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KEREN MOSCOVITCH
A lens-based multi-media artist, scholar, and educator, who explores intimacy, structures of desire and the ways in which the sexual and the spiritual intersect.

Moscovitch is very much integrated in the art world, not only creating art through photographs and performance pieces, but also by teaching at SVA, coaching artists, researching for her PhD on the connections between intimacy, philosophy and art theory, writing art criticism, and much more. She is currently very interested in the feminist gaze of the male body, and also in the poetics and subtleties of tangibility expressed through photography. Moscovitch was part of Ofri Cnaani's "Help Desk: Equity Exchange Marathon", a participatory performance piece at Equity Gallery.  

Installation detail from The Final Occidental Act

You’re so involved with different aspects of the art world. What are the interactions between being an artist, art coach, curator, art writer, and teacher ?

I’ve learned over time, and I try to help other artists with this, that being an artist comes first, no matter what. If you’re not an artist first, you have to ask yourself who you really are. There have been so many times in my life where I have been bogged down by the logistics of life: trying to get ahead in my day job, make enough money to live they way I want to in NYC, get attention as an artist. And for me, being an artist is being a philosopher-- it is having a certain inquisitive approach to the bigger questions of life and living and subjectivity like “Who am I?,” “Why am I here?,” “How am I here?,” “How is you being here shaping who am I?,” “What is truth?,”  “What is the world?” All of these big questions —  from a philosophical perspective — are addressed through art practice for me.

If I maintain being an artist as my number one priority while doing other things, the other things will ultimately serve me being an artist. So if I sit in a coaching session, then that can serve my work because I'm learning about intimacy and another person’s subjectivity, both of which are what my work is about.  By listening to other people and their stories, coaching is another way for me to get into other people's heads and be exposed to something new, learning something new and how to be in rapport with people. This also stands with my teaching, for if I didn’t teach, I would have a very different relationship to my art practice. Working with students reminds me of what it takes [to be an artist] and the advice and feedback I give them will resonate in my head the entire subway ride home.

Do you think that teaching affects the work that you make?

I do think that all the work I do is interconnected. My students are my peers. I might have a few more years of experience or shows, but they’re still my peers. For me it’s a conversation; I’m learning from them as they are learning from me. I feel that my work has benefitted from seeing them make work along with their struggles and problem solving. I sometimes give assignments for the week where I know I just couldn’t get done myself, but I still get on their case about it because I know that they are there for a reason.

Fingers and Waist

Where do you focus your energy at a given time? How do you schedule your day?

Well, sometimes I don’t schedule my day and I don’t get things done. But sometimes I might get things done that I don’t expect to. My PhD mentor, George Smith, gave me an assignment in June to create a daily schedule for every day in the fall semester, including wake-up time, when I’m eating, going to the gym, writing, reading. I have in my calendar color coded blocks; today from 3-5pm I will read this amount of pages of Heidegger, tomorrow 7-9pm yoga and 9-10pm I will read 10 pages of Lacan. In the studio 3-5pm. I sometimes do fall off the wagon, but whenever I feel like I’m not being productive, I actually get depressed about not getting work done. So it is back to the drawing board of “what do you need to get done, how much and by when?” Also, my thesis and my artwork are intimately related. It is important that the work that I do with all of these books [referencing books for PhD] have to serve all of this; my PhD research for my dissertation directly draws from the research for my art work. It was a deliberate decision. I also work at SVA, which is very deliberate as well, because SVA provides an environment that allows an artist to make a living. Every person I work with is an artist, so we all get it.

 

Having been deeply immersed in the art world, what do you think needs to be fixed?

