Ohad emailed Ariel as a follow up to their inclusion in Ugly Duckling Presse’s Emergency Index publication, proposing a dialogue, one of whose public forms would be as a blog post on VerySmallKitchen.
Transcript edited by VerySmallKitchen 18/03/12. The full unedited exchange can be seen here.
OHAD: I was quite happy to view and read your thoughts regarding the intersection of photography with performance and text. It’s nice for me to take photography as a starting point as I was also educated in art school in photography and kind of drifted away from it. I’m more into connecting writing/performance to painting nowadays. But eventually i guess all roads cross.
ARIEL: I started in photography school also, turned to writing as the more practical and versatile tool, but always still deep in photography. Actually I argue my writing is photography. Photography is in such rapid change, I think language is at this moment of really entering the game. Like caption revenge or something.
OHAD: Your writing might very well be (is) photography, I get that. Presence/absence etc. What is the object of writing/photography? I also used to identify myself as a photographer without a camera for people who didn’t get the picture. It should go on from there to new and yet unknown territories.
ARIEL: Just subbed for a class of 18 year old photo students and I felt like why make supremacy out of photography. It seems like these photographers, and they were very young ones, who knows what they will become, had no hunger for reading/writing as maybe a better lens when the world is over-saturated image wise.
Past explaining things, settling into writing as a primary medium may be where I have always been heading. Perhaps there is some idea of not wanting to give up one for the other. Preferably the unknown, as you say.
I have a prompt for this emergency index release party to make a piece “from” something else in the anthology. I’m curious about the medium, if there can be one, of “performance lecture.” Is this a thing? I feel like it is a buzz word right now in the arts crossing over to writing. I’m interested in how a faux-expert operates. As a real expert, tonally.
OHAD: Can we free photography from its contemporary heavy chains of disgust? Can we acquire the sense of innocence that once inhabited this medium? Without getting all sentimental about it or perhaps to exaggerate this sentimentality to an absurd point…
The lecture-performance format deals with a certain academic authority to my understanding. This authority is perhaps the same sovereign authority that the photographic medium has dealt with throughout history.
Predominantly I think a lecture-performance is a way to designate an exchange between an artist and an audience which is neither an academic (lecture) exchange nor a performance in the normal sense of the term. So it’s an interesting case of a double negation. Like the double negation of writing slipping into art. It’s neither writing, nor art. Neither-nor.
Who is telling what to who? Who is listening? Who’s in the picture? Who’s not? Who’s smart? Who’s stupid? Who’s infantile? I sound like Heide Klum in Project Runway. What if we could break all the cameras in the world in one given moment and then glue them all back together to form one uber-camera? What would we see?
I’ve had another talk with a friend last week, also contemplating what you say regarding the realisation that writing is/should be your primary medium. But what the hell is a writer? Is it someone who publishes books? Goes to readings? Is reviewed about? I really don’t know.
For me writing lately comes down to silence. There is a silence when I write. I transform that silence into a certain visible trace in the form of words. Maybe it’s similar to the way a camera brings a certain darkness into light?
ARIEL: I am thinking today about caption errors. About how this seems to be the most dramatic twist, some affirmation of the way blind faith in the surface of an image distorts our experiences (of what?).
I read the news constantly, more so now maybe because I started getting a New York Times weekend edition. So the papers just pile up and it feels like I am a worker, like Bartleby the Scrivener, getting through the stories.
Do you read the news? Are broken cameras caption errors? There are so many cameras going into the garbage heap everyday, it is the most rapidly evolving and consumer cycling technology it seems, if cell phones are included in the pile of cameras. I like to stare at those bins at thrift stores of film cameras. But I don’t want to accumulate them.
If we took this, cameras broken then gluing it back together, and thought about what we would see- light leaks? Literal. We would see the people in the military taking the horrific pictures of the dead bodies their commands are responsible for. This sort of footage of carnage is under constant raps, but so much of it is flowing through the memory cards of the U.S. military.
I’ll tell you what a writer is, in the sense of how it feels in my daily life: I wake up in the morning and I must write. The thing I am making, are pieces of paper with writing on them. Other stuff grows from that point but I guess it’s a crude estimation of my production that I say I am more of a writer.
I must write or I go crazy. It is really actually a compulsion. I must write down the things that seem crucial to observe, minutia in photography, inside my many little systems for collecting then finessing this observation into a piece of writing to redistribute back to the world.
