What we are up to

Anat Ben David interview

08/09/11 Friends
by Nathan Jones

In the second of our interviews with people involved in Spectres of Spectacle, Mark Greenwood co-curator of the Overlap programme puts the questions to Anat Ben David.

Anat Ben-David is a London Based, Israeli born, artist whose career includes collaboration with the Art band "Chicks On Speed" and  Douglas Gordon "Art Rules Crew 2006-2008", as well as releasing her solo album "Virtual Leisure" in 2008.

A bit about the performance: "The double status, the artist presence and the recorded/effected voice, a visual speech, verbal text meeting the sound object, words and utterances played by the instrument which is the human body, effected, creating a disturbance of voice from its origin, this is the haunted, it is the vocal- independent, gone astray, without a home, as the voice is released from the body origin, its infected- effected/recorded it becomes ethereal. These are themes Anat Ben-David is exploring in her performance: "Turn your own radio on." for SPECTRES OF SPECTACLE."

Anat and Mark's conversation covers everything from punk ideology and her beginings at the School of Visual Theatre in Jeruselum, to the role of accademia in her work. The interview really nails some of the stuff we're looking to explore with Overlap, about this shared and conflicting territory between music, language and performance also. Excellent.

Spectres of Spectacle: An Interview with Anat Ben-David
by Mark Greenwood

I'm interested in your performative response to ideas around ‘Hauntology' for the Spectres of Spectacle event. For me, this theme emphasises the elusiveness of identity, an un-grounding of representation; where notions of the uncanny and the supernatural link to the processes of writing and textuality. How might your current practice address this?

At the moment, I use the Kauss-pad which is an effect device, I use it in live shows- to duplicate my real-time voice, with the ‘effected'- processed voice. The subject of working with effected voice, in that way, reminds me of a performance of Jonathan Capdevielle in "Jerk" Directed by Gisèle Vienne, an adaptation of a Dennis Cooper novel about a horror puppet show. In a scene where the dead victims are coming back to haunt the killers, Capdevielle is sitting motionless, on a stool, starring ahead while ventriloquizing the ghosts voice. That duality of his presence and the presence of the voice of' the dead' intensified a live moment, where; the" living" and the "living dead"- exist at the same instance.

Since I started working with sound textures and Noise, I realized; that utterance of text using voice presents a complex dynamic. Even more so with the double status of the performer and the recorded/effected voice; where, at the moment of utterance, both the present and the past, the ‘live voice' and the ‘processed voice, exist. This duality presents a complexity that comes out of the relationship between word, sound and origin of utterance - the subject. I guess, that ‘the elusiveness of identity', comes from the performers ability to manipulate their own voice, turning the voice into an object; by doing that another being emerges, which is neither the performer nor a character. I guess, these shortcomings in perception of the present-‘in performance' moment, would be my response to ‘Hauntology'.

Looking at your practice I would describe you as an inter-media artist given your manipulations of music, sound, video, performance, text and the body. Improvisation, ‘mash up' techniques and automatic writing appear as re-occurring forms in your process. Do you feel comfortable explaining your approaches to making work? It seems to me that you are very much in the process of working in an intuitive manner.

Explaining my approach to making work, is my methodology of research, it's not so much a matter of being comfortable about explaining as much as seeing it as a tool, a self explanatory device, the process of writing about the doing; and by that- understanding what I'm actually after, I believe, advances my work. It directs me towards the logic that is in the intuitive; and gives confidence or direction to actions I do anyway.

In my work, I use ‘Mash up' techniques and automatic writing methods, its intuitive, there is a lot of editing involved too, though I don't see a contradiction between intuitive and lets say, composed work; I wouldn't treat ‘intuitive' as random, I think there is a lot of order in it, even compositional systems at work.

Can you say something about your history and background, and how this may influence your current work? Can you remember your first ‘live' performance and how would describe your relationship to past performances and their influence on your present work.

I studied at the School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem, (1991-1994), the school was based on the Bauhaus tradition; taking an interdisciplinary approach, the group that founded this school, were originally puppeteers and the first word uttered in the corridors was; ‘Avant Garde'. We were about 60 students, it was very intense; we had to produce 4 shows a year; we ended up living in the school, the director slipped the school keys under the door, we'd lock ourselves in and work all night. This is what an art school should be like, it influenced my approach towards work process and the way I think about art in general. The curriculum was geared towards performance, everything ended up ‘on stage'. My first performances in the school were very 90tis /multimedia/ Robert Wilson/Tony Orsler- influenced, with lots of TV's and live minimal interaction... Consequently I became the ‘artist in residence' in the theatre next door (run by the same people). There, I created performances that were very hard to transport, because I had a complicated set: lots of TV' s, stands and props. It was frustrating, I felt that it was holding me back, now I have a laptop and a few electronic gadgets, which I can fit in a suitcase and go to wherever. It's an easy set up that could work anywhere, but the methods and the spirit of the school and theatre has never left me. On a more political note, in regards to where art collages in the UK are heading, with cuts and a ‘corporate' approach, I believe that art schools, should be run by artists with an ideology and some spirit.

