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Public Display of Affection

Rodrigo Tisi

Gil & Moti, Sleeping with the Enemy, installation and performance, 2005. Photo: Jon Feinstein.
Gil & Moti, Sleeping with the Enemy, installation and performance, 2005. Photo: Jon Feinstein.

I first saw Gil and Moti, the Israeli performance artists, earlier this year at the Performance Studies International (PSi) conference "Becoming Uncomfortable." I was quickly intrigued by their work because I saw in them a sense of persuasiveness and hope that I had never found in any other performance artist who work for such long durations–in Gil & Moti's case, 24 hours a day, everyday.

The second time I saw Gil and Moti was two months later when they were putting up ads and taking pictures down Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. Later on, I found out that they were soliciting for participants for their upcoming show "Sleeping with the enemy" at Jack the Pelican Gallery. The plan was to live and work in the gallery for six weeks–they set up a bed, and all the other necessary items–while they searched for a new lover. Gil & Moti took some time to talk to me about the project and their practice near the end of their performance. I found out that they speak almost with one voice.

Rodrigo Tisi: How did you guys fall in love?

Gil & Moti: It was at art school. There was an event organized by the department of visual arts, where a minister was invited to the art school to give a lecture about the future of the Middle East. That was in 1994, around the time when people were dreaming about a new middle east–a dream that unfortunately did not come true.

RT: Why did you decide to move from Israel? I’ve heard that culture there is very open, very gay friendly…

G&M: It is very exciting and stimulating but we could not stand what was going on 20 miles east. We were very frustrated. There’s so much denial…

RT: You’ve said that moving to Holland was helpful to create a new identity. Can you explain this?

G&M: It was actually about space, mental and physical space. We thought that we couldn’t do anything challenging in Israel.

RT: Is this move related to freedom?

G&M: Yes, exactly, a mental freedom, a dimension that enables you to question stuff and to be critical with production. We thought that there was no space for us in Israel. We didn’t have the mental space to produce. The first thing we did when we arrived in Holland was to have a haircut. Then we moved to live in a gallery space in Rotterdam and made our home there.

RT: Around that time, what type of work were you doing?

G&M: We were already collaborating. We had an installation called Fresh Feelings and Boyzone Pavilion. One is a mental space and the other one is more physical. Boyzone Pavilion is about gay cruising areas in parks next to museums in Europe: Rotterdam, Paris, London. Fresh Feelings is based on a collection of diaries written by teenage boys.

RT: How did you decide to get married?

G&M: We knew that the law was changing in Holland so we planned The Gil & Moti Wedding Project a year in advance, for June, 2001. Many people came: family, friends, curators, artists…

RT: How important is religion there?

G&M: For us you mean? It is not important. We call ourselves Israelis.

RT: But you want to fall in love with an Arab guy?
G&M: That is not related to religion. We want to meet an Arab here [in NY].

RT: If this is not about religion, why an Arab?

G&M: We wanted to change our perception. Looking at the Middle East, looking at our childhood, the way we grew up next to Arabs. In our childhood, at the end of the day, we went to have coffee with an Arab because they were employed by his and my father. We went on school excursions to their villages to learn how to make pita bread. It was exotic, dirty, cheap labor, uneducated. All of these things were frustrating us since we were kids. In 2002 we decided to do something; we wanted to fight all this hostility. So we thought: why don’t we fall in love with an Arab guy? Anything that we could do in political terms will fail.

RT: Can you tell me a little bit about your rules for falling in love with an Arab guy?

G&M: We were in the Canaries on vacation. One night when we were going to a bar, we said to each other jokingly, "Why don’t we have an Arab lover?" Everything started there. Then we thought about a name: Laylah. Why Laylah? Because it was the name of a girl, it could be the nickname for a belly dancer or a drag queen. After that night we already had notes and sketches of what we wanted to do and then we wrote letters to Laylah.

RT: That was when you started the search?

G&M: Many of the letters we wrote inspired us to start the project. There are personal thoughts, many of them sexual. We used some of these letters in the video, at the beginning. This is an ongoing project, a work in progress.

RT: So you decided more or less what you wanted to have, and then what did you do to find him?

G&M: We thought the internet this would be the easiest way to get in touch with gay Arabs that we don’t know. The internet is a very wild place: many things that you can’t do out there you can by clicking online. For example, we couldn’t phone someone from Israel to Lebanon–it’s impossible, illegal. Then after chatting online we decide to meet in person several guys.

RT: What happened when Oliver came to visit you in Holland?

G&M: He came to our homegallery and stayed a couple of days with us. We did many things with him.

RT: How do you define the line between work/practice and life?

G&M: There are artists working like officers: nine to six, they work in the studio to try to accomplish something. We don’t have these kind of working methods. We see our life as our work. So back to your question, we wouldn’t have fallen in love with Oliver unless he fell in love with us. Because he was intrigued with the concept that we have created we fell in love with him too. I think it happened this way because both of us were ready for a lover. We created a space in our hearts. Anyone in life can decide when to have certain things.

RT: A triangle? Was this helping to keep your relationship alive? What happened when he left?

G&M: We were sick. We were hurt.

RT: What would have happened if one of you truly falls in love with Oliver? Will the project be destroyed?

G&M: We are very strong together. Oliver saw us as one person.

RT: Tell me about this installation.

G&M: There are three works here: Dating Gil & Moti, the video Laylah: the Creature Beyond Dreams, and a new piece, a bed, titled: Sleeping with the Enemy. It is a new bed. Among the bed are remains of our experience with Oliver, but it also suggests a new path. Maybe for a new lover.

RT: It’s a bed for three...

G&M: Yes exactly, since we decided to have a lover, we needed to increase the dimensions of the bed.

RT: Going back to the question about practice and life, I think that all of this–as performance–is forced, very forced.

G&M: It is staged. When you date someone, you are so nervous since you get up. What are you going to wear? How are you going to look? Act? It's all about clichés. This is what’s nice about this performance of life.

RT: Going back to the idea of freedom: don’t you think that you are not free anymore? All these constraints for your work…

G&M: Freedom is here [points to head]. We are very free, and we are free as much as it hurts, when Oliver left. We are free to choose, even though there are lots of obligations and demands from ourselves. We are very excited to live our lives like this... we wonder: Who is going to be our next lover? What is this new person going to bring to our project?

RT: What is interesting about your work is that your performance is not only about time but also about hope: what’s going to happen? is this going to happen? You can certainly keep a definition in this dimension forever...

G&M: We are very practical. We want to achieve, we have goals. We're sure we are going to find someone soon.

RT: I'm curious: what are your real names?

G&M: These are our names: Gil & Moti. We are recognized as Gil & Moti.
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