Art historian and art critic
Metaphors for life between symbol and reality
Coherence and conformity have always accompanied the creations of Ariela Böhm.
The key to her modus operandi is that germinal thought, or inspirational concept, which feeds the variety of her productive systems.
A constant in her production is in fact her inexhaustible preoccupation with testing new techniques and new materials. Her art-making – astonishing for the power and the meticulousness with which she explores, analyses, sifts the appearances which are the origin of life, its reason indeed – is based on a rooted and conscious scientific nature which proceeds in equal measure between vast macrocosmic cross-sections and minuscule microcosmic details. Displaying both enthusiasm and uncommon courage, the artist attempts “to decipher as much the world around as the world within each one of us”. Her choice of an atypical creative path and her use of heterogeneous techniques and materials, belong to that polyphony of working modes which has extended the language of visual art since the C20th. This spectrum of expressive possibilities, into which every medium is absorbed, produces in Ariela Böhm working methods which, far from being simple games, actually strengthen the value of imagination.
Her quest is well rooted in an experimental seam which totally respects the laws of the building material selected in each case, faultlessly accommodating, also at the practical level, the planning of the concept and its execution.
The contemporary artist is allowed, if not actually required, to drift among different capacities, as long as he has specific skills that enable him to create his own works according to the thread of a precise and accurate design. No lack of rigour is permitted him, neither at the level of thought nor at that of realisation. The concept is not enough: he must also know how to translate it into an effective device.
With an amazing flowering of technical approaches, a veritable “cross-pollination between languages” (as Germano Celant has it) Böhm makes us partakers of emotions and feelings which follow trends seemingly strange but intimately connected. But according to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s meaning “It’s nothing more than continuing the same furrow” and “of going further in the same direction, as if each step taken demanded and made possible another step”. What drives Ariela’s creativity – through an exhausting and at times laboured work – is the will to explore the infinite forms of human thought: her furrow is centred on that impressive web of elements that stitches into a single story the palimpsest of what we are, perceive, remember, relate. For years she has probed its texture, explored its weave, defined its form: belonging to 1988 are Cellule nervose II e III [Nerve Cells II and III] in which the white clay draws labyrinths of the mind and of memory, interweaves cobwebs of thoughts, feelings. emotions. In Là dove scorre il pensiero [There where thought runs] of 2003 the ceramic contains pages trapped in a framework of cables: the story-line of the thought bundles up fragments of emotional epiphanies, and in Pensiero femminile, le donne pensano in reti di fattori collegati [Female thought, women think in nets of connected elements] of 2004 she delves into the female universe, availing herself once more of writing as a metaphor for the cognitive world.
The guidance of a great scientist like Rita Levi Montalcini, even more than the studies in Biological Science, justify the scientific rigour in this weaving of the thread of her search of which force, energy and imaginative power are key elements for a correct reading. But it is in pure passion that she sinks her roots, both for originality of artistic choices and for particularity of techniques and materials. Nothing is left to improvisation. She has studied engraving, turning, ceramics and, from the Nineties on, has also made use of Raku technique.
To heighten an essential complexity and underline the will to recoil from perfection and smoothness, the artist exacerbates fractures, provokes faults, leaves hints of life.
The dense craquelure that covers the clay, feels the transformation and the impermanence of matter, its yielding to the implacable force of time, therefore its ineluctable transience and mortality.
In Frammenti dal tempo [Fragments of Time] of 1992 the clay is shaped into a bas-relief of archaic fragments whose emphasis on black drape reflect chiaroscuro effects played on contrasts of glossy/matt shapes. And in Foresta impossibile [Impossible Forest] of 1991 the sacred white of the enamel (a second skin which clothes and protects the clay) congeals memory, fossilizes history: nature is reinvented and takes on a purely mental and metaphorical connotation. All mimesis is removed to leave space for a personalised and imaginative interpretation of reality. The primordial magma, reboiled and solidified, of Esplosione [Explosion], a sculpture of 1998, incorporates “fragments of myself as yet unknown and in part indecipherable” – says the artist. The mirror restores the reality it faces with an interiorised and disquieting vision, simultaneously personal and collective.
Under the definition of pages of earth, of fire and of light the artist ventures, coming up to the C21st, upon the subject of the written language, analysed through expressive shapes that incorporate signs, forms, colours and words. Metaphors for life, culture and communication. For human presence, which from being sound becomes insecure and fragmented as in Sul fragile supporto dell’esistenza [On the fragile support of existence] of 1998 or gives way under the weight of a tormented life, as in Crollo [Collapse] of 2013. Böhm embellishes the material with letters in relief, veritable seals to print and reprint pages of the depths of identity, of the sense of belonging both to her own story and to History. On Raku tiles darkened and crumpled by the memory of a distant past, the graphemes, illuminated by chiaroscuro and metallic colours, fill biblical panels in All’alba della scrittura [At the dawn of writing] del 2000-03 while in Cercando [Seeking] of 1993, placed in an ordered and regular sequence, they find their natural space among the margins of crimped clay. Magnified, until they seem all fire, they lose all linguistic meaning in Mezuzah and become a veritable melting pot of cultural references in the compressed energy of Torre di Babele [Tower of Babel] of 2001. Here the word, trapped and suffocated by cement, is in search of a new meaning to break the silence. At the centre of all is the language which is potential, the basis of building and communication: language which unites the paths of humanity, different and parallel. In the great mural La leggerezza della cultura [The lightness of culture] of 2008 of the Pitigliani Centre of Rome an eruption of Hebraic characters hovers in the luminous white of two large, convex walls: multitudinous and overlapping in the top part, they are more scattered towards the bottom, almost suspended in a sublime lightness.
