IT IS I – BE NOT AFRAID
INTERVIEW 4 PA1N MAP/TOTAL R3CALL PROJECT
INTERVIEWERS: David Ofek and Yossi Madmony. Hebrew to English Translation: Tzviel Ben David.
PART 1: AT LAST I AM FREE (Header photo by Tal Weiss)
David Ofek: First, tell me about the project.
Max: First of all, it’s important to know, I speak only for myself and from my experience. In general, it started with the fact that I had a mental crisis three years ago, and a few months later I was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.
DO: First time?
M: Yes, I had to decide what to do with myself and with my life and only I could do it. There, for the first time I met a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I was diagnosed, and talked about self-harm. That’s how you began to realize that you are sick and defective. It was very hard for me. I did not want to go on living like this, and as a result the project was born. I do not know how thoughts and ideas are born, but from the moment you start to be aware – you spend all your time scanning your behavior. Suppose you have an urge to injure yourself or destroy everything – you already know this is happening. That’s how this idea is born – I would grow a piece of skin from a tea mushroom and, for this piece I will reconstruct all the cuts.
DO: Restore what?
M: The cuts.
DO: Cuts you made in the past?
M: Yes, I did it for years, since I was 16 And the moment I entered it – I knew very well that the process of leaving it will be very difficult and long. Therefore, I gave myself the time and the possibility to work through it and experience it, so I’ll can get a final closer. Now, I do not continue to injure myself, I transfer the harm.
DO: Actually, you transfer it to that piece of ‘skin’?
M: Yes. I did a lot of experiments until I’ve reached the final result. But even though I did it on the ‘skin’, I used my blood, cause… how can you reconstruction a cut that will look real?
DO: Real… ?
M: I will not use colors, it’s fake. Using blood reflects the truth – the actual level of pain, that’s how it should be.
DO: Let me go back for a moment, just tell me if I understood correctly, the creation itself is actually made up of a piece of ‘skin’ that you have raised, and on this piece of ‘skin’ you reconstructed the scars or injuries you have done to yourself in your actual body?
M: Yes, first I’ve photographed the scars and then I’ve restored them on the ‘skin’ just as it was on my actual body.
DO: And for make it look reliable you add blood…
M: For a reliable look you can use the tools of makeup artists… but it’s not the same as the actual thing.
DO: So why prefer your blood instead?
M: Because blood reflects the level of pain… the trauma.
DO: I’ll just explain why I get confused, this project has a true therapeutic element, right?
DO: Can you explain the therapeutic purpose?
M: First of all the project allow you to understand what happens to you and say goodbye to it – this is a change in consciousness – it’s a drastic metamorphosis.
DO: When you say ‘consciousness change’ do you mean that the person is becoming a person who does not hurt himself anymore?
M: Yes, self-harming is not a ritual situation of cutting the self out of boredom – it’s a ‘state of mind’, the person thinks about it and does it.
M: And to be able to do that, to get from a situation where you are living that life for years, to being a person that does not do it anymore, you have to turn yourself over, you have to clean yourself and understand all things, ‘go deep’ in to your thoughts. Otherwise it will not work, otherwise it is not worth the hard work.
DO: But basically, for this project you have to injure yourself, hurt yourself, it’s a contradiction…
M: That I use blood?
DO: Because basically for the project that is supposed to cure you – you’re hurting yourself again.
M: That’s true… First of all – I no longer do it… But I could not otherwise – I had to use the blood. I actually had a friend who is a doctor, he took a few ampoules and when it was over, I’ve learned to do it on my own without leaving a mark, I would go into the bathroom before taking pictures – taking as much as needed and using. Guy (Guy Ben-Ary) also asked me why I was using blood… everyone said it was crazy… but… I had to take it out – if I did not take it out – it would stay in and it was not worth it, It was stuck – I had to throw it up.
DO: As sometimes say – bloodletting is something is viewed as healthy… So basically every time you photographed an injury and passed it to the mushroom, then there is some story behind, story of pain, story you also told yourself.
M: Of course. Most of the scars photographs made with my friend’s help, but almost all the reconstruction photos I had to take myself, because most people find that very hard to watch. Sometimes it stinks and unpleasant and actually, it’s quite psychotic, and… it was unpleasant to ask someone. Which is also very reflective, that I was alone with it again. And of course I had to go back to situations when I injured myself and analyzed them. And not to do it superficially – but to go deep into it.
