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Know Hope "Helpless"
"Helpless"Courtesy of Know Hope

Know Hope in Tel Aviv

The Israeli wordsmith/artist – famous for his fragmented poems – tattooed his street art on to 24 people for his latest exhibition

Know Hope likes paronomasia. You might have guessed from his name that he likes to play with words – his street interventions often centre on fragmented poems, phrases that hang on surfaces like aphorisms for an elegiac generation. From writing (and drawing) on walls and building installations in the street and in galleries (he currently has solo gigs up in Paris and Tel Aviv), the artist has moved his art to another interactive medium: people.

Continually interested in what defines and defies the parameters of communication between people and places, and how meaning is transferred and disseminated, his latest project in his hometown, Truth and Method – for which he tattooed 24 strangers – is his most emotive exploration yet.

The current show in Tel Aviv brings everything in your work full circle: the audience becomes the subject and vice versa.

Know Hope: The concept for this project was born while reflecting on observation and, in a way, its correlation with my outdoor work. Observation has always been the starting point of my work – real life situations, minor human situations that are later translated into my iconography, in an attempt to convey them in a more universal or less specific way. The strongest and most real metaphors are happening constantly all around us.

What I was used to doing was creating images that illustrate these metaphors/situations, until I started to feel like these metaphors do a sufficient enough of a job at communicating themselves. A rusty gate doesn’t need an image conveying the passing of time – it is in itself an image containing and conveying the passing of time. 

How did the project evolve? 

Know Hope: At a certain point, I started to feel like this imagery was not only a substitute, a copy of the real thing, but also somewhat imposing and didactic. After this realisation, I became more interested in ‘suggesting’ an image, opposed to illustrating one.

I did this by creating text-based pieces in public spaces. These pieces are made in a site-specific manner, with the intention of the text being a small element in a larger happening. All the human interactions and environmental discourse allow endless amounts of images to be made. This allows not only for the viewer to bring his/her own personal baggage into the dialogue, but take a more active part in creating the image. This way of thinking really changed my perception in regards to image making.

“One of the main aspects that the project communicates is the idea that a phrase receives its ever-changing essence by the context that it is placed in” – Know Hope

It was after this process that I tried to think of ways to emphasise the human situations on which these pieces relied so much. That led me to the idea of tattooing the same phrases on people and allowing the ‘ownership’ of the images, created after, to be transferred on to the tattooed individuals. 

Tattooing all those strangers for the first time must have been an intense process – did it affect you?

Know Hope: Due to the fact that 90 per cent of the participants were practically complete strangers and that tattooing was involved, I immediately was aware of the responsibility involved. Because of this element and the method in which the tattoos were done, the process was extremely intimate. The sessions inevitably became very personal as we got to know each other and more elements from the participants’ personal biographies. 

Before the actual tattooing, we had an in-depth conversation, with the intention of getting familiar with each other, as there was a great deal of trust that needed to be gained, earned and shared. These conversations were at times very emotional and intimate. I think both as a shared moment, but also in terms of seeing what brought these people to participate in the project.

Was this the first time you’ve introduced photography into your work? 

Know Hope: I’ve been working with photography for quite a while, in my installation and studio work. I’ve done this mainly to create parallels or interaction between real life situations and those depicted in my work. Those photos were usually more in the vein of street photography, and if there are people in it, they’re not necessarily aware of me taking their photos.

The portraits in this project were very different in that sense, and, with that, required a different mindset on my behalf. Initially the idea was to try and fabricate situations in order to convey various possible metaphors that could correspond with the texts, though very quickly I realised that this is exactly what I shouldn’t do, as one of the main motivations was to show organic moments and new meanings that the new context bring. Many of the photos were shot in the participants’ homes, places of work or just joining them in their daily routines, and some in straightforward portrait style, with them acknowledging the camera by looking straight at it, which is something I never had done before in other photographs of mine.

You took the title from the show from a philosophical work by Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method, 1960). There’s a parallel interest in your work, about being limited by culture, history and language… 

Know Hope: Yes, the title references Gadamer. I thought this connection was interesting because one of the main aspects that the project communicates is the idea that a phrase receives its ever-changing essence by the context that it is placed in, whether it be the outdoor context, the personal narrative of the tattooed individual or the more illustrative representation of my iconography and studio work. This created new meanings in each context that it was placed in but since the origin of the phrases was in the outdoor context, the shared reality, the act of tattooing someone/someone getting tattooed with the same text inevitable created this symbiosis and connection between the individual and the collective-the people that inhabit a certain surrounding are an integral part of its fiber.

Besides the specific meaning of the individual texts in the contexts, there’s a broader discussion relating interaction, both between imagery and meaning, and between ones self and his/her environment. 

What has the atmosphere been like in Israel since the recent election result? How do you think Israelis can go forward within the limits imposed by their current political situation?

Know Hope: I think a lot of optimism was crushed and this created confusion and frustration. I always feel, in situations like this, like it’s not only about the actual issues, but the recognition of the possibility, or a certain idea of hope. I think there is disillusionment in cases like current-state Israel, which is more dangerous than the actual result, in this case of the elections.

I think that the only way to move forward, generally, is to acknowledge our individual responsibility – that we can only control the things we can control, which is our minor gestures, and in these gestures is the ripple effect. Sometimes it seems like what we can do is function as an emotional opposition to these things and these realities.

Truth and Method is on show at Gordon Gallery until April 25, 2015. Visit Know Hope Openspace Gallery, Paris, for more on the artist