Meeting Artist Assaf Shaham
Q: We don’t know too much about you and the official bio on your site isn’t much help, so, what can you tell us about yourself?
Assaf Shaham: O.K so, I’m 27 years old, born in Jerusalem live and have worked in Tel Aviv for over 7 years. I Graduated from MINSHAR School Of Art where I studied photography and art but my biggest loves and inspirations are cinema and music and I worked as a film editor for many years.
Q: Your ‘American Dream’ series is what we first noticed. Really, they are just beautiful images. Color photographs of monuments stretched but there are some other images mixed in, what’s the narrative of these works collectively?
AS: Thank you!! Maybe it’s early to say what the narrative is… I’m not sure that I know what it is in this point, it is an ongoing project that deals with the power, capital technology and the (western) human desire to always want it bigger & faster for only 0.99$. I try to undermine the icons that represent it the best because capital have many forms… sculptures, architecture, cars and many many more, for me they are all Representations of Aggressive power that we all have a love hate relationship with.
Q: There’s also a kind of nostalgic veneer to the whole thing with the colours evoking old postcards of national U.S. landmarks that were, perhaps, more respected in the past. Is this a nostalgia for a certain kind of America or a deconstruction of that nostalgia? Is it nostalgia for a type of photographic image?
AS: It is defeletlly a deconstruction of that America/Israel–which tries to simulate the U.S everything it does–and almost all western cultures-I don’t have any nostalgic feelings for this money and power monuments–but the nostalgic veneer come from the material that I use, once again as you said-from old postcards. This postcards were sent from U.S to Israel by Israeli people on vacations–I like the stories that are written on them–and the title of this project also refers to Israeli people that dream to travel America and see the monuments—people here in Israel used to think that the U.S was really larger than life.
Q: The rough stretched pixilation is obviously far more tactile then what digital manipulations are capable of now, what does the surface of these images mean to you?
AS: The material that i use is very important to me, I could easily downloaded any images like this from the internet and manipulated them, but the tension between the actual old material (the old postcards) and the digital manipulation is an axis that I love to work around, also the way that I work doesn’t give full control over the result, the places that you don’t have that control and things happens by mistake is the places that interest me the most and give the images this tactile feeling
Q: I have to say, that as a New Yorker, I still have a visceral reaction to the absence of the towers in my skyline and I actually miss them. I often find myself walking down certain streets and and trying to remmber where they used to be. So, I weirdly found your image of them stretched impossibly tall kind of cathartic. I realize that probably wasn’t your intention but there does seem to be collective memory of September 11 that was lived through television and the media. Your image with it’s warped pixilation and towers growing in the opposite directions can’t escape that connection. What role does media play in the construction of our memory of contemporary history?
AS: No I cant escape that connection even if I try. I can tell you that I remember where I was what I did and everything that happened on 9/11, we all share this collective memory that you mentioned. The media is absolutely controlling our history narrative, this has been the roll of the media since always, but I think that the most important issue is how we remember. The media has all kind of Interests beside telling us the “real” story.
Q: Most of your work seems to play with media interfaces—websites, video pixilation—what is it about these systems that interest you?
AS: Most of the time we take things for granted, we know the story and we are happy with that–I try take advantage of the gaps inside the narrative and offer a different one, maybe not the “right” one but I never seek Truth, it doesn’t exist and its not interesting is my opinion. So I want to undermine and deconstruct certain stories and the these systems allows me to do it, especially the internet, in the internet space the possibility to undermine the system from inside is bigger because power relations are more democratic and a Mediator factor isn’t as much of a factor. Its a great space to do art.
Q: Through interactive pieces to Facebook, you command us listen to whole works by Bach, Bernhard Herman then study move scenes like the bomber in Dr. Stranglove shot by shot. In some cases (all cases?) the music is from the scene you’re deconstructing. It’s Youtube without video, film without motion, music delivered through compressed laptop speakers and perhaps most contradictory, Facebook with an attention span. Is that your intention or what do you think of all that?
AS: I think that the key word for my work and for this one in particular is deconstruction, but really in this project I’m in the roll of decomposing the original and the viewer is composing a new creation. I really like how you put it and I think that the project deals a lot with the systems of Youtube and Facebook and how we use it. I would add that for me its also deals with the relations between the artist and the viewer and how we can switch rolls so fast in the age of the Internet. In the situation I set up, there is nothing until you decide to click rapidly over and over on you mouse.
Q: What about the sites themselves? Other than their immense popularity, is there anything that makes them useful to you?
AS: One of the reasons I chose Facebook is that I wanted to make use of it’s picture album platform. It has a built in loop mechanism and because of it the movies can never end. I isolate shots so that the lead nowhere and the hereos/viewers are stuck in the loop. And to make it more effective, I chose climactic scenes which become stripped of their normal film drama and action and offer a new one that leads to nowhere. Youtube is one of the most democratic tools on the internet, you can find almost anything there and anyone can upload their own video. Really though, my chosen soundtracks were only a suggestions. I wanted people to use the comments an suggest them own chosen soundtracks and to create a dialogue between people–it never happened.
Q: What about the films themselves? Do you see yourself as attacking, defending or neutral to your source material?
AS: Well, I use materials that I love, Kubrick, Hitchcock and home made videos.. im not in the position to attack/defend them I just remix themes and create something new… most of the time I’m just trying to have fun.
Q: What are you working on now?
AS: I always like to work on more than one thing but my project these days is actually involve with another American icon and one of my favorite actors: John Wayne. It’s going to be a film collage made out of hundreds scenes from all of his movies I would love to tell you more but i dont know yet what it’s going like to be in the end. The most interesting things happens by mistake.