Shahar Tuchner - Peripheral ARTeries - INTERVIEW
By Josh Ryder, Melissa C. Hilborn and Barbara Scott
Revolving around video-art, installation, sculpture and photography, Shahar Tuchner's work rejects any conventional classification regarding its style, to explore a wide variety of social issues regarding consumerism, multiculturalism and representations of reality through the media, that affect our media driven and unstable societies, to draw the viewers through an unconventional and multilayered experience. In his body of work that we'll be discussing in the following pages he effectively triggers the viewers' perceptual and cultural parameters. One of the most impressive aspects of Tuchner's work is the way it accomplishes the difficult task of inquiry into the relation of humans and with the interference of information and media: we are very pleased to introduce our readers to his stimulating and multifaceted artistic production.
Hello Shahar and welcome to Peripheral ARTeries: we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your multifaceted background. You have a solid formal training and you graduated from the Open Program at Hamidrasha School of Art at Beit Berl College: how does this experience as well as your work as a graphic designer influence the way you currently conceive and produce your works? And in particular, how does the relationship between your cultural substratum dued to your Israelian roorìts inform the way you relate yourself to art making in general?
When I studied at ‘Hamidrasha’ fine arts school, I tightened my perception of ‘what art is’. I got real tools for understanding my work and its probable interpretation. Through studying, I was introduced to some of the most known and bold artists I now admire. Those artists who searched for the revolutionary factor, for the game changer masterpiece. Since then, maybe even since ever, I asked questions about art while working: What is art’s function, what part of myself is expressed through it and what will be my contribution to the legacy of the arts.
As a graphic designer I use different image proccesing software. I use these tools in the work I create, so the message will be more accessible, while being visually appealing and interesting.
My Israeli heritage affects my work both intentionally and subconsciously. Israel was founded as a melting pot of different cultures from around the world, by Jewish immigrants, in the aftermath of the Second World War. These people joined together to form a new society, but kept old traditions from each region such as food, language, mentality, etc. When I create my work, I don’t start with a specific idea, I try to stay away from restrictions, so i’ll be fresh and as free as possible. More than once, when I’m done I can look back and describe what I did, or give it meaning. Nevertheless, as much as I wouldn’t like my personal and family’s cultural narrative to interfere with my work, it almost always will find a way in.
The results of your artistic inquiry convey together a coherent sense of unity, that rejects any conventional classification. Before starting to elaborate about your production, we would suggest to our readers to visit in order to get a synoptic view of your multifaceted artistic production: while walking our readers through your process, we would like to ask you if you think that there is a central idea that connects all of your work as an artist.
If I need to think of one central idea that connects me to my work, I’d choose humor. I’m drawn to different, funny images. Art is a form of mass entertainment. Same as theatre, films or any other form of leisure. I would see it as a success if someone would walk into the gallery, take a look at my work and smile, laugh or simply enjoy it. I’d feel I made a difference. Still, I always add irony or a angle of critique regarding daily life issues.
For this special edition of Peripheral ARTeries we have selected Shik Shak Shok, a stimulating video that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once captured our attention of your insightful inquiry into the merge between Eastern and Western cultures the way you provided the visual results of your analysis with autonomous aesthetics: when walking our readers through the genesis of Shik Shak Shok would you shed a light about your usual process and setup?
The internet is one of my main sources for materials. I collect funny, interesting or images that catch my eye. Usually, i’d serf the web from short videos, to images, aimlessly following links I like. It can lead me anywhere.
Regardless, I enjoy listening to music. While listening to music I imagine the the sound as moving images or a series of pictures that create a strong sensation or feeling. Lots of these music segments are tagged and cataloged in my mind, so that I can create what I imagined when I first heard them. There’s no time to create all of them, but many do manifest themselves in works.
We can recognize an effective sociopolitical criticism in your inquiry into the themes of consumerism, that you accomplished in Fast Food. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, "the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under". Not to mention that almost everything, ranging from Caravaggio's Inspiration of Saint Matthew to Joep van Lieshout's works, could be considered political, do you think that your work could be considered political in a certain sense? Moreover, what could be in your opinion the role of Art in the contemporary age?
I agree with Orrosco. My work is political, I try to deliver critique with a wink and nudge, that on the one hand shows life itself, and on the other hand gives you food for thought on the matter discussed. I have a lot to say about social injustice that I see around me. It’s upsetting to see such high levels of inequality. Israel is a kind of western country, and yet our government is corrupt. This is personally difficult to deal with. I have an inner struggle between my desire to live in a remote place where I can get some peace and quiet, and care about no one besides my family, and my understanding that we all need to work together as a society to do away with corruption and become better as a whole. We need to accept differences with love and compassion. I try to reflect that we are all globally connected through my art, in a broad perspective, like my ‘fast food’ work that deals with the global western epidemic of obesity, and its ramifications.
Picasso said there is no such thing as non-political art, that all art must be political. I partly agree with this statement. Art should convey a message of critique, and should change reality from the bottom up, but the flip side of it is that there are other aspects to contemporary art’s role in society, such as entertainment for the sake of entertainment, aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics, and providing a reflection on daily life. All of these can be interpreted as a form of criticism.
