Every Friday, Jspace News partners with the America Israel Cultural Foundation to bring you an interview with one of the many Israeli artists they support throughout the world.
In her work Shirley Wegner investigates the idea of collective and personal memory as formed through visual culture. She is interested in exploring how her own memories were shaped by early imagery of her homeland of Israel. Her work addresses ideas of nostalgia, ideology and construction of memory.
Working in a number of media, she builds large-scale installations in her studio that she later photographs. The photographs slowly unfold a lexicon of memory that exists between a personal narrative and a political reality, and between non-fiction and fiction.
Wegner’s work has been included in numerous national and international group exhibitions. Her work is in the collections of several museums and foundations, including: Goch Museum, Germany; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; and the collection of the City of Mönchengladbach, Germany.
What or who inspired you to want to be an artist?
It was a collection of moments. When I was 9 years old, I remember moving into my own room, and making my first sculpture that night. This was probably my first being-in-my-studio moment. A few years later, I saw a painting by Leah Nickel in a gallery in Tel Aviv, an incredibly moving experience which led me to enroll in painting classes.
What was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?
After my graduation from Hamidrasha in Israel I went to New York, where I studied in a few art programs until I got my MFA from Yale in 2002. A few years later I went to Germany on a stipend and with it came other options to show and travel.
I think that the many years I spent in art programs and the fact that I lived in three countries, gave me the time to think of what kind of work I want to make and what questions really interested me. I experimented with a few ways of working, without thinking so much of the end result. I started as a painter during my undergraduate studies and some years later, during my first year of MFA studies, I spent long hours in the dark room and began building sets for photographing.
At the same time I was making lots of drawings to record all the thoughts and ideas as they emerged. A significant moment to me was moving from knowing I am different because I’m from Israel to questioning what exactly makes me Israeli. This led to studying my own memories, categorizing them along with archival materials, understanding my own processes of remembering, and then playing with all these elements together in my studio. There was lots of play.
What do you need as an artist today?
I think that years ago the answer would have been quite different than this one now: stability. Having to travel meant packing and moving, starting anew, setting up a makeshift studio for some months to come, building my sets, photographing them, dismantling and then moving on. My studio was more of a physical space, an intimate space of exploration, and not less a think-tank. Not having to constantly stress over finding sources of funding the high production costs of my work can definitely be helpful.
What creative project are you working on now?
I just finished installing “Landscape Anomalies,” a solo show at Dan Gallery, Tel Aviv. I am exhibiting some of my photographic work including my most recent Explosion piece whose set is still hanging on wires in my studio. The show also has a site-specific installation titled Eucalyptus, made of many layers of photography backdrop paper glued together onto a thick surface, I cut into it, and carve and peel, to get the shape of the leaves and the tree. In November I will have a two-person show with Naomi Saftran-Hon at Slag Gallery in New York.
Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?
After every exhibition I have this fear: what if I’ve just made my best piece ever? Ten years from now I hope I’ll learn to overcome that fear. I see myself working regularly, producing numerous shows a year. My tax return will say, "Artist (no other temp job), and taxes paid from work income." That gives me something to look forward to.
What does it mean to you to be an Israeli artist?
For me, as someone who has been living and operating outside of Israel, one of the challenges is to negotiate the local nature of my work with the non-local scene of which I am now a part. It’s about maintaining an authentic connection to the source and inspiration of my work, yet at the same time have it be experienced by wider audiences. Once in the US, we’re all ambassadors in a way, trying to talk from our own experience to audiences who do not share the same background. So I think it’s important to own this act of communication, but also to make sure our own work is not lost in translation in the process.
What does it mean to you to have an organization like AICF available in the art world?
I see AICF as a place that supports Israeli artists in their important journey away from home. It provides a bridge for them to share their ideas with the art world in a wider context and to also be open to reflect on their own ideas as part of this exchange, an invaluable opportunity.
.ORG-Connection: The America-Israel Cultural Foundation supports artistic life in Israel. By encouraging Israeli artists and supporting institutions and programs, AICF makes a vital contribution to the cultural foundation of Israel and strengthens her relationship with America. To stay up to date with the AICF and all its events, check out its page on Jspace.