DO: But I wonder why all this happened and when it happened – I’m talking about how you hurt yourself… the story in the background.
M: At first I wrote dates for all the scars, but in the end I gave up on it because it is not so significant – and even if I write a date – it also obligates me to tell the story behind it, something I don’t wanna do.
DO: Do you want to give any clue for the viewer about the story? Or is it less significant?
M: The story behind every scar? – No.
DO: Actually, the project itself, is a photographic project of images you did during this work?
M: I do not think it’s just a photographic project because only the finale result is photography – but behind it there’s so much complex work – growing fungus and using blood – that’s far beyond…
DO: Where is the piece of ‘skin’ that you raised with the transfer – is it here?
M: I used it – what you see on the project page – this is a little piece – I needed a big piece – I would cut a piece by the size of a scar – to reproduce it. In the last shot you can see on this project page there are pieces of ‘skin’.
DO: This is the ‘skin’ from the fungus you’ve already cut?
DO: And you saved those pieces?
M: Yes, I keep everything.
DO: Why did you cut those pieces?
M: Let’s say there’s a scar here or a here (Max s points on her body – where there are scars), then I need a piece to cover the scar, for pinning and reconstructing.
DO: OK. So basically every piece like this – is it a scar or an injury?
DO: When do you keep the pieces themselves?
M: In the jar, because if there is an exhibition – I will present it.
DO: Exactly – they can all be displayed. How do you maintain the ‘skin’ on a technical level?
M: I’ll show you (going to fetch a jar). In general, this is a substance that is very special in its behavior.
DO: The fungus or the substance in which it is located.
M: The substance in this jar it’s just water.
DO: What will happen if you take one out now?
M: I will dry out.. (Max brings a skull covered in the skin and David touch it).
DO: Wow – does it’s as strong as skin?
M: It is as strong as animal skin.
DO: Amazing. How long does it take to grow such a thing? How did you learn to grow such a thing?
M: At first I drank it – it’s very healthy – and then I discovered that some British designer is raising it ‘skin’ – and I learned how to do it.
DO: How this mushroom called?
M: Kombucha – the tea mushroom.
DO: Kombucha’s tea – is it the healthy drink you can drink in New York?
DO: How long does it take to grow it? Did you succeed in the first time?
M: First you should grow and then dry it. It took me like two months. Then I’ve started to do experiments – not everything succeeded immediately.
DO: Your job goes into something called ‘BIOART’? What it is?
M: ‘BIOART’ combination of biology and art. It could be anything that integrates biology and art…
DO: Are you the first one who presented something like that to the ‘BIOART’ field?
M: Yes. But ‘BIOART’ is quite a new area and a few people deal with it and there is almost no repetition like in conventional art. In ‘BIOART’ you can be the first.
DO: Now, in the pictures themselves – the first picture is actually a picture of a bar or a pub or a restaurant? Why?
M: (Laughs) This is actually a place on Jerusalem Boulevard – here in Jaffa – this is where I brought the sweets (Max shows a sweets box). We sat there with Oded and our good friend Bert – I also thanked him in the project – he is a captain from Netherlands – a charming person – we drank coffee and orange juice – and somehow came up that I was hurting myself – and then I said those words – I said to myself – “I don’t do it anymore”, and once I said that – there’s no way back.
DO: Why? Was that the first time you say those words?
M: Yes, before that I didn’t talk about it with anyone – I was always hiding. As you can see, there is no stitches on the scars, I’ve hide it until it was healed, and only in the last three years I’ve began to reveal and talk about it.
DO: So in this place you said, ‘I don’t do it…’
M: I said those words, but at that moment I did not know that I would have such an idea… I started to think about it, it can not go on like this… Once there is a trigger – injure yourself or die… it’s a very strong urge… I do not know how I can explain it to people who have not experienced it… but I do not exaggerate… some people know this and they can understand , dealing with that urge and don’t let it happen – it’s like being in a lethal meat grinder – you’re actually, physically, like some epileptic seizure – you’re holding yourself and not letting it happen – it’s very, very hard… very difficult.
DO: Why are you actually injuring yourself?
M: You are ready for anything – just get rid of the mental suffering.
DO: In fact you are transferring your mental suffering to physical pain?
M: That’s the reason I have very strong and deep cuts…
DO: How does it feel to cut the ‘skin’? What was the feeling when you started doing it-when you finished doing it? Feeling relieved? Did you scared before you started?
