Hagit Barkai is an artist and professor, somewhat new to the Charlotte area. Her work in incredibly beautiful and intriguing, and we’re so glad she’s part of our community.
HappeningsCLT: Describe yourself in three words.
Hagit Barkai: Sign without meaning. There is a line that stayed with me from a Heidegger book I read called What Is Called Thinking. He mentioned that Hoelderlin said “we are a sign that is not read.” I think about it as a sign that carries no fixed meaning and it makes me laugh…maybe because I am always debating who I am. I know this idea sums up something tragic about the experience of living without ever being fully understood but it’s also really funny to think about all the fuss we make in trying to signal who and what we are while always losing and gaining new selves. But this idea also has a horrible face when I think about what has to happen for a body to carry no meaning.
HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?
HB: It wasn’t exactly a decision, more like a realization that I guess that’s how my life functions. But there was a moment when I was doing my MFA at Penn State that I felt I was learning how to move from being a painter to being an artist and tried to make sense of what it meant to me. I think that this transition meant a relationship with the idea of public – to react or digest things that are happening in or through my cultures and also figure out personal experiences from a wider perspective. I think I will add today that to me it means going to places where I am not inclined to go or that it takes an emotional process for me to notice.
HCLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?
HB: The love of painting is probably the first; there is something about making marks, taking mud and throwing it on the wall, realizing an image through a relationship with a surface that sometimes accepts your marks and sometimes rejects them. It plays on something very deep but it is very concrete and easy to do. There was also a moment back when I studied philosophy and already beginning to get frustrated with what I can’t do with it, when I realized that in the way that I was reading and writing, I was making art more than concerned with truth or the validity of statements – even though those things are really seductive to me still.
Then there is a stream of people and things. The painter Yuval Peled who showed me that I need to learn from other people. Also, my early teachers: Eli Shamir, Israel Hershberg, who taught me to paint from observation; My Penn State professors, Robert Yarber, Simone Osthoff, Helen O’leary, Charles Garoian, Cristin Millett, Paul Chidester, and John Bowman. They came into my life in a critical moment in developing my thoughts around artmaking. The old guys – Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Van Eyke, Piero Dela Francesca, Irvin Dickinson, and Francis Bacon. The writers – Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Foucault, Nietzsche, Roland Barthes, VIlem Flusser. The photographers – Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman. The obsessions – Janine Antoni, Marlene Dumas, and Rembrandt, still. Models who couldn’t stay in their poses; the wars; growing up in a Jewish settlement in the west bank; leaving religion and ideology, leaving Israel, living in the US; my artists friends Tirtzha Bassel and Aisen Chacin, Surpik Angelini, the Houston Performance Art scene, and tiny involuntary facial and body expressions.
HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work?
HB: My current work is a group of paintings using photographs I made when working with performance artists of different fields. I wanted to work with performers and to understand the rise of the will, what makes wanting, desire, passion rise up. Really I just wanted to feel it. Every time I work with a new person a new aspect is added that breaks this idea down. It becomes about what it takes to move from being passive to being active; gaining and losing access to a person; and moving from acting to listening. I had beautiful experiences with beautiful people and witnessed various movements, sometimes awkward moments. In the photographs, I am looking for powerful visual symbols; in painting, I look for ways to break these symbols, dissect them to understand their power, but still maintain the dignity for the bodies that I paint.
HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas right now?
HB: I am meeting a lot of local artists lately and having a beautiful experience of a community just wanting to connect and act. It’s exciting. HappeningsCLT is part of this.
HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
HB: I just finished reading The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. I brought it with me from my summer research trip in Israel and it went with me through the transition back here. I thought it would be good to think about old age and death with humor. It was very quieting and funny.
HCLT: Where can we see your work?
HB: You can always check my website and follow me on facebook. I post announcements there for upcoming exhibitions and open studio events.
HCLT: Best meal in Charlotte?
HB: I have had some good meals at Bistro La Bon. Kindred in Davidson was really good and a beautiful space to spend time in.
HCLT: What is your number one art piece/place/event in this area?
HB: Right now, NoDa Art Talk, meeting every Thursday 10am-12pm at The Daily Press.