Artist Ofri Cnaani’s Frequently Asked in Inhotim, Brazil
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
impactmania visits with artist Ofri Cnaani in her Brooklyn, New York studio before her art performances take her to Israel and Finland.
Ofri Cnaani is an innovative thinker and doer who impacts our cultural and social lens. Cnaani has developed an inclusive way to inspire and educate museum goers and museum staff alike. In Frequently Asked she provides a glimpse of how she worked to deliver a deeper experience of The Inhotim Institute, Brazil.
Transcript of video interview: Frequently Asked.
Ofri Cnaani: I was invited to Inhotim Institute in Brazil, which is a big collection institution in Minas Gerais, two hours from Belo Horizonte. It’s a very famous botanical collection as well as contemporary art collection. When I first visited there, I thought there is another collection here, which is a collection of people — about 1,000 people work there.
I was interested in a group that is part of the institutional knowledge but also excluded from me. I chose to work with the gardeners. The gardeners worked there for 10 years of the institutions life. They are experts on many different techniques and kind of more pretty industrial techniques of gardening.
But at the same time many of them never walk into the galleries. And about 40% of them are illiterate. But they had knowledge — social knowledge. Some of them were like family members, and the historical knowledge about what was in this area before Inhotim, and of course the knowledge about their botanical collection was just outrageous.
I invited gardeners and other staff employees, maintenance employees, to do the same. We walked in Inhotim, collected the questions and the answers, and then they had the chance to view the performance. I remember one guest came to me and said, “I am here today with guests. I’ve been here quite a few times before and this is such a gift because I would never see it from the perspective of someone like this gardener.” I say, “You know it was also such you gave him such a great gift.” Because I never heard this guy’s Sergio saying more than two word sentences before.
And the fact that he was empowered, sometimes almost forced, [laughs] but he was there and interested to lead the tour, to mediate, to invite you to see this institution through his eyes was a great gift for him as well.
What do you think is needed for social change?
There are two elements. First, again, if you look at the museum as site or as arena, museums are obviously heavy institutions. If they want even to introduce a new app, right, instead of the audio guide, they would — you know how it is. Hire a company, conduct research, spend two years in development and sometimes I kind of look at this like where are the artists in this story? I feel like artists can be agents of change.
Also in big institutions, maybe it won’t be like the app that covers the entire collection. Maybe it will be a two weeks performance or like a much simpler app that works on a very specific segment of the collection. But if you work with artists, you can have ten different views.
Ten different artists and ideas that are maybe more ad hoc or more guerrilla or have very specific lengths. It’s not showing everything when it tells the story from but then you have ten different stories and different perspectives and different lenses. And I think this potential of artists to act, again, permitted or un-permitted.
But act in the museum as not only as maker of more objects, but as interpreters, as the one who re-contextualizes, as the one who connects between the eye of the audience and the object as the expert, super expert, alter expert, under expert, expert. Is such a strong tool to activate the system and from social to historical and even political meanings of it.
See here for Ofri Cnaani’s other work: Command & Duplicate.
Ofri Cnaani is an artist and educator. Cnaani works in time-based media, live-cinema performances, and large-scale installations. She also teaches at the School of Visual Arts and International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York.
Born in Israel in 1975, Cnaani has exhibited and performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,PS1/MoMA, BMW Guggenheim Lab, USC Fisher Museum of Art, Twister, Network of Lombardy Contemporary Art Museums, Moscow Bienniale, Kunsthalle Wien, and Arnolfini.
Select permanent collections include The Israel Museum, Haifa Museum, the Panza Collection, and she has been commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum, and The Inhotim Institute in Brazil to create new original work. Cnaani lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Interview & video by Paksy Plackis-Cheng. Video Editing by Studio Cine, Ian Mayta. In Frequently Asked, photographs by William Gomes.