Ofri Cnaani on How Artists Can be Agents of Change
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.
Inhotim, Brazil: Frequently Asked
This summer, Ofri Cnaani will be an Artist-in-Residence at the Contemporary Art Museum in Finland where she will continue her Command and Duplicate performance.
Find out how artists can be agents of change.
Command and Duplicate Performance
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.
Transcripts of the video interview: Command & Duplicate.
Ofri, tell me about this fascinating project you’re about to start this summer.
So I built this station that has a bulky, old, black and white photocopier. That is kind of hybrid connected to an overhead projector arm. So, it’s a system that projects and copies at the same time. And I’m wearing this great cloud suit, and I’m almost like a psychic in a way, and all around me, there are two long tables with boxes and a lot of collections.
But the collections are different from the permanent collections in the museum with the golden frames — these are collections of ephemeral, collections of little pieces of fabrics and memories and cutouts and windup toys.
There are many of them. When people come to me I ask them to choose two objects from my collections and to give me one personal item. And they come and they take so often a long time to choose because making choices is hard. And then, when they come to me, I act a little bit like a psychic and I am like, “Show me what you got me.” When I put it on the glass bed and we see it all projected, so it’s like, “Okay let’s take a close look at you.”
And then I basically start to craft some kind of a collage from many different objects that always start from the feedback they give me and I add many other things. So it’s some kind of collaboration. Some people always want to do that, do that, make it this one.
It’s always a collaboration but I create an image that, at some point I don’t have full control of it and I love it. I welcome it. And then when I’m done, I usually ask like, “Okay, show me your hands when you’re ready.” I’m asking my machine if she’s ready for you.
And then basically, I make one photocopy, one Xerox. Which — people totally get the absurdity, I stamp it with a copy stamp, and then I sign it, like very dramatic with a style that is very artistic. And it’s original copy. So what I love about it, I mean, people totally get the absurdity.
But at the same time, they’re completely fascinated by the idea of how it works, and what are the magic words, and I give it to them. I keep no copy, it’s original copy and it’s all based on this kind of gift economy. They get their own original artwork, which in some ways is worth nothing, but at the same time, worth so much because it was based on a very simple feedback.
Sometimes, we don’t share the same language; it is made only for them. And what happened to me if first time I’ve done it, with those hours and hours, six days, nine hours a day and also in Helsinki, it’s going to be like a ten hour durational performance, and I’m very exhausted at some point which is great in terms of the images, but the lines were insane.
I realized that all I gave is, basically, the gift of looking at you, making you seen. And yes, I do give the Xerox, and it’s great, but I kind of became very interested in this idea of being almost like a psychic, but really giving you the idea of being fully seen.
And their custom image is something which was done specially for them. In Helsinki, it’s another layer of representing communities in a way, instead of bringing my own objects from the studio and those are collectable that I have been collecting all those years and sometimes make objects or say anything in this case out of them.
I am going to arrive to Helsinki with nothing with me. Then take a few walks, sometimes by myself, sometimes with other curators or other artists. In Helsinki, in my way to actually know Helsinki is by building my collections. So, taking two walks through eastern Helsinki, which is where most of the immigrant community is, lives.
Then, I have different studio visits with other artists that always collect stuff. And then I go around them the more kind of commercial area to fabric shops and news stands and have conversations with people, asked them to give me stuff. So, it turns into also my kind of alternative map of walking into a site I had never visited before.
That’s beautiful. Tell me a little bit about the long lines. What do you think people are looking for?
We are always on and we’re so connected. We sell ourselves to the world but we feel more and more alone. What I often try to do is a very simple one-on-one performance that takes the form of a reading, like a reading card or creating collages.
Even walking in the city or inviting other people to walk or walking into historical and cultural sites like a museum is to create different conversations.
It’s going back to having a dialogue?
It’s going back to it. Right.
Please see here for artist Ofri Cnaani’s Frequently Asked video transcript.