Meet our Artists in Residence
Maya and Roie arrived in Atlanta last week to begin working on their latest mural Mantra. While here, they will have moments to engage with the community through an 1830EST: Artist Talk with Elizabeth Labbe-Webb on April 20th and lunchtimes from 12-1 on site Tues-Sat with the community. We were able to sit down with them to discuss life, art, and everything in between. We hope you enjoy!
Interview edited for length and clarity.
We all have individual practices as movers and humans to get through the day, or prepare to make art. What individual practices do you engage with on a day-to-day basis and how do they engage with or influence Mind the Heart Project?
Over the years we developed different practices, some of which are connected directly to the act of creation, and have to do with our processes and techniques, but some have to do with life itself. The immediate suspect is of course our mindfulness practice. Together and separately, we’ve been practicing tuning in, listening to the voices within and the sounds around us. Observing our surroundings, with eyes open or closed. Noticing bodily sensations and trains of thought. Getting quiet or expressive about these experiences. There are many ways to take in the present moment, and it can look differently from day to day and place to place. But it always starts with the intention of receiving – letting what IS to simply BE, letting it inform our choices and actions.
But really, this intention of being present informs the way we cook, eat, shower, talk, walk, etc. And it is very much at the heart of our public actions, both in the way we create them and in the messages they carry. An example of this is in the way we give our talks and lectures. We change our slide presentation every single time, so that we can never just auto-pilot through it.
Tell us about your history/inception with Mind the Heart? Where did it come from, what conversations did you both have around it, what ideas got left behind as this one came to the forefront?
Our story begins in Tel Aviv, where we lived for more than a decade, but it outlines a story of living in a city or a town anywhere. Living in a place for a long enough time, one tends to get used to the beauty and to ignore the “ugly”, the hurt, the uncomfortable. In urban surroundings, even more so, since the senses are bombarded 24/7 with an endless barrage of imagery, sounds, smells, ads, traffic, people. Shutting off is an understandable self-defense mechanism. Still, we realized that this dimming of the senses resulted in us moving about inattentive to what surrounds us, sinking into our own minds, or phones, and becoming less and less attuned to the present moment. And the next moment is never guaranteed.
With that in mind, back in 2009, we took our practice to the streets, for the first time. It was a spontaneous act, we simply started walking down the street, in search of a way to directly engage with the city and the residents. In a technique that was later honed into our “walking-working” method, we placed small havens for the senses, in spots that grabbed our attention.
Street art meets the passerby unexpectedly, thus able to evoke the element of surprise and penetrate more easily habitual filters, and familiar ways of engaging with art. We thought it would be a single action over the course of one weekend, but we just fell in love with the immediacy of it. The public space offered an unmediated experience to a place, a moment in time, the people there, all framed in the context of impermanence. It allowed us to take the notion of site-specific work to a new, deeper level.
After that, we divided our time between these two parallel spaces – the “white cubes” of galleries and museums and the “gray walls” of the streets. We set an intention for our joint practice in public: to discover whether a small, personal act would be lost in the urban turmoil or, contrarily, could gain new meaning within that wider context. A meaning that navigates the complexities of social awareness: separation and connection, acknowledging wounds in order to heal, interconnectedness, and agency. Simultaneously, we kept on working in the studio, individually.
Mind The Heart! uses a very specific color pallet and materials for your murals, can you talk a little bit about this and maybe let us in on what led to these choices? Was there a history in deciding on colors and materials in the way you work?
Our works are invitations, serving as entry points into deeper awareness - both spatial and internal. A visual prompt to observe the moment, yourself in it, where you live, your neighbors, your city, all as a part of a bigger picture. Therefore they are site-and-time-specific, and while our practice usually results in tangible works – installations, murals and photographs – it is performative in essence. For us, art exists in the very act of creating and in the temporary nature of it. For this purpose, everything is mixed-media, handmade with soft materials that intentionally clash with the urban landscape and wild nature alike. When we work in nature, the installations are temporary, existing but for a moment and leaving no trace.
