An email conversation between Artist Ruth Patir and Monica Hirano
Could you describe what brought you to start you first project in 3D and how you became interested in archeology?
In 2017 I returned to Israel to be with my father on his deathbed. Coming home at that time, back to Hebrew, reuniting with my family, I felt extremely shaken and bare. And so, when I was offered to do a new art project, I decided I wanted to do something that would love me. I remembered something Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (the Documenta 13 curator) said at an e-flux event in New York, that she wishes all her shows would have been about love, but she was never brave enough. I thought to myself, I could be brave enough.
I found this book named Love Letters, a compilation of hundreds of love letters written by the late Israeli general Moshe Dayan to his first wife – named Ruth, like me. I read his letters and saw all my past relationships enacted in Dayan’s words. Maybe it was just the Hebrew. I don’t know. But this idea came to mind: I would use the letters to have conversations with my exes, having them read his letters to me. Moshe Dayan is this cliche of the early Israeli alpha male, the poster child of Zionism and masculinity. Dayan the lover, on the other hand, is very tough but also very vulnerable. So, for the film, Love Letters to Ruth, I built a realistic 3D Dayan avatar using a mix of 3D software and made a fantasy film with him. I also surrounded him with 3D mock-ups of his private and illegal archeological collection of vases and female figurines. I wanted the archeology to portray the complicated relationship Dayan had with love through owning these fetish items, his trophies from his illegal digs. I also wanted to draw a line between romantic love and the occupation of land and history.
Love Letters to Ruth uses emblematic pieces of Moshe Dayan’s excavation collection, which is now part of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. What was the institutional and public reaction to this artwork?
After the show opened in May 2018, I had many interesting responses to the work, but none from the Israel Museum, where part of the film takes place. After Dayan’s death in 1981, his second wife Rachel sold his collection to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, thus selling back to the state its own national treasures. The collection included, most importantly, the burial tombs found on an illegal dig in the occupied territories, currently on display at the museum’s entrance. As an homage to the romance of love and the country, I ended the film with a heartbreaking letter read to me by a heartbreaker boy. I animated that scene in an empty 3D model of the museum, surrounding him with “his” ruins. This opened the project to a whole different discussion, not the usual conversation about Dayan the archeologist, but one that connects love with property.
As for the museum, they were neither upset with me nor that much interested in the project at first. Only one archeologist – the head of the “Israeli Period” at the archeology department of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem – had contacted me to share with me his knowledge and excitement over my work. As he is in charge of most of Dayan’s finds, he was excited that I addressed this problematic legacy. A few weeks ago Love Letters to Ruth was actually purchased by the museum into their permanent collection. Isn’t it funny? That I’m happy to share? That I wished upon this critical work to be owned by the institution it critiques?
I guess that’s neo-liberalism for you. I am happy though, I had always wanted this piece to rest with the rest of the archeological collection it includes.
Your work has been shaped in a chronological evolution, where one artwork is mostly a response to or a development of the previous piece. Could you describe this journey and the decision to add complexity to your projects?
For me, all my works are always part of a continuous conversation; what I learn from one project I hash out in the next. This is why after I finished Love Letters to Ruth I was inspired to continue working with the archeology collection and the female figurines in it. This is how Marry,Fuck, Kill came to be, I wanted to awaken these ceramic figurines with the help of real live woman figures, flesh and blood. And so, when I got my hands on a motion capture suit, I had my mom wear it. As she was the first role model of womanhood for me, I wanted to discuss with her the zeitgeist of liberations. We discussed femininity and life, then I animated our conversation, having her play around in the suit and, finally, the ancient Canaanite deity was liberated from her stagnation.
Regarding the piece that you are showing at Present Imperfect at Sumac Space, Petah Tikva, could you share with us the thinking process, and what were the events that inspired you to develop the project?
The film Marry, Fuck, Kill, which showcases the woman-like deities that I mentioned in my previous answer, centered around a conversation with my mother about the history of representation of the female body. But when I finished it, I felt it was missing something and I wanted to check this symbolism in the contemporary world. Most importantly, I felt the need to share my experience as a thirty something woman with no children facing the Israeli health system and reproduction mania.
