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Was there a specific experience that served as a catalyst for this piece?
Inside the Artist's Studio: Lior Shvil's Arduous Performance Art Exercises
Inside the Israeli, New York-based artist's elaborate installations.
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This piece specifically started from an event that took place not long ago, when an Israeli commander took over a ship. That really caught me and brought up difficult memories and issues that I have lots of problems with, so since then I've been planning this, writing scripts and I began to build it. There's different essential experiments that I'll continue doing, but this basically is looking back at myself and where I was, and where I'm coming from.
You've mentioned this character named Benni; do your characters always come from an interior place or experience, or are there characters that are drawn from the outside world?
I think both. I wouldn't be able to act on or engage anything that I didn't experience one-to-one, or at least closely. And of course I'm digging up those characters from a very close environment. So for instance, it's very well-known that today former officers and veterans travel the world working for private companies that governments hire to do what their own military cannot do. So that's a very familiar phenomenon. And then sometimes the work is more poetic, if it's coming from a cultural experience like literature or things that I grew up with and developed through.
In your piece at SculptureCenter last year you engaged similar issues, but coming at them from an angle, via butchery; what interested you in that similarity between violence against animals and warfare?
"The Kosher Butcher
" was metaphorical, whereas this is very specific, but I think in both cases there is a kind of blood culture. And what I mean by that is there's a balance between tradition—family traditions and history—and cultural history, thousands of years of the same continuation of blood culture, and what this culture has become today. And there is a crack or a break in this culture, between the power and the violence. It's become something more abstract. Blood as a culture united people, but now it's become something that symbolizes aggression.
To what degree are your performances scripted; how much room do you leave for chance and improvisation?
In my latest work I'm making much more space for chance. For example, with "The Kosher Butcher" the script is part of a bigger script for a longer piece, so it was there but I really exhausted myself because otherwise it's just speaking to the camera. Sometimes I find weak points of my practice and try to infiltrate those to break myself. So in "The Kosher Butcher" I pushed myself to the limits of exhaustion, which is how I could execute it more intuitively—based on the script, but sometimes going off it. For me the performance has a lot of adrenaline, especially on this structure, there's a lot of weak points for breaking the piece, moving and the failure of the body, so it's kind of different—although the choreography's kind of the same.
Have there been any artists—Mike Kelley comes to mind—who've been especially influential for you?
I think earlier on I was mostly influenced by European art history, but today I'm more engaged with American contemporary art and art history—so Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, and Kara Walker. And all of them for different reasons of course.
Speaking of Kara Walker, a couple of your earlier pieces make use of silhouettes; how did that develop into your current performance practice?
My first piece ever was a silhouette video where I perform through a hand-drawn storyboard, so the video showed my shadow's movements inside this frame. Then I saw a Kara Walker show that was in Tel Aviv at that time and I realized, "Ok, I should move on." It was amazing. A few years later I started doing paper installations
, and during that time I was physically absent from my work, it was more like sculpture. I think that my absence from the work was important for me at that time. But narrative is always an important structure for me; the visual language is different.