The project’s iconic red yarn heart was the first symbol we used, but gradually others followed. Black birds, scars, new skin patches, and later - letters, with which we could introduce linguistic concepts into the mix. The new mural that is created for Core Dance, Mantra, will feature two recent members to the family of symbols - roots and weeds. It’s interesting to note that the Hebrew term for ‘mindfulness’ can be translated literally to “put your heart on it” (with ‘it’ being the thing you’re noticing). This suggests that being mindful and paying attention are physical experiences and matters of the heart, not of the Mind.
Regarding the aforementioned “walking-working”; technique and The Artist as Wanderer: We developed a method in which we utilize somatic tools and mindfulness practices. Taking in a place this way embeds it with varied information that can be translated into art. The wanderer concept was introduced by Walter Benjamin, who made his la flaneur an emblematic archetype of urban, modern experience. In his book The practice of everyday life, social scientist De Certeau describes a form of daily resistance in the very way we use city streets. Seemingly mundane actions like standing, talking, and walking can be done with two different intentions. He calls it “the art of doing.”
To create works this way is to celebrate how life and inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places (ask any weed that grows from a crack in the pavement). Through them we deal with what it means to be human, and reveal not just the highs of life, but also the pain and anxieties of the mundane, in order to find strength and heal. This is why the yarn hearts aren’t perfect. They’re tangled, frayed, experienced, resilient, and beating with life. The duct-tape scars or patches of yarn skin treat the cracks in walls and sidewalks, healing their wounds with metaphorical scar tissues. The Black Birds encompass a duality: a tension between the pulling force of the ground and the endless promise of the open sky.
The technique of construction/deconstruction of words derives from the Kabalistic saying that goes “Olam Bemila Nivra” (with a word a world is born).
Tell us about your history with Core Dance.. What is your origin story with our organization?
In the summer of 2017, we committed to taking our vision much further, and embarked on a 365/24/7 performance called The Serendipity Experiment. The premise was to accept the unknown as an artistic tool by relinquishing control and totally committing to being Here and Now. For this purpose, we donated all our belongings, moved to a foreign country, and invited strangers to dictate our route, schedule, and next encounters. At every place that we were sent to, we created a work. The experiment was planned for one year but ended up lasting four, spanning 60,000 miles across 47 states in the U.S.
Sue Schroeder was among the very first dots on that serendipitous path of encounters. We were connected to her by Yonit Stern, the former cultural attaché at the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, and a dear friend of Sue. Yonit had just finished her term and returned to Israel. When she heard about our upcoming artistic adventure she immediately thought of Core Dance and connected the dots. We came to visit Sue and created our first mural for Core Dance – b.e.i.n.g - at the exact spot where our new work Mantra will be. The rest is history.
We fell in love with Sue, the Core Dance Team, Decatur, Atlanta. Sue calls it “our tribe”, and indeed the connection and familiarity felt natural, like we’ve known each other before. Sue is such an amazing connector and the way she opens and holds spaces for creative people to step in and experiment is rare and inspiring. Since that first collaboration in 2017, our paths kept converging again and again, in the States but also in Poland, for two artist residencies.
MTH!P’s murals/site specific works have a very intimate sense of balance within the environments where you work, as if you are merely uncovering what already exists. Can you go into your process and specifically what you are looking at/for when deciding on the placement of text/image?
Bottom line – it’s instinctual. Our choices are intuitive. We walk slowly, attentively, trying to get the vibe of a place. The Eyes are drawn to a spot as we pass it. More often than not, the same spot draws both of us, at the same time. If something makes us stop, we stop. Then we consider what was it that made us stop, and what we want to say/do about it? It usually has to do with finding beauty in decay, order in chaos. When we work, we don’t try to “take over” a place, but rather to explore the option of integration with its inherent complex tapestry.
The wall is the canvas but it’s also a setting. We take into consideration the architectural composition. Inspect the colors and textures of the buildings, the height and shades of the trees, the presence of electric wires that cut through the frame, etc. Creating from a place that recognizes that there is something beyond, a life force, helps us become channels, and we translate our experiences into artworks.