Streetcar bells clang, workers hurry to their offices, and shoppers and tourists meander along the crowded sidewalk. Lital Dotan, a fair-skinned young woman with long, frizzy, strawberry blond hair, clad in a white terrycloth bathrobe, stares out at the busy downtown San Francisco scene from a couch in the front window of the Marina Abramovic Institute West.
Performance artist Dotan and her artistic and life partner Eyal Perry are living in “The Glasshouse,” a combined gallery and performance space, from July 8 until October 6. In it, they have turned a raw, empty, street-level loft-like area into a home — albeit one with no privacy.
This was precisely Dotan and Perry’s intention. Three years ago, they turned their five-room apartment in the Nachalat Binyamin neighborhood of Tel Aviv into their first Glasshouse. There, it was a metaphorical concept; here in San Francisco, the large window facing the street has turned it into a literal one. The public not only comes in and stays for hours at a time (and in some cases even overnight, in a bed next to the one the artists share), but they also stand at the front window, peering in.
“We want to challenge people in terms of how they experience art,” Perry said. “Art belongs in your living space, not only in galleries and museums. It gets under your skin if it is not detached from everyday life.”
The couple is also challenging the art establishment. By having visitors interact directly with their art in their own home, they are showing that artists can operate without dealers and galleries as intermediaries between them and the public.
In both Glasshouses, art installations are integrated with furniture and household items; the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen become performance spaces. In the San Francisco House, clothes hang from the ceiling, artistically arranged on wires. A mattress that was meticulously stripped down to its coils as part of an hours-long performance by Dotan remains standing as an installation. Various video installations, most of them featuring a nude Dotan, are projected on walls and on TV sets.
In the kitchen area, meals are eaten at a dining table, on whose surface a video of Dotan slowly tearing apart and consuming a dress made of challah is projected. A functional kettle boils on a hot plate next to a pot; inside it, a tiny projection of Dotan slithers and slides like a reptile over stones. A life-size image of a nude Dotan on the front of the refrigerator completes the room. It is made up of tiny pieces, reminiscent of magnetic poetry sets.
Dotan and Perry have been working symbiotically for 10 years. They met when Dotan was still a student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and Perry had already completed his masters degree and was working as a photographer and photography teacher. Like many performance artists, much of their work is about intimacy and breaking taboos.
They work together on all of their art’s content and visual development, including experimentation with new, multi-dimensional approaches to photography. While Dotan is the performer and Perry does all the photography and filming, Perry stressed that “she’s not my model and I’m not her documenter.”
The couple is grateful to Marina Abramovic, the self-described “grandmother of performance art,” for having visited their Glasshouse in Tel Aviv and inviting them to create one in San Francisco. Buoyed by their success in duplicating the concept, they hope to bring it to other cities around the world.