Pre-interview: Larry Abramson

Larry Abramson - Das kleine Blumenbuch at Circle1
Text by Lisa Kosak and pictures by Alona Harpaz

In this series, Bpigs highlights artists and their work just before their openings. An inside look into the studio practice and many other (ir)relevant thoughts that go through an artists mind before their proverbial 15 minutes of fame. We had the opportunity to meet with South-Africa born, Israel based artist Larry Abramson before his opening at Circle1 tonight.

In the summer of 2014, following the end of the recent war with Gaza, Abramson collected the daily issues of the pro-government tabloid “Israel Today,” and in his studio defaced them with layers of oil paint before screenprinting wild flowers on top of it. He is now presenting this work at Circle1.

Are there certain goals that you set for yourself, or your audience, when you are working on an exhibition?

Even though I don't know what the answers are, I think that my main goal is to raise challenging questions.

Larry Abramson's copy of Das kleine Blumenbuch

Tell me about the work you prepared for Circle1.

When I was invited by Doreet LeVitte Harten to show at Circle1, I didn't want to simply bring work that I had already done. I always try to take into account the gallery space, the city in which it takes place,… Then I remembered that I had bought a German botanical book a couple of years ago – Das kleine Blumenbuch with drawings by Rudolf Koch. When I was working on this exhibition, there was war in the Gaza strip. It felt strange to be under missile attack and to be reflecting on an exhibition at the same time. The day the war ended, I started collecting these « Israel Today » newspapers. And the exhibition consists of 33 works because it is the year when Das kleine Blumenbuch was published.

On the one hand, this work is very critical and intellectual, and on the other hand, it is very emotional and personal. It is personal because my parents immigrated to Israel when I was 7 years old, and, as an immigrant child, I desperately wanted to fit in, to belong. In the early 60', a strong mechanism of identity-building was the knowledge of nature, geography, geology, and botany. It was therefore my ambition to be able to recognise the wild flowers. In that sense, this exhibition is very close to my personal, constructed identity. On the other hand, it is also connected to my criticism, my desillusion. Because as a child, you don't think about this mechanism as ideological and you participate to it fully. Later on, I reflected on that and realised how manipulative it was.

Do you have some form of good luck ritual you might perform before an opening?

Not especially. To me, openings are a mixture of hard work and excitement.

When do you usually arrive at one of your openings?

Today I have to arrive early because a student wants to ask me questions, but I usually tend to arrive a bit late. I had a retrospective at the Tel-Aviv Museum a couple of years ago, and I didn't intend to, but when I arrived there, people were already starting to leave.

Do you ever experience social anxiety when you see people look at your work?

I wouldn't talk about anxiety in the pathological sense of the word, but it does always feel strange. On the one hand, it is what every artwork wants – to be seen; and it is important for an artwork to be seen by other eyes than those of the artist. I believe that an artwork in the studio is only technical, mechanical, and that it becomes art once in front of spectators. But on the other hand, I am not sure the artist wants his work to be seen by strangers. 

Have you ever overheard people talking about your work without knowing you were the artist?

Yes, it happened to me quite a few times. And that's the best ! I would love to always have a mask and overhear what people are saying. Because both criticism and admiration are embarassing and anyway, people never tell to your face what they really think. I like to think of the work as independant, I prefer to be a voyeur and not an actor.

What book are you reading right now?

I am currently reading Oblomov by russian novelist Ivan Goncharov. It's about an aristocrat who doesn't do anything. He doesn't even get out of bed.

The exhibition Das kleine Blumenbuch opens tonight, December 6th at 19.00h and is on view through January 10, 2015 at Circle1.

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