Sometimes getting closer makes things less and less clear – interview with Roni Aviv
In your artistic research you deal with psychological processing within the everyday, especially the aftermaths of experiences. How do you manifest these experiences and paradoxes in your works?
That is a good question. Sounds like a big statement – but how did those things come to life? At times, the visual for the aftermath of experience is the residue. I am curious about material transformations that I see within the everyday. For example, a wall that was patched many times, floors that are lacquered over and over again, and have strands of hair locked in the resin in between layers of resin, layers of hair, within a singular walkable surface. The inner paradox of this bedroom floor, for example, is that the act of painting lacquer on the floor or resin, like covering the floor, is an attempt to make the interior seem new, it’s to clean up whoever was there and make it fresh for whoever comes next. But by the act itself, instead of successfully erasing the traces of the people who were there before you’re embedding them and capturing them, through their residue, into the material. It is remarkable the way that the action is going against itself.
How is that also tied to psychology?
There’s a person living in this bedroom with all of these other people’s residues around them, this uncanniness within the domestic space, this obsessive attention to details that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise think about. And from there’s this chain of thoughts: “what else don’t I think about within my everyday life? What else do I bury and don’t want to talk about?” and this is something that I work on in different projects throughout the years. I think about chains of events, physical chain of events, but then also psychological chains of events. And somewhat compare between the two, because in the end, this is a visual practice. The bodily experience, the somatic experience is in the core of our being. In a recent show, at Indie Photography Gallery (Tel Aviv) called “10 Exercises in Style”, I had two bodies of work in the exhibition space; one body of work was close-up images of hair locked in resin. And then on the other wall, I had a series of close-up photographs of toilet paper, a project I started in 2019. There’s this idea of use. The toilet paper was not used in the image. The particular toilet paper that I chose to photograph is an Israeli toilet paper brand that has puppies embossed in its design. It’s one of the most familiar toilet paper brands in Israel. It is a little more expensive than average – so I always associated it with luxury and comfort. In 2019, After being away for a year I went to Israel for a visit. All of the sudden, I saw the world around me from a new distance. I was interested in the design idea of having something like a puppy embedded on an object that you’re going to wipe your butt with. The toilet paper allows us to dispose of things that come from our bodies. Things we don’t want to deal with, that we don’t want to look at. The play within the toilet paper is the cuteness versus the grossness of where it ends up. So I also liked this idea of something that disguises itself. The shitty part is disguising itself under this sugar coating of puppy cuteness.
You work between photography, text, and installation. Could you tell us more about your referential points that direct your expression in a certain way?
The biggest reference point for me is the human body. The interaction with the viewer is really important to me. It starts with the content of the photographs and continues in the space; I try to create a space that invites the viewer to look for connections and move around. I play with the height of the image in relation to different parts of our bodies. Perception is a theme that goes in and out of the different works, it’s always there. The way we see things. Scale shifts is a strategy I’ve been using more and more. It’s one of the things photography allows us to do. We are able to give things more attention when they become closer to a size we can relate to, but sometimes getting closer makes things less and less clear.
Do you also intervene with the spaces themselves?
Yes! I currently have a show up at House of Words (NYC), titled ‘open ended’. In this site specific installation, I’m addressing the gallery as a transitional space. As you enter the space, there are five variations on a plant. Five 8×10 b&w photographs of one plant’s shadow. The plant was left outside of the photographs. You only get to see the shadow, it is less descriptive but as such more emotive. The hallway is almost a shadow of a space. In its central narrowest part, I mounted a dark photograph of a door with a peephole. The photograph is 34 by 79. A wooden door from inside a house, through the peephole one can see a bright light. You can look out through the peephole – but there’s nowhere to look out to. The exhibition presents little dead ends, in a way.
Repetition is a repeated element within your works. Could you expand on that choice and its meaning?
Repetition has a power. It’s an insistence to look at a thing, and as a photographer, I am showing you that I have looked at a thing over and over again, and found and also found different ways to photograph it. Within my repetitiveness, there’s always some sort of a variation, it’s never exactly the same. It’s still important for me how within repetition there’s surprises and excitement in my process. I can make one object look like several different things. And that’s, for me, it’s good practice. It’s a constraint that I sometimes give myself: “what can I do with as little as possible? What can I do with an eraser, and a blank piece of paper? Could this be something? What does an object or thing have to have in order to be a thing to be considered something worth acknowledging, giving it a name and the world? And again, this idea of like, experiences surfaces back. Experiences that are maybe beyond language. Many times, one would not necessarily understand something had even happened. It takes time to even want to name something that had happened to you. So by this, almost reliving something over and over, over and over, looking at a thing. I’m also kind of pinpointing that particular experience of investigating into your own mind, something that had happened obsessively over and over again, trying to figure something out, trying to get more clarity, trying to acknowledge it, perhaps. I ask, what is visible and what’s not visible, and in extension of that who is visible and who is not visible? What is the main narrative that this world possesses?
You recently curated a few group exhibitions. Do you think there are points of similarity between your curatorial practice and your work as a visual artist?
The two are similar in the sense that I want to say something. When I’m curating, I know what I want to say a little bit more clearly than when I’m making my own work. When I’m making my own work its a slow process involving intervals of intuitive work and reflections. But when I curate a group exhibition I have an idea. Something triggered me to look for certain works, and to decide to put them together. My curatorial project has been easier in the decision making part of it. I had way more clarity working in that way. The exhibition m.i.o.k, opened in February of 2020. It was right when the pandemic hit NYC. When I worked on that show, the first thing that I had was the title. Am I okay? I thought about that title during september 2018. When I first moved to New York, I started you know, my life here. And I wasn’t okay, I was shocked by this radical transition of migration. The show’s idea is also of self reflection, of joking with yourself. m i o k ? What corresponds between my curatorial practice and my art making is the idea of asking questions, instead of giving answers. I always think in questions, you know, I don’t have solutions. The problems that we face in the world right now are so grand. But this idea of whose experiences matters, and what is worth even regarding is something. I know the answer, but it’s not about the answer. The answer doesn’t matter. It’s like putting that question out there trying to find different ways to say this question in a way that maybe will juggle something in one’s head. It’s about rethinking something that we think we already know. But maybe we don’t.