Copenhagen-based artist Tal R brings his visions of Detroit to MOCAD.
Franz Kafka’s unfinished first novel (published posthumously in 1927), is set in a dream world that is not quite America — not surprising, since the author never visited the country.
JEWISH NEWS: How long did you live in Israel? Does that inform your art in any way?
TAL R: I was born in Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. My parents moved to Copenhagen a few months after I was born but every summer was spent in Israel. I think the fact that my parents called me Tal, which is not a name in Denmark, made people in Denmark always say, “So Tal, what is your real name?” Also, the fact that I was not Israeli and not real Danish made me somehow a person living between countries. I am sure this shaped my way as a human and, therefore, undoubtedly my art.
JN: Do you still have family in Israel? How were you raised religiously?
TR: I have a big family in Israel, stretching from kibbutzniks to haredim. I went to Jewish school. When I was 7 years old, I asked the rabbi in school, “How can I believe in God when I can’t see him?” He answered, “Have you been in America?” I said “No.” He said, “Then how can you know America exists?”
JN: Tell me about your art philosophy, what it means to you and what you hope it will mean to viewers.
TR: Art is the only job in society that talks freely about what it is like to be a human. Art is allowed to disappoint. Art gives more questions than answers. Art destroys you. Art builds you up.
JN: What kind of resources did you rely on to try to visualize what Detroit is like?
TR: I visualized images that exist most places on Earth, such as trains, clowns, fat cats, graphic systems, bridges and horses. I combined these images with neighborhood names. The viewer is placed between the image and the name.
JN: When you visited Detroit, what were your impressions?
TR: I spent a lot of time in Detroit driving around neighborhood and industrial areas. What happened to Detroit happens to most cities every 200 years: They melt down. This makes the city look poetic — everything suddenly seems broken. But, more important, everything seems possible again.
JN: Do you have a favorite painting in the series?
TR: My favorite painting is the big fat cat hanging upside-down. It is only the second cat I’ve ever painted. The first cat I painted was in a psychiatric hospital.
Tal R’s “: this is not Detroit” runs through July 29 at MOCAD.