The Beauty of High-Rises: An Interview with Aharon Ozery

Aharon Ozery, Endless Project (2008), metal, styrofoam, perspex, metal cord, aluminum, rtv, pulleys, engines and stainless steel
Aharon Ozery is a modern version of the wandering Jew– he was born in Canada, moved to Israel when he was one year old and then moved back to Canada with his family at the age of 14. Two years later he moved back to Israel, alone. He spent half a year in New York (in the Bezalel – Cooper Union’s student exchange program), a few years in a rural village in the north of Israel and then settled in Tel Aviv until a few months ago when he packed up his family and studio, and moved to Berlin to participate in the Künstlerhaus Bethanien Residency.

Ozery is best known for his big installations that usually involve small repetitive movements. Often humorous and always lyrical, those sculptures move beyond “Boys playing with Toys”, as the current group show he is participating in is titled, to a haiku poem, as was the title of his recent one person show. With a mix of low tech materials and high technology he makes metal pieces fall in place, as if everything is part of a bigger cosmic order. In “Endless Project”, shown in ArtTLV in September 2009, he had eight huge eggs moving from one spot to the other - always on time, always reaching the exact same spot. His newest work is a combination of five boxes, filled with rotating pipes that collapse into the other. Ozery: “It is such a small movement. It seems that nothing happens there. But if you come back later, you can see that it changed.”

VG: Many of your works are technology based.
AO: I can’t say I'm in love with technology; I was never about breaking and reassembling engines. I usually start with an image, and some of those images have movement in them, so I need to find a way to make them happen. Most of the solutions end up being based on technology.

VG: What is your process of working on those bigger installations?
Some of the bigger works can be in mind for years before they come out. There are 4-5 works I’m thinking of right now and there’s a work that has been waiting for its budget for 8 year. When I do sketch things out it is usually not the technological sketch, as things usually changing once I start working and discover the materials and their special needs. Then I usually start walking around south of Tel Aviv where my studio is and talk with people who work in the shops and my ideas grow further.
Things take time. The Eggs, that were eventually titled “Endless Project”, started as an installation which I operated mechanically. It was only later on that we were able to find the money to construct it the way I envisioned it.
The circular movement that also takes place in “Nevermind” has a train that continuously runs in an elliptic pathway with the engine almost touching tail and nearly no empty track. There’s an ongoing movement, with sporadic bursts of smoke. Never stops in any station.

VG: For me this work was but the holocaust, the trains in Europe.
I can see why, but there really isn’t any holocaust connection. It’s very hard for me to describe what the work is about. There isn’t any big ideology behind it, but it’s clear that it has to do with a subject that’s in my mind and gets its expression in the works. I can’t sit down and write about it, it is not specific, it’s more existential.
Death, and our temporary being on earth is something I’m always busy with. It also has to do with my current place in life, having parents who are growing older, and having young kids in their first steps in this world. I’m not dealing with death from a bad place – not a suffering artist at all, I’m full of optimism, I’m thinking about it with fascination, about the fact that we start and we end.
There is something purposeless in art, and my works also has to do with this purposeless. There is a whole system that makes them work, but there isn’t really any importance to the fact they are working. The Eggs are an assembly line that assembles nothing. The eggs are moving in a very precise way from one location to the other, but it’s not clear why. The train is moving, but it is getting nowhere.
I am unsure myself what my purpose is, and am therefore not too specific. It’s ok. I think it is much stronger to say nothing, not to try and be too exact. When an idea is expressed in precise words, I feel like the idea looses it life.

VG: This is the first time you are showing photography in a show, those are very romantic images.
I don’t go around town with a camera. All the images are of places I saw and liked and came back to them again when the right light is there. I feel like it is a living material once a picture is taken and uploaded to a computer. There is lots of work to be done, even if your goal is to get it to look just like what you’ve photographed. Unlike with film, after taking the picture digitally, the process only begins.
I love construction sites. I love urbanism and I love the fact that Tel Aviv is becoming a city with many high rises.

VG: Really? Most people complain about this.
I love it. Not next to the beach, I think we shouldn’t build high over there, but everywhere else I think it’s great. I think they should grow from low along the beach to higher further east to highest along the ayalon river, as it is impossible with growth of population to stay with low building in the cities plus it allows to leave green areas using living and working spaces efficiantly in buildings, regardless the fact that i love seeing the building being built and the feeling of proportion wandering amongst them. I Iove the process of seeing how things develop from the beginning, I like to see what happens underneath it all. Like Ibn Gvirol street, I loved watching how they changed it – widening the sidewalks, adding a lane, planting trees. But I will never live in one of those tall buildings. I need to be closer to the land. I like living in the second floor – it gives you some kind of proportion – you don’t feel too tall, there are other buildings around you that their size can give you some kind of comfort. In a way it’s like making big sculptures, their proportions just feel right.