The collaboration between the Berlin-based Israeli artist Ariel Schlesinger and the Cuban-born Wilfredo Prieto seems natural. In their post-minimal conceptual practices, both artists transform everyday objects through minor gestures and interventions. While some are authored individually, most of the works in this show, almost all newly commissioned, were developed collaboratively. The works – some almost hidden in the cavernous space of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv – seem like the debris of daily existence, but come to life in curious ways.
Humour is an animating force: Ascension (2014), for example, consists of used teabags, glued upside-down to the ceiling of the entrance, threatening to fall onto the head of the invigilator sitting behind the reception desk. In the next room, a used can of chopped tomatoes, produced by a well-known brand of Israeli processed foods, lies on the floor. Suddenly, it starts to roll around the room. This piece seems to refer so directly to a contemporary Israeli reality that it is surprising to find out it was created by Prieto. Titled Drone (2014), it parodies the use of armed drones by the Israeli military. The unseeing tomato tin, hitting the walls while trying helplessly to find its way, reflects the blindness of the machinic drones, programmed from afar, as well as that of their use, which is deliberately hidden from the public eye. As in Prieto’s most famous work, Apolitical (2001–08), in which he reproduced all the flags of the states designated by the UN in shades of grey, the artist cleverly turns something emblematic of a nation against itself. Blindness and secrecy are also evident in Safe Box (2014), in which a safe is tucked into a cardboard box, disguising itself as an object of little or no value.
The same game of hide and seek is also present in works by Schlesinger: a glass filled with water is placed within a paper cup, which is torn at the edge to reveal the translucent container beneath – an optical illusion that makes it appear as though the water is standing on its own (Untitled [Pair], 2010). Less illusory is a roll of duct tape that has been coiled inside its cardboard holder (Enjoy Your Problems, 2014). A black umbrella is also turned inside out, seemingly broken by a strong wind. Its handle is bent backwards, keeping the shape of the umbrella intact as if an attempt has been made to make it functional again.
Schlesinger often refers to his works as prototypes – objects built quickly to communicate an idea. But his prototypes are made from mass-produced objects through an act that he refers to as ‘reverse engineering’, by means of which he explores the hidden possibilities of ready-made devices. Most of the time, these ‘possibilities’ produce impossibilities – the duct tape rolled inside out can’t be used and the umbrella will no longer function as a shelter from the rain. Martin Heidegger’s distinction between objects that are seen as devices, ready for use, as opposed to objects that are – or have become – useless and can therefore be examined for what they are, comes to mind. For Heidegger, art can provoke the transformation between these two perceptive states, which is why even simple gestures can have great aesthetic value. One of the most delicate on show here was Copy/Paste (2014), in which Schlesinger has carved out an A4-sized piece of paint and plaster from a wall on the ground floor and pasted it onto a wall on the second floor, and vice versa. The work is reminiscent of Elmgreen & Dragset’s The Named Series (2012), which consists of various wall paints taken from prominent museums and galleries around the world. However, Schlesinger’s act is much more minimal, light-hearted and personal, uncovering the wall as a wall, rather than reflecting on its function.
Prieto and Schlesinger chose to title the exhibition ‘Hiding Wood in Trees’ to hint that art is all around us and all we need to do is look. Their clever works may disguise themselves as part of the mundane, but they effortlessly transcend it.