Identity and communication are the subject of Io e l’altro [I and the other] of 2010 where in a gilded net two separate worlds are clinging, two different personalities: the chromatic contrast between the gold and the black highlights differentiation, but it is healed at the centre by a shower of words. A spiritual desire for cohesion which restores relationships, re-establishes contacts, but above all finds a single root that solidifies the community.
The theme of memory, connected to the use of language and writing, is a key feature of a work which is again a metaphor for people and culture, but especially for belonging. Increspature I [Wrinkles] and Increspature II, both from 2009, play on the juxtaposition of white and black, glossy and matt. The deep and desiccated roughness of the Raku spotlights archaeological finds of ancient texts recovered, and asserts that profound and archaic bond which in Recisione impossibile [Resection impossible] of 2013 becomes indissoluble. Golden threads here weld the fracture of a tablet, bind indivisibly the footprints of humanity imprinted in the dark matter, suggest a deep-rooted fusion which goes beyond every possible, imaginable division. A strong feeling, religious and cultural, is present in the ideology of Böhm, observes its pride and underlines its inner specificity.
In 2004 the artist also measures herself against the monumental dimension of sculpture. That the memory of what has been fuses with the material that houses our thought is not the only example of this experimental courage of hers, but is perhaps the most prominent. The work, made for the cemetery of Bolzano in memory of the Alto Adige citizens vanished in the deportations of the Second World War, consists of two triangular section prisms that criss-cross vertically. The beholder, thanks to the spiral route necessary to reach it, is invited to a mode of articulated reading. On the one hand a gradual view allows the deciphering of the working details: the contrast in the bronze between glossy and matt, the branches that wrap around the panels to form nets of thought, the stylised human shapes, the texture of the letters in relief taken from the prayer for Yom Kippur. But only by way of a view from above is it possible to realise that the two prisms form a Star of David: the need for the detailed and the overall views to intersect so as to render their interpenetration effective with the work of art is once more confirmed.
In Böhm’s exploration water is a nodal point, as may be inferred from the Paduan preparation for the exhibition Ariela Bohm: la forma del pensiero [Ariela Bohm:the shape of thought]: now peaceful and stagnant, now boiling away in a whirling movement, it is nevertheless always the source of irreplaceable vitality. Contemplated in all its potential for transforming and creating, it releases energy, represents life-giving sap and a collage of states of mind. It is the raw material and the alphabet by which the story takes shape;; its innumerable different states represent its graphic robes. In the series Percorsi [Courses] (of which those appearing in the exhibition are Percorsi II of 1995 and Percorsi VI, Delta del Gange [Ganges Delta] of 2006) offshoots and tributaries erode the bed of a river amid coarse shreds of personal and collective identity: the river-bed absorbs traces, the water runs in slow rivulets, spills over into labyrinths whose surreal vision elides every depth perspective. Soft or iridescent tones make their way between contrasting plates and depict the unvarying meanderings of an ancestral symbiosis between earth and water, between the fluidity of the latter and the flowing of time. Ariela, freezing and petrifying, suspends this perennial, natural flow. It is a “still” that permits investigation into the fundamental values of a primordial essence and discharges a duty of reflection which gives a respite to life’s convulsions. Over the years there have appeared the three cycles Acque.Quiete, Acque.Movimento e Acque.Cristalli. [Waters – Calm/ Movement/Crystals] In the great panel of 2006, Acque.Cristalli, tiles of Raku are fastened to a bed of lead. Worked in soft ripples the metal, from being a sombre, uniform material is transformed into a sky full of reflections spangled with crystals of snow. In Acque.Movimento of 2005 it is instead the silicone, combed out on flat surfaces and the dark of a purplish sea which recreates, in wave-like motions now concentric, now threadlike, the lapping and retreat of swollen ocean waves, and gives rise to the foaming whirlpool of Gorgo [Whirlpool], the big sculpture exhibited in 1997 on the occasion of an exhibition in Camerino and now also in Padova. Your gaze is caught by the fascination of the wavy motion in a view close up and at hand. To an enlarged aerial vista, instead, one entrusts the analysis in Dall’alto [From on high] of 1994, where ideal heights at long range render every reality abstract and immaterial. Stimulated by the power of ever new experiments with materials always original, the artist uses sand which, covered with pigments in variations of blue, soft or more emphatic, defines margins of earth emerging from waters still and deep. The same aerial view, the panoramic dimension abandoned, becomes rarefied and glacial in Acque.Quiete where wrinkling and relief alternate on surfaces dark or milky: it is shapeless materiality that coagulates stucco and aluminium to guide the attention towards images of far-off, imaginary worlds.
With the help of Rino Regoli, in 2004 she experiments with an alchemy worthy of the tradition of the ancient workshops, which gives rise to delicate and immaterial projections of shadow and light, thereby to transform a rigorously scientific scaffolding, like the neuronal structure, into a spiderweb with the ephemeral lightness of dew. In Creando connessioni [Creating connections] of 2015 the particles of water remain enveloped in games of refracted brightness, and create resplendent shades full of life and thought. Like fine, airy watermarks they articulate agglomerates of cohesion of a human feeling. Executed with the same technique, Ombre di luce. La vita [Shades of light. Life] of 2012 alludes to inner structures of mechanisms of thought, where the essential coexistence of conscious and unconscious is evoked by the white of the crimped canvas which is the curtain to fragments of a conscious life, made of drops dripping, abundant cascades, gurgling whirlpools. A rough, purely mental landscape pervades Reti neuronali [Neuronal nets] of 1992 in which the craquelure, the solidity of the Raku left behind, draws on a substratum of arid sand branched meanderings, slender as a pencil line.
