Berlin from an Artist’s Perspective: an Interview with Ariel Reichman

by Carla Ingrasciotta
September 7, 2016
Carla Ingrasciotta
Reichman Ariel

On the occasion of our Focus on Berlin Art Week 2016, we asked artist Ariel Reichman (born in 1979 in Johannesburg, South Africa, immigrated to Tel Aviv, Israel in 1991, and living in Berlin since 2004) to share with our readers his perspective on the art week and on the city art scene.
Greatly involved in the Berlin Art Week, Ariel is having two solo shows: one at abc fair and one at PSM gallery presenting new body of work.

Carla Ingrasciotta: Let’s start with your participation at the Berlin Art Week. You are having two solo shows with PSM Gallery as you are among the 62 participating artists at abc fair. What is it like being part of such an art event? Could you tell us something more about the body of work you’re presenting for this occasion?

Ariel Reichman: Being a part of abc allows me to focus on a solo presentation of my work in a fair context, and such a presentation provokes a specific context for my work involving a more concentrated experience for the viewer. I will also open a solo exhibition at PSM the week before Berlin Art Week, which allows me a great amount of exposure to the large number of international visitors to the city, as well as be part of an overall artistic program that will take place in several venues around Berlin.
For abc, I will present eleven drawings, entitled “I Am Sorry Felix, But We Are Just Too Scared To Fly, A-N”. I started the first drawing of this series in 2013 and am excited to present the installation as a whole. The work evolved from a “conversation” with Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s photographic series “Untitled (Vultures)” of 1995. I scanned the photographs out of a catalogue, and after blowing up the images I digitally removed the birds. I then drew the pixelated empty skies, keeping the same format of the original works by Gonzalez-Torres. What remains are unfilled heavens where the possibility of movement has disappeared.

C.I.: Your practice examines subjective memories, daily rituals and fantasies dealing with the notions of habitation, territory, and place. Could you tell us more about your practice and concept? How your “conceptual expressionism” is translated in your artwork?

A.R.:  Born and raised to an orthodox Jewish family in South Africa, my family and I immigrated to Israel in 1991—and I moved to Berlin in 2006. I work in a wide range of mediums from installation, drawing, film, and performance, to photography, painting and sculpture.
Migration and liminality have been the focus of my research and artistic practice, and the diverse mediums give me the freedom to explore whatever avenue I may come upon. My work proposes multiple layers of meanings and narratives that question one’s existence in space, both physical and conceptual, as well as the rituals and norms of culture. I am attracted by the possibility of encountering victory as well as total failure or defeat in this endeavor.
Surely, the intimate is political, and through this one can attempt to understand the politics of oneself and one’s surroundings, be they fiction or truth, historical reality or fable.

C.I.:  The artwork we chose as main featured image of our website is “You see my mother, she just doesn’t know how to light a lighter”, 2013. Could you tell us something more about the artwork and the process of creation?

A.R.: The work “My Mother, You See, She Just Doesn’t Know How To Light a Lighter” is a video showing my mother attempting to light a lighter for the first time. I was living In Tel Aviv at the time and my mother came for a visit. She wanted to boil hot water and was looking to light the stove. As I gave her a lighter, I realized she had never used or held one before. I took my video camera and filmed her trying to understand how the lighter works. I gave here no instructions and simply followed her attempt at lighting the lighter. Her hand enjoys the unknown object’s potential of light and warmth, but this come at a price – and this admission of unknowing and hesitation brings both reward and frustration. My mother did not really understand why I was filming her, but found it amusing to participate.

C.I.:  You work between Tel Aviv, where you first moved in 1991 and Berlin. How would you describe these two art scenes, in what do they differ and in what do they dialogue? Why did you choose to move to Berlin? Does the city itself inspire your work?

A.R.:  I actually discovered the arts at a fairly later age; I was 23 when I first entered a museum, for example, and so there is not much I experienced from the earlier days of the Tel Aviv art scene. I have good friends and colleagues in Tel Aviv and it is definitely not a simple context to be an artist in, especially in these current political times. It is difficult to compare these two art scenes—both are very unique in their own ways. I have been lucky to work with some wonderful curators such as Ellen Ginton and Ruti Direktor of the Tel Aviv museum, as well as younger curators like Hila Cohen Schneiderman and Chen Tamir. Tel Aviv is a very small scene and everyone knows each other relatively fast. And the political reality has a profound influence. Berlin allowed me to experience the privilege of having time and space. When I first moved to Berlin rents were low and studio space was easy to find. I hadn’t really intended on staying in Berlin as I was supposed to only come for an exchange semester at the Universität der Künste, but after studying with Hito Steyerl, who I was greatly inspired by, I found myself living and working here. Berlin is a city that is constantly questioning its identity and attempting to define its own way. This state of mind excites me and allows for the notion of movement and constant change. I enjoy this contemporary approach and the amount of artists that have chosen to live and work here. I would say that a large ocean separates the two art scenes.

C.I.: Could you tell us five places in Berlin you would suggest to someone who loves art? Would you recommend something not to be missed during the Berlin Art Week?

A.R.: Well, if visiting Berlin during Art Week, I have to recommend that you come see my solo exhibition at PSM, “The View Outside My Basement Window”. The presentation of Pina Bausch at the Martin Gropius Bau is not to be missed, as well as the performances by French choreographer Jérôme Bell at HAU. If one fancies a small trip out of the city center I would recommend going to the Georg Kolbe museum and experiencing the former artists studio and sculpture garden. One could also sign up for the Niche art and architecture tours that will be offered during Berlin Art Week, as well as several special events by artists for the VIP program of abc. The Berlin Biennale will also be running and its an opportunity to see it before it closes.

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