Nature is a powerful force for New York-based multidisciplinary artist Keren Anavy. It is both subject matter and metaphor within her work – a cultural agent that shapes our world, and tells our stories.
Since moving from Tel Aviv to New York City seven years ago, Anavy has been exploring contrasting elements of nature and urbanism through drawing, painting, installation, and performance. On the surface, her work seems to embody ethereal organicism and sacred geometries. Dig deeper however, and one finds layers of political and cultural symbolism embedded into the natural beauty.
This duality and her keen ability to capture a sense of place caught our attention. We invited Anavy to exhibit at Exhibition The Barn as part of our summer show, Curious Terrain, and spoke with the artist about her work.
You’re based in NYC, and originally from Tel Aviv. How has living in urban yet culturally different environments influenced your work, specifically your use of the natural world as subject matter?
Nature for me is a powerful tool through which I examine broader social contexts. The relationship between nature, particularly water, functioning as a cultural agent and element of consumerism is of particular importance for me, who grew up in a desert region of conflict, where the resource was always scarce.
In urban areas like New York and Tel Aviv, nature exists in what I call “pockets.” They are usually expressed in the form of a park, community garden, botanical garden or sculpture garden. These ‘’pockets’ express ideas of control over nature: cultivated nature, and a combination of natural and artificial. The dichotomy between nature and urbanism, natural and artificial, is expressed in my artistic practice, especially the materials I choose to work with. For example, I paint with organic materials like ink and water on Mylar, a synthetic material that does not absorb the ink easily, and reflects the larger push-and-pull relationship at play in the work.
Can you tell us a bit more about your work on view at The Barn? Did the coastal setting of the Hamptons factor into this exhibition?
Absolutely, I love it! The coastline of the Hamptons and the surrounding water were a direct inspiration for the paintings and site-specific installation at The Barn. These works draw on sources from the light and natural beauty, to the artistic tradition of Modern Art throughout the East End and Hamptons.
Waterfall of Light, the installation on the glass-front garage door, was inspired by Chinese scroll paintings. Similar to how Chinese scrolls incorporate imagery from nature, I reference the local light and water, however reduced to its most abstract form. Using ink, a common technique in ancient Chinese Art, I consider my process to be meditative. I attempt to express the balance between control and freedom as the liquid forms on the Mylar surface.
The large-scale painting was cut to fit seamlessly across the garage windows alongside transparent purple and blue vinyl panels, echoing the natural palette of the nearby ocean and seasonal flora. When the sunlight hits, shapes and shadows emerge at different hours of the day, like a temporary drawing. Coincidences and temporalities in art are very interesting to me – how much the artist controls the processes of their creation, and when they allow the materials to take on a life of their own, just like in nature.
In addition to The Barn, you’ve created immersive experiences in radically different contexts from public gardens to Times Square. How do you think about each space as it relates to the work, the choice of medium, the message?
My site-specific installations often revolve around liminal spaces in which themes like landscape, nature, and light meet. I like to turn the exhibition space into an artificial pocket of nature within the city or neighborhood it’s displayed.
Varying with the location and space, the research and presentation of my installations address my positional bearing by exploring a transnational dialogue about place. In my art, I seek to undo the dense capsule of landscape-place-environment from a different angle each time. I choose the materials I work with carefully; the material and the technique are loaded with cultural meanings. Also, the images that I select and reassemble are charged with layers and symbolic meanings. I view nature through a historical and social lens, for me a rose is never a rose.
This month, I have a solo exhibition opening at the Museum of Art in Queretaro, Mexico, and I will participate in an exhibition at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. An extensive chapter about my work in the context of Transnational Landscapes will be published in November in an Anthology by Bloomsbury Publishing. I’m also developing a project I began last fall. It is a large-scale painting installation. I’m turning a used boat into a floating garden-greenhouse for paintings, addressing issues of immigration, environment, nature preservation, and water channels. It is like a floating Utopia from images drawn from my surroundings and memories.