Keren Cytter (1977, Tel Aviv) is an artist and writer. In her short films she explores human relationships and the everyday through a playful experimentation with structures and narratives and subverting classical ways of storytelling. She also makes drawings and has published a number of poems, articles, scripts and, most notably, novels. She has just been awarded the Nationalgalerie Prize for Young Art and, in 2006, she won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. In a few years, Keren has become a permanent fixture of the international art circuit. She is currently showing her work at The New Museum (New York, until the 5th of July) as part of Younger Than Jesus exhibition. She has had solo shows at Cubitt (London, 2008), Centro Huarte (Huelva, Spain, 2008) and Witte de With (Rotterdam, 2008) amongst others. Already featured in Manifesta 7 (Trentino, Italy, 2008), the Second Moscow Biennial (2007) and the Lyon Biennial (2007) to name but a few, this year Cytter will take part in Making Worlds, the International Art Exhibition of the upcoming 2009 Venice Biennale curated by Daniel Birbaum, who already selected her to take part in the 50 Rings of Saturn, the Torino Triennale (November 2008-January 2009). Keren Cytter lives and works in Berlin.
Hi Keren! How are you? Are you working on a project now?
Oh yes, I am shooting the video for the Venice Biennale 2009. We will see how it looks. There is a boy who was supposed to shot a woman, but he started crying and he couldn’t do it. Very cute.
He was too into character, I suppose!
He was totally out of character, he should have shot her!
Are you shooting in Berlin?
Yes, I shot in a theatre, with real actors. Two of them are over 40 years old.
That is interesting. You usually use friends, don’t you?
Yes… generally. People I feel comfortable with.
So why the change to professional actors?
Because that suits the film, which takes place in a theatre. There was supposed to be an audience but hardly any one came. It was Sunday morning after the first of May, so only extremely hungover people showed up.
Still from Keren’s video for the 2009 Venice Biennale
Are you excited about showing in Venice?
I don’t know, I wonder how the movie will come out. I didn’t really start editing it…
Well, you always seem to work very close to the deadline, don’t you? I remember that with your videos at your recent show at Pilar Corrias it was a bit like that as well (Domestics, March-April 2009, Pilar Corrias Gallery London).
Yes… but this time the actors really acted. And the tempo is different now.
I think the show at Venice, Making worlds, is going to be good. For example, Nathalie Djurberg is there also. Do you like her work?
I don’t know… I am not so keen on animation…
Oh, neither am I. But she is not doing like “cute” animation precisely. How is Berlin, anyway?
All the artists seem to live there now.
Well, yeah, it’s cheap and the people are nice. It is easiest place to live outside Israel. But there is no money.
When did you leave Israel? Long time ago?
7 years ago. Is it long?
Quite long, I suppose! Do you miss it?
No. I read Israeli newspapers every morning.
It’s an awful situation there…
I don’t think about that so much, it’s very personal for me.
Do you consider yourself political?
Maybe somehow, yes. But who is somehow “not political”?
I mean in your work.
Mhhhhh, yes but not in this kind of politics.
What kind, then?
For example: all the characters in my movie are smoking. I do that to make people smoke, because I don’t want to be the only one who’s smoking on this planet…
(Laughs) That’s mean! What about the role of sex in your work? It seems to me like a very important part of it…
Only in my work. All I want is to fall in love…
(Laughs) You are sublimating… Are you not in love, then?
I am checking in the dictionary what is sublimating…
“In psychology, sublimation is a term coined by Friedrich Nietzsche which was eventually used to describe the spirit as a reflection of the libido. It has its roots in the Nietzschean & psychoanalytical approach, and is sometimes also referred to as a type of defense mechanism. According to Wade and Tavris, sublimation is when displacement “serves a higher cultural or socially useful purpose, as in the creation of art or inventions”.
Are you sublimating, then?
It’s complicated. Would that mean that I have problem I am projecting in my work?
I am not sure, to be honest. I am bit out of my depth here… but I think that when you sublimate you tend to work a lot, and you seem to produce non stop. Videos, writing, drawings…
Yes, I do a lot. I think it’s a good idea to do a lot.
Still from Keren’s video for the 2009 Venice Biennale
You have published quite a few novels (three, since 2005)… And writing takes lots of discipline…
I like discipline. I think it’s cool. It shows power of will and, at the same time, another power which is against the will, the one that tells you to sit down and write instead of doing something else.
In what language do you write?
And who translates?
Sometimes me and then an editor friend. And sometimes Hillel, my friend from Israel.
And what came first: writing, drawing or filming?
Writing. Since I was very little girl. My first story was called The pretty Group.
What made you experiment with other media?
I started to draw after I went to a psychologist and she told me I should draw. So I started drawing. And then I went to learn, drawing in the village next to my place and then, when I left the army, I went to study art. Then I was painting and drawing and, when I finished, I started to write for newspapers, then I started drawing again. Then got bored of it so I started filming. My father bought a camera, and I wanted to do something different than drawing… So I wrote a script, and used my father’s camera.
But you see! I see some sublimation there as well, or transference, maybe…
In you starting to draw as a little girl. “Transference: the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object.” Another definition is “a reproduction of emotions relating to repressed experiences, especially of childhood, and the substitution of another person for the original object of the repressed impulses.” Transference was first described by Sigmund Freud, who acknowledged its importance for psychoanalysis for better understanding of the patient’s feelings”.
Ah! So instead of solving my problems I started drawing!
