Attie, Shimon.

*1957 in Los Angeles, USA
Dozent an der School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
Studium an der University of California, Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Antioch University.


Ausstellungen [Auswahl]:

2012 Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio
2011 MetroPAL.IS., The Aldrich  Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT
2008 Sightings: The Ecology of an Art Museum, De Young Museum/Fine Arts Museum of
San Francisco, San Francisco
2008 The Attraction of Onlookers, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, UK
2008 New Video Installations. -,Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY

Racing clocks run slow: Archaeology of a Racetrack

(dt. Rasende Uhren laufen langsam: Archäologie einer Rennstrecke)


Date: 2008
Length: 18:00 min.
Format:  16:9  HD
Specification: Colour, 360 degree Surround Sound


Eine Reihe statischer Figuren ist vor den Augen des Betrachters aufgestellt. Sie tragen verschiedene Kleidungsstücke aus der Welt des Motorsports. In der Art eines Tableau vivant nehmen sie die charakteristische Pose ihrer Tätigkeit an der Rennstrecke ein: Der Rennfahrer hält jubilierend seine große Siegerflasche Champagner in die Höhe, der Startposten hebt seine schwarz-weiß karierte Flagge und das Boxenteam trägt seine Werkzeuge in den Händen.

Shimon Attie filmte siebzig einzelne Personen, die einst mit der legendären, 1994 geschlossenen US-amerikanischen Autorennstrecke Bridgehampton zu tun hatten. Es sind also keine Schauspieler, sondern direkt Beteiligte und Beobachter, die ihre authentische Rennsportkleidung und Ausrüstung vorführen. Attie benutzt außerdem Ausschnitte von originalen Audio-Aufnahmen, die in den 1970er Jahren auf der Strecke gemacht wurden.

Aber trotz Authentizität der Ausstattung und Plausibilität der Gesten bewegt sich der Film weit weg von dem üblichen Dokumentarstil. Die völlige Unbeweglichkeit der Figuren, eingefroren in der Pose ihrer jeweiligen Rolle, verwandelt sie in ein Set aus Mini-Spielzeugen, gleich den Bewohnern der Lego-Welt. Ähnlich der kindlichen Vorstellungskraft, die soziale Lebenswelten erfindet, setzen die Erwachsenen die Konstruktion sozialer Identitäten fort. Es ist vor allem die Größe, weniger die Art und Weise, die diese Erwachsenenspielzeuge von denen der Kinder unterscheidet. 




►1. Your video has been chosen among over 1700 festival entries to participate in Videonale 13. How central is the video medium to your overall artistic production? Is it complimentary to other media you use or do you work exclusively with video?

My work crosses over between a number of different media, including video, photography, performance, installation, new media, and public projects. That said, creating multiple-channel immersive hd video installations has been at the heart of my practice for the past 5 years.


Video, being by definition time-based, lends itself to the kinds of conflation of past and present which is central to my work. In addition, creating multiple-channel, immersive works allow me to activate a given space, which is also something central to my artistic sensibility.


►2. Is there a particular theme, concept or problem your art addresses the most?

Although the medium and form of my work has changed over the years, the ideas, concerns and strategies that underlie my practice have remained the same. In many of my pieces, I engage local communities to find new ways of representing collective and personal history, memory and potential futures. I seek to explore in my works how video and other contemporary media may be used to re-imagine new relationships between space, time, place and identity.


My work with the moving image is inflected by my original training in still photography, such that many of my video works lie at the intersection between the static and moving image. I rarely use any digital effects. Instead, I stage “stillness” using video, by having my subjects and participants hold static, statuary poses while standing on specially designed, unseen moving stages. 


This approach lends itself to my long term concern in giving new visual form to human memory. Memories are both frozen in time, as static constructs, but are also fluid and subject to change over time. The forces and ebbs and flows of life and the passage of time impact and mold our memories. Hence the subjects in my video works are both static and moving.  It is this  “moving stillness” in my video works that reflects my interest in giving form to  this dual aspect of human memory.


In broader terms, most of my work is content- and concept-driven. I start with an idea or concept first, or subject matter that I care deeply about, and let that determine the most appropriate form. In addition, I strongly believe that art making is a form of communication between artist and audience, and I try to make works that in some way relate to problems in the world at large.  It is important for me to try to go beyond the sometimes insular concerns of the art world. I care deeply about our common humanity and the politics that support that, and hope that this concern somehow comes out in my pieces.

►3. What artists do you relate to or find significant for your own art-making?


I tend to respond most to artists whose work hugs the 50 yard line between form and content, and between the material and ethereal, as this is something I try to achieve in my own work.  This includes an engagement with meaningful content combined with a sensitivity in activating space, light, and sound.


That said, the group of artists that I respond to changes over time, and is fairly significant in number. There are probably about 20 artists whose work I respond to at any given time. Also, the reasons that I respond to any given artist tend to be specific to that artist.  In other words, I respond to various artists for wildly different reasons.  It could include folks like Pierre Huyghe, Christian Marclay, Janet Cardiff, Jim Campbell,  Doug Aitken, James Turrell, among many, many others.

►4. Do you think the video medium can address social or political issues better than other art media?


I myself would not say that.  I suppose that what is behind the question is video’s unique ability as a story telling medium. Perhaps video can address the literal and informational aspects of social and political issues best, but I don’t think that any one particular medium has a monopoly or is best situated to create an affective, penetrating response in the viewer when it comes to social and political issues.


The larger challenge for me is whether art -precisely because it can operate simultaneously both in the literal and in metaphor- and because of its potential powers of visual seduction, can evoke a different kind of experience. Said differently, whether art making might be able to create a kind of “soft landing” for the viewer to be able to experience a given subject matter or content in a new way.


