.
RS: You often speak about your work in psychological terms. Can you explain why that is?
OC: Psychoanalysis is a language for me and I often think of my projects- from subject matters to working methods- using this terminology. My new work, Yes, Yes, Yes, is a journey following ecstasy, the history of ecstasy, the way to reach it, and the fantasy of creating it. It is a performance that takes the form of a guided tour (I used to do the Hebrew tours in Chelsea). I’m interested in the meeting point between body and mind in the moment of the heights of emotions and so for this project I looked at the documented history of ecstasy through the stories of six eccentric female characters. There are stations, each one comes with a character and his or her own story, which always unfolds into a more complex story, since ecstasy as a philosophical idea means being out of one’s self. Each person is presented by one audio-visual machine. Each of the audiovisual machines are performing different translations, from one language to the other. So far, I have a typewriter that is connected to a series of images. Every time I type, an image is projected. [Laughs.] It’s the only time I can type without typos, finally! Another machine translates information from a computer to a piano, so it produces music of chance. There are 6 of these machines and 6 minutes on each station. Each character uses one of those machines. The characters are all different. There is an OCD banker and Bernini’s Teresa.
RS: What happens with Teresa?
OC: A lot has been written about her lips, the fact that they are open in the sculpture . She is experiencing ecstasy, religious ecstasy, but in my presentation, I connect her lips to different elements. You need but go to Rome and see the statue by Bernini to immediately understand that she’s coming. There is no doubt about it. I hope to compare Teresa’s open lips to a 1933 Czech film titled Ekstase which dated to the first time female orgasm is shown on the big screen. all what we see is the her face and open lips. from there I’m going to Australian website called Beautiful Agony, where people take videos of themselves having orgasms, but they only show their faces, no body or anything. This worked well with Teresa’s open lips.
RS: You seem to integrate humor into your work. How delightful and rare! Can you tell me about this?
OC: I had two kids in the past five years. Becoming a mom added a lot of playfulness to my work. You have a few channels in your life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m heavily invested in my work, but not in a way that is kind of ridiculous.
Cnaani will premiere Yes, Yes, Yes on November 17th at Princeton University.
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About Ofri Cnaani
Ofri Cnaani (b. Israel, 1975) lives in New York and works in time-based media, and large-scale installations. Ofri Cnaani graduated from Hunter College’s MFA studio program in 2004. Recent projects include a large-scale commission to create 10 site-specific video installations relating to the architecture of 10 museums of contemporary art in Italy. Solo exhibitions / performances include: PS1/MoMA, NYC; Twister, Network of Lombardy Contemporary Art Museums, Italy; Andrea Meislin Gallery, NYC; Braverman Gallery, Tel Aviv; Pack Gallery, Milan; Haifa Museum of Art, Israel; Herzlyia Museum of Art, Israel. Group exhibitions include: Moscow Biennial; The Kitchen, NYC; Bronx Museum of the Arts, NYC; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Arnolfini Foundation Museum, Bristol, UK; Tel Aviv Museum; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Prague Triennale.
Born in Israel, 1975. Lives and works in New York.
2002-2004 MFA, Hunter College Art School, New York
1997-2000 BFA, Beit-Berel College – School of Art, Israel Magna Cum Laude.
The Sota Project, Fisher Museum of art at USC, Los Angeles (forthcoming)
The Sota Project, Macro Museum, Rome, Italy(forthcoming)
Special Effects, Andrea Meislin Gallery, NYC.
Public Notice: An Exhausted Film, BMW GUGGENHEIM LAB, NYC
performance by Ofri Cnaani, Cheryl Kaplan and Kathryn Alexander
The Sota Project, Rothschild 96, Tel Aviv
The Sota Project, Kunsthalle Galapagos, Brooklyn, NY
Three Acts of Betrayal, lecture- performance by Ofri Cnaani and Hadas Cohen, Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, NYC.
The Vanishing Woman, Live-cinema performance at PS1/ MoMA(as part as Greater New York performance program), NYC
Manja, The Bialik House, Tel-Aviv, Israel
Twister, Network of Lombardy Contemporary Art Museums (10 sites in 10 different museums), Italy.
Ofri Cnaani, Galleria Ugo Ferranti, Rome, Italy.
Tale of Ends, Le Poisson Rouge, New York.
Two Dimensional Days, Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York. (catalog).
Decreation, Braverman Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Death Bed, Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel (Curator: Ilana Tennbaum) (catalog).
The Blind Scenario, Pack Gallery, Milan (curator: Claudia Zanfi) (catalog).
The colonel and I, Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York.
WE, MFA Thesis Show, Hunter College / Times Square Gallery, New York.
The Sun Still Shines, Pack Galleria, Milan.
The Black & White Theater, Alon Segev Gallery, Tel-Aviv.