But it is a struggle. And there is a lot of silence in it. Yes, I agree silence is crucial, something to seek, to cultivate. I guess mostly, a writer is a reader. I guess I identify with the procedures for arriving at subjects or projects like that of a writer, but also that of a photographer, a photographer who doesn’t use film but uses language, because it is much freer. In the economic sense, I think it is important to differentiate between photography and writing.
You write “the lecture-performance format deals with a certain academic authority to my understanding. this authority is perhaps the same sovereign authority that the photographic medium has dealt with throughout history. who is telling what to who?”
For a while I was obsessed with writing the imagined voice of the subject of photographs, as these sort of dredged captions. Then I was also writing the voice of the photographer- who sounded kind of like an asshole. I think with citizen journalism, anyone who is there with any type of camera and catches a crucial picture to document something considered news or history, the sovereign power of photography is changing.
Perhaps more people doing “performance lectures” is just a result of the spread of academia into the arts, which it seems everyone bemoans at every opportunity they get. Bash the M.F.A. or the B.F.A.
OHAD: What motivates me? Kinship. Maybe that’s why I contacted you. I sensed a certain kinship. which is strange. I mean we are total strangers. I saw Rabih Mroué in Utrecht. I liked his approach. I also sat behind him just before and after his performance in the audience. I thought of talking to him and congratulating him for an interesting performance. But then I thought to myself. Wait. You are Israeli. He is Lebanese. I felt like anything I would say would be disrespectful. Maybe something I did or said would be interpreted by him as offensive. I felt guilt. I rather remain silent and appreciate him from a distance. And so I did.
There is a bit of an element of fooling around in a child-like way in your (and mine) writing/performances. Maybe that foolishness is our way to maintain the innocence we once experienced as related to photography? Maybe photography is a funny medium. A fun-ny medium.
ARIEL: I’ve spent some more time with your performances, or the documentation of them, The Mirror Stage in particular, and then when two people come together, giving a reading, and the interview with Chris Clarke.
I have this urge to ask a long string of questions and observations which you can choose to answer or not. I was curious about the image in your the documentation of the mirror stage- how it only shows one image, and the whole performance cycles through many many images. Did you choose that still for the picture on the screen?
Is there hierarchy or can there be of “good pictures” when you are showing them as a mass? Are favorites possible? Is a “good” picture becoming obsolete when there are just necessary or de-facto pictures?
Do you bring a little kit for your performances or are they built from whatever equipment that is there? That lamp, and the desk. I have this urge to use no technology- have no tek needs that is, for upcoming performances. Or if there is a photo or a text people need to see they hold it.
I was interested in Chris Clarke’s question about integrating “your pictures” after doing performance talks/ readings without images and how you said you experienced a “distrust with photography”.
…and The Mirror Stage is reflective we are striving for a unity a feeling with the audience taking these fragments- there is something about vulnerability. What do you think about vulnerability? Is diary a misnomer? I have been thinking about handing people work, literally, the page that i first write about something on (and I edit a ton when it transfers into type on the computer). The holding of a piece of writing as performance.
Do you know Stephen Ratcliffe, the American poet’s work? I think it would interest you. How it all begins with a date, as numbers, he writes from the same place, mostly, everyday, a sort of same sounding poem.
Can we make an analogy of anything to photography? Is it that far and wide? Do you prefer to sit than stand while reading to an audience? How much of that do you premeditate?
Do you edit the diary? Really? How many languages do you speak? Forgive me, I am very verbose by nature. I cannot seem to edit this down. I want it to be real/rawe.
Perhaps the reason I am so interested in correspondence, and interviews or other topics for criticism is that I must have something to bounce the photography focus off from or else I’ll get bored with it. I might. I might stop the obsession but it is alive and well now. I am not done. I am not discovering but collecting. Maybe afraid of losing to cope with real losing. Talk about psychology! For motivating procedures for making.
I like getting glimpses of the big time difference between us. How your bed time, or meal time, with when I am reading. Correspondence, even over the internet, guarantees some delay, like the delay I think I am most attached to in photography.
OHAD: I also like the delay very much. The more ‘serious’ photos I take I store the film for about half a year until I’m in Tel Aviv again and I develop them in my favorite lab. It’s the only lab I develop film.
