The Traveling Studio Passportraits Performance

That’s how it started

My name is Efrat Zehavi. As a visual artist I always had a strong fascination with people: their faces and stories. In 2001 I moved from Jerusalem and came to live in Rotterdam. To my surprise, I discovered a city of great diversity. On the streets I saw people from all over the world, faces and customs in all shapes and colors; no less than 170 nationalities inhabit Rotterdam! My eagerness for faces just grew bigger and I wanted to ‘own’ all these faces and more than that: I wanted to hear all the stories behind them; where they come from, what they did, what they felt, what their lives looked like… From that urge the Passportraits performance was born, and in 2007, I strated to travel beyond the safe walls of my studio into the outer world, in order to meet these people, and to create a unique collection of faces and stories.

And that’s how it works

On different locations in different countries, I invite passersby to sit with me for a short while and to be portrayed in a soft colourfull modeling-clay. Not like a street-painter, the clay portraits are not for sale, and my models don’t pay. They are also not allowed to sit still. The ‘trade roles’ are different: you get an image of your face, and I, in return, get your story… During the modeling session I converse with my models on various topics. I try to get acquainted with them and for them to reveal something about their identity, life experiences, opinions and beliefs. The conversation thus is part and parcel of the experience and it makes the sitters an active element of the performance / artwork. Other passersby are also allowed to listen and invited to take an active role in the conversation. After about an hour, the miniature clay portrait is ready, but the process goes on.
I photograph the clay portraits, from three different angles: front, profile left and profile right; like identity photos. To this photographic triptych I add an interesting quote from the conversation I had with the sitter. Every participant is emailed the photos of his portrait as a digital file, this is the only souvenir from our unique encounter.

Passportrait = Pass + Passport + Portrait

All the different aspects of the performance are summarized in this one word:

To PASS means something that doesn’t stay long; this is a performance about moving, traveling and going on. It’s about being somewhere for a short while, and having encounters with coincidental ‘passers-by’. Pass also means something that is fugitive and ephemeral. The modelling clay portraits are vulnerable and fragile; the modelling clay cannot be hardened or baked and it can fall apart with the years. The photographic documentation of the sculptures is the only permanently surviving record of the event.

A PASSPORT is ‘an official government document that certifies one’s identity and citizenship and permits a citizen to travel abroad’. But does being identified by authorities give you an ‘identity’? Can our passport or nationality define who we are? You can falsify you documents, but can you falsify yourself? The Passportraits performance wants to raise these questions: what gives one the feeling of identity? What are the elements that comprise one’s identity?

From a PORTRAIT we all expect ‘a good likeness’, to be recognizable. But what does it actually mean? Is it enough to create a‘realistic’ outward appearance in order to achieve this likeness? Can a portrait; as good as it can be made, catch one’s inner character or personality? Does our external facial appearance reflect who we are?

These questions occupy me an answer that may never be found. But one thing I know for sure: it doesn’t matter were we come from, were we live, or what our nationality is: like the fragile sculptures we are all only passers-by on this earth…

 For Dutch text click here.

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