Vita Eruhimovitz: Fluctuating Environments

The artist in her studio.

Working across media— from VR and robotic installations to gestural and vivid paintings—Los Angeles based artist Vita Eruhimovitz creates landscapes of imagined environments which resemble hybrid worlds with references to actual, fictional, and digital realities.

Tell me a bit about yourself and what brought you to art.

I was born in Ukraine and as a child immigrated with my family to Israel, where I spent most of my life. I consider Jerusalem to be my home town. I am a very visual person and I was drawing and painting since I remember myself, but my immigrant family didn’t consider art to be a practical career, and instead when college time came I pursued my degrees in computer science and bioinformatics. While analytical thinking came naturally to me and I found enough interest in my studies and research, I wasn’t passionate about it. For years I haven’t done much art at all, but in my daydreams I kept building grandiose sculptures and intricate installations. Eventually the realization came that art was the only thing that I was interested in doing in the long term. It took a leap of faith and an escape maneuver (I spent a couple years in Australia figuring things out) and a couple of years later I returned to school to study art.

During my senior year of art school I attended a genetics symposium that was held in honor of the 80th birthday of my past academic advisor at the Hebrew university. After several years without reading or even thinking about genetics at all, I was pleasantly surprised that I could still follow the scientific talks. During one of the lectures (given by a Nobel prize laureate in genetics) my attention drifted: I was studying the geometry and the texture of his face (at that time I had an infatuation with sculpture) wondering what is the link between the geometry of his face and his ability to conduct brilliant research, and between his abilities and the genetic mechanisms that he was presenting. Suddenly I had this moment of realization – on a deep, intellectual, emotional, and visceral level – that all these are connected. I felt that I never really left science, that science, psychology, art, the human mind – are all connected, and that place where they all meet and interlace is within my mind’s reach. Since then my art practice has taken me on a tour of diverse topics and media, but the feeling of being on the verge of uncovering a mysterious property of the universe has been with me ever since.

Later I finished my bachelors and came to the USA for a masters in art at Washington University in Saint Louis – a good excuse to once again indulge my nomadic urge. During my masters my artistic interest was in sculpture, robotics, artificial life, and intelligence. Naively I thought that taking classes in robotics and machine learning would be enough to teach me how to make robots, thus helping me with my art projects. I was right, but mainly because through one of these classes I met Cody (now my husband), who later became my technological consultant and a collaborator in some of my most technically complex projects. After graduating from Washington University I moved to NYC for a teaching position and a few years later, a nomadic art project that involved a four-months long road trip around the USA – brought me to LA where I live today with my family.

The Chatting Room, 2015, Interactive robotic installation

You were making multi media installations using advanced digital art including VR and recently it appears that you have been focusing on painting. What is the genesis for that shift?

This is a question with a complicated answer. I could explain the genesis as a conceptual evolution, or as serendipity. Both feel true. Since early on I’ve been working in multiple media: painting, sculpture, installation and performance, without asking myself whether or how all these aspects of my artistic personality coexist. When I was beginning my masters, the questions that interested me most related to artificial life and intelligence, and what role they may play in a posthuman world. I felt that the most exciting way to explore these topics would be by using algorithms and creating interactive machines, rather than illustrating these concepts in painting for example. I began teaching myself physical computing and created robotic sculptures and installations that used artificial intelligence and human-machine interaction. One of such works was The Chatting Room – an interactive robotic installation which was exhibited in the Kemper Lane museum in St Louis. It consisted of a group of robotic sculptures, each imbued by an artificial intelligence of a chatbot and equipped with sensors, speakers and microphones. The sculptures – Wobbly Bots – engaged the viewers who’d walk past them in a conversation, and once the people left the space, continued talking among themselves endlessly, further processing their conversations with the humans.

Later in my work I continued developing the topics of artificial nature and synthetic life forms as I added digital sculpture and mixed reality to my tool-box. I made a couple of public sculptures that involved the interactive component of augmented reality and was invited to create a museum-size installation in new media. While I was introducing screens, projections, and AR into my installations, I knew that I never wanted to give up the physical, tangible component. It was important for me to keep making physical work with my body, and for the viewers to be able to interact with them through their bodies.

When I moved to NYC, I noticed with some frustration that space restrictions began to change the way in which I worked. I had seen my work as centered around installation, but my sculptural pieces were becoming smaller, and my installations had to exist as models long before I had the opportunity to create them in physical spaces. The urge to get my hands on physical matter and the craving for an immediate gratification prompted me to pack my installations into paintings, as large as I could fit on the walls of my modest studio . At first I was painting the landscapes of the artificial nature that I envisioned. Sculptural components migrated into paintings and the paintings were often accompanied by a small sculpture and/or AR component. Gradually I found myself getting sucked more and more into painting, letting go of the strict conceptual planning, and immersing myself in the process and the flow of it. I re-discovered the endless richness of painting as a medium: there was so much to learn, research, and develop. In parallel, or perhaps as a result of this different mode of art-making, My interests and concepts were shifting: I began thinking more about biological life, its principles, networks, and mysteries, and less about hypothetical futures. This topic became even more personally connected for me since my recent pregnancy and the birth of my son.

