We had the good fortune of connecting with Tamar Zohara Ettun and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tamar, how do you think about risk?
I think any kind of worthwhile art has risk embedded in it. Art that is unique requires risk to create and to engage with. When I was younger I thought the process of making art had to be risky — in one video piece I performed a difficult pose standing on one leg on a rotating chair on a rooftop of a 20-story building when a friend is pulling a rope tied to the chair that moved it in circles. What feels risky to me now is different than when I was younger. These days – either because I matured / became older and boring – I get the same rush of adrenaline when I have a good idea that pushes my comfort zone. A new thought that takes me out of the safe zone of habitual thinking into a brave zone of vulnerable exploration and confrontation. Committing to a life of a working artist requires a lot of faith, and faith is about blinding oneself to sensible risks and creeping doubts, so that you can keep doing the work.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a multidisciplinary artist working with textiles, inflatables, sculptures, and performance art to create invitations for empathetic engagement with our surroundings. For many years I have been researching empathy’s role in healing and creating relationships in opposition to the isolation of trauma and institutionalized violence. Last year I had an empathy crisis and came to realize that empathy, like anything else, has a shadow side. This lead to my most recent project, Lilit the Empathic Demon. Lilit the Empathetic Demon incorporates ancient demon trapping techniques from second-century Babylon to confront empathy fatigue. The core of the project is a text messaging list that allows me to take on the persona of Lilit and interact with several hundred people every week. Every week Lilit contacts people who have signed up to share drawings, scholarly research about her life, and instructions for somatic exercises. This began during the pandemic as an urgent response to the isolation felt by many. The texts create intimate relationships with the readers, who frequently write her back with snippets about their lives and demons. The online instructions lead to offline actions, such as an exercise that lead participants to find something in their home shaped like a full moon, and use it to draw on their body. To sign up, text SUMMON (833) 575-1049, and Lilit will message you.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, it’s all different now during the pandemic! We live in Brooklyn, not too far from Prospect Park which has been a real lifesaver this year. Most of the places I hang out in these days are within walking distance from my apartment, here’re a few favorites:
– Pioneer Works, an experimental art, music and science venue in Redhook. I worked with them on a performance-installation last year, and spent so much time there it became my second home. It’s inspiring to see how they adapted to the pandemic
– their most recent show opened in a parking lot nearby, so that people can see the work outdoors, instead of in the main gallery, and it looks great! I love seeing art organizations that make it work in whatever circumstances, for the sake of keeping art alive.
– Community ceramic studio Gasworks
– they have a variety of classes, including one day workshops, and products for sale. Working with clay, especially today when tactility became charged, is incredibly satisfying.
– The Brooklyn Navy Yard, where I keep my studio. There are many artists and crafts people’s studios around, its a great place to check out. On the rooftop of my studio building is the Brooklyn Grange, the largest soil rooftop in the world. They grow vegetables, flowers, and its a surreal and beautiful place to visit, a piece of greens and bright yellows overlooking the skyline of New York.
– Mi Familia Tacostand in Park Slope
– We live around more than a few taco options, but this is the best one.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to shout out the Art Mama group founded by Helen Toomer and Katy Donoghue to support womxn with kids! It’s a wonderful community of artists and art workers who meet twice a month to share resources and discuss motherhood. They do such important work bringing to light themes that aren’t easy to talk about in a group – like miscarriages, fertility treatments, multitasking, burn-out – and somehow it’s always uplifting and in good spirits. I also must shout out — curator Rebecca Pristoop and artist Laura Bernstein from The Moving Company! They’re doing amazing work making space for experimental performance art, and now starting a new performance series “The Moving Company and Friends” hosted by artist-run gallery Essex Flowers.
Photographers: Krysta Brayer Walter Wlodarczyk Matt Grubb Justin Locust, Courtesy the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art