Saturday, June 23, 2012

Local Spotlight: 20 Questions With David Zalben

For the last 17 nights, Miami Beach artist David Zalben has arrived in the 12 X 12 white space in the front window of ArtCenter/South Florida, where he sits in a very low lawn chair, his beverages and harmonica beside him, and continues bending one very long ongoing string of 16-guage wire into words. These words, which hang in loops all around him, reflect the conversation he's been having in his mind. It's a conversation about love, lust, romance, expression, inspirations and muses, but mostly it's about all the things his title, A Love You Can't Live Without, might suggest.

His words are filling up the room and attracting the attention of writers and curious onlookers who stop to watch, read some of his words and take photographs. Yesterday, I called Zalben to talk abut his project, which will continue through tonight's opening of The Afterlife show at ArtCenter, and every night through July 16.

Here are his replies to 20 questions I asked him about his project and his first 16 nights behind the glass.

Photo by Kevin Foltz
I guess you've been the subject of many photographs.
Yeah it's amazing ... people doing videos and still pictures and for the life of me i don't understand exactly. I mean I understand it from one point of view in that the work is turning out as I had hoped. Visually, its really dramatic. It's quite something to see but they're taking pictures of me and I'm thinking "Really?" I'm just bending wire. I don't really get it but for whatever reason they find it fascinating.

When you're working in the window, do you listen to music?
Oh yeah, I have to. I can't do it without listening to music. You know what I kinda do? I try to create my studio down here in the window. So I have my harmonica, I have my beverages ... I have the music, something that puts me in that mind frame to write, something I find inspirational in some way.

Do you play the harmonica a lot?
Not very often. Only a few times I played it. usually when no ones around. I try not to do it when people are looking at me . I feel a little too shy about that, I think.

Is there a significance to the number 41, as in 41 nights?
 No, not really. The art director gave it to me for 41 days and that's really the main significance. I  mean I could do it 10 days, maybe less, but the reason I do it 41 nights is because I decided that I wanted to fill this room full of wire and it was more practical to do that when I was in the window.  That's how I came up with it. I didn't have enough time or space to do this in my studio and transfer it down here. It would be too complicated with all the wires. This was a practical thing to do.

You're there a few hours every night?
Yeah, I have been starting between 8:15 and 8:30. I don't get in the window past 8:30. It's the length of time that changes from night to night. Sometimes on Friday or Saturday if my hands will hold up I can go three hours, so I might go to 11 but that's kind of rare.

Photo by Gianni Cohen
I understand your initial inspiration was someone you're inspired by or find fascinating. Does the person know this is about them?
Uh, yeah, I believe so, yes. I'm pretty sure about that.

You've also talked about muses, so did the inspiration grow beyond what it was initially?
Yeah, I think you start to meander and incorporate ... I flip in and out of being very specific toward somebody, an individual person, and then it goes back out to more of a general [thought] of women who inspire me. It's not so much about a muse, I've decided. I've come to this understanding ... I'm separating, categorizing muse and people who inspire me.

I think a muse could be anyone at any given moment but inspiration is more profound and goes much deeper so I think the general part its not lighthearted. It's a serious conversation I'm having about these women in my life in a general way but then I go back and focus on this specific person that we're talking about.

Do you consider the words one long poem?
No, I don't think it's a poem really. I realized a couple weeks ago that I'm just having conversation with myself and I just keep writing down conversation and each day — I'm starting to do this now — I have themes before I go in. So maybe the theme will be uplifting and I try to stick with that theme but I have to admit that even with a theme there are times when it kind of goes down a bit in tone and I'm conscious of that and trying to bring it back up. I'm trying to keep a balance.

Photo by Kevin Foltz
Would you say out of all the art you have done that this has gotten more attention than other things, or anything?
I think so. The wire room I did for Wynwood Art Fair got tremendous feedback from big shots in the art world, but I think that [in terms of] overall exposure of everyone in the community for sure. There's no doubt about it . It trumps the wire room. I think this is a broader spectrum somehow. I don't know what it is precisely.

