Judith Lenglart and Danielle Gorodenzik in conversation with the artist and curatorial duo Sala-manca
Judith Lenglart and Danielle Gorodenzik
Sala-manca is Lea Mauas and Diego Rotman
Colloquium #3, Masters Bezalel Academy of Art and Design
Judith Lenglart First of all, how did your duo begin? How did you find yourselves working together?
Lea Mauas We met at the Tel Aviv University dorms, a couple of months after we had arrived in Israel as immigrants. I was studying theatre and acting at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, and Diego had begun a BA at the Department of Theatre Studies, but he soon left those studies [he later completed a PhD on Yiddish Theater]. When I finished my studies, I moved to Jerusalem so we could live together, and it was then that we started working on our first project.
JL So you started with theatre?
LM Diego wrote a play, Meditations of a Queen in Exile (2000–01), which he directed and I performed.
Diego Rotman We began our project as part of an art platform that we created at Argentina House. Actually, it was an institution, but one that we created, to do with South American culture, that featured exhibitions of contemporary art by young artists, and music and theatre performances. There was a series of exhibitions, and performances by other people. As part of that whole framework, which we called “Sala-manca’, we also performed our first joint project, as the “Sala-manca Theater Group’.
JL So your background is really performance?
DR Yes, it is.
JL Did you deliberately chose to do your creative work in Jerusalem?
LM I came here because we wanted to live together — it was hard for me at first, because I had thought that my professional life would be in Tel Aviv. But since we were living here, it was the natural place to start to work. We got to know people in Jerusalem, and once we got a feel for the city, we stayed in Jerusalem out of choice. Jerusalem is very rich in that regard — it offers a lot of material and challenges to work with, in all senses of the word.
DR In Jerusalem you have to create not only your own work, but your own platform — and that aspect, of creating one’s own independent platform, became a central and integral part of our practice.
LM Today you have many more institutions and money for art and culture — for a special kind of art and culture — but at that time, because there were no institutions and money, there were a lot of alternative-type of initiatives in the fields of visual arts, music and sound art, going on.
DR Jerusalem was an extremely experimental scene, so it was very tempting to create here, and to be part of the ‘invention’ of a local art scene.
Sala-manca, The Passion by Joao Delgado, The Museum of the Contemporary, Mamuta, 2012, photo by Guy Yitzhaki
Danielle Gorodenzik In the Colloquium presentation you spoke about Heara — can you briefly tell us a bit about it and why you came up with the idea?
DR When we worked on our performance project, Potiomkin Village: Reconstruction of a Never-Performed Performance (2001), we had the feeling and the strong urge to publish a new art journal called Hearat Shulayim (‘Footnote'). We wanted to edit and publish it absolutely independently, so we decided to fundraise money from friends, invest our own money, and take up this challenge. The first issue, devoted to the Argentinean-Portuguese poet Joao Delgado (1921–76) was launched with the premiere of our own project Potiomkin (also based on Delgado’s writings). We printed 500 hundred copies. Every night, we went out and sold copies of the journal at the entrance to the Jerusalem Cinematheque, the Jerusalem Theatre and the Artists’ House. After a month, we succeeded in selling four hundreds copies of the issue, which gave us the money to publish a second issue, which was open to the participation of other artists. So that became like our local art school — a platform that allowed us to meet other artists who worked in Jerusalem. We didn’t know anyone, and didn’t come from the art scene, so it was a great opportunity for us to get to know other artists.
Soak, Shahar Marcus, Heara #5, 2003
DG So how did you become part of the art scene?
LM When we decided that the second issue would be devoted to video art, performance art and installations made in Jerusalem, we had to search for artists. The first list of artists we got was from Hadas Ofrat, who is a theatre and visual artist, and the director of Hazira, who we worked with. He came to see our theatre piece and invited us to present it at Hazira, and offered us a budget to develop the work that would eventually become the Potiomkin Village project. He was well connected to artists in Jerusalem, so he gave us this first list, and we started contacting them, and meeting them, and they gave us other contacts. So we began calling them, explaining the project to them, and meeting them...
DR In a way, the second issue was an attempt to present the local art scene when it didn’t really exist, as such — or at least nobody referred to it that way. So we defined it through the journal as the ‘Jerusalem art scene’, and so this was how it was actually perceived. In fact, in a review written by Dana Gillerman in Haaretz, she compared the Tel Aviv art scene with the Jerusalem art scene based on the material in that second issue.
LM We wanted to identify the artists working here, put them on the map, and create the possibility of meeting, chatting and working together.
DR We knew some artists through the exhibition that we put on at the Argentina House — like Marcelo Lauber, Marcello Laura and Guy Briller.