In the latest works of 2015 the fulcrum is still human thought and the point of departure is scientific fact, which to reach the consistency of an art object must necessarily be subject to transformation and reworking. The inquiry now takes on all the connotations of microscopic analysis: the eye of the searcher deciphers mnemonic traces generated by the decoding of different sources of information (visual, acoustic, verbal, tactile or semantic) and proposes them as a reflection upon the capacity of the human mind to rework ideas, to consolidate recollections, to store memory. With Ricordando [Recalling], a progression of three sculptures in bronze, Ariela makes use once more of her studies at Rome’s Academy of Fine Arts and her apprenticeship at the Anselmi foundry. The solid, compact material in the first work becomes gradually more fragile until it reaches, in the third, the aspect of an elegant lace in whose mesh ideas consolidate and define themselves, while in the great cycle Qualità del pensiero [Qualities of thought] they cling, solid, material encrustations, to the dark or bright colour of the cloth. The sequences Giorno, Notte, Risveglio, Declino [Day, Night, Awakening, Decline] alternate and characterise the different modes and qualities of thought in the course of a day and in the arc of a lifetime. On the panels is spread a complex structure, multi-dimensional, where a bag of emotions and sensations, attitudes and emotional rhythms, embroider the weave of a life that at times advances secure, at others pauses, and yet others stumbles, suffering, until it slows down.
Inviti represents a corpus of twelve sculptures in the round, in travertine, alabaster, resin and metal, in which the shape is briefly sketched; it does not represent, it suggests. The mind of the beholder is invited to immerse itself in the work, to let itself be open to the sensations or thoughts evoked. Not what the artist wishes to represent should be the reason for inquiring as much as what and how much the work arouses in each one of us. And this network of emotiveness, now tenuous now greatly hardened, envelops and embraces the shapes by drawing paths, leaving traces of itself.
In the creativity of Ariela Böhm, the artist and the scientist, united in a production as extensive as it is articulate, share in an attentive and detailed analysis of natural phenomena as well as a primary study of their structure itself. However, going beyond mere scientific fact and through an alchemical operation of transfiguring the material, Ariela participates directly in the creative power of nature which, enriched by feeling and mystery, becomes the fulcrum of her art.
Maria Cristina Bandera
Art historian and art critic
Ariela herself, artist and scientist, lucidly explains on the pages of this catalog, the reason why she chose such a subject, both simple and complex: “the shape of water, water that shapes”.
Indeed, one should not forget that this brave and determined woman, now fully devoted to art, has been a high flying biologist in the past. Only apparently did she give up her scientific research, her struggle got actually transfused into her investigating approach to the world of her new artistic experience.
Such an approach is apparent in her slow, meticulous and thoughtful observation of the water, epitome of movement and fascination, as well as in her skills in testing, challenging and dominating unusual materials, in adapting them to her artistic needs, aiming at recreating the varied and multifaceted sea-environment, as if itself were a pre-artistic substance in need of moulding.
Ariela Böhm signs (seals) her works with a deep respect for the laws ruling over her chosen material.
Her material of choice is ceramics, treated according to the old Raku technique, whereby she emphasizes its interior legitimacy, its meaningful shapes, its visual values, its sometimes parched and barren, sometimes shining surfaces, the choice of its textures, its iridescent brightness. She transforms it into a flat meandering of waters and land – of alternating fullness and emptiness – of shoals and lagoons, into the winding trail of a river flowing to the sea, into the infinite detours and crossings along a river’s course, that fragment the surface into the ancestral symbiosis between water and land.
She converts it into stalactites and stalagmites forming the shape of a sand-glass, she fits it around the circular forms of a wave, or a whirlwind, or along the rugged yet geometrical figures of white ice crystals, or around the spherical shapes of pebbles surfacing from the river bed.
She softly manipulates lead, grim and uniform, turning it into a restless matter, woven with glares and darting light reflections, transforming it into a vast leaden though vibrant sky, scattered with hypnotic snow-crystals, or into an expanse of water whose flow files and moulds pebbles.
She employs stucco, aluminum, and acrylic colors on canvas, in order to rend the indented and magmatic expanse of bluish glittering glaciers as seen from far away, far above.
She scratches silicon, after spreading it on flat dark surfaces that seem to hint at a purple sea. She spreads it in long sinuous shapes recreating the incantation of her own emotions, of her watching slowly, of her scanning the huge foaming waves, that break and withdraw to gather their strength, that spread and overlap, foaming and hoary.
She uses the transparency and lightness of a secret concoction of resin, as per the ancient tradition of craftshops, and lays it onto “the internal surface of the glass slab”, giving way to a “delicate and immaterial projections of shadow and light”, so a to transform a silent “neuronal structure” into the vibrant geometric shape of a cobweb, itself hinting to the lightness of dew.
She makes use of photographic techniques to put us in front of the skeleton of a boat on the shore, worn by the continuous lapping of the sea, coming to rest on the sand, or to make us feel the impalpable evanescence of steam.
Most of all, she captures our attention so as to make us part of her own emotions and allowing us, in watching her art, to give her work completion.
