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Rotem Reshef: Ghost Images

August 15, 2022
In this interview with Rotem Reshef, current artist in residence at NARS Foundation, she discusses her process, a qualitative exercise in echoing nature to express the opportunity to heal and fix what has been neglected. Reshef's current exhibition "Walking on Dry Land" is on view at Laurie M. Tisch Gallery, New York.

TUSSLE: The first impressions of your work "Walking on Dry Land" on view at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery is the monumental scale. This aspect delivers a performance-like experience for the viewer. Your work becomes its own kind of environment in itself. Do you think of your work in a performative way?


Rotem Reshef: As I'm less of a performer and more of a painter and installation artist, I haven't thought about the performative elements of my practice in such a direct way. Saying that, I think you are correct, and there are performative aspects in creating my work. It is somewhat meditative and somewhat of a dance on top of the canvas. I work when the canvas is spread on the studio floor while I work on top of it, organizing the plants in a composition I want to imprint, moving from side to side, pouring paint on it, and then leaning over the canvas with my whole body, reaching out from side to side. My practice is very much connected to action painters such as Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler, but also to Katharina Grosse. Their performative gestures can be felt and seen in their work and are part of the experience that is later channeled to the viewers. It has also been documented in photography and video, so it became iconic and inherent to the common memory of their works. In my work I create what I call “ghost images” of the materials and to some degree, of my actions and process on the canvas. They are hinted in the work and may be considered as the reminiscence of this performative aspect you were referring to.


T: There seems to be a randomness in your process, the objects including plant materials that you use are purposefully selected then transposed onto your surfaces in a much more spontaneous way. Can you share your painting and materials process during the creation of these paintings?


RR: Throughout my career and due to the fact that I use diluted acrylic paint, I was intrigued by the “control and release” aspects of art making. How much I control the process and the end results, and how much I let the materials lead the way and become the artwork they need to be.


I source materials that are neglected, out of the cycle of consumption, and in many cases seem like trash, or at least “not worthy” of becoming art. The use of humble materials is very important to me, as I feel they get a voice through the art, as much as get a second chance in life. Choosing the materials and organizing them on the canvas is partially intuitive and partially calculated. I usually collect the organic material on the way from my home to the studio, looking for trimmed plants on the sides of the road. When I work towards a specific exhibition, I try to incorporate vegetation that is related to the exhibition space or location. I collect local vegetation waste and trimmings in order to bring an echo of the surroundings into the white cube space and diffuse the distinction between outdoors and indoors. When I organize the materials on the canvas, I create a composition with them, yet the result is a surprise, as I can only partially control what parts of the plants or other materials will actually be imprinted in the wet paint.


In my series “Habitat”, the most representational body of work and the closest to self-portraits that I had created in years, I use personal items of clothing, thus their memory had an added value to the painting. Saying that, eventually, I'm first and foremost an abstract painter, and am intrigued by the texture, shape, and potential surprises the materials may bring.


T: Your studio practice split between New York and Tel Aviv, do you see any shifts happening in their relatable art worlds or things that are shifting differently. What shifts do you think are important right now as we move forward in the post pandemic art world?


RR: Generally speaking, my work is not extremely different in one place from the other, though my studios in each city are different and so is the process of collecting organic materials. Conceptually, both places have similarities that travel through the studio practice as the juxtaposition of nature and landscape in an urban environment. In addition, my work in both cities strives to raise awareness of global concepts and ideas such as interactions between humans and nature, climate change, natural resource exploitation, and the disrupted cycles of the seasons.

Both New York and Tel Aviv have very vibrant art scenes, edgy and politically aware. I think the art scenes are becoming less secluded and elitist and more open, reaching out to the general public rather than being proud of being exclusive. I work very hard and am fortunate to have my work exhibited often in museums and public spaces in both the US and Israel. Yet, in general, I think it is harder these days for artists to pave their way to the traditional exhibition venues, while there is a rise in alternative, physical and online exhibition spaces.

T: You use the term "Tikkun", a Jewish term for correction to describe your practice. Can you explain more on this term and its importance to your work?


