INTERVIEW TO MAYA ZACK
Elisa Muscatelli – If you had to sum up in three keywords the aim of your artistic research, which would you use? And why?
Maya Zack – Archive, memory, encounter.
One of the ways i can articulate the research-question which is at the base of my work is: “What is a living memory?” and “How can we create a living memory?”. My work develops out of the fear of forgetting and the experience of loss and disappearance. How can we live after something was cut off? How can we know it ever existed and how can we remember it? Whether I’m thinking of my own mother who died when I was 21 years old, of childhood of each of us or the event of the Shoah.
This is also the mission of the feminine character in my film Counterlight, an archivist in a fictional archive dedicated to the Jewish poet Paul Celan. In the film, she turns from an archivist into an alchemist, an ‘alchemist of memory’. She takes the ‘dead memory’ of the archive – tables, figures, maps, recordings, photos, poems and other documents in black ink on white paper – and tries to resurrect it, to create out of it the ‘memory golem’, a living memory.
She is inventing her own ‘memory-science’; leaving the regular traditional archival work and moving towards a subjective creative approach that puts her in a bold artistic dialogue with the poet. As a result of this she starts intervening with the past until she reaches the point of the trauma and transcends into primordial realms…
EM – Often your works face the theme of memory in relation to the human being and its collective history. Do you think common memory is fundamental for the personal identity buildings?
MZ – I think of collective memory as a point of reference and as an enriching pool of knowledge I like to be in a dialogue with. I also think common memory is inevitable – be it common memory that finds its roots in actual events, memory we are born with which is stored in our body and psyche such as archetypes, or be it collective memory which is embedded in our language.
In my art I like to address historical cases which are broader than my own experience, and through this I seek to decipher my own relation/dissociation with the circles I supposedly belong to.
My own family which is a mixture of various geographies, histories and destinies (i.e. Jewish immigrants form east Europe with holocaust background who came to Israel and a Catholic partly-indian grandmother from Venezuelian Andes with possible marrano roots) contributed to the fact my sense of belonging was never a natural, stable, nor obvious to me, it made me realize that my story could have been completely different.
The epistemological concern regarding our personal identity finds an answer in Hebrew where the words community (עֲדַה), witness (עֵד) and testimony (עֵדוּת) share the same linguistic root.
EM – Do you think that your works could be more easily perceived by a public living in a deep and personal way the Jewish culture? Or do you believe in the power of an universal message with no exceptions?
MZ – I believe in works which are multilayered, that can operate in few modes and provide various kinds of messages which come together to construct a complex artistic imagery.
I try to design the work in such a way that it will have an impact on a universal-human level as well as to communicate on particular levels and arouse various fields of knowledge which are relevant for the work.
EM – This interview has been done in an unusual historical moment, in which in social media #stayathome goes crazy, the lockdown changes the spatial boundaries and the home dimension is taking on new features. A lot of your works presents a home environment, that becomes a dynamic space where stories and images of the past and elements of the reality live together. How do you cope with the concept of home and home environment?
MZ – I don’t find the current situation so strange as for me the home is and always was the universe in many ways, a bubble from which I communicate. The concern with home, domesticity, interiors and how it blends with the work/art is in the foundation of my work. E.g. in Mother Economy (1ts part of the trilogy) the ‘home’ plays part as the ‘crime scene’ with the objects around the space as forensic evidence, the laboratory of the ‘detective’ is the kitchen and the place where the final results are presented is the dining table and the final equation that sums up the investigations – is an economic pie chart – served to the table as a sliced Kugel (Jewish traditional round noodle pudding).
And vice versa, in both Black and Wite Rule and Counterlight, the feminine characters (scientist and archivist) are in their working place, they live and exist there only.
EM – A woman who escapes the time control in Counterlight, dogs that seem to release themselves from the imposed orders in Regola in Bianco e Nero, a well educated housekeeper who catalogues domestic objects in Economia Madre. In this trilogy of memories with a layered narrative, the order, accompanied with memory, seems to be the central idea. How does the concept of order establish itself in such different works? Which work can be considered the trilogy’s spin-off?
MZ – All parts of the trilogy are based on the tension between the side of the orderly, factual, objective, empirical, scientific, bureaucratic, actual and the side of the chaotic, hermeneutic, subjective, pseudo-scientific, sensual, artistic and magical.
The principle of order in the works is accompanied by a sense of desperate meticulousness and obsession to endlessly document – as if to preserve the information and save it from being lost – a means to control the chaos and cope with the trauma and with my fear of forgetting, on a personal and collective level.
The project I’m working on these days (which includes a video, a book, drawings and an installation) can be described as a spin-off project, it continues my concern with memory but instead of dealing with the dry and ‘dead’ archive-memory I am now addressing the memory which is in the body, which has to do with liquids and moist.
EM – The memory…a term which echos in your works almost imperatively, I would ask you what we never should forget…
MZ – We should never forget that everything is to be forgotten… but also that we can still find a way to connect to the absolute, the eternal, the other kind of memory, maybe the matriarchal memory which is not documented in the patriarchal order and is born out of that oblivion.