Art historian and art critic
The first look at the works of Ariela Böhm is admiration for the consistency which rises to the surface also in the variety of the solutions;; the second, which takes over the very moment in which curiosity turns into attraction, is captured by the lyrical combination of mobile forms and endless tracks that mark out her work. We very soon realise that we are at a remote latitude, suspended between two degrees of profundity, the science of life and Jewish culture. The temptation of vertigo is similar, on a reduced scale, to that of the artist who, with intense clarity, has chosen to dedicate herself to shaping a perceptible thought which, if authentic, is art. In Böhm’s research certain basic manifestations of natural life are accepted and almost relived in the secrets of her inner life: the imagination and the choice of materials will provide them with a significant amount, infinitely more evocative. Fascinated by the rigour of the project, which is apparent to us in the form of the work, there rises in us lay-persons the desire to slow down the dizziness but to remain at that hermeneutic height, not to rise to the surface nor move to other levels. Down there, or up there, there is in truth much, perhaps all, rendered expressive by the alteration of the interventions, of the working hypotheses, of the revelations on the part of the artist who uses her subjectivity like radar and like a forge her talent in the choice of materials and working techniques which must be provided with a strong indication of their suitability for the substance of the thought, like Raku ceramics that first accompanied her in the transition from biology to art.
But we would like, as a field hypothesis and to assume a more neutral distance, to remove to another observation front, a place more internal to contemporary art, and try to consider Ariela’s work from that point of view.
The water and land evoked in her works suggest a place situated on the opposite side of the artistic parabola, on the border line of Land Art. That trend made the nature of the planet the favourite field of action: water and land, space and time, were real and the action direct. The match between the measure of man and that of nature was played completely outdoors, in the space of the planet Earth where the artist was transformed into an agent for unforeseen reactions intended to restore to the natural world a lost grandeur, unique, powerful, more powerful than man who dominated it. In Land Art nature was real and tackled on a planetary scale;; the work was a sign that intervened, that interfered, that demanded to belong, intrusive intimacy yet preserving the aura of uniqueness, in truth never integrable. The time of man and his interventions remains other, different from that of nature even if he entrusts his work to her. In Ariela the opposite happens. With manipulable materials she forms shapes that evoke the elements, phenomena, bodies, movements of the Great Mother. The artist remains in the wake of representation but the character of the mutation of the thought that imagines, while it generates in material form, possesses the same requisites of devotion and belonging, of fascination and panic love which has moulded every artist who has been placed in front of the immensity of Nature: from the romantic Sublime to the Land Art, to be exact. In the series that accompanies the Nineties Percorsi, there is a concept of a perpendicular view taken from a stellar plane: from the three versions of Dall’alto of 1994 to Gange Percorsi VI of 2006, there develops a kind of space landscape which formulates a synthesis of imaginary perceptions. These appear as abstract compositions but are indissolubly bound to the intellectual germination, founded on a biological basis, which gave birth to them. Here it is, then, that “distance”, to be understood as a factor of synthesis, becomes an engine of a compositional aesthetic suspended between the real and the imaginary, within a creative process that seem subject to the temptation to sink. Two works seem to us to be particularly significant: Esplosione of 1998 and Pensiero femminile of 2004. As Adachiara Zevi has well observed, in Esplosione the setting up of the organic material, “cells and intestines”, previously sunk in the indistinct, “now revive, resist, recover their customary black background” and inside them, as at the bottom of small exploded craters, appears the reflecting surface. So alongside the concrete metaphor of the generative motions of the organic material, appears the inexorable variant of reflection, objectivity. Appears the Self, face and look direct. The two banks unite: the expressive guise offered to the sensibilities of others and the personal identity, private, kept in store as a source for further inquiries and ways into meaning. From this point of view Pensiero femminile of 2004 appears as a cardinal work. It is a felicitous intuition to spatialise and materialise the watery element through the use of the mirror, blue space and silver effects, concrete expression of the void as space total and shining in which there oscillate, suspended, bright forms in clay. The three-dimensional structure returns to the segmenting and multiplying of solids of the conceptual and minimalist stamp. Pensiero femminile is a type of manifesto, not simply for its content, but also because the artist shows herself to be moving in a terrain that possesses certain rigidities of material and of object profile, united to a softness of progression, a lightness of dimension which seem indeed to unite opposing positions, calling them together and harmonising them in an indecipherably visionary dimension, where is rendered still more explicit the idea of a biological abstraction. The symbolic key to its reading sends us back to the proud and mysterious combination in the title, which nevertheless remains inaccessible to a pedantic reading. From this crucible of a geometrically scaffolded universe Ariela’s research is more focussed upon water. For Land Art water was an element that belonged to a macroscopic dimension: it was the water of lakes, rivers and oceans, just as the land was mountains, islands, deserts. Water is considered by Ariela not as an element in itself, but as the plastic representation of its manifestations, of its phenomenal performances, as we can see in the works in silicone of 2005: water is in itself form, without recipients or embankments to contain it. Primordial power, by its own nature in continuous flow which, in the mind and the hands of the artist, becomes form finite, arrested, formed and represented. The originality of Ariela’s work lies in this very project, in the will, even in the impudence of giving finite form to the mobile element par excellence which, even though hardening, maintains the illusion of dynamic and elusive power. An impossible mimesis, a real challenge for an artist-biologist gifted with the daring of the creator who competes with the impossible: a risk that only artists and scientists can permit themselves.
To water as an autonomous, three-dimensional form is contrasted water as a surface which to be shown must be confined, located in the embrace of the land as depicted in the series Acque quiete of 2006. This water is still, it is an image, a visual two-dimensional illusion, no longer possesses the violence of the object challenge, of the radical fiction. In the background there is always the ambition for excess, for the planetary scale, the satellite view. However, unlike the artists of Land Art, Ariela intends to penetrate into the fibres of those planetary panels, to the point where excess reveals itself to be a focus, the grandeur aggrandizement. That nature which became an “art gallery” for the artists of the Land, in Ariela internalises itself completely, enters the hollow of her being. The process of confining the water brings the coarse wrinkle into play, the theme of the furrowed crust which is the tectonic and visible pattern of the earth. The crack in the stucco abruptly brings back the planet into the picture and makes appear very clearly what till then had remained in the background to leave the field open to visual suggestions: nature in Ariela is artifice, is plastic simulation, is aesthetic material. This process of formal distillation culmi- nates in Cristalli, a collective brainwave at the time of Masaru Emoto, but which Ariela precipitates in a wrinkled sea of lead giving a perfectly ambiguous version of it, as it must be in the specific nature of the work’s aesthetic function. On this line of research are to be found the three-dimensional monochrome forms on the wall with the title Ombre di luce. La vita. The titles of each individual work evoke states of water: Pioggia, Gelo, Gorgo, Acque mosse, Acque calme, Aria, Cascata.
