28/09/2011
LILIANA RODRIGUES: Adam Budak has already referenced how your artistic practice “deploys and simultaneously deconstructs a variety of formal languages”, and how “it is gestural as it is performative”. Your most recent installation, titled ‘A Great Big Joke’ (2011), is no exception. It joins a two-dimensional historical painting, moving image, and sculptural elements with a performative aspect to them. Why do you feel the necessity of working a multiplicity of vocabularies within the same piece?

ASSAF GRUBER: Because comedy happens in threes.
A Great Big Joke‘ is consists of three elements: a highly pixelized cellular phone photograph of a painting by the French Caravaggisti Nicolas Tournier. It belongs to the ‘club’ of iconic crucifixion images, but it is not one that we can easily identify. The second is a short looped extract from the film ‘The Swimmer’ (Frank Perry, 1968). The loop shows a man climbing up a mountain, an image associated with the cinematic representation of the myth of Sisyphus, which recurs throughout many films. The last is the different sculptural elements made from photosensitive paper and steel, which I call ‘Isomorphs’ due to their ‘repetitive energy’.
This ensemble of familiar/non-familiar imageries and forms attempts to achieve a peculiar déjà vu experience where the viewer is being held somewhere in between awkwardness and ‘terrible beauty’.

LR: You used the expression “crime scene” in reference to ‘Great Big Joke’. Can you explain?

AG: Maybe because there is something transgressive in it, which leads to a feeling that something bad is about to happen or already did. But then, the overcharged use of imageries neutralizes the drama and the whole remains a great big joke.

Assaf_Gruber_A_Great_Big_Joke_2011_Installation_view_at_Dublin_Contemporary_2011_photosensitive_paper_steel_aluminum_print_on_paper_and_video_projection

LILIANA RODRIGUES: Adam Budak has already referenced how your artistic practice “deploys and simultaneously deconstructs a variety of formal languages”, and how “it is gestural as it is performative”. Your most recent installation, titled ‘A Great Big Joke’ (2011), is no exception. It joins a two-dimensional historical painting, moving image, and sculptural elements with a performative aspect to them. Why do you feel the necessity of working a multiplicity of vocabularies within the same piece?

ASSAF GRUBER: Because comedy happens in threes.
A Great Big Joke‘ is consists of three elements: a highly pixelized cellular phone photograph of a painting by the French Caravaggisti Nicolas Tournier. It belongs to the ‘club’ of iconic crucifixion images, but it is not one that we can easily identify. The second is a short looped extract from the film ‘The Swimmer’ (Frank Perry, 1968). The loop shows a man climbing up a mountain, an image associated with the cinematic representation of the myth of Sisyphus, which recurs throughout many films. The last is the different sculptural elements made from photosensitive paper and steel, which I call ‘Isomorphs’ due to their ‘repetitive energy’.
This ensemble of familiar/non-familiar imageries and forms attempts to achieve a peculiar déjà vu experience where the viewer is being held somewhere in between awkwardness and ‘terrible beauty’.

LR: You used the expression “crime scene” in reference to ‘Great Big Joke’. Can you explain?

AG: Maybe because there is something transgressive in it, which leads to a feeling that something bad is about to happen or already did. But then, the overcharged use of imageries neutralizes the drama and the whole remains a great big joke.

Assaf Gruber, ‘Studies in Sculpture n# 20’, 2006-10, Courtesy of the Artist

LR: The ‘Study in Sculpture’ series is an on-going collection of Hollywood blockbusters film clips which you choose as references to well-know ‘sculptural gestures’ in the history of sculpture. N#20 for example is a quotation on Marcel Duchamp’s bench. What do you intend to achieve by building this archive?

AG: When I was a child, my parents used to rent VHS tapes twice a week and we all gathered around to watch movies during the evening after the 8 o`clock news. The majority of the vocabulary of the ‘studies’ is taken from that period. Nowadays, when I think or see a work of art, I wonder to myself: ‘I’ve already seen this, of course that was Tom Cruise who was making this Donald Judd’… That liminality shares a different gaze on sculpture and art.