Well, you transferred your troubles to paper maybe. And I think I am going to end my cheap therapy session here…
That is quite interesting!
How was being in the army?
Why there are always penises in your films?
No reason. Just to make it look like hardcore, I guess. Just to be noticed… Or maybe I am sublimating!
(Laughs) Why this need to be noticed? I read your recent Art Review cover feature (April 2009), and there you explicitly said that you wanted to attract attention…
But otherwise I am wasting my time, aren’t I?
Sure, but there are many other ways to do that, and you chose a very specific way, which is by shocking
Like how? Penis is the easiest!
Maybe you can call attention by extreme beauty, or by being strongly political.
But that is either kitsch or political art, which is the 50% of contemporary art. And I am not that interested in any of these.
Do you know the work of Santiago Sierra o Regina Galindo? They are shocking too, in a very different way to your shocking.
Yes, I know their work. To me they are only shocking.
Ok, so what are you doing besides shocking?
Trying to confuse the audience, and confuse them with a set of rules. There’s supposed to be a logic in it…
To me it’s well confusing, I have to say. I think your video works are quite hard to understand, to decipher…
Really? I think they are really easy to read through. They are just a bit complicated to describe…
Still from Keren’s video for the 2009 Venice Biennale
Ok, for example, Repulsion, yes I get it, cause I like early Polanski and have seen his films, so I recognize the signs and the re-interpretation you have made. But Peacocks (2009), I don’t really understand what it’s about…
I am trying to remember… It’s about a trio. I’m trying to remember what I was thinking about when I wrote it. I thought about memories that are not real and hate that comes out of love, carelessness, images and photos…
You say you want to confuse with your films, but by following a set of rules. What set of rules is this? Some sort of “Dogma”?
No, it’s not as literal as Von Trier’s, it’s more about setting different rules to each video, and they are not about the technical way of shooting the movie, but mostly about a certain style and reality the movie is describing… Something like that…
What is similar in your writing and films? Do you recognize some things in common?
No… not really… Even the dialogs are different.
I am wondering if maybe in both media there is some sense of subverting the ways of telling stories. Playing with classical structures and narratives… Like Cortazar?
Ah, yes, maybe. But I don’t like that. It’s too confusing.
But you have just said that you want to confuse your viewers!
Yes, but I’m not the viewer.
(Laughs) Fair enough. How did you feel when you saw yourself on the cover of Art Review with the title “Art hottest young star”?
Like in a woman in a style magazine. By the way, me and my friend have a blog: http://sillycatholic.blogspot.com/. Check it out! I do the haikus.
Yes, I have seen it! But what I mean is, apart of the magazine anecdote, you seem to be everywhere now: shows in the best museums and galleries, biennales… Did you expect it?
Yes, and I expected it to happen sooner, to be honest. It’s a very small world.
Really? Think about all the students each year in art school all over the world that will never make past the graduation show…
Yes…but you are talking about something else. What you are talking about here it’s how hard it is to start or to get in, and with that I totally agree, and which is why I don’t like the art world. It’s not about quality. It’s a dictatorship of money and formulas and of buyers (collectors and curators).
Yes.. ! But if there are no buyers and curators, the gallery has nothing to do…
And the press…
Yes, the press. I think in London and NY the press is relevant.
Have you experienced any change since you were in the cover of that magazine? Like more sales or offers for shows?
No, some people wrote on my Facebook wall. That is pretty much it. I think covers on magazines are not the same for older people. I’m not a rock band… or maybe I need to be on many covers!
What artists do you like?
Bruce Nauman. But I am more into film-makers.
Like who? Like Jodorowsky, for example?
Yes, I really like him.
The Sacred Mountain is genius.
I like the one when they cut off the hands of the woman. A friend of mine met him and made a tattoo on his hands because of it. Long story…
Jesus! What is your next project?
I need to write a performance for Dublin, for If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution programme. It’s immediately after Venice. It will be a performance in a theatre. I have a dance group, we’re called D.I.E NOW (Dance International Europe Now).
Promotional poster for the D.I.E. Now tour
That’s a brilliant name. Will be it be your first performance?
No, we have already done some at De Appel Rotterdam, in a cafe in Amsterdam, and in a dance studio in Bilbao. And we will be at the Pavilion of the Serpentine Gallery at the end of July. And we will do a mega play that will tour! I am very excited. It’s not only dance, it’s acting too, combined with videos, and I direct and write the scripts. Every show is a different part of the same story, a long story.
Sounds amazing! It’s great you are doing so much stuff. I am trying to write a curatorial proposal for a show… I just don’t have much money or time… It takes lots of discipline to work at night, after work.
Yes, but I was working also in kitchens for years, in Israel and Amsterdam, and I found the time to do my stuff.
Really? I didn’t know that…
Yes! I am a really good cook, I am telling you. Amsterdam was awful though, I felt like Ann Frank. The thing is now I do more, because I have time and resources and but with less passion. And I miss the times when I felt the urgency to get out of a situation. And that’s the only way, isn’t it?
Yes, I suppose!
I am tired now.
Me too! That was long. Thank you so much!
Younger Than Jesus (The New Museum, New Yorks) runs until the 5th of July 2009.
Making Worlds, the 53rd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale opens the 7th of June and runs until the 22nd of November 2009.
Keren Cytter is represented by Pilar Corrias Gallery (London, UK) and by Elizabeth Kaufmann (Zurich, Switzerland).
Keren Cytter’s blog: http://sillycatholic.blogspot.com/