The surface that contracts into wrinkles, ripples, creases is a topos of the art which proceeds from the evocation of theatre curtains in Baroque paintings, to veils, mantles, and shrouds of mythological and allegorical figures, as far as the plaster draperies of metaphysical paintings and the Achromes of Manzoni. The cloth that contracts has to do with the revelation, with the pulling back of a cover to show something that before was hidden, and which now appears, expresses itself, materialises when the veil that covered it falls. Ombre di luce present themselves like pictures, geometrical looms upon which rests the awareness of representation, the demonstrative panel. The frame confirms this condition which goes from defence to disclosure: the object of the revelation are the forms of the states of water which acquire plastic evidence in the lightness of an exalted material, in the transparency of light upon light in a garb of absolute material lightness.
Art historan and art critic
Ariela goes beyond the common lexicon, eliminating from it the whole system of artificial ties, confused and deviant, typical of constructs of cultural reference, to try to arrive directly at the root of the phoneme, where this is still only an instinctive expression of meaning, before it is externalised, even only as a sound. Ariela’s work intends to cleanse the sign of all unnecessary constructions;; no frills, no useless decoration, so as to seek to return directly to the origin of the primary concept of expression, deliberately taking it from its context, though leaving a trace of its peculiarity. That is why her work aspires to be the place of experience; a place to enjoy amid the passing of a temporality which unrolls pa- rallel to the vision which runs alongside it, a place which reintroduces the particularity and the wealth of the context which produces its sign. I communicate therefore I exist, and with me the entire community to which I belong, linked to a collective network thanks to a ceaseless exchange of information, a synapsis which, ever more articulate, adapts to the multiplicity and variety of individual elements. Because to communicate means to construct ties – even temporary ones – able to support the entire system of connections, confident of the diversity of the individual components, based on the value of the difference. If modernism in art is based on concepts of self-reference and self-reflexivity, the works of Ariela tend to be postmodern thanks to that ceaseless experimenting of hers, a cultural exceeding of the limits, with the intention of getting out of the closure of the isolated system. To communicate, to connect, means for her to find a single root, a common denominator, to become stronger in the awareness that complementariness strengthens the community, and in art she can express the final, definitive form.
La forma fluida del tempo che scorre
A great part of Ariela Böhm’s artistic search is centred on water. She investigates water in order to borrow its fundamental emotions, to construct from it symbolic artefacts which repay the beholder with the most intense feelings, so unequivocal as not to be able to mistake the reference point, even if changed or contorted. Because there is no life without water, it is itself the right metaphor for existence: it is the primordial element from which all starts out and to which all returns. Ariela analyses water with regard to its flowing will, its constant changeability and its many-sided character. Water is the opportunity to free oneself from all limiting constrictions: when she creates the delta of a river – a Route – she does not do so to represent one of them in particular – a Percorso – but all rivers, also, and especially, those that do not exist. When she works on Movimento she wants to recreate the sensation common to all waves but, first of all, those that must still form themselves to bring new, innovating energy. When she works with ice she does so to grant a pause to an irresistible becoming which, like water, runs in a perennial flow; she does so in order to stop and reflect whether our convulsive existence is not making us once again lose sight of something crucial. Ariela uses water as if it were the lexeme of a universal language able to overcome any incommunicability and, just like writing – another subject very dear to her – transports memory through time. Writing is a medium that evolves its form to gather ever more information, to make its own the complexities of a reality in continuous evolution, ever more enriching itself with new capacities. Water, thanks to Ariela’s work, becomes a visible structure capable of making us understand original meanings which are translated by the artist for our immediate comprehension.
Rita Levi Montalcini
Nobel Prize in Medicine
Ariela Böhm extraordinary temperaments inherited from her parents, both scientific and artistic.
Scientific and artistic activity are among the most remarkable achievements characterizing that formidable network of systems and neuronal neo-cortical circuits typical to the Homo sapiens brain.
Scientific expression can manifest itself from the very beginning, as perfect as Minerva in the act of emerging from Jupiter’s brain, or reveal in its incompletion the extensive labor of the creative act.
An essential difference between scientific and artistic creations is that the latter are the result of the creative activity of a single individual. Scientific activity, on the other hand, while arising from the happy intuition of a single individual, immediately becomes a collective work expands as studies bring about further knowledge on the subject.
Ariela Böhm’s creative activity is inspired by the history of human thought.
The work “All’alba della scrittura” (“At the Dawn of Writing”) calls to mind the biblical tablets. Through the engraved signs, the artist speaks a coded language that the observer must decipher.
The meaning of the work “Riflessioni sulla convivenza” (“Reflections on Co-Habitation”) is different, offering an interpretation of the origins of human activity from its archaic appearance, to the complex interaction of the current events of the third millennium.
This beautiful piece, made from the daring union of diverse elements (wood and terracotta) in harmonic contrast, symbolically represents the intertwining of mental activities, such as scientific and artistic creativity.
