Rotem Gerstel
On the edge of meaning


Interview with curator Anne-Laure Chamboissier on the occasion of the group exhibition Encounter in resonance.

ALC: What was your background before joining EPAS? Was sound practice something you were used to before? What has this postgraduate program brought to the development of your artistic work?

RG: I studied fine arts in the Bezalel academy in Jerusalem in the department of ceramic and glass of the sculpting division. I began incorporating moving image studies with sculpture and installation studies to commence a preliminary articulation of my aesthetic language. I finished my BFA in 2016, and at the beginning of 2017 I moved to Paris, France, to take part in a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. Since then I've lived in Paris, and I have participated in residencies (DOC!, Werkraum Warteck pp, POUSH Manifesto) and exhibitions in Europe and Israel.

The tension between the static object and the vibrating object in space fascinated me from early on. I considered dialogic poems on wetness and dryness, where the wet vibrates and the dry is static. In my practice, vibrant matter in space enveloped an auditive quality as if I was searching for a voice for my sculptures. In EPAS, I took a new approach towards sound. Before I was looking inside the object for sound, but I learned to explore sound qualities from an outside perspective, outside the matière, outside the sculpture, outside the studio. I began to explore possible audiovisual relations from the surrounding nature, architecture, cityscape, human voices, animals, confined spaces, and more. My artistic orientation has changed; it has become broader, more aware, more holistic. It created a profound shift in the way I experience objects’ relations in space and to space.

ALC: As you know, this exhibition is focused on the question of listening. What is your personal definition of listening?

RG: Listening is a state with an inherently two-fold character. It is a manifestation of a delicate inner movement between a state of activity and a state of passivity, it's a voluntary and involuntary transition between an outward presence and an inward presence. It is an action that allows an inward and an outside movement to occur simultaneously, as I stand on the threshold outside of myself and inside myself. To listen is to engage with a time-passing agent which partly employs you and at the same time allows an attachment with reality. It has the power to get us close to ourselves or to separate us from ourselves.

ALC: The objects in your installations play with a form of fragility. You seem to be interested in the limits of the perception of an object in its recognizable and unrecognizable aspects, but also to the sound dimension of these same objects. I would like you to tell us more about it. Why are you interested in the sound potential of objects?

RG: Since my deepening interest in sound studies, I tend to take distance from symbolic and narrative representations and try to evoke a perceptional state in my work. I am intrigued by the oscillating nature of the sound medium, and I liken it to the character of our psyche, particularly the memory. In my installations, taking Jean Luc Nancy's statement that "to listen is to be on the edge of meaning," I try to create an environment that constitutes an audiovisual economy that brings out edges of meanings. I create moments that try to withdraw from being translated by language but can rather be translated by our sensations and perceptions. I represent the raw states of the matière, both the audial and the physical, stretching the boundaries between the anonymous and the identified. Sound juxtaposed with objects amplifies an incompleteness in comparison to film, which seems to be an "all there" experience. This deficiency or friction creates something new that fascinates me.

ALC: What kind of listening experience do you invite the audience to?

RG: This project questions the use of auditive and physical mediums as two autonomous entities in the context of an art installation. I invite the audience to open their ears while encountering the visual and their eyes while encountering the auditive. What can the sound reveal about the physical object? And what can the visual information unveil about the sound? Listening is an involuntary action. Unconscious forces drive our attentiveness towards particular objects, auditive or physical. The listening experience I would like to constitute is that of an unbiased listening, with both ear and eye, to the matière. A listening experience that evokes an inner movement between the identifiable and the anonymous, the personal and the collective, in one’s perceptions, emotions, and possibly memories. I invite the audience to engage with the wandering of the focus and attentiveness. I invite them to recognize the abrupt movement between states of activity and passivity, and to linger in that threshold while trying to resist linguistic translation and engaging with the senses, instincts, and perceptions.

Structure, as related to function, needs our intellect to construct it or, analytically, to decipher it. Matière, on the other hand, is mainly non-functional, non-utilitarian, and in that respect, like colour, it cannot be experienced intellectually. It must be approached, just like colour, non-analytically, receptively. It asks to be enjoyed and valued for no other reason than its intriguing performance of a play of surfaces. But it takes sensibility to respond to matière as it does to respond to colour. Just as only a trained eye and a receptive mind are able to discover meaning in the language of colours, so it takes these and in addition an acute sensitivity to tactile articulation to discover meaning in that of matière. Thus, the task today is to train this sensitivity in order to regain a faculty that once was so naturally ours.”

- Anni Albers, “Tactile sensibility, 1965,” in On Weaving (new expanded edition) (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press: 2017), 44–7.

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