Ariel Reichman: Who distinguishes light from dark
waterside contemporary, London
17 January - 22 March 2014
Review by Kathryn Lloyd
‘Who distinguishes light from dark’ is the first UK solo show from South African artist Ariel Reichman. Reichman, now based in Tel Aviv and Berlin, presents a sparse yet multi-faceted show, which encompasses film, photography, drawing and installation. An artist who often investigates the artistic institution, Reichman continues his critical analysis at waterside contemporary, with a simultaneously grave and poetic composite of works.
The exhibition itself rejects the perimeter of the gallery, leaving all walls empty. Instead, a central, purpose-built structure has been erected - the outside of which displays Reichman’s drawings and photographs, while the interior houses the video work ‘Secret Performance’, in which the artist attempts to operate a wind-up torch to provide light for the duration of a reel of 16mm film. While Reichman struggles to sustain this action, the film acts as a flickering source of light in the black edifice; a convulsing candle in the impossible darkness. The artist himself is entirely obscured, so the isolated glow blossoms towards the screen like the open mouth of an enchanting yet monstrous animal.
The challenge Reichman sets himself in ‘Secret Performance’ bestows the work with a perpetual and self-referential nature. He operates the torch in order to illuminate the film, yet the film exclusively captures the torch’s light. Thus, one sustains the other; finding a place somewhere between success and failure. It is this space which Reichman’s work often occupies. While managing to distinguish between two extremes, it remains firmly in the middle. This is manifestly reflected in Reichman’s decision to avoid the outer gallery walls, and concentrate the works in a central hub.
Reichman’s second video work ‘My Mother, you see, she doesn’t know how to use a lighter’, documents the artist’s mother’s attempts to ignite a cigarette lighter, having never held or used one before. Only her hand and forearm are visible; her lightly wrinkled hands and red nail polish stark against the otherwise monochromatic show. Loudly and aggressively, she attempts to produce a flame from the lighter amidst utterances of self-reproach and frustration. She hits her hands in exasperation, shakes the lighter, stretches her hand muscles to relieve herself of cramp, before finally, and fleetingly, a flame appears, with her final cry: ‘WOW.’
These gestures and utterances are so performative that they become a parody of hesitation, of the ‘unknown’; a long-drawn-out staging of the progression from coolness to warmth, and ignorance to understanding. Reichman’s work often appears so unforgivably patent that it verges on sterile and dogmatic. However, his considered curatorial decisions create conditions for seeing which simultaneously reference antipodes and ignore them. It is this idea which makes the work so difficult to grasp; it is purposely ambiguous despite his employment of simplistic means and forms. ‘Who distinguishes light from dark’ is not necessarily about light and darkness, but the space between them; the space between here and there, ignorance and knowledge, temporality and permanence, and the representational decisions which confine them.