Elina Lo Voi
Ariela Böhm’s pages must be seen together, all together.
The curled one (subjected to which fire?) and the curved on (due to the humidity of which vault it was hidden in?); the one with holes and the one almost rolled up by a careless hand.
Traces of history and therefore threadbare, dark, but illuminated by the residual shreds of a lost splendor (the enduring glaze); traces of ancient veneration because they embodied the toil and greatness of mankind in its need to “create” the past, rendering it infinitely re-travelable with the advent of writing.
Seeing them all together, however, evokes a certain sense of unease, as if one of the details weren’t quite right, something that is identifiable only from a precise perspective, something connected to their creation.
The letters are in relief. But when one carves into a plate, one does just that: carves.
It is impossible to find a well-formed, perfect letter. On an inked copy, the letters are not in relief.
It is as if the scrap, the poetry, finds its significance precisely in this.
The choice of making it the other way around, in relief, gives the strong sensation of truly finding oneself in front of the original archetype. Writing carved into stone is carved, like in Moses’ tablets, and it is hard, like the tools require; the soft word is the word written by brush, as in the Arabic, Chinese or Japanese alphabet.
On Ariela’s stone, the word is miraculously soft, almost as if it were living, biological material. And even this is disturbing.
As if the artist rediscovers the organic meaning of things in the moment she transforms them into words, names them; she thereby recreates them, she becomes their author for the first time.
What we behold is a truly magical operation, and perhaps this is why it succeeds in being so intense and integrated with the intellect; because the dawns of civilization are the dawns of mankind and of us all.
And for each one of us are all the more intimate when we preserve the memory and will to feel ourselves part of the human community. These works together contain great hope and great vision.
Bringing us back to our own foundations, they seem to say that a foundation is once again possible, that hope is not lost, and that within humanity there truly lie the seeds of the divine.
Art historian and art critic
The shape of thought
If we take from the work the character of the painted surface and restore to it the original of the visible composition, or of the vision com-posed, it will be clear what Ariela intends when she attributes to the works exhibited here the nature of generators of thought. Ariela calls upon the beholders to start off in the order which is given to the works in the exhibition space and at the same time in the secret network through which the works that occupy this space are observed at a distance and interact. All this becomes possible only through the grill of a look, an act of attention, a language. Only in the white squares of such chequered patterns do the works reveal themselves as already present, silently waiting to be “looked at”. It is in this, in the act of “looking”, that the beholder discovers that here are infinite possibilities in the game of “visible and invisible” (v. Merleau-Ponty), as if putting aside the empirical conventions that its codes prescribe, the look divests the works of their original characteristic of being only contents in a container – the exhibition area – and senses the in-expressible: so the works allow themselves to be looked at and at the same time traversed: the possible kinds of vision become multiple. The group of works that form part of the final core of the artist’s production are well placed in this frame, in this provocation of neuronic works that want to stimulate, to make grow, to set in motion the at once physical and emotional nature of the neurons of our thought.
A creativity that seeks and stimulates new creativity: the primordial of Ariela the artist and, connected to it, that of the beholder who is looking at the works. The works placed in the exhibition area, very far from being contents in a container, thus consent to reveal the inexpressible: so the works allow themselves to be looked at and at the same time traversed. There exists, therefore, between the look and the overall project a midway consideration which may be defined as the “naked” experience of the arrangement.
Our perception moves in this space of order and senses the growing differences of various “points of view”. The space accepts, it expands, interacting with the multiple signs imprinted on the bronze, on the glass, on the cloth, in the video. A mute dialogue between beholder and work which wants to enter into the irreducible labyrinths at the time of the creation of the work itself.
The compositional structure of the exhibition comes from an archaeological and at the same time evocative stratification of language, and the surface of the works refers, in its organisation, to a meeting/comparison between the search for meaning that the artist tries to show with her use of multiple materials, and a search for her own meaning which in entering into the labyrinths of individual creative thought encounters memory and the creativity of the world. As Walter Benjamin emphasised in Angelus Novus: “History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the “now”’. Where the past is filled with this explosive, the materialistic search brings the fuse closer to the “continuum” of history. With this procedure the intention is to blast the age out of the continuum (and thus also blast the life of a man out of the age and the life of a work out of the life’s work). The result of this procedure consists in this, that in the work is preserved and guarded the work of a life, in the work of a life the age, and in the age the entire course of history”… The nourishing fruit of what is historically understood has within it as a precious (fruitful) seed … time.
Ariela’s “footprints” (in Recisione impossibile) guide us in this meeting/comparison. Painting, sculpture and writing are fundamental components of the language of her art. The alphabet of ancient languages becomes shape-thought, the shape of thought, the base upon which the archaeological track of time/epoch enables us contemporaries to comprehend the now, the present, both collective and individual. And thanks only to this present as the result of the complexity of a past/memory are we in a position to go back over the ages in a dialectic game of present-past – present-future.
Historical space and emotional space join in a dialectic, which through the language of art calls for reflection upon the intervals between the ages, and save humanity and man from the horror which the Angel of History contains in his terror-struck eyes. The past cannot be a pile of rubble, nor can it become one as a result of the homicidal fury of whoever thinks that to destroy what humanity has produced through the centuries is only an encumbrance to be rid of: in the “works of the past is preserved and guarded the work of a life, in the work of a life the age, and in the age the entire course of history”.
The thought that becomes form is a possibility that flows from the neuronic labyrinths, physical and emotional, of creativity. The process of creating the work is part of reality and at the same time it is detached. The work arouses us, draws the eye and experiences in this reflection the duplicity of itself and of the other in its meaningful non-involvement.