Today I still don’t see myself exclusively as a painter: I feel that every day in the studio I make a deliberate choice to use a specific medium, it just happens to be painting-centered these days. At the moment I’m working on a new project that combines painting and VR to create immersive environments, which will have the hand-made, expressive, and material quality of painting, but also allow the viewer to penetrate the pictorial plane and travel within the painted spaces like inside a VR environment.

Staying with the trouble, 64”x76”, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2020

I can trace recurrent imagery running from your multi-media art projects through your painting. What are your thoughts on the difference and similarity in the processes of making art through these different modes?

I see almost all of my works as landscapes or fragments of imagined environments. These environments are reflections of physical places that I experienced interlaced with fictional places and digital narratives. Many of the recurrent forms in my work are inhabitants of these places and players in the narratives of their natural histories. The way in which they initially appear is similar across media: I don’t think about them, but rather let them rise up to the surface of my consciousness, somewhat similar to the ways that surrealists teased the imagery out of their subconscious minds.

However the process in which these images materialize is quite different. When I work in sculpture or digital media I begin with a sketch or a series of sketches and then work towards an end object that I imagined. I allow the material – physical or digital – to guide me from there, and the “thing” that I’m creating changes slightly in the process. However most often it still remains quite close to the initial image I had in mind.

It is different with painting: I almost never make sketches for paintings, and I rarely have a clear plan of what my painting will look like. In my paintings these images (spaces and forms – I tend to think about all of them as living creatures) emerge through a spontaneous mark-making process. Even when I don’t plan for them to be there, they are so deeply embedded in my mind that they surface on their own. Later in the process I recognize what they are and develop them further, while thinking about their volume, surface texture, weight, elasticity and other physical traits of an object in space, as well as individual character, behavior, and interaction with other forms.

Landscape with the Divine Bacon, 2020, Oil on canvas, 27″x23″

Let’s take a closer look at one of your recent paintings. Tell me about the process of making it ?

The covid year for me was an encounter with barriers and partitioned habitats (despite the fact that I spent much time outdoors), and I think for this reason elements of enclosed spaces have been creeping into my paintings. My paintings became hybrids of landscape and interior – in this case a virtual or a digital one. It’s likely that this shift reflected my sense of being bound in place – physically or metaphorically, as well as my introspective mental state.

This painting began with a memory of Carlsbad caverns, a place that I visited a couple of years ago. I was so intrigued by the caverns that I lingered in the area and spent entire days underground sketching in the dark. Caves are a kind of “inside” landscape anyway, and now they came back to me in this landscape, which is a hybrid of a natural place, a 3D-modeled virtual space, and an inner landscape. The underlying composition is that of a seemingly open space. The pillars at the foreground may be stalactites, or perhaps columns of living chewed gum with tooth-prints in them. The space recedes towards the horizon surrounded by mountain ranges. However the floor is that of a 3D-rendering engine and the mountains are “painted” on invisible walls. These are the walls one encounters when trying to expand beyond the boundaries of a VR space: a place where an illusion of open horizons and endless possibilities breaks. I made this painting over a period of a few months, in multiple layers. The layers alternate between chaos and order, the way my paintings often evolve. Just like in any creation story, first came a “chaos” layer: an expressive and intuitive mark-making, that was guided mostly by my mood and my bodily sensations. A few days later as I examined the marks, objects and spaces began to emerge. I then realized that this is a room with a fake horizon, and the composition became clear to me.

Lately I’ve been interested in old masters’ painting techniques, in particular burnt sienna underpainting in which the volumes are created by wiping the paint out. I used this color and technique as the basis for my composition, later bringing in contemporary pigments and digitally-inspired colors, such as the blue-purple gradient of the walls. After a phase of “cleaning up” and painting the objects in the space, I felt like the painting became too structured and stationary and needed to be messed up again. Another layer of chaos followed, this time with thicker paint and big free gestures. This layer created the tension between painted objects and paint itself as an object in the depicted 3D space . The marks made by these expressive full-body gestures became the movement of energy in the depicted space.

In this painting I returned to my ideas of artificial nature and the erasure of boundaries between the physical and the digital worlds. It combines old masters’ technique with contemporary approaches and materials. There is an entertaining art-historical chain leading to this work: Old masters, Max Ernst, Abstract Expressionists, Photoshop, Blender. While the mixed reality is not present in this work as a tool, it is present both as a concept and as a setting.

Reality box and other back holes, 68”x64”, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 2021

All photo courtesy of the artist

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: