Bright minds and Broken Fingaz
A graffiti art collective from Israel is exhibiting in the UK for the first time, Emily Jupp talks to them about acid parties and psychedelic drawings.
Unga, Kip, and Tant are slouched over some sketches in a cafe in Shoreditch, with their hoods pulled over their heads. They look more like a bunch of surly teenagers, thrown out of class for misbehaviour than a successful arts collective from Israel about to launch their first major UK exhibition.
They arrived just last night and seem a little jet-lagged and pale. The fourth member, Deso couldn't come with them because of "passport problems", but will join them next week. They awoke at dawn this morning and have been hazily exploring their surroundings in Bethnal Green, which they say are "cool", before heading to Brick Lane to work on their installation at the Old Truman Brewery.
Broken Fingaz's main studio is in Haifa, where they work on videos, painting and music, and colour the streets of Israel with bright, luminous graffiti featuring "naked women, acid creatures and fat people - we like fat people." They take inspiration from mysticism, astrology, their "gypsy" upbringing and different countries they've visited, but they insist there is no political message.
"Each one of us has a political belief but it's not connected to our art. The art is our dream place," explains Tant. "It is an escape. Where we come from everything is politicised. The fact our art is apolitical is like a statement in itself, it shows you can have a normal life away from politics."
If they do have a message: it's that art should be about the visual aesthetic, not what the artist says about it, or the ideas behind it. What do they think of contemporary art? "We hate it", says Unga decisively, "If I need to hear the artist explain it then its not for me. It doesn't matter if you did the art with blood or whatever, the art comes first. Motifs from tarot and end-of-the-world scenes are in our work, but it's not like we go into books and try to find out what absolutely everything means. We are looking for this human, gypsy vibe. We always just try to find the funk in it."
In their last exhibition, at the prestigious Tel Aviv Museum, they created a type of sin city in miniature called "Vadi Niceness" with images of grinning skulls, open mouths, allusions to nature and psychedelic buildings. It referenced Haifa, where Unga and Kip grew up.
"We lived in a commune in the mountains," says Unga, "It was the best childhood" adds Kip. The commune was filled with other families, mostly artists, including "musicians, gypsies and hippies". Their studio today sounds similarly bohemian, with friends constantly coming and going, although Unga characterises it as more of a sweatshop. "Most of the works we do we can't do just by ourselves so we bring people in. For the last two months there were 50 people in our studio, a lot of friends - it was kind of a party, but we are Nazis about painting inside the lines."
Their upbringing certainly inspired the boys to pursue an art career. They weren't scared of the poverty that goes hand-in-hand with starting out in the art world because "we've been poor most of our life." Their parents hosted acid parties back in the 80s and the boys would wake up in the morning to search the floor for money dropped during the rave. "Back then it was a lot," says Unga.
More recently they collected bottles from the street "to get enough cash for the bus". But when given the choice of more lucrative commercial work, they often turn companies down. "[Cigarette manufacturer] Camel wanted us to do stuff for the smoking booths in airports. It sounds cool because you get to travel from one place to another, but it just didn’t feel right, you know?" says Unga. "People are like 'its so great you get to do art all the time'. But we make sacrifices - anyone can do it." But not everyone has their talent.
NO WAY and Rudi Khalastchi present Crazy Eye Hotel, an exhibition by the Broken Fingaz Crew, at The Old Truman Brewery from 20 April to 29 April. The exhibition was supported by the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme (BI ARTS).
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