M: No, I had no fear… I was very absorbed in myself… There was no relief at that moment… Now there is, I’m feeling like I was out of prison… It was not easy.
DO: So what did you feel? Was there any concentration? For pass it the most accurate way… ?
M: I could not be distracted…
DO: You said yourself that every scar also has it own story – you returned it, you did some work around the thing that is not only physically.
DO: Did you feel it cures you? Did you feel that every time you make a piece of ‘skin’ like this – you get healthier?
M: Not at once – it took me almost a year…
DO: The project? Deal with any scar? With all the scars?
M: The project itself, from the beginning of the idea and every work process – took me almost a year.
Yossi Madmony: How many scars you restored?
M: I do not remember how many, I have more scars… but I did not photographed them all. There are also places that are unable of counting. You can see how much there is from the pictures.
DO: Is all there? In the photos?
M: Yes -I did other things also but decided not include them. For example, I took a glass and broke it with my hand and of course everything went inside… I also do not have tendons in some of the places.
DO: Do you used blood in every ‘skin’ pieces?
M: Yes… I had to photograph the majority alone… It’s a whole production. For example, to recover this scar (Max points a scar on her left shoulder) I should have stood in front of the mirror and photographed myself. Later, I would take a piece of it – wet it – for it would look reliable and stick – and then put in place of a blood cut. Fresh blood is liquid and does not standing still… so I have to photograph myself while I’m standing… I hold a flashlight… or put a flashlight somewhere… there is one photograph that I held flashlight in my mouth and hold a camera in my hand. Because I know very well how blood behaves – I found a solution – to use dried blood. I would take blood from myself – waiting until it is a little bit hard and put it on a piece of ‘skin’…
DO: So it’s less liquid…
M: Yes, it is not liquid and also looks like a reliable wound.
DO: Do you follow with the blood on the traces the scar did?
M: For example, like this scar (Max points on her left shoulder) – I put a piece here, make a cut in a piece of ‘skin’ and inside the incision I put the blood.
DO: And then you take out the piece of ‘skin’…
M: I take it down and put in the water, or dry it, and I also share the piece and put it in the water, and I also wash myself…
DO: Okay, and in the water now there are pieces of ‘skin’, pieces of mushroom? Pieces in similar size like the actual pieces in the body.
M: Yes, and it will be possible to use them again.
DO: And so you did – pasting all kinds of places in the body – and what you had to do yourself – is this photography? How did you manage to recover it while you take the pictures, and also make it so nice?
M: Yes, I know it looks beautiful, and actually all my art is like this – it’s both beautiful and terrible, it can be disgusting, but it’s always beautiful, too. For example, the pictures with the scars on the face, chest and shoulder, were very hard to take… For example (Max points on her shoulder) – I should have pinned the piece – for it will stay exactly in the same place – take the blood and put it in a way it will not drain.
DO: I have a question – didn’t no one want to help you – or didn’t you want to ask? Or did you want to be alone? I mean, it was a very intimate encounter? Did you really want to be alone?
M: In some of the pictures (reconstructions) my friend Larisa helped me take the pictures then it did not work out… I realized that I did not like asking, and that people can not help me because they do not know what a scar looks like. For example, I’ve tried to take this scar (left shoulder) with Larisa – she put blood and it ran out and it did not look reliable, and it felt unpleasant to ask – “Larisa put some more blood on”. So, I’ve managed to do it alone.
DO: In terms of the scars you have on your body – is there a scar that is more meaningful for you?
M: I don’t know if meaningful is the right word. This scar (left shoulder) is the biggest scar I’ve ever done to myself, I was already after the crisis and actually after I made the scar I went to a psychiatric hospital – it was the ‘introduction’.
DO: So is this also the last scar actually?
M: Not the last, the last is the cross on the chest.
DO: How much time passed between the cross and the promise – ‘I don’t do it anymore’?
M: After I was discharged from the hospital, I was in a very bad situation – I was in very deep and dark place. I was looking for all kinds of ways to pick myself up, so I’ve started reading Oliver Sacks’s books. His book – ‘Awakenings’ – became a kind of support stick for me – he was like a best friend that understands the world. In the book, the author tells about people who have had experiences unlike me but quite similar. They were in very deep and dark places. They experience things that most people do not even know exists. And this book was also a kind of teacher for me – in terms of skill and responsibility for my work. And as I asked myself – why is it important that everything in the project be credible? – I can not betray the viewer and to lie him, otherwise there is no point.