Here, women are extremely pressured into giving birth. So, when I made Petah Tikva, the third chapter and continuation of Marry, Fuck, Kill, I placed the deities in the women’s clinic at the Petah-Tikva hospital – more specifically in the fertility clinic, the contemporary fertility worshiping grounds. I thought that since these deities represent a female worship for wishing on birthing, it would be interesting to place them in what feels like the contemporary version of that essence. But then, as I was making it, the Covid-19 pandemic happened. Suddenly, we were all confronted with our relationship with institutions such as national museums and hospitals. Not only here, but many countries also debated stopping abortions and IVF treatments during the pandemic. National priorities and biopolitical issues became exposed. And women’s issues became lower in the priority of most countries. I found that to be very upsetting.
In Petah Tikva, you are discussing three scenarios, which you describe as problems. Could you elaborate on them and explain the link between them?
The film that I’m showing here at Sumac Space is part of the bigger projects that I have mentioned, and I have included many small thoughts in my artist room. But in short, it essentially entangles several threads of thoughts through the film editing.
You have the deities waiting in the IVF clinic. These are 3D characters based on female figurines from the Israel Museum collection, sculptures that I brought to life based on those that were reportedly made for forbidden female pagan rituals – sculptures that were exterminated by the monotheistic revolution of patriarchy. In the film, they appear to also suffer from fertility issues. Problem one.
Then there are the animals in the street, which are also based on ancient deities from the collection, dated to the same period. These are shaped like farm animals: a cow, a donkey, a goat. I based the news casting and viral videos of the deity-animals off of real footage of boars roaming the streets of Israel during the pandemic. These animals roamed the empty streets while we all keep to our houses, ironically reminding me of nature. In the news they were talked about as foreign intruders, dangerous because they reproduce quickly. But in actuality boars and deities both predate us. When we hear talk about these animals in the news, we cannot ignore how scared people are of them and their savageness. Problem two.
Then this curator I know saw the work when it was still in the making and commented that it’s interesting that I placed the fertility deities in the fertility clinic – thus highlighting that the object (deity/sculpture/relic) has a problem: they are unable to summon fertility. My gut answer was that we are all in trouble. We are fertility obsessed, technology obsessed, health obsessed, and terrified of the natural world. Our hospitals are governed by technology made to empower women but mainly designed by men. We create unbelievable expectations, monitoring our daily activities, but we fear everything, and we rely on technologies we don’t understand. I think that’s problem three.
You decided that Petah Tikva should be shown on a loop – could you elaborate on this decision? And also tell us what are you planning for the next chapter?
I made this piece originally for a show titled “non-finito”, the graduation show of the Artport residency, dedicated to works in progress. I showed this piece in it, wanting it to live in the space like a mute newscast on a hung TV, a sculpture suspended in the corner. Like a TV stream in the clinic, it is meant to repeat itself in a loop, revealing hidden details every time you re-watch it. These can be articles in the women’s magazine, small clues about the boars, the dynamics between the characters and, of course, pelvic floor Pilates – all things that are in the background of our loopy lives anyway. I will mention that it is also a part of the third chapter of this trilogy that I’m currently working on. First Dayan, then my mom, now me. It’s like a sketchbook of sculptures and images I’m thinking through, that will all be part of a lengthy film/install I am now making. The future is still unclear, but I will know more with time.
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Monica Hirano (b.1992, Brasil) is a curator, art producer, art director and costume designer. For the last 6 years, she has split her time between Egypt, India, Malaysia and Italy. In her artistic practises, she seeks to work with values of diversity, inclusion and human rights, all in a very international context. Monica was the project manager of Something Else OFF Cairo Biennale (2018), curator and producer of Gender Bender in Bangalore, India (2019), curator and producer of I=I performance of Vinicius Couto (2020), curator At The Edge of Chaos at Manifattura Tabacchi and IED, Florence (2020) and curator in ONJOY at carrozerie.not and IED, Rome (2021).