Art Focus 4, Jerusalem (curators: Yigal Zalmona and Susan Landau).
Patrol, Herzliya Museum of Art, Herzliya (curator: Dalia Levin)
Ofri Cnaani – Dror Daum, Alon Segev gallery, Tel Aviv.
Waiting Room, Peer Gallery, Tel Aviv.
The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society, Princeton University and Rutgers University (curators: Judy Brodsky and Ferris Olin) (forthcoming)
Marie –Laure Fleisch Gallery, Rome, Italy (forthcoming)
Video works from Hamidrasha Art School, Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea, Universita di Roma La Sapienza (curators: Giorgia Calo, Doron Rabina, and Ben Hagari)
Accelerating Toward Apocalypse, Works from Doron Sabag Art collection, ORS Ltd., Givon Art Forum, Tel Aviv
Handhald Histories, Queens Museum of Art, NYC
Corsiedpondense, Bezalel Academy Art Gallery, Jerusalem
Longitude & Latitude, Tivon Art Gallery, Israel (curator: Taly Cohen-Garbuz)
Finzioni-videoracconti contemporanei, Museo internazionale delle marionette
Antonio Pasqualinodi (curator: Paola Nicita)
Looking In, Looking Out,, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Curator: Hagit Alon).
Rupture and Repair, The Adi Foundation and The Israel Museum, Artists’ House, Jerusalem. (curator: Emily Bileski)
Metamorphoses: Error, Ofri Cnaani, Tamar Halpern and Vlatka Horvat, Braverman Gallery, Tel-Aviv.
Ecstasy, The former convent of St. Cecilia’s P 21 Monitor Street, Brooklyn, NY
FORUM DES IMAGES, Nuit Blanche in Paris, Paris (curator: Marie Shek)
The Situation, Moscow Biennial (special project), (curator: Elizabeth M. Grady)
Wild Exaggeration, Haifa Museum of Art, Israel (curator: Tami Katz-Frieman)
Fresh Fruits, Ten Haaf Project, Amsterdam.
Video Zone, The 4th International Video-Art Biennial in Israel.
A Re-reading of the future, ITCA 2008 – International Triennale of Contemporary Art, National Gallery in Prague (curator: Danna Taggar)
Real Time: Art in Israel 1998–2008, Israel museum, Jerusalem (curator: Amitai Mendelson, Efrat Natan).
LOOP, Video Art Festival, Barcelona, Spain.
Mexico NewYork Paris, Estación Indianilla Centro cultural, Mexico City.
Playing with Solitude, Ursula Blickle Videolounge at the Kunsthalle Wein, Viena (Curator: Tal Yahas).
Port-City, Arnolfini foundation Museum, Bristol, UK. (Curator: Tom Trevor)
Storytellers, Castello Dell’Acciaiolo, Scandicci, Italy. (Curator: Pietro Gaglianò)
The Space Between, Petach Tikva Museum, Israel (Curator: Drorit Gur Arie)
Bat Yam Museum, Israel (Curator: Neta Gal-Atzmon)
Art and Urban Practices- New City-Territories. Venice, Italy
Disengagement, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
Floating Symmetry, Going Public ’06- Atlante Mediterraneo, Nicosia, Cyprus.
I Cant quite Place It, smack Mellon, Brooklyn , NYC (Curator: Elizabeth M. Grady)
LOOP, Video Art Festival, Barcelona, Spain
AIM 25, Bronx Museum of Art, New York
ARCO 05, Madrid, Spain
Going Public 04: maps, confines, new geographies, aMAZE cultural lab, Modena, Italy (curator: Claudia Zanfi)
Visionaries, Makor Art Center, New York.
Video:1Min:1800 Frames, City without Walls, Newark, NJ.
Artik 5, American – Israeli “Sharet” Cultural Foundation Winners Exhibition, Ramat-Gan Museum, Ramat-Gan.
The Kiss, Kalisher Art Gallery, Tel-Aviv
Action Express, Kalisher Art Gallery, Tel-Aviv
Graduate Exhibition, Beit Berel-College-School of Art – “Midrasha”
Artik 3, American – Israeli “Sharett” Cultural Foundation Winners Exhibition, University Gallery, Tel-Aviv
VideoTrip, Video Art Nightly Project, Rosenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv
Awards and fellowship
HBI Research Award, Hadassah- Brandies institute, MA.
Six Point Fellowship, NYC
AIM – Artist In the Marketplace fellowship program at the Bronx museum
American Israeli Cultural Foundation Overseas graduate scholarship.
American Israeli Cultural Foundation
Beit Berel Certificates of Honor for artistic excellence
The Germany Foundation Certificate of Honor for academic excellence.
Beit Berel Certificate of Honor for academic achievements.