►5. Art can be seen as a mirror that registers and reflects life or as a tool that transforms it. Which of the two positions is close to your own art-making philosophy?


I must say that given the times in which we live, I don’t think that being a mirror is sufficient.  A mirror implies neutrality, and can often by its very nature be read as condoning, legitimizing, even celebrating certain cultural conditions.


But this question is posed as this OR that. In fact, strong art by definition is almost always both. It creates a mirror or foil to reflect back our condition, but does so with enough experiential or narrative oxygen and space in order to evoke the possibility of other eventualities.


At this point in time, its almost cliché for an artist to say that they are just mirroring back the world as it is. I myself have said it a million times. It is a good, easy articulation of where the artist stands. But if I am honest myself, I strive to do more than that. I hope that I can create opportunities for new experiences to be had, and that is what I most respond to in the work of other artists that have a lasting effect on me.


►6. How do you understand success in an art-making career?


Well, that is an interesting question. I think that the most fundamental barometer of career “success” as an artist, is to have the ability to keep making one’s work. Secondary to that would be to have access to audiences for one’s pieces and projects. This is important, because as I have mentioned elsewhere, I am of the mind that art making is a form of communication between an artist and his or her audience.


Beyond these two needs being met, everything else is “icing on the cake.” The critical and commercial response to one’s work goes up and down, as one’s sensibility and concerns fall into and out of fashion, and back again. There is quite a bit of serendipity and personal, subjective taste on the part of various parties that play a role. Those aspects are very difficult for an artist to control. What is more important to my mind is to have enough positive support so that one can continue to make one’s work, and to have an audience for that work.


►7. What is the most difficult and the most rewarding thing about making art/ being an artist?


I think that one of the most difficult things about being an artist is the extent to which one is competing against oneself. Every strong work that one creates then becomes a benchmark and point of comparison for critics and audience when new works emerge. At times, that can be difficult.


Beyond that, part of my response to the most difficult aspect of being an artist relates to my answer in question number 6 above. I am referring here to the role of personal, subjective taste, and also of political jockeying and positioning, that occurs in the art world. These two forces play a large role in what is considered successful and important work, and this of course, is sometimes a bit disappointing. But so it is!


And of course, one can never forget the financial difficulties that many artists face. This can not be underestimated. I am grateful that I am able to make a living from doing my work, but we all as artists are very vulnerable to economic ups and downs, as many of us learned during the last financial crisis.


Now for the positive. One thing that I am grateful for, is that there is not just one international world. There are several different art worlds, often in concentric circles, at least that is how it feels sometime. So its not completely monolithic, and that does allow somewhat for a variety of work to be well received.


But the most important positive aspects of being an artist relate to the actual making of the work and being happy with the end result. An extremely rewarding feeling for me is when a project is finished and I am satisfied and proud of the completed piece. It is impossible to predict or control the response of others, so as a very minimum, I try to make as strong and compelling a work of art that I am capable of, so that I myself am happy and satisfied with it.

I think that many artists –myself included- seek, through one’s work, to articulate a life with meaning and depth. Whether one succeeds at that is very hard to assess along the way. But that is at least what I strive for through my work. And in those moments when I feel that a completed work ends up being very close to my visions and ambitions for it, or surpasses them, I get a very full feeling of satisfaction and contentment. These feelings often come after a long, uneven process of trial and error, problems that arise and have to be solved, and myriad other frustrations that occur along the way in the making of  a work of art.


►8. What are your upcoming projects?

Well, I actually just finished a major new video installation that I have been working for about 18 months. So I am a bit still in the afterglow and shadows of that at the moment. The piece is entitled MetroPAL.IS.  and recently opened at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum where it will be on view until May 30 (
MetroPAL.IS. is an 8 channel hd video installation in-the-round. It is a bit hopeless trying to describe it because it is really an in-situ experience.

But I will try to describe it here broefly. For MetroPAL.IS., I filmed 24 members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities of New York City –all professional actors- who performed a seamless hybrid text that I created which combines the Israeli and Palestinian Declarations of Independence. The two original declarations are startlingly and tragically similar in many regards (though not entirely.) The artwork is performed in an almost Shakespearian register -Greek choir style- with participants alternating between holding static statuary poses and active, animated ones. The 24 performers are loosely organized as a series of  New York “types”: e.g. two Williamsburg hipsters –one Palestinian, one Israeli-,  two MTA subway employees, two NYC Urban Street youth, etc. I wanted to engage each group’s shared, secondary hybrid identity –that of being New Yorkers- in order to oxygenate the frozen narrative between these two communities. I also wanted to explore the mutability of layered identities, communal affiliation, and national aspiration, and to defy expectations of what it means to be an Israeli, a Palestinian, and a New Yorker, and by extension, an American.
Now that MetroPAL.IS. has finally opened at the Museum, I am turning my attention to making a variety of 2-d and 3-d works related to it. I am creating various text- and language-based pieces in letterpress,  digital inkjet, and even sandblasted marble.


I believe that my next video work is going to address the three major ideologies competing in the world today: global international capitalism, local nationalism, and religious fundamentalism. I will leave it at that for now.

►9. What do you do when you don't make art?

Wow. I travel a lot. I try to stay in good physical health by exercising regularly.  I spend a lot of time with friends and loved ones. I love cinema, listening to music, great food, and seeing people that I love. I follow politics and political developments very closely. Sometimes, I also just like to “Vegge,” in other words, to do nothing but relax.


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