LR: ‘Samson’ (2007-09) is but one example of your frequent use of photosensitive papers. These seem to work like screens, and change color with time, as a consequence of the intensity of the environmental light. The pieces thus become performative and it feels like they have a memory of their own. What role exactly do these “screens” play?

AG: Samson was one of the first suicide terrorists in history. After his eyes were torn out by the Philistines, he pushed the columns of the temple with all his might, killing everyone present including himself. The three ‘blind photosensitive screens’ are protecting the rough steel arms. Photographic paper is a classical support for visual documentation but I use them as monochromes that fade and change with time. It interacts with the notion of view and sight and as you mentioned with our collective and subjective memory.

LR: Another recurrent material in your work is bowling balls. You have used it in different pieces, such as ‘Getting Even’ (2009), ‘Private Dancer’ (2010) etc., for what are they a metaphor for?

AG: Sometimes they look like erotic fruits, sometimes like ammunition, sometimes like a pervasive virus in the space. That diversity of sculptural possibilities intrigues me.

Assaf Gruber, ‘A Catalyst’, 2010, Courtesy of the Artist

LR: Equilibrium, gravity and other physics phenomena seem to occupy a great part of your artistic practice. ‘Private Dancer’ (2010) is a great example of that. So is the piece ‘A Catalyst’ (2010). Do you want to tell us more about your interest for these forces?

AG: The clumsy, dis-equilibrated architecture of some pieces reveals a ridiculous construction process reminiscent of (stubborn) human behavior.

Assaf Gruber, ‘Getting Even’, detail, 2008, Courtesy of the Artist

LR: Pieces like ‘Getting Even’ created and exhibited at the Herzliya Museum in 2009 and ‘Match Point’ (2007) perform a very strong comment on the nature of violence. What is the relation between this interest in addressing issues like violence and aggression, and your own nationality and origins?

AG: Both pieces illustrate a broken state of things. ‘Match point’ evokes an analogy for the absurdity of force and ‘Getting Even’ can be considered an act of revenge while implying arithmetic evenness. Violence and aggression are the right words, they exist everywhere; the nature of violence exists everywhere.

Assaf Gruber, ‘Avgossepere’, 2009, Courtesy of the Artist

LR: You have done a series of video pieces in Tel-Aviv. ‘Avgossepere’ (2009) for example features your own father, or, ‘Joseph’ (2011), the latest about your grandfather, reveal a more personal tone. How does this autobiographical level develops throughout your work?

AG: ‘Avgossepère’ is a surrealistic video about a person who is not satisfied with his environment and landscapes. He decides to ‘take action’ and marks ridiculously different territories by using sculptural gestures and building personal monuments. I do not see this piece being autobiographical. It is personal, one that derives from an ‘immanent room’ of the mind. I asked my father to play this role because of his personality and physicality, his way of being. I could not imagine a better person to play this ‘personal Jesus’, a super antihero.
Maybe that relates to your previous question, because his presence obliged me to deal rigorously with the notion of fatherhood and motherland while working with him. The first idiosyncratic idea, about the action of sculpting became more subversive and opened a larger range of questions.
Joseph’ is a digital image displayed on the publicity screen of the Heuston Station every five minutes for 30 seconds, the average time slot of a publicity video. In the image we see a young Jewish man, with two ‘Indian warrior’ red stripes coming out his eyes. He is counting money bills in his restaurant at Lviv underneath two large sausages in 1946.
The work tackles the unconscious of the passers by for that length of time between the ‘Coca-Cola’ and ‘Makita’ ads…. It is obviously a personal story, but I’m not sure that the fact that I’m a part of it is relevant.

Assaf Gruber, ‘Joseph’, 2011, Courtesy of the Artist

LR: The public often complains about the difficulty in understanding conceptual art due to its self-reflexive nature. Your pieces are quite hermetic; they hold numerous references to works by other artists and also quote your own work. How do you imagine the experience of the viewer to be in relation to your work?

AG: A funny turbulence.

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