DO: People who see the project, the pictures themselves – know that this is real blood or they can think that… ?
M: It is written.
DO: As an observer I have a curiosity to understand the pain behind each scar – what was the cause and when. But actually, maybe wisely, and it’s a very strong statement – you are denying me your biography – let’s say that – the biography of the pain. You just say – these external expressions of the inner pain that I’ve undergone – that caused him – things in the world…
M: I will not go into it because it’s too personal.
DO: Why did you decide not to get into it? Why is there behind it – why did you choose to tell it this way and not tell what is behind every scar?
M: It’s very personal – I do not want to expose it. Besides, anything can be a trigger. In the end – you either feel strangled, lonely and hurt and you can not stand it anymore… or you hate yourself and wants to die. The trigger is not so meaningful. It’s a ‘state of mind’.
YM: What is more important to you – the side of the therapy or what the viewer will feel? Has it changed?
M: Everything is important. I do not know what a viewer will feel – it is important to me what tell the viewer, the purpose. This is not just my story – so I made it ‘public’ – so as I said – why did it matter to me that everything would be real. For example, a person with a similar story who is also in a very bad and dark place in life – and I know what it’s like to be there – it’s life in hell – I want to say that you can get out of it and be another person.
YM: If it was not public – would it be a therapy for you?
M: I don’t know, while I take the pictures I would explain to women about the content of the project… It is very interesting and a powerful – because once you tell a person such a thing about yourself – that you’ve been through sexual violence or hurting myself – and as soon as you tell a human being – you see how he responds… And all the people who were around it – no one is disgusted – everyone accepted it and everyone treated me with respect – I think it’s beautiful. It reveals a very beautiful and strong human side.
DO: I think going out public – has a therapeutic meaning.
M: Either therapeutic meaning and prevention of this issue will remain a taboo.
DO: What will you feel in the day of publish?
M: I don’t know.
DO: What do you want to happen?
M: I want it to help other people. I remember the day the magazine’s editor wrote me – I was not happy – I was shocked – my hands were shaking and I started to cry – I did not believe it and I was a bit frightened – I had a hard time accepting it, but afterwards I calmed down – because it’s also a responsibility…
DO: Now everyone, anonymously, can read it and… did you write your email so people will can write to you?
M: Yes, it has to be public and I will feel completely calm and relaxed with it, I have passed the road – I took the summit – the goal is also that the subject will no longer be a taboo – because the society usually still takes it so that the victim feels guilty and tell him that he have to shut up because it is not beautiful and disgusting – I know it and it is not just from my story. This, too, gives full legitimacy to the offender (the person who insists) to continue his actions quietly – which is not right.
PART 2: BIOGRAPHY
M: I’m Max – I was born in another name in Siberia. In this part I would like to give more biography than elaborate things about the project. In fact, one of the reasons why I wanted this part was, because after I started publishing the project and I had some conversations with people – I suddenly realized that almost everyone takes it to sexuality – from the project name – sexual mental physically. Sexual violence is only a very small part of the recipe. I grew up in a single parent family – our mother raised us alone – three children – my mother was a heavy alcoholic. When I was 9 years old, she got stomach cancer – she did the surgery – the one that some of the intestines are put in the stomach and actually sees some of the intestines – and the person can’t shit normally anymore – she has to shit into the bag that is permanently attached to the place where the wound is open. I took care of my mother for a year – that is, I watched this open wound and cleaned up shit, so I did not take it hard – because when you’re small you just get things the way they are. But then I actually thought it was OK – not a tragic issue – a person stopped suffering – it’s okay and there’s no reason to cry… After my mother’s death I moved to another house – my aunt’s – she was a serious mentally ill – she did beat and abuse me very hard on a daily basis – sometimes my whole body was blue. I’m not angry, not at aunt, not at Mom, not at anyone.
