Gabrielle Israelievitch




from "Yellow Taxi" solo exhibit

February 1999

from "Transformations" solo exhibit (in catalog)
January 2001

2001, 2009

ARTIST'S STATEMENT (February 1999)                                                                                           TOP
Solo show at University of Toronto

Exhibiting in a university setting, I must relate something of my happy connection to such institutions of learning. I have thrived in them and returned repeatedly. These rich experiences necessarily shape my vision.

As an undergraduate I was searching to understand any secret language. In those years, this passion led to reading Homer in Greek, Virgil in Latin, and the Bible in Hebrew. I later entered graduate school to study hearing and deafness in an effort to fathom the landscapes below language. While teaching deaf children, I finished a master's degree in social work, a discipline that provided ways of seeing people in their cultural and familial landscape. Ten years ago I earned a doctorate in psychology.

I love finding a parallel universe and making sense of lt. It is always the layers below the surface--in the rip, or buried darkly- --that compel me to explore with a language that might reveal something.

At core, my pictures are about the process of making them, framing  small parts of the everyday--first in the camera and later at the cutting table--then putting order in the chaos of images as they speak their meanings. The ordering of input (sensory, verbal, mythical, conceptual) ultimately describes what it is to perceive.  Rendering an order is an act of perception.

ARTIST'S STATEMENT (January 2001)                                                                                             TOP
from Transformations Catalog

I study appearances and try to unpack them. In their unpacking, I look for balance and resolution between interior and exterior realities.. Objects and landscapes can be cut up and reconfigured. Re-seen.  Light can be re-routed. Meaning is assembled from disparate bits of information. Assembling the bits to penetrate beneath and behind them, I try to lay open both mirrors and windows, wondering if we know which are which.

I observe, and then I begin. Which is to say:  I live therefore I create.

*     *     *

My own art-making comprises three main processes which are all ongoing and overlaid on each other. All things experienced are integrated through these processes of the work.

  1. SHOOTING--A Way of Collecting Material.

    I carry a 35mm point and shoot camera with me all the time. Amid the pictures of our children and friends are those of light and ruin, things exposed, little beauties. I shoot what catches my eye--and it can be anything---a brightness, a lighted angle, an expression of two-week old snow.

    Most of the pictures are taken in the public domain, of streets and parks, buildings, stores, and museums, of demolition and construction;  of places we share, and their mysteries. It is from the middle of things--in the stream of living--that I take pictures. I take pictures knowing I will use them for something else, but not knowing what or how. I do know that the record they represent, the memory, will be reconsidered.

  2. TRIAGE--Choosing What to Use.
  3. I finish a roll of film and pop in a new one. I take the film to Bob at the corner camera shop, and in the next day or two I have 36 snapshots. I then go through them as greedily for the good bits as I do a Sunday New York Times.

    I respond to the almost--identifiable. I start seeing pictures in pictures, like seeing shapes in clouds. I get excited about a colour or cast of light, a metaphoric possibility. I start mentally reframing. The snapshots that don't make this cut are filed. They might always find renewed life another time.

  4. RECONSTRUCTION--Making a New Whole.

    It is in response to the selected snapshots that I get my hands in the frolicking muck of the work. There is no blank slate. Rather than starting with a full-blown idea, I go about creating the occasion for epiphanies: I put pictures together and see what happens. This is the work and the play. I cut and paste. This is where I start posing myself questions to answer and problems to solve. This is where the muse enters.

    When I place images in contact with each other, they begin to tell their stories, and I listen. Like a writer, or composer, I listen to these stories and, if I believe them, I maneuver them through the metamorphosing framework I’ve constructed.