So the status of my analogue photography is always tied to this lab, in which the owner died from cancer about 2-3 years ago and since then his son has taken over. They have nice punk concerts there on Friday afternoons. I once took my father and brother and we had a nice time. We drank arak. Do you know arak? It’s this kind of anis.
Thanks a lot for your reflections about my works. It felt like I had a solo show, you know this specific attention to specific works and details. You don’t imagine that you can actually have a solo show online, depending on the attention of the viewer.
In The Mirror Stage performance there was no real hierarchy… and I was never a kind of fanatic digital photography producer of images. I guess I’m kind of choosing to exaggerate the medium to see where it will break. Breaking the medium by overusing it.
The camera I used for that performance actually did break. I was with a new friend I just met in Amsterdam. She went on the roof of her apartment. Then she asked for the camera to take a picture of us hanging around the balcony. Then it dropped and never opened again.
Did I mourn it? I still have another one with me. I never buy cameras. I somehow manage to receive them from someone who doesn’t need them. So it’s like a ready made. I treat the cameras I use as ready made.
Today is the International Women’s Day and I was wondering how being a woman is related to your text/performances.. I’m sure it’s quite significant.
It’s nice to discover that our approaches are the same in a kind androgynous way. I mean to say all this technology and monotony and the rest are kind of a-sexual. Until now I only met a few guys who were doing this kind of pseudo news reporter lecture-performance things.
I feel now like I felt with Rabih in a way that because I’m not a woman I might say something wrong in a non p.c manner. Is that a pressure to perform? Ok enough about this guilt-trip thing. So how does being a woman relate to your technique of performance?
No, I don’t have a kit. I try to have only the pieces of paper. I find the rest on site or someone arranges it. I actually want to stop using photographs also. In 2010 I made a performance without images (my pen died). I think conceptually that was stronger.
I like how you take out pieces of my performances. Like you are actually photographing it/me/my voice/the text. I understand you do that often, create a kind of mash from your own writing with the writing of behaving of others. a kind of self dissolving in others, others self-dissolving in you. Authorship issues, etc. But also a kind of fusion. Not necessarily with people but also with inanimate things. Do you want to become a camera? Are you a camera? Wasn’t Warhol busy with this as well?
I don’t usually edit the diary. I manage to fool some people that I speak about 7 languages but in fact I only speak about 2 and a half. Hebrew, English and ok level of Dutch.
ARIEL: I find the morning writing time to be crucial and something to protect. That numbness, a perfect fit for untimed stares out the window, is in some way a judgement or clutter free state, one where obligations or logistics can get suspended, if the time is of course predetermined as protected.
I find the establishment of quiet in the morning, allows me to remember my dreams, and even if the smallest conversation happens, like oh no the alarm didn’t go off, there will be a ticket on the car because it is parked in a metered spot, I then cannot focus all morning.
Sometimes even the first ten steps from the bed is a period of time the dream goes away. I find if I don’t have a chunk of time to write with coffee in the morning, about nothing, it is always just the journal then, that my mood is very strange and fractured for the rest of the day.
Sometimes when I am holding the camera I get so satisfied by that feeling of the echo of a camera, the insides of the machine clicking and turning reverberating into my palm, that I then take more, a little string of pictures.
One night recently I set up my slide projector in the studio and shot film pictures of the slides because I wanted to finish the roll of film but also didn’t have time to scan them- it turned out the digital ones I took that night were much better, of course, because it was dark and the border and empty space needed to be excised.
I forgot really that the shadow coming in from the window and then edge of my projection screen would just be black in the exposure. I forgot when i was setting up the shot that what I saw through the viewfinder was not what I would see as the picture. That my eye wasn’t the camera.
It’s so great you ask about the being a woman thing. I actually don’t identify as a woman. I identify as a feminist who is queer. I identify as a little butch dyke. Your questions about it, and the awareness of your questions coming from a male perspective I find really provoking and touching.
OHAD: Travel. Motion. An important component of writing somehow. At least for me. The displacement of the physical body always begs the wandering of the creative ‘spirit’/drive. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the word ‘drive’ is used both in a libidinal sense and in creative forces.
We drive somewhere. We go. We cross. We map and are mapped. We at times conquer something or somewhere or sometime. Some times it has bad consequences (in the form of a national drive) but most often in a personal sense it has good consequences.