Where does life come from? Whether I’m photographing the doors of the houses where my parents
grew up, sticking a bouquet of flowers in my mouth while lying on the floor, or recreating the curtain
of the theater in the Warsaw Ghetto, this is the question that preoccupies me. The question is not a
scientific or religious one: it is the question what drives us forward and upward even as we are
counting down to death from the moment we are born.
In my piece “Entering and Existing,” I sought to perform in the role of life itself by lying on the
floor and letting a bunch of flowers drink from my mouth. After all, if my body is two-thirds water,
shouldn’t it be able to sustain the life of a plant? In “IBoat,” I floated down a river balancing a sail on
my belly, turning myself into a boat. Recalling Jonah, who shrunk from God’s command on him to
protect his people and instead went to sleep under a Castor tree, I purchased the shade under a
Castor tree in Brazil, consecrating this shade as a refuge for my friends. Titled “Reconciliation
Ceremony,” the work was intended as a reconciliation between God, Jonah and me.
Our relation to our own body is haunted by shame. When I use myself as a prop in my
performances, my own shame evaporates. By becoming a tool, a support, or even a source of life for
something else, the body redeems itself, forgets itself, and shame is cancelled. Performing always
involves the risk of shame; to overcome this shame requires courage. Indeed, just as the body can
give life to something outside of it, courage is a crucial source of life. In our minds, we can imagine a
million possible actions and projects—ideas come cheap. In order to transform one of them into an
actual action, a feature of the actual world, we have to dare to make a leap. Courage is the force
whereby the merely possible is made real. That is also why the artistic form of performance is crucial
to my art: it is through real actions in time that courage reveals itself.
My sculpture “Tragedy Sail” continues the exploration of courage. I made a sail out of clippings of
war reportage from Life Magazine during 1939-1947, with one side of the sail displaying photographs
and the other side headlines. Suspended from the ceiling and anchored in two stones, the sail
represents life in its horror and in its astonishing ability to move forward relentlessly, in the midst of
this horror. “New Azazel” recreates the curtain of the theater in the Warsaw Ghetto, its ropes tied
not as bows but as a noose. That people should continue pursuing art and entertainment in such a
dire place is striking; and it throws into relief the inner forces—courage, and a love of life—that
propel us forward.
Zionism seizes upon the Jewish people’s mythical connection to the land of Israel, and the imagery of
earth and soil looms large in contemporary Jewish-Israeli identity. The early Zionists wanted to help
the Jewish people flourish by replanting them in their native earth and in an exclusively Jewish
society. Cultural identity was thus regarded as a life-giving force. By referring to these ideas, “Star of
David” complicates my involvement with the sources of life. Throwing metal stars like darts onto a
wall, I mimicked the way symbols of identity have come to be used as weapons.
In the performance “Man Carries His Death,” my performers and I put heavy urns on our heads and
walked along David’s Tower in Jerusalem. Our vision impeded by these reminders of death, we had
to be creative in navigating our environment, relying more on hearing than sight, for example.
Although the physical obstruction was artificial, it merely emphasized the limitations in knowledge to
which we are always subject, and the existential weights we carry every day. At the same time, it threw
into relief the forces which carry us forward, even as we live under a constant threat of death and