Nelly Agassi is a multi-disciplinary artist who works with performance, installation, video, textile and works on paper. Her work deals with materials, body and space. She is particularly interested in public spaces in relation to architecture. Agassi often works site-specifically, combining a performance that is held as a one-time event, and an installation that remains in the space for the entire duration of the show. Her works are both small-scaled and monumental. Hence, one may say that the elements of emphasis, radicalization, and deviation are an integral part of the conceptual tactics underlying her work. Agassi’s works thus demand a unique, different attention, whether due to the intimate, excessive proximity required in order to read them, or due to the fact that they dominate different parts of the public sphere of the exhibition spaces, transforming them into quasi-private intermediate realms and undermining conditioned perceptions of the relations that may form between the various elements present in situ.
Agassi’s works echo traditional, domestic female crafts – handiwork, embroidery, sewing, knitting – her use of these tools is not conventional, certainly not functional, and it acquires a different resonance that stems from the disillusioned awareness of the moment of choice. Thus, Agassi does not practice embroidery, sewing or knitting as acts identified with femininity or with the scope of domestic activities as such. Her works are executed as part of modernist work procedures and in affinity with the contemporary art world, while constantly problematizing the interrelations between her activity in space and the notion of the “white cube.” Thus, for instance, her work touches upon the strict minimalist rhetoric, as defined in the 1960s and 1970s, yet disturbs its order by introducing narrative, biographical or private elements, alongside the use of soft materials. In doing so, she deprives the minimalist sculptural act of the element of impersonal abstractness that is at its very core, while at the same time depriving the act of performance of the potential anti-matter aspect characterizing it.
In the past five years I have developed a strategy that I call “biography of the site” in which I develop a personal relationship with the past, present, and future history of a place in connection to my own. With this methodology, I “sculpt” the site as a material, and create a project from the specificity of the place in relation to the city of Chicago and the institution’s impact. I take inspiration from the experience itself of spending physical time on-site, researching the collection and archives, and developing relationships with the institution’s staff.
I’m fascinated by the history of the institution and its transformation from a private house to an exhibition space. With both large scale and intimate works I challenge the home/architecture opposition which has worked so hard for so long to gender our understanding of the relations between architecture (conceptualized as masculine) and home (conceptualized as feminine). In my work it is apparent that gender is inscribed in space and that space is never designed in a gender-neutral way. I hope to re-domesticate the public space of the museum that has been transformed from what was once private and intimate.
Throughout my practice the body has been a central component. From durational performances to architectural installations, from small-scaled to monumental, my work deals with materials, body, and space. My work examines the notion of the fragility of the body in contrast with the strength of the soul.
With this residency I plan to investigate and reveal the hidden, lost, and forgotten (hi)stories of the site. My research is always complemented with the unconscious and the uncanny––I’m not only interested in the historical events but also examine spiritual elements as scientific components of the body with its strengths and fragilities.-Nelly Agassi, IMSS Artist in Resident
About the Residency Program: As artistic practice occupies an increasingly pluralistic field, The International Museum of Surgical Science believes that artists are uniquely equipped to extrapolate on Museum collections in innovative ways and introduce novel perspectives to the institutional depiction of medical history. The IMSS Artist Residency Program provides working artists with:
- Access to the Museum’s extensive collections and archive
- Visibility on the Museum’s website and social media channels
- A month-long capstone Solo Exhibition (or equivalent presentation) at the Museum
This project is partially supported by a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events.
The International Museum of Surgical Science acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Header Image: Room 18, West, Madlener House, 2019, Nelly Agassi (Israeli, born 1973), Art Institute of Chicago, Architecture and Design Society Fund