MUSINGS ON MAKING ART (2001, 2009)                                                                                         TOP

I wrote the first draft of this meandering essay when my youngest child was a teenager; I must actively have been thinking about the relationship between Freedom and Constraint because somehow this discourse found its way into my work, which was at the time, making art……Many years prior, just after getting married, I remember thinking that I had bought into a set of constraints, social/legal/interpersonal with marriage, yet I felt freer than I’d ever felt before. Everything seemed to open up as a possibility. I guess one’s definitions of freedom and constraint DEPEND. They depend on various layers of external factors, those imposed from the outside (e.g. circumstances rules, time) as well as on various layers of internal factors (e.g. personality, personal history, perception, motivation, taste) There are few, if any, absolutes in either. Sometimes it is the constraints’ very structure that serves to organize. Some constraints are negotiable, like marriage. Others, less so, like gravity. If there is a Rule, one can always fight it. (Think: teenager.) And sometimes it is your friend. (Think: mother.) “It Depends” creates a space for negotiation (Think: teenager). Think: art.

In my studio now,  I revisit the thoughts in this pensée of eight years ago.  As I take in the view from my windows, I see that finally the spring has arrived. Even the reluctant buds could not resist yesterday’s rain or today’s embracing sun.

 *     *     *

On Art and Rules

In making art, just as in living life, there is no freedom without constraints. The constraints give form to both the process and the product. One must have parameters within which to work. One must have rules.

The process of art-making allows for perhaps the freest exploration of the tension between following and fighting rules .

The first rules that I think of are external, imposed by practical considerations such as what resources are available or how many letters make up one’s alphabet.

Some rules hover between internal/rules of the self, and external/rules outside the self. They inform each other.
For example, I have a very tiny studio (external constraint)—a window box, a gable, -- and it is at home (external constraint). It suits other purposes (internal) to be at home, like the one that allows me to work instantly when Time (another external constraint) allows. Further, I thrive in small spaces (internal). I like my working environment to contain me at the same time as to beckon me to look out. Then I can contain the work and can beckon the viewer to look in.

Other rules are clearly constraints of personality that can be taken for a philosophical position. An example would be this: I only use pictures (snapshots as found objects) from the world-as-it-is. This personal rule conveniently solves my fear and loathing of boundless choice, the kind of choice you would find in using Photoshop. In fact, given that what I do is cut and paste images, I am often asked why I don't use a computer. Answer:  Infinite possibility is the terrifying equivalent of a blank slate for me.  In infinite possibility, I lose all sense of relativity. And I work specifically with ideas of relatedness.

Another answer is that I need to work with my hands. The sensual aspect of the feel and touch is important to my physical connection to what I'm doing.  Hence, the no-computer rule.

In addition to these rules of necessity and rules of convenience, one must also have what I would call philosophical rules. Philosophical rules are guiding principles; they are abiding. They are essentially what you say to yourself. They incorporate personal mandates and self-editing guidelines, received wisdom and self- knowledge.
These are some of the philosophical rules/constraints I pose myself:
    - Keep it simple. (try)
    - Avoid cliches.
    - Don't marry your prose ( i.e. don't get attached to a particular part of a snapshot as   
      you  may have to sacrifice it)
    - The whole should be bigger than the sum of its parts, or, Fly on your instincts but ask
      yourself:  “So what?”

The universe of creation is also a place where you can adopt whimsical rules. You can set your own boundaries and change them when you need to. In the universe of creation, many things are possible, even all at once.

I have some standard rules for myself when I start cutting and pasting, like:  I'm not allowed to assemble pieces of snapshots taken in the same location. That, I've determined, is "cheating". I have broken this rule.

The Rule is actually helpful because it presents limitations --and one works with and against limitations like a dancer works with and against the floor.

I have, over time, dispensed with one of the first rules that had come into my practice --and it took awhile for me to notice I was l following it. I ‘had’ to use whole snapshots as much as possible. Who made this rule? And I doggedly followed it (?!) until I realized it didn't always serve my purpose. For a long time I held onto this tension between following and challenging the rule, constantly pushing the "as much as possible." Then I arrived at the moment when I could simply eliminate the rule. Nothing came crashing down.

