NITZAN MINTZ & DEDE, street artists from Tel Aviv
Great exhibition of israeli street art in Prague!
We met in Cafe Sladkovsky in Vršovice, Prague, in the neighborhood of their residency in Petrohradska Kolektiv. I wanted to speak with them because I saw their lecture in Czech Center Prague couple of weeks ago and it was amazing. They are full of energy, yet very modest and honest about their work. They were born, raised and still living in Tel Aviv, Israel. Nitzan graduated from Minshar College and her main field was art and creative writing. Dede got his formal education from Bezalel Academy and is notoriously known for his bandaid paintings.
During your lecture in Czech Center Prague you both mentioned the years spent in army as a turning point for your art work. Can you describe it more? How did you feel during those years?
Dede: The army had a big influence on me, it definitely influenced my art. Army had a strict frame, you are always told what to do, you get orders. So gradually I looked more and more for freedom and art, as a way to express myself, was a part of it. It was my small form of resistance because there is almost nothing you can do about it. Couple of times I got to the army jail for breaking the rules and also because I drew across the base. At the beginning it was a random stuff like “FORBIDDEN” – I wrote it everywhere to point out that almost everything in the army was forbidden, so it was a kind of joke. Basically I tried to bend the rules a bit to have more space. But I was creating even before the army, it was more like vandalism when I was 13- 14 years old. I sprayed on my school wall for example. At that time I didn´t see it as art, I just enjoyed my time. Slowly I developed my own style and I was trying to say more to the public.
Nitzan: I also started with illegal acts of vandalism. It was way before the army. When I was 17 years old my boyfriend broke up with me and I was devastated. I decided to spray something with my friend on streets and it really shaped my experience with street art. Just adrenaline and freedom. We sprayed stupid things during night, two girls in Tel Aviv. It was amazing and it helped me a lot to recover. I felt finally alive and not depressed anymore. And about poetry, I was writing poetry a lot and even more during army years. During army I felt really choked. I felt I can´t move, I didn´t have air for breathing. And again I needed to feel more alive and to be seen. So I took some pieces of wood, took my poems and stencils and asked my father for help to nail it on one of the main roads of Tel Aviv. He didn´t ask anything and helped, which was funny.
Previously, I asked you how important for your work is the fact you come from Tel Aviv and you said „crucial“. Why is that? What is so specific about Tel Aviv?
Nitzan: It´s huge question, maybe for the whole research. I was born in southern Tel Aviv, which was very neglected area during my childhood. My vision of southern Tel Aviv is a landscape which falls apart, full of poor people, dirty streets, crumbling walls. It shaped the way I look at things. The things I want to write on are the things which look like my childhood memories. Tel Aviv has a very good energy, interesting and weird things happen all the time.
Dede: I think Tel Aviv is a city which shaped my artistic vision a lot. I walk all the time, I know almost every street, every corner, it feels like home, like safe place. I get inspired by different neighborhoods, it is very dynamic city.
Tel Aviv is called White City and I imagine your words and colors penetrating the white space. Do you have different approaches in different cities where you work?
Nitzan: It´s about specific character and environment of the particular area. Not about the whole city. You look at the wall first and then the surroundings. So the perspective is much more in details.
Dede: The character of the city shapes the art piece of course. Tel Aviv is not white, it´s rather grey. It´s easy to find grey and forgotten places to paint on. Here in Prague it´s more difficult. Every building is already well painted.
Yes, one of my friends from Israel told me we don´t have enough money for the army because everything goes for refurbishment of historic buildings.
Dede & Nitzan: It seems like that!
You choose places which are basically „leftovers“ and giving them new purpose and meaning. I see a lot of hope in it as well as a good sense of humour. What attracts you to these places?
Dede: We have many reasons for that. It can be just the shape, broken parts, colour, history of the building, an area.
Do you miss your work once it´s destroyed or it just simply fade away?
Dede: Yes I miss it sometimes. But you have to learn how to let things go. When you put something outside anything can happen to it, even the exact same day. You have to deal with it. So I always take a picture of my work because that´s the only thing you have afterwards. That´s how my book was collected. I document everything I do.
Is some of your very old work still on place?
Nitzan: Yes, some of my very old work still exists. And sometimes I don´t like it! Because the poem or used colours are not ME anymore. It´s not actual anymore. So I want them to be erased! But it prevails.
