Meet a NYFA Artist: Shimon Attie

Meet a NYFA Artist: Shimon Attie

NYFA speaks with Shimon Attie, Photography Fellow, 2000; Performance Art/Multidisciplinary Work Fellow, 2005; Fiscally Sponsored Artist 2009; Video Fellow, 2010.

NYFA: Hi Shimon! Can you tell us what are you working on and/or what’s coming up for you?

SA: I am currently working on an 8-channel video installation -to be presented in-the-round- entitled MetroPAL.IS., that opened at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum on January 30, 2011 and will be on view for 4 months. I am working with 24 members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities of New York City -all professional actors- who perform a seamless hybrid document that I created. The piece is performed in a poetic register with participants alternating between holding static statuary poses and active, animated ones. The artwork explores the mutability of layered identities, communal affiliation, and national aspiration, defying expectations of what it means to be an Israeli, a Palestinian, and a New Yorker. MetroPAL.IS. is the largest commission that the Aldrich Museum has undertaken.

NYFA: How is your work different from the work of anyone else?

SA: I think it would be presumptuous to try to answer that question on the terms that it is presented. I can however, describe how I see my work. My own artistic practice has spanned a variety of media, depending on the nature of each project, and has also evolved over the years. My work crosses over between photography, the moving image, and large and small scale outdoor and museum site-specific and new media installations. In the past several years, I have worked increasingly with the moving image in particular, to create immersive, multiple channel hd video installations.

My moving image pieces are influenced by my original training in still photography, such that my recent video works lie at the intersection between the static and moving image. I suppose that one thing that distinguishes my work in this area is that I do not animate or use still photographs in my moving image pieces to create static elements. Rather, I shoot everything with video, and choreograph “stillness” and stasis with the video camera rolling. So I tend to approach the junction between static and moving from a different direction than many artists working today, who start with stills, and through the use of, say, After Effects, create the illusion of movement from static elements and images.

More generally, in many of my pieces I engage local communities in finding new ways of representing their history, memory and potential futures, and use contemporary media to re-imagine new relationships between space, time, place and identity.

I seek a fine balance between concept, and aesthetics and visual language; between the conceptual and the affective. I deeply believe that art, if it is to succeed, must give the visitor or viewer a felt, lived, and complex experience. I believe in strong and rigorous concepts and ideas behind an artwork, yet I also have an understanding of process, and that many of the strongest works evolve in their making.

NYFA: Where did you grow up and how did it affect your work?

SA: I grew up in an unmentionable suburb of Los Angeles. I felt quite alienated from the town and from the school where I grew up -culturally, intellectually, and politically- and probably this experience gave me a certain kind of distance in which my own imagination could run wild and where I could find refuge. That might have been the early germ of my later becoming an artist, but one never knows that for sure.

From there, at 17, I went and lived in Israel for a couple of years on a search for roots and origin, but could never properly square myself with the political situation there, and probably wasn’t sufficiently ideological -not to mention religious-to make a permanent life there.

I then went to University and art school in the Bay Area in California. In many of my formative years -as corny as it may sound- I felt a deep attachment to the Pacific Ocean. My parents had a summer beach house down near LA, and my college years in Santa Cruz, Berkeley and San Francisco gave me plenty of opportunity to be at or near the coast. Sitting quietly at the ocean over many years -especially in the evening- no doubt fed my imagination and aspirations as to what a fully lived and meaningful life might look like.

After finishing art school in San Francisco, I left California in 1991 to move to Berlin, where I lived and worked for 6 years before settling in NY in 1997.

NYFA: What do you need to know before you begin work on a piece?

SA: First of all, I need to feel that the subject matter and content of a new piece is something that I care deeply about, and that the aesthetic and visual language is something that I am convinced by. My overall approach to a new piece, both concept and form, needs to feel like it articulates and distills something essential that I might have to say, something unique to what I might bring to a piece. It is this sense of conviction and excitement, when they are in hand, that are the only antidotes that I know of to the fear and insecurity associated with creating a new piece. Of course, the above conditions are almost NEVER in place when I actually begin a piece. Rather, they emerge after a period of R & D, trial and error, experimentation, periods of frustration, and deep immersive, almost obsessive, research into a subject, context, or place.

I often feel that the hardest part for me, in terms of making a new work of art, is to first resolve WHAT I want to do. The actual making of, or realization of a piece, of course is challenging and demanding, but the hardest part for me is to first figure out what it is that I intend to do.

Finally, I need to know that I have freedom in developing form and content in approaching a new work, without an undue amount of external restrictions. I write “undue” because I think “absolute” freedom, while being incredibly seductive, is a myth and doesn’t really exist.

NYFA: How do you balance your work and your life?

SA: Well, that is an important question. Like many artists, I tend to be a bit of a workaholic.

Obviously, my personal life with friends, love, and family is key, as a healthy counterweight to the stresses of being an artist. Also, trying to stay in good physical health is important to me. I exercise regularly and I find it to be absolute ‘medicine.’ I also think that it is very important to try one’s best to not take the art world too seriously. If one is an artist, that is easier said than done, but it’s a challenge that many of us face. We all go through ups and downs with our work and our careers, and its important to keep these things in perspective. They are not as important as we might believe.

In a certain sense, I was also fortunate in that I wasn’t ALWAYS an artist. I first became a psychotherapist before I went to art school. This of course is decades ago, and I haven’t practiced since receiving my MFA in 1991. Nonetheless, the experience of having been immersed in a different kind of world, other than art, and the memory of that, helps to remind me that there is a world beyond art and art making. I say these as someone whose two deepest ‘religions’ for many years were Art and Psychotherapy.

NYFA: How has The NYFA Fellowship impacted you?

SA: The NYFA Fellowship has been extremely helpful to me this year. It helped me more fully focus on my current piece MetroPal.Is.. This allowed me to give the piece my full attention and the time it deserved and demanded, so that I could bring it to a successful result. More generally, the NYFA Fellowship helped give me some peace of mind and was psychologically of course, a shot in the arm.

For more informationon Shimon Attie, visit his website.

Amy Aronoff
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