Who we are and What we do

Mind the Heart! is a worldwide public art project by Israeli artists Maya Gelfman & Roie Avidan that promotes mindfulness through site-specific street art, public actions, community events and lectures. It began in 2009 in Tel Aviv and has since reached more than 100 cities across 5 continents: from New York to Bangkok, Sydney to London, from the Israel National Museum to orphanages in Kenya and Uganda. The project deals with various themes through a lens of mindfulness: im/permanence, the power of choice, the cyclical nature of things, healing and interconnectedness.

Living in a place for a long enough time, one tends to get used to the beauty and to ignore the ugly or uncomfortable. In urban surroundings, even more so, since our senses are bombarded 24/7 with an endless barrage of imagery, sounds, smells, ads, traffic, people. We shut off, almost in self-defense. But this dimming of the senses results in us moving about inattentive to what surrounds us. We sink ever deeper into our own psyches or phones and become less and less attuned to the present moment. And the next moment is never guaranteed.

With that in mind, a decade ago we set out to find whether a small and personal action becomes transparent in the urban turmoil or, contrarily, gets a new meaning within this wider context: a meaning having to do with social order, human relations, borders and politics, alienation and intimacy.
We started walking the street, in a technique the later honed into their “working-wandering” method, placing small havens for the senses in public spaces. The project’s red yarn heart is a symbol and facilitator of mindfulness. A sensory trigger to the moment, to where we live, to our neighbors and to ourselves – all as a part of a bigger picture. With these delicate interventions they wish to get a moment from unexpecting passers-by, to bring them Here Now.

{ Interesting note is that the Hebrew term for mindfulness can be translated to “put your heart on it” (it meaning the thing you’re paying attention to). Which suggests that being mindfulness is a physical experience, and a matter of the heart not of the mind. }

In 2017 we took that quest to the next level and embarked on an artistic-social-experiment across the USA. If mindfulness is Being Here Now, then that necessitates a different set of rules for living and working, one in which past and future do not dictate the present. To maximize the potential for truly new creations and experiences, ones unhindered by old patterns, knowledge and biases, we shed all familiar things and cast away all anchors (home, studio, possessions, country). We are constantly on the move in unknown lands, initiating interactions with strangers every day. These strangers dictate where we go next and wherever we go we not only create our works, but also invite communities to actively partake in the project and mark their own spots of significance and mindfulness in the public domain.

Our artistic process has become very fluid and reactionary, almost like breathing – in and out, input-output. It is essentially a performance – the art is in the act itself and we are the blank canvas or litmus paper, absorbing the rapidly changing reality and reacting to it in real time.
It all stems from a single decision – to remove all the barriers between life and art, between work and the artistic process.
The daily movements – walking, sleeping, taking a shower, eating – all are completely entwined in the making of art. There is no separation, no buffer, no pause, no protection. Geography, social life, health, finances, all the way to bowel movements – life and art affect each other constantly, are one and the same.

A few words regarding our choice to work with tangible materials
Our street installations are created on site with few ingredients – yarn, shoe-box lids, duct-tape, treated foam. The visual language is comprised of characteristically red color and recurring themes that evolved and expanded with time: pulsating Red HeartsHealing Scars, Black BirdsFaucets and now Body of Work which is the newest in a line of series and symbols, one in which the we step into the realm of the work itself.

The warm fuzziness of wool clashes with the outdoor setting; the handmade letters begin conversations and construct and deconstruct ideas; the duct-tape “stitches” transform cracks in the concrete into soft tissue. Our pieces are usually delicate, minimalist, even fragile. We make them with the same intent we wish for them to reflect – an open invitation to mindfulness. That’s why we work in daylight, bare faced, signing our real names. We don’t try to take over a wall but rather to explore a possibility of integration with the city fabric. Every day this leads to meetings with inspiring new people and to hearing incredible life stories, and for that we are ever grateful.

If you wish to dive deeper into the art theory behind the works, visit this page. Or continue all the way to the end of this page.

We want to engage with you every step along the way
Be sure to stay curious and stay tuned. Feel free to contact us with ideas for places, people, collaborations, events, murals, and any creative or serendipitous idea you may have.

Last but not least
If you feel connected to what we do, please consider supporting the project.

You are all invited to take part, influence and be influenced.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and see you on the road! 🙂

~ Maya & Roie


Let’s dive deeper…

“As we walk the city streets, attentively, we make our way slowly. We let our eyes wander, absorbing the nooks and crannies of the urban landscape.