But the human eye, Ariela suggests, can and will thrust itself beyond the visible image: it is in this, in the act of looking, that the beholder discovers that there are infinite possibilities of going beyond the network that envelops reality, hard stone, marmoreal but real of the cycle Invito 1/12.
Acque Movimento overwhelm the eye with their dynamic rhythm, in which light, shade and colour define the immensity up to the dizziness of a sea crossed by whirlpools and majestic waves which open to receive us, sweeping us into a daze and then gradually releasing the heart from the tumult, finally allayed. The visual route among the works in the catalogue leads us to the writing/sculpture of Raku panels of wood and clay, All’alba della scrittura, where the ancient languages of the world, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic and the mysterious cuneiform signs put us to the test, archetypal forms that prompt us to search for a ground of comparison in a world which has suspended all forms of dialogue and comparison. The work of Ariela with the lengthy title which already suggests a reply Che la memoria di ciò che è stato si fonda con la materia che ospita il nostro pensiero [That the memory of what has been fuses with the material that houses our thought] is almost liberating. Yes, it is so: the memory “fuses” and is housed in our thought which at the same moment reflects on itself as a memory and as the addition of the individual memories of men.
With the imposing installazione Torre di Babele we are once more facing the taking possession of the promised land and at the same time the difficulty of breaking with old and new conflicts. The language of Ariela’s art is charged with expectation, with memory, with dream. The work is a geometrical unit, made in Raku ceramic, blocks superimposed which bear in relief inscriptions in archaic languages, partially veiled with a metallic glaze which reflects the light of the sun, each one with an ensemble of signs related to one another through multiple connections of forces-tensions. The open structure of the work leaves the way for hope for a plural language which rather than doing harm to man enables him to have a debate with the different languages of the near East. The sons of Shem scattered throughout the world demand today a meeting which will deliver them from the gigantic collapse of the biblical Tower. On a first reading each panel-letter is an element, a single individual/nation with its own history and its own culture. In an overview the sum of the elements becomes the shape which finds a circular unity, almost prismatic, of the multiple. A search for balance, for Leonardesque harmony which is damaged by a Collapse.
An inevitable collapse, irreparable? No, the artist seems to suggest: it is precisely this imbalance that permeates the final works on show and at the same time a search for harmony: where we are, with whom do we interact, is it possible to adopt the language of measure, to find harmony without running the risk of excess? The comforting neuronic suggestion of works such as Qualità del pensiero: risveglio, Qualità del pensiero: giorno, Qualità del pensiero: declino and Esplosione, tells us that only the awakening, the intellectual growth of our imagination can protect us from decline, both the decline of the cognitive individual and the historical decline of humanity.
Ariela’s work thus confronts us with the old world and the new, the now, the present and the global, and speaks to us of possibilities of reconstructing the world, of individual and collective decline, of tempests of the heart and mind, and thereby opens to our future. The work for the artist is an individual reading of reality which through the organisation of signs becomes language which speaks to and of the reality it represents. It is from the bottom of the semantic expansion caused by the dialectic of the interpretations that the special moment of the detail emerges, that new connections come to light, possible interpretations of reality, light that is glimpsed amid the night of time. The artist goes into things, into the creases of history, reveals the lines of fracture and by a fresh act of cognition renders through the image/work what again the figurability, the representability of that threshold, that crest, that line of fracture allows. The artist Ariela with her powerful creative capacity provides us with a reading of the pre-dictive world, reveals to us the hidden genealogy of meaning.
This exhibition, important also for the number of works on show and the catalogue, permits the beholders to be able to confront themselves with the articulate corpus of her work, where alongside painting, sculpture, engraving and work in Raku clay there appear with equal force videos that are intensely poetical. This is the lesson in aesthetics that the artist offers us. And it is in this spirit that I have tried to reconstruct in broad outline her itinerary, also with works that do not appear in this exhibition – All’Alba della Scrittura, Torre di Babele, Crollo – but form part of the path of the artist and are to be seen in the catalogue.
I conclude with a quotation taken from an interview with Ariela Böhm in a seminar held at the Macro Testaccio di Roma on the subject of the genesis of the work of art, organised by me. Ariela writes: “the creative process varies from time to time, but generally it begins with an image, a somewhat hazy picture which gradually clarifies as I analyse it or, at times, simply as time goes by. I spoke of the image, but it can also be an idea that as yet has no visual component, or simply a sensation or an emotion that I want to arouse in the observer … but I still have no idea how to do it. The phase of definition can also be very long […] to then lead into an “operative” phase. This consists essentially in the planning, therefore the definition of the dimensions, the material, the technique, the final appearance of the work. Since my works are not of the gestural or instinctive type they generally require an accurate planning stage in which I confront and try to resolve possible technical difficulties as well”.
The artist in her creative process has never left off planning. “ The first man”, writes Argan, “built a project for the future from a past experience. From the smallest to the greatest the way of history develops in a time span which goes from experience to project: what is the object in the present has been planned in the past and is the condition of the future”.
Luciana Stegagno Picchio
Linguist and Philologist
Among Ariela Böhm’s work, I favor the pieces in which the use of new materials and innovative techniques tends towards the recovery and re-proposal of expressive forms of initial, inventive moments of the history of mankind.
The artist has metaphorically defined the pages of earth, fire and light, dedicating them to the genesis of writing.
Their material base is made up of Raku technique terracottas that, with the scintillated luminosity of fragments emerging from a remote past, offer them up as fundamental elements, in serial obsession, of a singular human event, sub-species scripturae.
It is precisely this “archaic-ness,” artificially induced in these ceramic works, that seems to construct the necessary mediator between writings and structures.