At the age of 10, I’ve started to to run away from home – I would run away in winters at night – no matter when – no matter where – just run away. Usually I would run away to my older sister – sometimes I would sleep in the street or in house of people. I used to read a biography of Werner Herzog and he says he used the phone for the first time at the age of 17. I say that I cleaned my mother’s shit at the age of 9 – and that does not mean I’m whining – that means that’s what was. I’m telling you all the details, but It’s marginal – I’m actually drawing a picture. The where and what I grew up in – it all built my personality… People sometimes do not understand where it comes from – why my works are such hard and extreme – with blood and dirt – very sincere and expressive. Every day I would hear – you’re an idiot – you are a retard… Sometimes I could not shower for days, I was such a filthy child that no one wanted. I did not finish school because I did not have a permanent home – that’s also why I am an autodidact – everything I know – I studied alone… There were times when I was with my older sister who lived in the university dormitories – and in age 10-11, instead of going to school, I would go to the university, it was actually fun, I mean, all of these things always left me out – I did not have any friends at my age – I did not have a home – everything was the other way round – all this contributes for the alienation, I felt like an alien. It’s not because I want to be that way, but that was the way I experience life. Now I’m actually dealing with the past. Everything floats and I deal with it – it can sound exaggerated – but really, is a daily war. I hope that now what is written on the project page is clear – ’ sexual mental and physical’ – that sexual violence is not the main thing.
DO: When did you arrive to Israel?
M: At the age of 21.
DO: Did you decide to come?
M: Yes. Another thing – I do not remember myself at all until the age of 6 – I do not know why – I did not manage to ‘break’ into this area – as it does not exist. It makes you feel that you have no ground under your feet … you float between the sky and the earth like a balloon. My aunt had a very neglected house – say in the evening if she had to go into the kitchen – she had to jump quickly to the kitchen – turn on the light and wait until the roaches were scattered from the walls (David laughs). She also had a neglected bathtub. I do not remember how long – but half of the bath was full of black and stinky water – it was not possible to take water down in the toilet, it was life in shit and life in the garbage…
DO: When you came here you thought you would have some kind of redemption?
M: Actually, I came out of Zionism… I was not disappointed – you know – almost every ‘Oleh Hadash’ who comes to Israel and has no support – goes through all the shit – the bad attitude who saved only for new people.
DO: Did you go to the army?
M: It was too late – but I volunteered to the police – as a photographer – at first I photographed police-army operations and then in the ‘Animal Watch’ unit – it’s like in the United States.
DO: So the sources of your work was actually the childhood in in Siberia – and less than what happened here in Israel.
M: Yes, definitely for the childhood. It could have sound strange that a person reaches the age of 40 and still stuck there – but that’s what there is. On the other hand, I try very hard to deal with it and not to stay ‘there’, and fight it – it’s not very easy and not easy – it’s like rebuilding yourself.
DO: Since you arrive Israel, did you return to Siberia?
M: I was there twice and I had a bad experience.
DO: Does your aunt was still alive?
M: My aunt died when I was 16 years old after a car accident, I also treated her – she died in the hospital – poor woman.
DO: Is your father there yet?
M: My father died when I was 17.
DO: Is there anything else you would like to tell?
M: I want to end with the fact that I’m supposedly considered an artist – that’s my name at least – although I do not call myself an artist, but that’s probably what it is. And because life is very, very difficult for me, I’ve tried stop doing art, force it to stop, but I did not succeed – I realized after that there is nothing to do – I will continue to do art even if I do not call it art. Art is actually an opportunity to breathe, spill things out. Sometimes you feel that you have accumulated a lump in your belly and you have to spill it – otherwise you’ll suffocate – so my works are that. This is actually the background image.
DO: I’ll ask you a question – if it’s not comfortable, then say – about sexual exploitation – you said – it’s not just that – does that mean it was in the past?
M: Yes – a friend of my mother for years bothered me and I went through gang rape at the age of 16.
DO: What shaped you in the context of art is the fact that you have to take care of your mother in age 9…
M: It’s all – I’m sure you can not get out a crumb and tell everyone it’s the main reason… it’s like a mountain built – it was built of all sorts of materials – I was built from these materials. I do not think it is possible to separate it or to exclude – because of the rape or something like that.
DO: How you describe your art? Therapeutic act?
M: Totally therapeutic – I have turned my art to strength. Especially this project … in fact, that’s what can you see in my last works – and I also got stronger – really much stronger – standing steady – a non-scattered personality – a uniform personality.
I want to say a few more words about the project. It’s a story about my experience. I have gone through some difficulties in this work. It was like being in hell for 3 years, but still move toward the goal. I knew exactly what I want to tell, and worked it over and over again and again. Everything that I know – I learned by myself.
This work… let’s say – it’s a story not about a girl who was raped, beaten, humiliated – no! It’s a real Life story! Life! And this project has so much meaning and has no definition – has no definition like Life and Existence.
And this story would promote other things, still yet to.
I did it not only for me.
(Words by Th3Max and Minotaur)