BY Emily Verla Bovino in Reviews | 01 MAY 08

Freakish Mutants and Peculiar Inventions: Ariel Schlesinger’s Uncanny Sculptures

At Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin, the Israeli artist presents a series of haphazard constructions 

BY Emily Verla Bovino in Reviews | 01 MAY 08

‘Ariel Schlesinger’, 2008, exhibition view. Courtesy: Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin

In Ariel Schlesinger’s Untitled (2008) two tea biscuits lean against each other, propped up to form what seems to be the pitched roof of a tiny refuge. Windows cropped at the top of the photograph bathe the breakfast table scene in a cold white light; their presence reminds us that should they be opened, wind and rain would threaten the lives of hundreds of crumbs scattered on the tabletop. Dipped in the still steeping tea that stands nearby, the top of the tiny sculpture has been pinched and bent over to stabilize its acute angle. Schlesinger references the spontaneous engineering of food play but transforms what would otherwise have been a precarious ‘house of cards’ design into a small monument to random acts of creativity.

Freakish mutants, staged resurrections and peculiar inventions; Schlesinger’s works are weird science for the sake of the beautifully uncanny. In Forever Young (2005), a single ash burns perpetually in a cracked ashtray at the gallery entrance. A soggy cardboard box, Zu Erinnern und Zu Vergessen (To Remember and To Forget, 2008), holds a shallow puddle of water that somehow never seeps out onto the gallery floor. Rolls of masking tape, joined – like Siamese twins – at their cardboard cores, stand on a pedestal in Untitled (Masking Tape) (2008).

For L'Angoisse de la page blanche (The Anguish of the White Page, 2007), two sheets of standard-size copy paper are pressed up against each other as they spin in circles on a low table. A homemade arcade game, Untitled (Football Players) (1999) is poetic play with fear and dread, child-like toying with the idea of death: when the viewer-player pushes down on two metal levers covered in duct tape, a high voltage transformer sends buzzing charges up and down the bodies of two metal footballers. The game's apparently haphazard construction disguises a deliberate design, which is calculated down to details such as the decorative quality of plywood panels at its base and a strip of packing tape around two edges of its Plexiglass case. This is also the case in Untitled (Burned Turkmenistan Carpet III and IV) (2008), for which the seemingly casual act of burning two rolled-up oriental carpets creates a series of long, repeated lacerations that play off of the detailed geometric designs in the carpets’ intricate weaving.

As art historian Rudi Fuchs writes in the note to his lecture ‘Conflicts with Modernism or The Absence of Schwitters’,1 ‘in the end, art-making is a process of magic.’ Schlesinger calls attention to the magic nature of the artwork but purposefully reveals all of the secrets to his tricks. Two white wires taped to the gallery floor lead from a low platform, where Forever Young is displayed, to a wall socket, giving away the fact that the glowing ash is actually the end of an optic fiber. The two white pages of L'Angoisse de la page blanche perform their courtly dance on a table whose legs are fashioned from tip-less spray cans. The battered cans draw attention to the table's underside where a small motor is revealed as the dynamo driving the paper's animation. The flaps at the bottom of the cardboard box in Zu Erinnern und Zu Vergesse (The commemorable and the forgettable, 2008) are not tightly closed but leave gaps from which water should be leak, but oddly it doesn't. This small detail provides a clue that inveigles its way into the mind of the attentive observer and betrays the illusion: the box's bottom is not saturated but coated with water-resistant wax.

As phenomenologist Francois Cheng explains in Five Meditations on Beauty (2006), the beautiful is never a static way of being, ‘given once for always’ for ‘its ability to captivate lies in its revealing itself […] in its emergence.’2 In Schlesinger’s oeuvre, trauma and disaster are the spells that call objects forth from their quotidian hiding into the realm of the artist’s sorcery, a magic of constant revelation.

1. Rudi Fuchs, Conflicts with Modernism or The Absence of Kurt Schwitters, Berlin: Verlag Gachnang & Springer, 1991, p.25
2. Francois Cheng, Cinq Méditations sur la Beauté, Paris: Albin Michel, 2006, p. 70 (translation provided by the review's author)

Emily Verla Bovino is an artist and art historian based in Hong Kong.