Interview with Sigalit Landau

Sigalit Landau1 45 years old, is an Israeli artist of international renown. In her studio a photograph in large format attracts our attention: it presents an arrested moment from her video work “The Mermaids2”. This work goes together with another one entitled “Azkelon3” a condensation of the name of Gaza (Aza in Hebrew) and the name of the neighboring Israeli city Ashkelon. The two art works were filmed on the beach, on the frontier between Israel and Gaza, close to Ashkelon. “Azkelon” shows young boys tracking borders while playing a knife game. “Mermaids” shows young girls drawing lines in the sand shortly to be effaced by the sea. The inscribing and effacing of borders.

“Being a mother”, What does it bring up in you?

There is me, my daughter and my work. Motherhood divided me between two realities, and there is a certain rivalry between the two. I know how to go about my work, with my daughter it is more complicated. I easily assume physical contact, which I missed as a child. The confrontation with speech in my encounter with her is more difficult. The word and speech are external to the corporeal relation. Whenever I do not know what to do, I take her in my arms.

She is 8 years at present and the question of education is more pressing. I don’t want her to feel forced to oblige me with excellence. However, I have to transmit to her what I expect from her when she goes to school. My parents were survivors, and excellence for them was a mode of surviving. My attempt is to present an antithesis to this: to give only love, unconditioned. But I have to regulate my predilection for totality. I would have also liked to be a hundred percent mother. But I will never be. Besides it is not desirable to be such a mother. With my daughter what is involved for me is amending the melancholy which I encountered at home, having pleasure even if things do not reach perfection. This is why I often have to hide my art from her. Art for me is the perpetual encounter with death, with melancholy and with other existential difficulties. I am trying to spare her all this.

A total artist…?

It is the fact that there isn’t even one moment when I do not try to comprehend whatever I do, what I created. I am at work all the time and very little at home. I have no leisure time or time for vacation. I do not cook.

In your work “Four Mothers”, the theme of nutrition is intensely present.

I wanted to make the four mothers talk of feeding others. I do not know how to feed myself, and when I am with my daughter I buy ready food or I go with her to eat in a restaurant, outside home. I am trying to find what is important in motherhood. My mother is no longer alive, and I do not have a family. When a living being is born, he/she is incorporated into a tribe, into a system of values, into a tradition, and when this is not the case, he/she is almost like an animal.

You are not surrounded by people but you have your work and yet you say that you keep your daughter away from it

I have recently sculptured her. I have also brought her along with me to the Dead Sea so that she will see me working. I have started introducing her slowly to my work. It is a manner of opening her up, of not hiding.

Educating her is one thing, introducing her to your work is another…

I have also made a sculpture in memory of my mother on the occasion of ten years since her death. It is a fountain in the form of a woman with the water coming out of her navel. I have donated this work to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It is installed in the garden of “Anna Freud”. My daughter took part in my work to maintain the fountain and the garden. This sculpture which eternalizes her grand-mother and my mother is our joint project. This is something simple, something she can understand. I can convey to her in this way many things related to desire, to passion, to what I am.

The rapport with the sculpture just as the rapport with your daughter is corporeal, there, where speech is difficult for you.

Yes, but I have also immediately wanted a verbal relation with her. Her name is Imree. This first name means: “Say!”. I wanted her to be called “Tomree” which is the verb “to say” conjugated in the future tense, second person feminine “you will say”. But her father wanted her name to start with the letter Alef as are all the first names of people in his family. Imree, the name which we have finally chosen, has for me the meaning of “say to me”. What is she going to say? I don’t know. But her first name expresses my hope that she will have an easiness with speech, that she will be able to express herself. I tell her sometime: “one should be able to say, and if you do not say it will make you sick in the stomach”.

Could you speak with your mother?

No, but I could give her presents: high grades from school, poems, paintings, sculptures. I was also a dancer and she smiled when I gave her these gifts, it made her happy. Conversely she didn’t like me to speak to her and she said that I bring sadness to the house. She was depressive.

Did she love your art?

Yes. She encouraged it. She knew I was going to succeed. My mother was born in England in a family of refugees who came from Vienna just before the war, just like Freud. She arrived in Israel, where she had family, in 1964, in order to study Criminology. Here she met my father. She was not a Sabra4, that is, someone born in Israel. I also don’t have the personality of a Sabra, but I have always defended my art because I didn’t want to be like her, a domestic woman with a doctorate in Criminology.

Sculpting and taking your child in your arms, is this not for you one and the same experience of the body?

The wish to have a child was a wish to have an experience of love. I have never experienced love before my daughter entered my life. It was hence a wish to experience something in the body, but also to knot together body and soul. I wanted so much to live my pregnancy and to be a woman, because my work is very virile. Besides, my physique is very “macho”. When my daughter was born, I went back and forth: I brazed and I changed nappies. I molded iron and I breast-fed. I don’t regret anything.

Interviewed in Jaffa on the 31 of July 2014 by Patricia Bosquin Caroz and Gil Caroz.

Translation to English by Ruth Ronen.

[1] http://www.sigalitlandau.com

2 http://www.sigalitlandau.com/page/video/3%20Mermaids.php

3 http://www.sigalitlandau.com/page/video/Azqelon.php

4 Sabra (Tsabar in Hebrew): A word referring to Jews born in Israel. In Hebrew this word refers to the prickly pear and alludes to a soft character inside and spiky outside.