Klubbing together in Tel Aviv

Klub7 is a collective of artists, most of whom hail from Halle in former East Germany and now exhibit works in Tel Aviv

Three of the Klub7 artists are dwarfed by one of their large-scale murals. (photo credit: KLUB7)
Three of the Klub7 artists are dwarfed by one of their large-scale murals.
(photo credit: KLUB7)
Street art has to definitively feed directly off – well – the street, and all that quotidian jazz. So, presumably, it must be a little challenging to replicate that vibe in the cloistered confines of a museum facility. The members of the Klub7 gang do not appear to have had too much of a problem with the location shift.
That is palpably evident as soon as you enter the exhibition spaces at the Beit Ha’ir Museum on Tel Aviv’s Bialik Street. The venue is so named as it once served as the home of the municipality.
Klub7 is a collective of artists, most of whom hail from Halle in former East Germany and are now based in Berlin.The numeral suffix derives from the original number of group members, although they have been a sextet for some years.
In fact, when it comes to nomenclature, the street art genre has rules of its own.
The current Klub7 personnel includes Diskorobot, Lowski, Otto Baum, Kid Cash, Dani Daphne and Mike Okay.
That’s a pretty funky sounding nom de plume roster.
“So, you are always known as Mike Okay rather than your birth name?” I asked the latter. “Mike Okay is my artist name,” he explained. It is the name I have used for over 10 years, so my real name doesn’t matter.”
While the figures, squiggles, symbols and characters at the Beit Ha’ir showing, which opened in September and is due to run until January, may be readily recognizable to anyone who saw the fruits of the group’s labors on their previous visit here four years ago, familiarity to a degree does not in any way breed contempt or indifference.
The walls are plastered – figuratively – with seemingly countless marks, lines, circles and practically every shape and form known to the human eye, or hand. The team has used different materials, including chalk, acrylic, inks, airbrush techniques and spray paint. It was, said Okay, very much of just following their regular go-with-the-flow approach.
Any artist has a sense of initial trepidation as he or she faces a tabula rasa, a blank canvas or sheet of paper. Imagine, then, what the Germans felt as they considered getting to grips with square meter upon square meter of the cultural facility’s walls.
In fact, initially, they ignored them entirely. “The first we made was to build the installation, the nine-meterhigh installation. That was the first, and the main, idea,” explained Okay. The creation in question is as visually arresting as it is colorful and tantalizingly amorphous.
It looks like something along the lines of what a playground designer might come up with, if he or she imbibed a vast amount of alcohol, or some other mood-changing substance, before getting stuck into the job in hand.
The towering construction also served as an anchor, and an aesthetic reference point, for what was to follow. “It was also the idea that it should be a colorful installation,” Okay continues. “After that, we thought about what we can do with the walls. Do we paint the walls also colorful, like the tower? But we quickly got to the idea of making a contrast – that the tower is bright and light, and the walls around it will be black and white and gray.”
So, the color – or monochromatic – substratum for the ensuing work was decided on, and it was up tools and off the six artists set on their merry way to a harmonious visual evolution. It is clear from the end result that the exhibition is the product of a nip-and-tuck line of artistic attack.
All the Klub7 artists work together, at the same time, ebbing and flowing in complementary movement.
“That’s our concept,” Okay said. “When we paint together we create new things because we are inspired at each moment, by each other.” Sounds like a definitively jazzy free improvised way of going about their business, I remarked.
“Actually, we thought of calling the exhibition All That Jazz,” Okay responded with a chuckle, “But the curators didn’t think it was a good name.”
While it may sound as if all the Klub7 gang adopts an idyllic accepting and embracing working stance, constantly keeping at least one eye and ear sharply attentive on their colleagues’ endeavor, as they follow their own muse, the process is in fact littered with potential flash points. “Sometimes it’s a little bit of a war because when I start to paint a form, five minutes later someone can come and put some spray paint over it.”
That doesn’t sound particularly polite or considerate, but Okay said they all take a positive view of such acts of “intervention” and use them as a springboard for new creative departures.
“That could be terrible,” he admitted, “but it brings me a new impulse, a new idea [about] how I can work with different shapes. That’s how the typical Klub7 styles begin to come out.”
The members of the group are clearly simpatico and have generous amounts of physical and spiritual reserves that fuel their work. “We have many many shapes,” Okay added, “And many layers. It is like Photoshop. We don’t erase the layers, we paint a new shape over something and then you can often look deep inside the pictures.”
The sense of unity between the Klub7 members feeds off a shared generational and cultural identity. All six artists are close to age 40, and they all grew up with a similar sociocultural backdrop. “We have roots in the graffiti scene, and we all started around the early Nineties,” Okay said.
“While we were making graffiti, we were all also interest in art. We thought about experimenting a bit with the spray cans and with the materials. We had the idea to make cutouts, to paste posters. It was a new feeling for us. We didn’t know this was street art because there wasn’t anything like that in Halle at the time,” he explained.
Okay and the group were redefining the boundaries of what was considered acceptable at street level. “The Halle graffiti scene was a little bit scared of us because we moved in new ways. Graffiti is very strict but we didn’t care.”
Over 20 years later, Okay and his pals still “don’t care,” going with the flow and following their muse as their creative mood takes them.
In addition to the central installation, there are several smaller works made of odd planks of wood and generally, the flotsam and jetsam of urban life.
Klub7’s work is always location-specific, and the members take their lead from what they find in situ. They found plenty to work with in Tel Aviv and, more specifically, in the southern environs of the city. “We like dirty walls in the city. The cleaner the walls, the less interesting they are for us.”
They identified the requisite urban grime in the Florentin district. “Years ago, when the cities in East Germany were not cleaned up and the buildings were old, with rust doors – that was more interesting for us. They tell us a bit about their story and you can add your art, more and more, to that. That was what it was like, for us, in Florentin. We like Tel Aviv a lot.”
There is, indeed, plenty to feast one’s eyes, and emotions, at the Beit Ha’ir exhibition.
For more information: (03) 724-0311 and www.beithair.org/he/home