We have appreciated your successful attempt to examine the relations between image, movement and music and the cultural baggage each of these elements contains. Michael Fried once stated that 'materials do not represent, signify, or allude to anything; they are what they are and nothing more.' What are the the properties that you search for in the materials that you combine? In particular, what does appeal you of the materials you incorporate in your works?
As I mentioned, my materials might contain humor, but also a sense of naive truth. I look for something that I can personally relate to as a human and artist, that will draw me deeper into the idea of the work. After this intuitive phase, I follow my intuition and continue my work. I like to use extraordinary materials, colorful or symbolic, to create a strong impact I pass on from myself to the audience.
You are a versatile artist, capable of crossing from a discipline to another, including video, sculptures and installations. What does draw you to such cross disciplinary approach? What are the qualities that you are searching for in the materials that you include in your works? And in particular, when do you recognize that one of the mediums has exhausted it expressive potential to self?
What draws me to this kind of multidisciplinary work has a partly technical explanation, since I can work well with a wide range of medias. Combine this with my desire to master each technique, and my tendency to spread out on a lot of projects simultaneously, and there you have it. Maybe my ADHD/ADD makes me jump and spread out like that. I believe that as an artist, the more versatile you are the better artist you become, with more sources to rely on for ideas and inspiration, making your overall work better.
I look for materials that are accessible, easy to get and that will have ready-made characteristics. It’s important that they fit my work as much as possible, and that they are of high quality, even if I’m not using ready-made materials. Though I like adding blurry or grainy film footage. It adds that magical feeling to the work.
Regarding the potential of mediums, it really depends. I go with instinct and gut feeling. Sometimes I have to stop the work process, rest or do something else, so I can come back and see my work clearly again. That's when I can decide on issues I couldn’t make up my mind about before, like if anything is missing or if the work is in its right format.
Sound plays a crucial role in your videos: for example, The Mensch shows Soviet gymnasts performing their exercises in perfect sync with the theme of the popular TV show "The A-Team": according to media theorist Marshall McLuhan there is a 'sense bias' that affects Western societies favoring visual logic, a shift that occurred with the advent of modern alphabet as the eye became more essential than ear. How do you see the relationship between sound and images?
The connection between sound and image is critical. The work can’t really function without this connection between them. In my work, sounds relies on image and image relies on sound. They complete one another to create a unified structure. The more these two elements are in sync, the better the work becomes, the better it conveys its content and connects with its audience. The relationship between sound and image, their parallel effect are what makes this magic happen. In ‘the mentch’ this connection is plainly visible/audieble. While viewing the images of mass power and the energy of synchronized movement, the sound has a similar feel of strength, like a call for action. When the video cuts are synced with the sound, it brings forth the force and beauty of the work.
In your sculptures and installations you often use readymade in order to explore the line between common everyday objects and art: how do you consider the relationship from everyday life's experience and your creative process? In particular, do you think that Art ― both regarding its production and its consumption― could be disconnected from direct experience?
I can’t really disconnect my daily life from making art. I asked my mother once why does she think I do art the I make it, use the materials I use and so on. She answered that it’s actually pretty easy to explain. We live in a home, buy groceries every week, decide what to cook every day, eat, watch tv, listen to the radio. This is my life, and my art is how I choose to talk about it. Into this framework, I put my ideas about matters that I’m concerned with, by adding rhythm or humor.
In order to be an artist and make art, I personally don’t think you have to connect it all to your own experiences, but usually forms of art that come from within are better and more accessible. They create added value. A bit lesser than that, of course depending on the situation, is when you experienced something through someone else like observing a group working together, or relating to a story you heard from someone else. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a personal experience. It’s more like an actor who wants to play in a sci-fi movie as a human eating alien. The actor, hopefully, doesn’t have to experience this personally in order to perform the part.
Over the years your works have been shown in group exhibitions at leading galleries and art spaces in Israel and around the world, including the prestigious Venice Biennale and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh: one of the hallmarks of your work is the capability to create a direct involvement with the viewers, who are urged to evolve from a condition of mere spectatorship. So before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?
As I mentioned earlier, art to me is a form of mass entertainment. As such, I put a lot of thought into how the audience will react. It doesn’t necessarily have to be amusing, but art is a basic necessity that must address and be accessible to as many people as I can reach, not only to a narrow group of art lovers. If art affects people, leaving some memory after they leave the gallery or moving them to any sort of action, it means the work had influence, and is making change. For me, a successful work is one that was shown in a group show among many others, and a visitor can suddenly recollect on that specific piece a month later. It is a personal sucess, and goes to show your work is good. If your work stands out, you did your part. Usually we see a lot of art, and remember none of it after a short while.
Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Shahar. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
I’m preparing a few surprises, working on a new body of work with some special paintings. I have video-art pieces i’m working on as well, dealing directly, indirectly and around issues I recently worked on. My work is developing in both video and other medias unexpectedly, more outstanding, curious, exciting and of course funny and powerful. In every new work I try to refine my message as much as possible, making it a more direct, memorable statement.