Artis Interview with Curator Yuko Hasegawa

Mar 12, 2014 5:01PM

 January 2014, Tel Aviv

On the final day of her independent research trip to Israel hosted by Artis, Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo sat with Artis Associate Director Chen Tamir, for a conversation about art making in Israel and Hasegawa’s impressions during her trip. 

Chen Tamir: It’s your last day here in Tel Aviv. What are your general impressions of Israel and the Israeli art world? What has changed?

Yuko Hasegawa: My last visit to Israel was almost 15 years ago, when I attended the ArtFocus Biennial. My most immediate impression upon this return is of the Israel Museum and Tel Aviv Museum and how they both have been renovated and added new buildings. These are two very successful renovation projects in my opinion. The way they installed the collections is fabulous and well organized. They both feel very positive, very open to the public. 

CT: What about the general art system here - the artists, and the smaller galleries? 

YH: Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to visit galleries, just the art schools and the art centers. The Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv was very impressive. Even though the space is not so big, they manage to show very thorough exhibitions, such as the current one of Michal Helfman; it is very well installed. Those kinds of centers and small museums work very well. I especially liked the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon and Mamuta at Hansen House in Jerusalem, which was a former hospital and has a complicated history that artists are responding to. Sala-Manca now has a group exhibition, and each artist worked in different media, some of it is quite analogue, but they create a contemporary narrative. Those kinds of experimentation work well. Also, I liked the way the Center for Digital Art in Holon helps digital artists. The Center is located within a neighborhood housing mainly an immigrant community and sometimes places like this can be quite controversial, with vandalism, etc. It’s a difficult location for culture and art, but they actually inspire the neighbors and the public. The current Exhibition, “Histories,” has works of very diverse levels, some are conceptual and harder for the public to digest, but others are more straightforward, and people can enjoy them and learn at their own level. It can be difficult to insert culture into difficult situations, and this location is quite experimental, but I think something very new can grow from this and transform people, or give them new ways of thinking. I feel very hopeful for the future of those kinds of art centers. Also, today, digital archives become more and more important and I can see how people will use them, so those kinds of mediatheques or educational roles become very important. 

CT: What are your general impressions of the kinds of art being produced in Israel? 

YH: On this visit I mainly focused on performance work, and some video. There are many artists working in video and some with the body and performativity, and also artists who invite people to participate in socially based projects. It’s very interesting to see. I know that the social and political climate is not easy here and people have to survive its intensity. I remember that that was my impression last time. But this time, artists seem stronger because of those kinds of intensities. They seem more globalized, and maybe commercialized. You can compare it to the 1990s in China, when the political situation was very difficult and artists made strong work, but since the millennium many Chinese artists have become quite commercialized. But here the tension remains strong, and artists are thinking of their own identity, the other, migration, and what the cultural situation is in general. Those kinds of artists are really seeking communication. They use bodies – not only in terms of physical sensation, but also as a relational instrument, a vessel that can transfer new kinds of information. It’s very interesting how artists, especially through videos and installation, create new narratives, and new political statements. I was also impressed with contemporary dance performance. It embodies lots of richness of expression and narrative. It completely changed my thinking about modern and contemporary dance performance. 

CT: You curated the Sharjah Biennial, so I imagine you became well acquainted with the Middle Eastern art world. Israel is very much an island within this area. How does having that experience change the way you see things here? How might art alter the relationship between Israel and the rest of the Arab world?

YH: It’s quite difficult. It’s not about borders, but I really have to consider the physiological aspect of things. In Japan I worked with several Israeli artists, but in Sharjah the climate is very difficult, so unfortunately I didn’t invite any Israeli artists. It’s not because of the quality of the artists, nor was I limited by the Sharjah Biennial; it was my own decision. 

CT: But in general do you think art has power to cross those boundaries and should it cross boundaries into the Arab world? 

YH: I cannot be very optimistic. I think if you want to do something efficiently, we need a third party. I can be a third party because I come from Japan. I can be in a neutral mediating position, to connect between curators, institutions. Exhibitions can be the third party and sometimes that works quite well. The overarching idea for my biennial in Sharjah was to examine new cultural cartographies. National borders don’t work any more, culture communicates through them. We now have global south-to-south communication: the Arab world is talking to the Asian world, South America with Africa, etc. We interact culturally, and that can be very beautiful. But Israel is isolated from that kind of mobility and dynamism, and it should be part of that. For instance when I visited the Wailing Wall In Jerusalem and saw this multicultural historical complex, the attitude seemed so generous and warm, almost universally so. There are lots of layers, but through cultural exchange and conversation perhaps can we break through a stuck situation.