Yeah, I was going to ask you, since people seem so drawn to it, whether you get a feel for what makes that connection for people.
You know, I think passion. There's true love and passion in this room, and my gut feeling is that people see it. They have to see that because it's spoken about in these pieces of what I'm expressing. It's passion, love and all of those things, and humor of course as well. I think everybody can relate to those universal emotions. It's my gut feeling and it's in the title A Love You Can't Live Without. People read that and then they start reading the lines, the wordage and they start seeing the connection between the title and the menagerie of lines of wordage ... then they'll read my little statement and realize I'm doing this not just for one day but 41 days and they're blown away that I would be dedicated enough to be here 41 days. I don't know if they think I'm crazy or they admire that. I really don't know.

What's the most interesting thing to happen outside your window lately?
Young children, girls actually around 8-9-10-11-12, that whole range right there ... I notice they're enthralled with what I'm doing. I mean, they're not reading it, I'm certain, but they're really attracted to this thing that I'm doing. They'll do little heart shapes with their hands at the window. One texted and put her phone against the window so I could see what she wrote. She wrote her name. She wanted me to know her name.

Photo by Adriana Carvalho
Aw, that's nice.
Yeah, its really something, and this woman told me I was a heart surgeon. I'm not sure what that means exactly but it felt touching.

Sounds like people feel connected to what you're doing.
Yeah and I'm happy ... It's a very serious commitment for me. My only thing was that I don't want to be a sideshow, like a circus act, and it hasn't been perceived that way thankfully. All the feedback has been positive as I'd hoped.

After 41 nights, it seems like there has to be a grand finale of sorts. When you finish on Night 41, will there be bubbles, champagne or something happening? How will this end?
Well, I have my own fantasy of how it will work out but that's just fantasy. Reality is that it will probably be ...well there are two things: One is that it will feel anti-climatic because as soon as I'm done it has to come out of the window. It has to come out the end of the next day because they have to patch all the walls and get ready for the next [exhibition].

Oh, gosh.
Yeah, I mean it's just really funny, the very end, but I was thinking and I'm not sure I'm gonna do this yet ... Actually an artist suggested this to me because [the window] is so full ... that the lines of words could go out the side and trail out the door right in front of the window. It would become this big circular piece that I would be doing outside. It depends on the weather and some other factors I might not be aware of, like code violations.

Oh, that would be really cool.
Visually that would be neat and a fitting kind of finish but it could be raining and that would just put a kibosh on the whole thing. I have some thoughts but I want to be spontaneous at the same time, to be flexible about what I need to do.

I think when you take on projects like this where you're involved day after day, there are things you learn about yourself. Do you feel like there are key things you've come to better understand about yourself through doing this project.
Yes and no. I guess I realize how privileged I am to be able to express myself ... you know everybody has loved someone and we all need time to express it and if we don't know how to express it we suffer quietly. I feel privileged that I can show this to people. It seems like a therapy, that through this conversation I'm having with myself I cure myself in many ways. It's about how to let things go and to realize that "OK, maybe there's a little bit of suffering involved but look what I'm creating," and that makes me really satisfied.

It must feel rewarding. I mean, one of the things about being in this window is that you can can see how people connect to it.
Yeah, I'm in the window now talking to you and people are taking pictures while I'm taking to you on the phone. It's funny, the fishbowliness.

Photo by David Zalben
Don't you want to take pictures of them?
Oh, you know I did take one picture and I posted it on Facebook. There are a lot of great scenes which I don't capture because I'm really focusing on what I'm doing but there was this one little girl and she's wearing this dress and putting her little face up against the window, smooshing it against the window and I'm like "Oh my god, this is incredible" and she kept doing it in different spots so I'm like "OK, I gotta get this so I get my phone and go to take a picture and she stops.

But she did do a look, she put her head against the window and she was looking at what I'm writing and it was so sweet. That's the only picture I caught but I thought, "I don't need to take another picture. That says it all."

That's cute. Thanks so much for taking time out to talk about your recent project. Did you have anything else you wanted to say about A Love You Can't Live Without?
No I guess it speaks for itself to a certain point, the title especially. I think that's what I'm trying to say, that we all need people in our lives to inspire us and that's the big privilege, that I recognize that. That's what I want to impart on people. It doesn't matter if the relationship is platonic or romantic or if it stays or if it ends, and if it does end don't be so bitter. That person had to inspire you in some way. Love would be nothing without the people in our lives.

A Love You Can't Live Without runs through July 16 in he window of ArtCenter/South Florida in Miami Beach.

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