The ceramic technique adopted by Ariela is an ancient art, imported from China and Korea, which became established in Japan between 1570 and 1590 in the creations by the celebrated Raku dynasty.
The thirteenth Raku master died in 1945, but the art of terracotta that bears the name has nevertheless reached us.
Today, it is preferred by artists who, like Ariela, recognize themselves in the imperfection of materials deformed during their extremely high temperature firing process, capable of conferring to the last result the unexpectedness of an “excess” that has cracked and contorted every surface, such as after an extreme drought or a disruptive event.
On these tortured surfaces, which come out of the kiln in unexpected forms – furrowed with engravings, very Tuscan crevices of arid lands, blackened at the curled edges, like after an atomic explosion – the writing appears to be in relief.
They are not therefore engraved, in negative, like Mosaic Law tablets, but in positive, precisely like seals.
They nevertheless preserve a certain dawn-like clarity that affirms the eternity of writing in respect to its perishable and contingent foundations.
That Ariela Böhm’s exercises are not intended to be merely simple, decorative ornamentation has been demonstrated also by the fact that, among the examples she has chosen, besides the various proposals of Linear B, there appear examples of Assyrian cuneiform writing, as well as Syrian, Palmyrene and Aramaic writing, coming from the same or adjacent regions of that Hebrew world that is one of the poles of this sculptress’ human and artistic creations.
Scientist and writer
Pindar and others wrote famous and obvious comments about water: a substance that seems simple. Everybody knows its formula to be H2O and that on this earth there’s no life without water. Many know the laws that rule its pressure, flow, speed. Richard Feynman once wrote: “The subject of the flow of fluids, and particularly of water, fascinates everybody. We can all remember as children, playing in the bathtub or in mud puddles with the strange stuff. As we get older, we watch streams, waterfalls and whirlpools and we are fascinated by this substance which seems almost alive relative to solids. …We have tried to dam the water up – in our understanding – by getting the laws and the equations that describe the flow, but in an unique way water has broken through the dam and escaped our attempts to understand it.”
Feynman goes on describing how dry water (disregarding viscosity) and wet water behave, the latter not devoid of viscosity and keeping a molecular layer perfectly still attached to the surfaces of solids on which it runs, sometimes at high speeds. If water flows in laminar flows it loses little energy. It loses a lot, in case of turbulent flow: sometimes it may seem chaotic, instead it follows regular patterns, complex intricate and repetitive.
A French researcher insisted that water had memory. Apparently he cheated in his experiments but some scientists believe they were correct.
We have no direct experience of the state water is in at high depths in the ocean. Because of the pressure it can reach temperatures well beyond 100°C without boiling and it is home to a large number of bacteria and odd fauna, which is, maybe, where life began without chlorophyll synthesis involvement.
Not many of us have professional use for world descriptions, be they scientific or qualitative. They fulfill the cultural desires of many. In everybody’s mind they evoke concepts, ideas, bursts of consciousness, impressions, emotions, which in turn may trigger projects, feelings, impulses that make us think, make us evolve.
Such penetrating signals also come to us from other sources. They come from natural structures or processes, though many among us look at them without understanding them – as if they were mere patches of colour. They also come to us interpreted by artists. This is when things get more complex and more interesting. We are then looking at nature, intermediated by a mind that transforms raw material, coding it in words, images, or sounds.
Ariela uses images of water, still, flowing or frozen. She tells no tale, nor does she formulate theories. She presents the final result of shapes and colours that impressed her mind. Her works are panoramas or mental landscapes. You cannot speak of them as a whole, you can only report impressions case by case.
The large swollen ocean waves, their crest about to break, raises in me a sequence that it’s no use reporting in grammar sentences: “there’s no surfer on it, but maybe nobody would be able to slide on a wave like this one: Ariela didn’t calculate it because she felt it in her hands, as if she had created it, and Bloombergen, the physicist, who studies electromagnetic and light waves, perhaps could formulate its equations just looking at it, whilst a normal person would not think of the equation or the shape’s harmony but would only summon, even without wanting to, the noise it produces and the roar that will hear he who sees it breaking on the shore, and whatever this thing is made of only another artist can devise, or maybe an expert in materials, and maybe it is completely irrelevant.”
Ganges Delta is a labyrinth of channels and little matters that it is the real thing because the image is derived from a satellite image. The reaction is induced by colours (doesn’t matter whether false or true) and by her choice of structure, one that raises in me thoughts of networks, connections, nodes and the branches uniting them. Again my spontaneous reaction is thinking of the statistical and formal structures of that network. Then I think of the artist, Ariela, producing messages that are not univocal because they will cause very different reactions to different people. And I think about classifying the people watching these images. Some may understand Ariela’s fluids and crystals as ornaments. Some as stimuli to perceive nature differently. Others as messages written in a code that cannot be expressed in words – generated by feelings, translated into shapes and colours that aim (only?) at producing more feelings.
Among those even the feelings that struck hidden chords in me – who am a mechanic and blacksmith of pragmatic and alien words.
They also wrote:
P. Balmas, E. Bilardello, F. Bonilauri, B. Codogno, F. Di Castro, E. Di Martino, P. Ferri, M. Fioramanti, M. Gargiulo, R. Gavarro, E. La Cava, L. Lambertini, G. Latini, D. Liberanome, G. Limentani, P. Lollo, V. Martinoli, B. Martusciello, G. Marziani, F. Miccadei, N. Micieli, E. Muschella, L. Pratesi, A. Romani Brizzi, A. Sandri, F. Santaniello, G. Simongini, M. L. Trevisan, L. Turco Liveri, G. Vannucci, S. Weiller, T. Zambrotta, A. Zevi.