What Are Men To Rocks And Mountains? Introducing Artist Vita Eruhimovitz

Just as Rembrandt amassed shells and Andy Warhol had an assortment of cookie jars, artist Vita Eruhimovitz can’t help but collect items that speak to her. Eruhmovitz guides us around her studio showing off a treasure trove of mountain-inspired paraphernalia. This love of mountains isn’t simply vague inspiration for Eruhmovitz’s work. She incorporates the ranges into her mixed-media pieces, using the jagged peaks to lay the foundation for her exploration of a fragmented natural environment. The results can be seen in “Synthetic Landscapes,” her solo exhibition on view at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis running through Dec. 18.

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Raised in Israel, Eruhimovitz was inspired to create mountains after a hike in Europe. “I noticed some very interesting differences between how Israelis and Europeans hike. Israelis take their coffee with them, and once they reach the top they sit and walk around and relax,” she explains. “But Europeans go to the top without stopping. They take the camera out, take photos, look around and then go back down. Then they chill out at their campground the rest of the day. To me it was amazing to see how they turned this experience of being inside the land into something so limited.” Finding the cultural variation amusing, Eruhimovitz began shaping her own mountains.

Eruhimovitz’s models aren’t simply sculptural, though; they’re informed by a heavy digital component. Inspired by satellite imagery of mountains she’s climbed—and those she plans to climb—Eruhimovitz uses 3D printing and laser cutting to highlight what will ultimately become artificial nature, far removed from the actual landscapes where they might reside. The bottoms of her pieces resemble the mountains’ roots, tangled and raw in stark comparison to their shiny, polished tops.

“It’s not interactive, but it’s all digital sculpture, so most of it starts as a digital model,” Eruhimovitz explains. “The method of making begins as something virtual and goes through stages from binary file to tangible object.”

“Synthetic Landscapes” tackles themes of artificial nature and our perception of the real natural world—how and why humans turn natural elements into commodities. “It’s interesting to me how the physical world is expanding into the virtual world and how the virtual world is expanding into the physical world,” Eruhimovitz says. Calling this dual space “techno-nature,” Eruhimovitz allows each piece of her art to flirt with both worlds, from cartoonish Plexiglas clouds inspired by her favorite video game to her collections of 3D-printed mountains.

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Eruhimovitz’s path to art was littered with its own mountains. Born in Ukraine, her family emigrated to Israel when she was nine. “My mom could easily occupy me for hours by giving me some colored chalk to draw with. I actually thought that I would be the most famous painter in the world,” Eruhimovitz says. “But when we came to Israel my parents were really struggling to survive, so they were pushing me in more practical directions.”

Though she continued with her art as she grew up, she put less effort into pursuing it professionally, instead earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was the practical choice that her parents had suggested, but Eruhimovitz wasn’t satiated and began her master’s degree in bioinformatics, applying computer science to understand biological data. Completing that and moving on to her Ph.D., Eruhimovitz still felt unsatisfied. “I wasn’t interested in anything but rock climbing. I quit pursuing my Ph.D. and moved as far away as I could to Australia,” Eruhimovitz shares.

Living and working in Australia for more than a year, Eruhimovitz dedicated her free time to climbing and art. Casting sculptures and molds in a makeshift studio in her living room, she eventually realized that it was time to go back to school yet again—this time for art. While listening to a speech by a Nobel Peace Prize winner at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Israel, Eruhimovitz had a major revelation about how all of her past experiences could come together. She moved to pursue her MFA at Washington University in St. Louis, and it was there that Eruhimovitz finally combined elements of biology, computation, and art—the unlikely trio that she’s now known for.

Eruhimovitz’s 2015 installation “The Chatting Room,” which featured chatbots that communicated with the viewers and with each other, explored the idea of making the virtual tangible. These chatbots had handmade bodies that were crafted to hold their machine-made intestines. “There’s this new media art that everyone is talking about, but the way it’s been done is 70 percent screen, projection, or something so mechanical,” Eruhimovitz says. “With my art, I need it to be tangible. I want the viewer to be able to connect on a physical level, so I wanted to take this new media art off the screen and into sculptural objects—objects that you can touch and objects that you can interact with using your own body.”

Eruhimovitz recently relocated from St. Louis to the East Coast, though she maintains deep ties with the St. Louis art community and plans yearly exhibitions here. “I feel like I am part of the St. Louis community, and I don’t want that to change,” she insists. “I like the less commercial direction of the St. Louis art scene. It’s rapidly evolving, and there are strong, dedicated and interesting people who get things done and move the city forward.”

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Photos by Attilio D’Agostino.

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