RR: The idea of “Tikkun” (Hebrew for “fixing” or “mending”), was brought to the work in retrospect, not as a conscious decision. My work seeks to strengthen our compassion and concern for the surroundings as a corrective and healing response to environmental destruction. These ideas are planted in the installations as abstract graphic experiences that embody different types of personal, family, and collective memories. “Tikkun” is healing something that is broken, but without hiding the fact that it is broken and pretending the problem has not existed. My work is also related to ideas of Ecofeminism, that points at the exploitation of nature by capitalism, and aims to heal the damage caused to it over the years. Since my interest is in representing memory and things that had been forgotten, I do not want to erase their past, but to include it in the work, add a layer of a second cycle of life to it. This idea of alteration and of another chance of living, is of course is true not only when it comes to the ecosystem, but to us as human beings as well.

T: Can you expand on the idea of Ecofeminism in your work which draws on an interesting parallel between gender and nature, how is this prominent in your work?

RR: In my work, I present the viewers with the possibility of healing and mending, personally and collectively, via fossilizing and imprinting temporary lives that had been gone and brought back to life via my artistic practice. We are so used to participating in the rapid pace of consumerism, using and craving new stuff all the time, and throwing away what seems to be useless or not up to date. This perception of capitalism goes hand in hand with using and destroying nature in many parts of the world. This male-led domination of natural and economical resources, and its exploitation for personal gain, has been targeted by Ecofeminism ideas, which wish to offer a counterpoint to this selfish destruction. This “molesting” of nature draws parallels with abuse towards women, both originating from positions of uncontrolled power. 
I present the viewers with landscapes that are composed of “unseen” materials that had been used and thrown away. I collect and empower them, giving them a second chance to be seen and valued. 

T: How is your current residency at NARS Foundation going? What are you currently working on/towards?


RR: The residency at NARS is wonderful, and I'm very happy with it. I interact with interesting and intriguing fellow residency artists, while expanding my network of connections with curators and other art professionals through the studio visits arranged by the residency. On September 2nd, the residency artists will exhibit the work they created in the last couple of months in a group exhibition at the NARS Gallery space, where it will be on view until September 21st. I plan to show an installation based on paper and light, an all-new and very exciting project, as I rarely work with any of these media.


The other project I'm working on intensely these days, is my forthcoming solo exhibition that will open in January 2023 at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, California. For that project, I took a temporary studio in the West Coast and am flying back and forth, creating very different bodies of work in each studio and each coast. Pretty challenging yet living the dream!

Rotem Reshef is a painter and installation artist based in New York and Tel Aviv, a graduate of Hamidrasha School of Art in Israel, and the Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Reshef’s work of recent years creates a political and social commentary via immersive installations and paintings that relate to society’s effect on climate change and one’s relations to his/her private and public environments, while embracing methods and ideas of “Tikkun” and Ecofeminism. Reshef uses waste vegetation (branches, petals, ferns, leaves etc.), collected in the streets, parks and elsewhere in the urban surroundings, and imprints these “relics” onto her canvases, in a technique that resembles photograms. By that she is commenting on hidden tensions between native and transplanted flora vs. man-made decisions in creating manicured landscapes and organizing a living environment both for human beings and nature. By creating these fossil-like ghostly compositions that range from abstractions to more representational figurations, Reshef’s work alludes to forms of life that existed in the world, even if only for a short time and are no longer with us, but that now get rediscovered and recognized, gaining “a second chance” or a “second life cycle” via her artistic process.

Rotem Reshef’s paintings and large-scale installations have been shown internationally in solo and group exhibitions, in venues as the Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY; The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv; Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Kwan Fong Gallery, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA; Tall Wall Space, University of La Verne, California; Soho House, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California; Artists’ House, Tel Aviv, Israel; Alessandro Berni Gallery, New York, NY; The Venice Arsenale, Venice, Italy; ArtSpace TLV, Tel Aviv, Israel; School of Visual Arts, New York, NY; Scope Art Fair, Miami Beach; QF Gallery, East Hampton, NY; Susan Eley Fine Art, New York, NY; San Diego Art Institute, San Diego, California; and the FSU Museum of Fine Arts, Tallahassee, FL.

(excerpted from the "Walking on Dry Land" Press Release)

1_Rotem Reshef - self.jpg

Rotem Reshef - Photographer: Eyal Toueg

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