Capitalism. I don’t want to be an alarmist because ultimately art needs to survive and thrive in all environments. So, you get artists who are specifically dealing with “late capitalism, neoliberalism”, and the Venice Biennale this year which was all about Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and addressing issues of capital, money, and what is happening right now in the world. But in terms of the art world, I find the art world extremely inspiring--I love the community. But I find that a lot of it can be focused on image, like persona, especially with the whole marketing aspect of business, which is a trend in which people think of being an artist as being an entrepreneur. It is true because we live in a capitalist society, so being a successful artist means being an entrepreneur. I think that’s fine but I think that some artists let the entrepreneurship dominate what it means to be an artist. It worries me when I see artists being so entrepreneurial that they allow the money wheel to drive their work instead of scholarship. I guess I have a romanticized view of what art should be about, a certain purity of research and personal research, a depth of meaning. I know artists who will make multiples of a series that was popular, over and over again so they can keep selling them. I totally get why, but I think that it has to be in integrity with the context of the work. It’s hard because art isn't just about fun expression, art is about discourse, conversation, archiving and creating culture and history. A hundred years from now, an artwork made today will represent the zeitgeist of 2016. If it drips with capitalist inclinations, it will be accurate. That’s why art thrives anywhere you put it. It’s a reflection and a driving force of culture. It reflects and creates at the same time. 

For school I’ve been learning through Merleau-Ponty, a French phenomenologist (about perception and experience), that everything that is, is interconnected, and is because it’s interconnected. That includes consciousness and processing of information. They’re embedded into one another. By mindfully engaging, noticing, and being in your consciousness, you are in truth. You are truth. Art and philosophy function in that way. They are registers of what is happening.

Six Years (The State of the Relationships)

How do you feel the public is able to interact with and understand intimacy through your work?

My experience is that people generally are moved by my work. I feel like there is an intuitive “Oh, I get it.” I think people see their own truth reflected in my work. Even if the narrative is different, it gives them permission to think about intimacy in a more open-ended way. I find that in mainstream culture, the word intimacy is synonymous with sex, which is what people assume about my work. My work is about sex, but sex isn’t necessarily intimacy and intimacy isn’t necessarily sexual, but there is a place where the two intersect and in particular captured by the poetic language of photography. In this case, there is a notion of poetic nature that is “real” and happening, there is a way that poetry makes people understand things that they may not intellectually. That has been on some level my intention: to let people see how diverse, deep, spiritual, and poetic sexuality can actually be. And sexuality is not often talked about in that perspective; it is so often boxed into categories. I’m trying to disrupt those categories through poetics. I think some people have been uncomfortable with the work: they see it as threatening, confrontational, or aggressive, but a lot of people who are curious about it find commonality, understanding, and permission and hopefully find an opening in themselves through the work.

Performance still from The Space Between Us (with Jackie+Tina)

What are you writing your dissertation on?

I’m in the process of figuring that out with my mentor. I’m personally very interested in the poetics of intimacy and breaking down, challenging, and questioning the categorizations, protocols, and surface accepted discourse around sexual intimacy. I’ve been looking at sexuality as dealt with in scholarship, such as love and eros in the Greek narrative;he Marxist desire and commodity exchange narrative, selling bodies and sex and interrelation with commerce; biology and procreation in the Darwinian sense of  reproduction of species; identity politics. Sometimes when I talk about sexuality, people assume that I am talking about queer sexuality because that is a very common environment that uses the term and has a lot of identity politics and power studies associated with it. Hedonism; break apart order and get wild, such as Carolee Schneemann’s “Meat Joy”, performed at Judson Church (where I performed “Space Between Us”) Naked people rolling around in meat and raw fish; unlimited eroticism, freedom, body, collectivity. I find these to be all important and canonical. I’m really interested in intimacy, and I find that intimacy is not a well traveled area in sexuality studies, in my opinion. I’m interested in the poetics of that space and how the vulnerability in an intimate space is a spiritual and poetic act and space. What does the disruption of traditional boundaries do to perceived safety and security?

So, my dissertation is the theoretical component of the experiential work. I’m mining late German, Post-Enlightenment philosophers like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Husserl, and how they influenced the post structuralist French philosophers who were interested in deconstructing language in order to examine and then put them back in different ways. That change from a more static space of absolutes into a space of possibility through poetics intrigues me.  I’m also interested in psychoanalysis, with the Freudian and Lacanian ideas concerning sex and language and how language builds and essentially is our subjectivity. Such as, what does “I do” mean at a wedding and how does that affect one’s intimate subjectivity? How does the act of discussing one’s intimacy change? How does language describe and dissect intimacy? Because I’m working with psychoanalysis, there is a strong component of the schizo--the concept that cannot be categorized and controlled through language.  I’m dealing with the space between.


 

Interviewed by Sarah Cho

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