Your work deals with lot of personal issues but also social topics and politics. Do you consider yourself as an activist? Do you think that art should be activistic?
Dede: I don´t think that it´s necessarily activistic, I would rather say active. To publish your work in public space needs more action than other artistic fields. It´s action art and it is not very comfortable. It´s harsh work, you stand outside your comfort zone. The act itself is art.
Nitzan: We don´t put our signs up. Even though we have many radical friends. They are always protesting, on strike or whatever. Leftists, feminists, all sorts of people. But we have different reasons to do our work. More layered, more personal. I don´t think that art should be categorized. Let everybody to do its own stuff. As an artist you definitely need to care about something but it doesn´t have to be politics.
What kind of reactions do you get from public?
Dede: Mostly we get very positive and supportive response. The audience always pushes you further. But sometimes people are really upset and I think it´s caused mostly by jealousy.
Nitzan: I agree. We are not provocative, we don’t curse anyone. So it must be jealousy.
Dede: But we take it as a part of exhibiting in public space. It´s open to everybody. So we are used to it.
Are there any boundaries of Israeli society you can´t cross?
Nitzan: No, it´s completely open in Israel. You can do whatever you want. Of course you get huge response if you post something online, for example some opinion against right wing. But my art is not about protesting explicitly.
I think it´s problem with Israeli origin. If you are an Israeli you are always asked about politics about Middle East crisis and so on. Everybody is so curious.
Dede: Exactly, we always have to speak about it during our lectures. People ask a lot. The fact is I´m not into it at all.
Nitzan: I read newspapers every morning and every day I´m so depressed. I must admit it´s tiring. But I have many issues to deal with. Like my own mind! I´m sometimes paranoid and I have obsessive thoughts. My work is also a kind of obsession.
And also some kind of therapy?
Nitzan: It doesn´t help! Well, just sort of. Sometimes I have a feeling of stone in my heart. When I wrote poem about it, it´s suddenly gone. It´s good example.
Dede: My work helps me a lot. I´m in different world when I create. Different universe. It´s also obsessive, I repeat it over and over. Small parts, small cuttings, small details. It lasts for days. It´s like a trance.
Dede, you have a collection of outdoor works called Autobiography. What does it mean? There are lot of animals and they are fighting, running, flying. Does it depict your emotions?
Dede: Every work I do has something from me. People have same problems, we share the same fears. And hence that, people can relate to these animals. Animals represent my transportation tool. They look for safer and better place to be. Like me. I can´t relate to Israel deeply, with the system. There must be a better way to deal with problems we have.
Your new big mural in Žižkov, which you created together, is composed of two yaels (ibex, an animal typical for Negev desert area). They are not fighting, not in clash, but in symbiosis. It looks like sacrifice one for another. According to the poem at least. I see a lot of love but they keep certain distance. It´s also a cold piece.
Nitzan: Yes, it is definitely a cold piece. There is a lot of tension. Actually it´s not about love between two persons. It´s about me and my dream. And there is not enough space for both of us. I have to choose myself or the dream. And I chose the dream. The dream is filling the whole room.
Dede: I use yaels very often. They are shy and even they run forward they look backwards. There is always a threat.
Nitzan: We can say yaels are jewish! (laughing)
Are you ready to sacrifice yourself for a dream in reality?
Nitzan: I think so. I sacrificed my body and my soul for art.
You are together for 4 years now and share so much: origin, army years, studio, you create together. How do you influence each other? Is it different somehow since you are a couple?
Nitzan: We are not married, but we see it as a marriage. We help each other a lot, also physically. We do change the perception of reality according to each other. Of course, we have our own stuff but Dede is the first person who reads my poems, he also asks for my opinion and sometimes we argue. I want him to be good and even better! So criticism is very important part of our connection.
Dede: We developed together.
What do you prepare for your upcoming exhibition in Prague?
Nitzan: We call it THE HURDLE. We prepare hurdle covered in words, in poem, but you don´t have any place to jump because behind that hurdle there is a closed door. It´s all made from garbage, recycled. The exhibition is about objects and their installation. I can describe it as artistic obstacles. It´s site specific for the residency place.
We are so looking forward to it!
The exhibition takes place in 1,2,3 Gallery (Petrohradská 13, Vršovice, Praha), 22.10.- 29.10. 2016