You see, in your own kingdom you can have a reasonable dialogue.

So, sometimes a rule might be changed to accommodate an idea. At other times, ideas can be jump-started by changing a rule or making another one, as if posing a dare or moving the floor.

In the realm of rules. there is also a role for ritual,.  Where ritual can frame an activity, it is much easier for the artistic spirit to come fill the space.  But what dictates the shape that spirit will take? What governs the delivery of the artist's inclinations and point of view? Of all the rules, those essential for rendering content are those related to language.

Language carries the idea from the artist to the viewer. Language is the vessel. At the most fundamental level, humans are hired-wired to grasp the underlying construct of the language of their environment. And all language--received or invented-- begins with naming, with words that are learned or used in connection with experience.

Rules of language structure are about how the words are strung together, how they relate and connect to render an idea. In any language, when we don't understand a word, we try to figure it out from the rules we know. We approach the unfamiliar through the familiar.

One of the reasons for the popularity of photography, aside from the ease and portability of a camera and the fact that most of us do it, is that photographs catch something of the world-as-it-is.  Even though each picture represents a point of view and a translation, our visual experience gives us a common vocabulary that transcends our particular verbal language.

It also gives us some common rules, such as that the ground is below and the sky is above, or that the person in the background is not really tiny but is far away; visual logic is a kind of syntax. Even when what is portrayed is unfamiliar to our personal experience-- even when we can't figure out what we're looking at-- it is through the familiar that we approach the unfamiliar. We look for what we recognize.

When you cut up and re-assemble photographs, you are messing with the familiar, you are breaking up sentences or paragraphs; re-writing.


Suppose you did the same thing with words.

Open a magazine and, for a chunk of time, cut out any words you like. (You should avoid doing this at a low table if you have a dog or toddler.) You may like their meaning, their font, their colour, their size, their contrast with a background-- whatever. Suppose you take a bunch of these and begin constructing a poem.

After a bit of shuffling with what you've got, you might get an idea and start laying it out. The further you get with your idea, the more you might need to look specifically for different kinds or colours of words, for specific words-- for spare parts-- so the new presentation makes sense. You are constructing your selected words according to (or against) the rules or conventions of a language.


I am not suggesting that this is how poetry is written any more than I'm suggesting that the way I make pictures is how art is made. This is only one way of constructing it.

lf you saw the film, The Usual Suspects, you realize that this is how Keyser Söze constructed his persona. He snatched words and images from a wall of newspaper clippings on a bulletin board and created a story. From random to organized.

Whatever the approach and the stylistic rules it follows or breaks, art takes on its own life, like Keyser Söze, from the language it uses.

Further, there are many attributes of a language laid over its vocabulary and grammar. They may relate to tone and rhythm (the music of it), gesture (the dance of it), the sensual (the feel  of it in your mouth), or the memory triggers to any of these  elements. Memories and connections can be physical, intellectual, instinctual, emotional, spiritual; they are personal and cultural.

The associations one brings to or receives from something as simple as a word will be multi-layered, even before the word has a context.
If I say the word ‘PIPE’, we don't know whether the word refers to plumbing, to music, or to smoking. ls it a noun or a verb? ls it curved, clogged, or lilting, green, fragrant, or hot? We know it rhymes with stripe and wipe and type. It is formed in the mouth like pip, pop, pup, and poop, pap, and peep, papa and pep. It looks like sticks with loops and lines. There is no one truth to this word.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.What if we are presented instead with a picture of a pipe? Now we know it's a smoking kind of pipe. We have a depiction of a specific pipe. So, what did Magritte mean when he wrote, “This is not a pipe” on his picture of a pipe? Just as the word is not the thing itself, neither is the picture. In other words, ceci n’est pas une pipe.

The pipe in the picture is conceived; it is the idea of a pipe.
To this idea we bring our own. The artist shapes the possibilities.