The atmosphere of the day, time and place, the vibe of a downtown, or a peaceful neighborhood, the density of industrial zones.

We notice the cyclical nature of decay and renewal as a part of the living organism we call the city.

Finally the eye lingers, catching sight of a particular detail, a wall or a texture that merits attention. We’ve found our spot: a canvas in the wild.”

Art theory:

We evolve and so is Mind the Heart! Project as we dive ever-deeper into the practice of the ‘artist as a wanderer’. The wanderer as a concept was introduced by Walter Benjamin, who made his ‘la flaneur’ an emblematic archetype of urban, modern experience. It was later developed by social scientist Michel de Certeau in his book The practice of everyday life. In Certeau’s investigations into the “arts of doing” he describes a form of daily resistance in the very way we utilize the city streets. Our seemingly mundane actions such as standing, talking and walking can be done in different ways and intentions. He makes a distinction between being a “citizen-creator” as oppose to being a “citizen-consumer”. In Kevin Lynch’s (contemporary urban planner) book The Image of the City, he coins the phrase ‘imageability’ as related to the pleasure and utility which city dwellers can extract from recognizing the patterns and meanings of their environment.

In this spirit, we wish to encourage and facilitate awareness and gratitude to life, in every single moment; for every mundane detail might be a source for beauty and inspiration, and a jumping board for momentarily transcendence. By doing so, it is striding in the footsteps of giants who walked, drove, and created art in the open, while outlining a conceptual, ideological and physical line. Artists such as Richard Long, whose repetitive walking in a field carved a line in a space, or Marina Abramovic and Ulay who drove a van across Europe, using the vehicle itself as a material for art making as well as a space for living. Inspired by them and by many others, Mind the Heart! is essentially a performative act – the art is in the act itself and in being well aware of the temporary yet eternal nature of it.

Materials and meaning:

We chose hearts, scars, birds and words as the symbolic couriers for this project. These symbols will outline the human connections created in this journey, as well as manifest the idea of hope, freedom, perseverance and togetherness.

We’re fascinated with many mediums and techniques, and have been creating pieces in many different contexts. Still, whether it’s a quick sketch on a wall or a meticulous-half-a-year-process to produce an installation, whether on a white clean background of a gallery or a noisy street corner, the issues, aesthetic language and perspectives are much the same. By utilizing the non-verbal power of communication that’s inherent in art, we can gently penetrate the external layer and generate a positive shift in perspectives. This project asks not only to reveal the highs of everyday life, but also its weaknesses, pain and anxieties, in order to find strength and heal.

In general, the works captures an idea that is at the core of every transformation: a progress through choice and action. They celebrate how life and inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places (ask any weed that grows from a crack in the pavement). They deal with what it means to be human, and where this humanity of ours might be found? Through them we wish to point a light on the inevitable circle of existence – process, struggle, sustenance, comprehension and release – and embrace all of our feelings as our most authentic expressions.

And so, the iconic red yarn heart encompasses a human essence: our emotions, dreams, beliefs, hopes realized or vaporized, all that motivates or inhibits us. True, it isn’t perfect. It’s crooked, tangled, with dripping ends, but it is the heart we all have: battle-worn, experienced, beating with life. It dares us to open up, spreading a vibrant, red promise to put itself where it is needed.

The duct tape scars are healing the wounds of time. They create a metaphorical scar tissue, and though it will never go back to the “perfect cement skin” it was before, it’s a good step in the right direction – acknowledging the pain and trying to fix it. Also, the scar is a strong reminder that wounds can heal and become a bravery embalm.

The Black Birds encompass a duality: a tension between the pulling force of the ground and the endless promise of the open sky. It raises questions about identity, inhibitions and ambitions, but it does not stop before suggesting a possible solution. The birds and their ‘chains’ are made of the same, soft material. The very thing that composes them might also destroy them. That which can unravel them, also grants them wings. If they choose to fly high enough for long enough, the action will disentangle the thread and they’ll be free. And yet that liberation is derived from the very notion of a fixated state of being, that acts as the trigger for a change.

The technique of construction/deconstruction of words derives from our native language – Hebrew and originates to the book of Kabbalah; it goes with Hebrew so well since it’s not dependent upon vowels, which means that the building blocks can often be words by their own right. That shaving off a word, letter by letter, can sometimes reveal many worlds encapsulated in one. As the Kabalistic saying goes “Olam Bemila Nivra” (with a word a world is born). Another notion is that the building or breaking down of a word (adding or subtracting the next letter) is a conceptual act that aims to strengthen or weaken a particular idea, to bring something into or out of existence.