JL Do you think that the fact that you came from outside, and that you had an outsider view, allowed you to point out that there was something going on in Jerusalem?
LM I think that the fact that we came from abroad, from another culture, allowed us to approach the local scene in a different way. We had no expectations, and nobody expected anything from us.
DR During our project at the Argentina House, when we organised exhibitions, we started with the open calls. That was considered quite a surprising approach here, because we put out open calls to art schools that there was a new space in town, and that we were organising shows. It was a very defining moment in our practice, its prehistory... Then, we developed the model of Heara Events, and the Hearat Shulayim Art Journal. The Heara Events began when we invited all the artists featured in the second issue of the journal to our house in Nahlaot. We proposed to them the idea that we create an art event to mark the launch of the issue, where the entrance fee would be the price of the journal issue. All the artists accepted. That was the beginning of the economic model that would sustain the Heara Events and the Hearat Shulayim Art Journal for many years, and the beginning of an art network that functions to this day.
Hearat Shulayim, Issue 7: On/In Documents, May 2004, image courtesy of Eldad Cidor
JL So you had the first Heara Event — how, then, how did you make the transition to site-specific projects? The first site-specific event was Heara #4 at the Old Central Prison of Jerusalem—the Underground Prisoners Museum (December 26, 2002). How and when did you get the idea of creating a new take on how we see the site’s history?
DR The first site-specific project we created was part of the ‘Footnote” Potiomkin Village: Reconstruction of a Never-Performed Performance (2001). It was a site-specific project performed in many of the spaces of the Hazira theatre (the theatre hall, offices, foyer, dressing rooms, rehearsal studio) — expanding the notion of ‘stage’ and the traditional separation between visual art and performance art.
Underground Prisoners Museum, Heara #4: Big Comment, 2002, Hadas Ofrat, photo by Liraz Pank
LM The site-specific approach has always interested us, so we’ve used it in our various Heara projects — for example, the workshop that brought together artists and carpenters.
It was at Heara #4 that we made the main shift to the site-specific curatorial practice of tackling not only the site itself, its history, as well. When we first encountered the Underground Prisoner Museum — which was a prison during the British Mandate period—it was impossible not to make a reference to the architecture of the place, its history, and the political times we were living in at that time. We felt that we wanted to address the history of the site and its architecture. It was very intuitive, because until then — apart from Potiomkin Village — the Heara Events had been more thematic, and about sound and texts, but from this moment on, the events became time- and site-specific… We wanted to treat the prison as a real prison today: we decided that each artist would have a cell for themselves, where they could address the history and symbolism of the place. Heara #4 was held during the Second Intifada [Palestinian uprising], so that was the context and the atmosphere during the event.
DR The atmosphere in the streets was very, very tense. People were afraid, and they wouldn’t go out too much. There were guards at every coffee shop, and on the bus the conductor would ask you ‘How are you?' — just to hear from your accent whether you’re an Arab or not. We held all the events in the city centre: we wanted to bring life back to the city, and to deal critically with what was happening. Because, as always, the mainstream media focused on the bombings, a lot of shops were closed, and people would only go the mall, because there was a guard there. So, on the one hand, we wanted to make it possible to relate to what was happening, and on the other hand, to bring people back outside.
DR The visitors at the Heara Events felt liberated, because they didn’t have to open their bags, they were not really controlled. So the first feeling when you entered Heara was that you were not in Jerusalem, not in a panic. And yet you actually were in Jerusalem. We wanted to show that there is another way of living, where you are not constantly on your guard all the time, and are not suspicious of others.
JL So it was also a way of rekindling a feeling of trust among people?
LM Yes, exactly. We did have guards, because we held the events at official venues — like the Anglican School — and we didn’t want to risk the lives of the hundreds of people who were coming, but we asked the guards not to wear a uniform, or to show their guns, to be there and be vigilant, of course, but to keep everything nice and relaxed.
DG In your practice, what is your relationship to time?
DR The performative aspect is very important in our work as artists and our curatorial practice. For us, to visit a gallery is an issue of time. We don’t see an exhibition as something established or finished, but we think about the construction of the experience, and the setting. For example, the first exhibition we held in this space [Mamuta at Beit Hansen House in Jerusalem] was called Living in a Film (2014), and it was about cinema. So, you couldn’t enter the exhibition whenever you wanted: instead, there were set times, like when you go to the cinema — once an hour. Lea served both as guide and performer, and toward the end, she made a kind of small intervention in one of the video screenings — a monologue: suddenly, she, as the guide, is performing and talking to you. Probably because our background was in theatre and performance, our approach is very strong in the performative sense.
LM I think that in most of our works, or projects that we curate, there is a performative aspect. For example, Paradise Inn (2016) involves a hotel for only one guest, with an artist in residence living and working inside; and Telenovela (2013), which is screened at our home while the public watches it with us, and we do various things.
Sala-manca, Paradise Inn, 2015, photo by Itamar Mendes-Flohr
JL You constantly refer to Joao Delgado (aka Arturo Maure) — we looked him up on Google, and we did not find any information about him. Who is he, and how did he become such an influential figure in your artwork?
DR Actually, the first issue of Hearat Shulayim (2001) was devoted to the work of Joao Delgado, who uses various pseudonyms — not just to sign works under another name, but to create whole other personas. So, he has many other personalities — such as Arturo Maure, Regina Handke, Angelina Hanke or... Some people even say that Delgado himself does not exist — and we say, if he does not exist, someone should create him. Until now, many of our works are related to Delgado and his alter egos. [Lea had to leave the interview at this point]
JL So Delgado is a poet from Argentina and Portugal.
DR Yes, but maybe he does not exist.
JL There is this statement that constantly crops us: ‘The center is everywhere, and the periphery is nowhere.’ (Juan Mestre, Anarchist and Compass Maker). It expresses a very contemporary issue, that we find for example in the Documenta14’s reflection line-up in Athens. Do you see this statement specifically challenging in the Israeli context?
DR This quotations appeared in Heara Shulayim #1, in order to reflect this decentralising Colloquium #3 8 concept of world we have. For example, we didn’t and we don’t relate to Tel Aviv as the center of the art world in Israel — not because we don't recognise its discourse, but because our centre is here in Jerusalem, and for us, Tel Aviv is the periphery.
DG You chose to be active outside ‘white cube’ galleries; and in Jerusalem, rather than in the network of Tel Aviv galleries; and also not to receive any commercial or official sponsors. Could you tell us more about your relationship with the institutional art world? Has it changed over time?
DR We worked totally independently for eight years. Now, we are a non-profit organisation, and we do have official sponsors. At first it was just private sponsors, but in the past two years, we also receive support from the Municipality and from the Ministry of Culture. We don’t know if this is how we will work in the future, but it is what we find right to do now. We find that our work today should challenge the cultural politics of Israel right now, to work within the system and express ourselves freely, and be subversive today… Our relationship with art institutions is on a more personal level. In addition, institutions are part of our work: we have relationships with them, we engage them in a dialogue. Even if we prefer to create our own platform — like the Museum of the Contemporary (2012) — we enter into collaborations as in the Sukkah project (2015), where we and the Museum challenge the role of the institutions.
DG Is the Sukkah the first work of yours that has been acquired?
DR Yes. We don’t really sell works — we’ve never tried to sell anything. Even in the Sukkah project, we didn’t aim to sell it to the museum — the museum was simply part of the concept of the work.
JL It was more about introducing this object, and its history and meaning, into the museum context, and to give another level of understanding to the piece — and of course to make the actual situation of the Jahalin tribe more widely known, through the exhibit.
DR Yes, the object took on another canonical significance — which we couldn’t have given it without the museum.
JL It is also a political act of introducing an illegal construction into the museum context.
DR Yes, it is political in the Israeli context, but also in terms of the art politics, in the sense that the museum transforms an object from its mundane function into an art object.
JL Knowing that you come from the field of theatre, and you did not study art at an art school, who are the figures who inspire you in your practice?
DR Lea recently mentioned the works of the German performance artist Boris Nieslony as an inspiration. He performed a piece of his as part of a performance festival here in Israel. But our models are not only from the world of art, but might come from literature (Jorge Luis Borges, for example), or cinema (eg Andreï Tarkowski), or elsewhere.
JL Co-authorship: you are two people operating under one name, ‘Sala-manca’. In some of your projects, you challenge authorship — as in the Sukkah project (where the copyright belongs to the Bedouin community); in others you question the aura of the artist’s figure (for example in The Doubles and Ourselves performance, 2015). Could you tell us about it?
DR It’s not something that we have really formulated as a tactic — it’s more about how we conceive art and doing. It is really central to our practice, something that we think gives a lot of meaning to our actions and our works. If we look back, I think that sometimes being a collective have given us lots of possibilities, but today people also know us as ‘Lea and Diego’. But at that time, when we started out, people didn’t know who Sala-manca was, or who were the artists behind Hearat Shulayim. People got confused about our identity. This multiplicity of identity is part of our work — both poetically, and in terms of our political view of authorship. We’re constantly questioning the concept of authorship and the artist’s role.
Above: Eternal Sukkah, 2015, Sala-manca in collaboration with Yeshaiahu Rabinowitz and Itamar Mendes-Flohr, Israel Museum, Jerusalem,
photo by Diego Rotnan
Below: Bedouin Tent, Khan El Akhmar, 2015, photo by Itamar Mendes Flohr
DG During the colloquium, you explained that you wanted to create a long-term project which led to the creation of Mamuta — an artists’ residence led by both of you since 2009. How do you choose the artists at the residence?
DR It’s changed a little over the years, but basically we put out open calls. At Mamuta, we have a selection committee, where we first see if the people and their proposals fit the project and they can become part of our way of working. I think that the people who are working with us are people that we believe can share, take, learn and give. We are not always right of course, but what’s very important for us is to let the artists know that we are not just providing studio spaces, we have to appreciate their ability in order to build a dialogue.
JL Do they come everyday?
DR No, most of them have day job, so it’s not ideal conditions. We ask them to come twice a week at least. They can come whenever they want — but once a week we meet all of them.
DG Do you help them in any way on the conceptual or technical aspects of their work?
DR It depends, there are three ways that we interact with the artists. Firstly, when they prepare an exhibition that we curate. Secondly, when the artist is here — depending on the dialogue that he or she wants to build with us. Thirdly, when we work on joint projects, through a very rich dialogue.
DG What is it like, being artists running an artists’ residence?
DR It is amazing — in the sense that we approach Mamuta as an art project in its own right, so we see it as part of our own work. But there is also all the bureaucratic aspect of this project, which is the less interesting side of it. In addition, Mamuta is non-profit, so economically it is not easy. And anyway, when you try to work in accordance with your ideology, it can become hard.
DG Have either you or Lea done a residency before as an artist?
DR Very little: we were at the Holon Art Center, for a short residency; in Gdansk, in Poland; and for a short duration project in Vienna.
JL We — Bezalel and Mamuta — share the same building. What kind of collaboration have you done with Bezalel students?
DR That’s a good question. Many students have not been here, which I think says a lot about Bezalel’s attitude to it, or about the interests of the students. We teach a BA course at Bezalel called Art: Public Space and Activism, and our students, of course, come here, once during the semester, to familiarize themselves with the project — and over the years they return to work with us on various projects. Sometimes it’s harder to visit your own neighborhood than to travel to Venice… We think that it would be great to have students from the Master's program doing a project with us from start to finish — because you can study Curatorial Studies at art school, but when it involves real projects, you find that they are not ideal. You learn a lot with practice. The fact that Nirith invited us to the Colloquium is a great start.
DG Working as artists, as curators, and running Mamuta — do you think that there is a difference between all your practices?
DR We think, of course, that we have different roles, but they influence each other. For example, when we create our own works as artists, in a way we are curating ourselves, and learning from curating others. And we can curate others because sometimes it is easier for us, as artists, to understand the artist.
JL Hans Ulrich Obrist always concludes his interviews by asking about an unrealised project. Do you have one?
DR Yes, we are working right now on a project that we really want to do. You know, I think the most important thing is that we are working on what we really want to do. We are working on projects that we are passionate about, and that we think that at this moment, is the most important thing to do. What we want to emphasize is that it is not that we are invited to curate here and there — we put our own entire life into it. Mamuta is also a project, an artistic process. One day, it will be an institution that someone else will run, but right now, it is a studio in progress, in a constant flux of thinking and rethinking. All the projects that we want are in a constant process of realisation.
Judith Lenglart is completing her MA in Curatorial Studies at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. She has worked on the setting of museum exhibitions, among others Arts Décoratifs (Paris), Tel Aviv Museum and Eretz Israel Museum (Tel Aviv). She also curated solo exhibitions in galleries in Paris. Judith holds a double B.A. in Art History - Archeology and History from La Sorbonne University.
Danielle Gorodenzik is a curator and writer completing her MA in Curatorial Studies at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. She is the Art Editor at Telavivian Magazine and has previously worked at Artis, Israel Museum, and Museum of Bat Yam. Danielle holds a B.F.A. in Communication Design from Parsons The New School of Design.
Nirith Nelson is the organiser of the Bezalel Masters colloquium. Since 1998, she has been a faculty member at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, teaching curatorial practices and contemporary art. She worked at the Israel Museum as a lecturer and as a curator, headed the JCVA residency as its artistic director, was the art adviser of the Jerusalem Foundation and worked in several other institutions. Nelson has curated nearly forty exhibitions both in contemporary art and design, which were shown in Israel and abroad.