There appears to be what I would describe as a kind of punk ideology in your live works. By this I don't intend a crass ‘fuck you' element, but a political awareness, a DIY aesthetic, a playfulness that reveals a political subtext. Would you agree with this? Would you describe your work as political and confrontational?

Continuing from the point made in the last answer, I would say yes! to all the above. Art should invent itself constantly, and artists should question everything that's ‘established', may the spirit of the Avant Garde live on. Arts undefeatable position lies in the questioning of everything that's taken for granted, creating the new and doubting the established - even if established by your self. I would manifest that art should present an escape root rather than decorate monuments. Some would say that this approach in itself, is an established notion; yes- that's true, so, I say doubt even what I've presented here, and offer an alternative - this is the meaning of art.

Your voice figures predominately in a lot of your work. Your uses of the voice are complex; the voice as timbre, as rhythm, as melody. I'm interested in how you position the voice in your work, does it assume the position of an interface between internal and external stimuli, a tool or an object, or do you see it as an origin of expression and communication?

The voice, is a very central element in my work and practice. The relationship I mentioned before, between sound, word and subject is a complex matter. Recently I've come across a colleague (and a great performer) who researches ‘sound-text-art' (Text-Sound Art: Speech with Source and Temporality Disturbances in Avant-Garde and Intermedial Vocal Art by josef Sprinzak), and found great similarities to my research - no great wonder, since we both were at the Visual Theatre School, both influenced by Avant Garde methods and have collaborated in the past. Josef argues that "text-sound art works are characterized by a back and forth movement between speech as "voice", that is, as a medium of expression and communication, and speech as "sound", that is, as an independent object which is "not a medium". As Richard Kostelanetz defines it in his "text-sound-art a survey", as the intemedium "located between language arts and musical arts".

The way I see it, the human vocal can not be separated from the instrument that produces its sounds, i.e. the subject. An utterance of words is essentially ‘making sounds', the nature of the complexity that arises from this inevitable combination of word, sound and subject, creates a system whereby utterance is translated as meaning. A word pronounced is not the same as a word read, because when read one can attach one's own sound and origin, when heard, it becomes an event. The horror film cliché of a child speaking with a deep adult voice is a disturbance caused by separating the sound image from its origin: sound origin belongs to an adult, while the origin- the subject is a child. The same word can alter its meaning depending on its delivery whereby, the sound of a word creates meaning, therefore utterance is a complex event.

You use the body in a variety of ways in your work; statements, gestures, actions and reactions. Would you say that conventional language fails in expressing ideas around identity, gender and politics? Does the body succeed where speech and the written word fail?

The ‘body experience' and the ‘language experience' are two different mediums, from both point of views- of the person doing the action, and of the receiver -viewer/audience; a successful performance could deliver sensations that words might not be able to express. The intensity of a ‘performative experience' (because of the visual/ physical aspect), is multifaceted. I wouldn't say that speech and the written word fail in expressing ‘identity, gender and politics' where the body succeeds, its just a different experience; and to make the issue even more complicated, the spoken/uttered word is an entirely different medium - it is the intermedium - between mediums. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that ‘meaning' happens ‘in action', located between what is projected and received, and between mediums. I would agree though that the physical action could have a strong impact- because of its direct impact- ‘projecting' and ‘receiving' happens at the same moment.

You are currently researching a PhD that explores music composition in the context of visual art. How important is research to your practice? I would argue that both emphasise questions rather than answers, promote creativity in design and a focus on a kind of alienation as an aspect of aesthetic, social and political enquiry. Would you agree with this statement? What role does writing play within your research and practice?

The thought of doing a PhD followed a realization that I'm not interested in the commercial side of making products for the art market. I always had a romantic view that art has a purpose that goes beyond ‘making a product'. Since leaving goldsmiths in 2003, I felt alienated from the London art scene, which I felt was focused on trying to be part of the gallery system; that didn't interest me. In London there isn't a strong artist community, I guess the place that offers thought, questioning and discussion around processes in art would be academia - although this asset is becoming more and more, an endangered species. I do think questions are more important than having answers, when art is concerned. Its true to say that there is an element of being removed or alienated from ones practice when entering research about your own practice. A common phenomenon is that artists that engaged in practice based research, invent an alter ego and write about the alter ego's work; for me, as performer, the alter ego is always an integral part of my practice, that is why Alienation or rather- ‘Alienationeffect' is something I'm interested in. I find that spending a lot of time on writing and developing thought, actually increases the desire to do, when you spend time writing, realizing why its important to do what you do, making becomes more purposeful and concentrated.