Hagit Peleg Rotem, Portfolio Magazine - New Interview
"With two concurrent exhibitions, a residency program and life in between two cities, Rotem Reshef is flourishing and stretching her huge canvas paintings from the Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv to Bakersfield, California"
Hagit: Good morning New York, how hot is it in your place?
Rotem: Good morning Hagit 🙂 I'm at home so for now it is cool (thanks to the air conditioner) and it's even raining outside, but still really hot and humid. August
Hagit: I didn't promise you a garden of roses. Still, New York, summer, the city is full of art and you have a big exhibition too.
Rotem: Exactly! I have a fruitful and happy summer. I currently have a big solo exhibition in New York titled "Walking on Dry Land" (until August 28) at the Laurie M. Tisch gallery in the city, and a large solo exhibition at the Galil Plaza in the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv.
Hagit: You can say that you have been on the go between the two locations for many years. You have a studio in south Tel Aviv and a studio in Brooklyn. How did it happen?
Rotem: This indeed has been unfolding for many years. About 15 years ago we returned to Israel after a long stay in New York and in the last ten years the relationship has tightened again, as my artistic activity in the US has expanded. At the moment I do have a lovely studio in Kiryat Hamelacha in Tel Aviv, where I can paint in the ideal way for me; A studio in Brooklyn, as part of the artist residency program, I am participating in at the NARS Foundation - which will be at my disposal until the end of September, when the program will end; And another studio in the city, which I regularly use when I'm in New York.
Hagit: What does the residency mean, if you already have a studio in the city?
Rotem: There are many residency frameworks operating in New York and I found this to be a great way to expand my network of contacts and acquaintances, both with artists and with curators, gallerists and other figures in the art world. Each residency has its characteristics. Last year I was in New York for two months, right after Covid, as part of a program called RU-Residency Unlimited, where the emphasis was on the meetings and the studio is not an integral part of the program. This year, I'm staying in New York for three months on a NARS Foundation program, and it's studio-based. We have studio visits - mostly physical and sometimes virtual - with curators and gallerists, lecturers, artists, etc. Every artist gets a studio and can have as many meetings as they want. At the end of the program, there is a graduation exhibition of the participants.
Hagit: Cool! And this is a really valuable exposure. What interesting artists have you met?
Rotem: Yes, absolutely. You can never know in advance. That is, the one who is in charge of the program, women in both cases, actually uses her personal connections to produce the meetings. In the two residencies I mentioned, it is a program of international artists. Last year I was with an artist from Berlin, an artist from Norway, a French-American artist and an American artist. This year there are nine of us and among us there is a Canadian artist, a Turkish-Canadian artist, an artist from Australia, China, Japan and more. The artists are really talented and it's fun to find out what they do. Towards the end of the program for, the curator looks for and finds common grounds to create an exhibition of cohesive quality. It is also a form of social formation in a good sense. There is always someone to go with to exhibition openings and once a week an artist or two organize an activity outside the residency. Today it's my turn and I'm taking them to my exhibition (of course) 🙂
Hagit: Are the programs paid? How do you approach them? I'm sure it interests many artists
Rotem: This is indeed a problem. The program is much more accessible to Americans, it is paid for and subsidized by the state of New York. But at the same time as registering, you can submit an application for a grant (in Israel or abroad) - to the Pais Fund, Artis or funds of the Ministry of Culture and other bodies. Financially, of course, it is not easy to be an artist (and I am not discovering anything new here). But when possible it is also important to fulfill dreams.
Hagit: And now let's talk about your exhibitions on both sides of the ocean - what is similar, what is different?
Rotem: The two exhibitions, the one in New York and the one in Tel Aviv, are both expansive and large, and those who visit them actually walk inside a painting. I imprint in paint on long scrolls of canvas, images of vegetation that I collect in the urban environment. The exhibitions deal, among other things, with the topics of ecology and climate change. The images that are created range from the abstract to the figurative, and give a kind of second chance to what has passed from the world. The exhibition in New York is actually a follow-up exhibition to my solo exhibition "A Heartfelt Event", which I exhibited in November 2020 at Sharon Toval's "Lab" space. There the feeling was somewhat claustrophobic, especially during the days of Covid and days of protest, when it was not clear what was around the corner and the visitors walked through narrow corridors between the canvas walls.
Hagit: It was really a bit of a dark time
Rotem: I had hoped (and was granted) to present the follow-up exhibition when there is already a perspective back on that period, and thus the three canvases from Tel Aviv (each 25 m long) are now joined together with three new scrolls in the exhibition in New York. This time the theme is about surviving, reaching, looking forward. This is an optimistic exhibition, and for me the fact that it is presented in a space with a Jewish connotation has meaning, because the word survive goes very well with the Jewish people. Also the name of the exhibition, "Walking on Dry Land", speaks of exactly this, of a kind of miracle where the sea was divided in two and you pass through it in peace. The exhibition presents two "islands" that symbolize our choices in life while looking ahead. The exhibition in Israel, "Passage", displayed at the entrance plaza of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, next to the botanical garden and laboratories of Tel Aviv University, connects to the issues of environmental awareness that the museum tries to stimulate on a regular basis. It presents geometric structures that are surrounded by structures resistant to outdoor weather conditions, and on them are prints of images from my Ghost Libraries and Ghost Flora series. In both cases, the exhibitions are open for long hours and at no cost, and this is also part of the charm, in the way that they are available to everyone.
Hagit: What is the Jewish connotation of the gallery in New York?
Rotem: Laurie M. Tisch Gallery is inside the city's Jewish Community Center (JCC). One of my favorite things is to exhibit in public galleries, which allow me to present large-scale painting installations, and so in this case - the space is huge and open.
Hagit: I feel that I have the privilege (and maybe even a modest contribution) to accompany the development and spread of your works from "traditional-format" paintings to entire spaces, and to installations that become a place in themselves. It's a process you developed over time (for about six years?) you become more and more daring. Also in the decision to exhibit outside - at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History for example.
Rotem: Exactly 🙂 In 2016 I presented my first installation exhibition at "ArtSpaceTLV Gallery" in Tel Aviv. In that first exhibition I further researched the subject and understood what to do with canvas scrolls that are not stretched. Later on, I exhibited "along the walls", as in the exhibition "Time Traveler" that I presented in two university spaces in Los Angeles, and then I began to "come off the walls" as in the exhibition "MomDadMe", which was curated by Merav Rahat as part of the 2019 Illustration Week in Tel Aviv. And the same goes for exhibitions like the ones that are being shown now , in which I first choose what I want to display and then create the constructions that can carry the installation
Hagit: And what's next? Do you already have the materials for the next project?
Rotem: projects (in plural) - at the beginning of September a group exhibition (of artists using clay) will open at the Center for the Arts, Towson University, Maryland. There I will present a large installation of canvas and 80 unique ceramic tiles that stem from each other, which I created especially for the exhibition. On both the canvas and on the ceramic, I imprint vegetation, and it is amazing for me to see how similar the result is when working with such different materials. In January 2023 I will present a solo exhibition at Bakersfield Art Museum in California. Bakersfield is an interesting city, which has a wonderful nature that is being revived, and then, a lot of oil pumps and oil fields. And so are the residents, on the one hand engaged in the oil industry and on the other hand people with super environmental awareness. And the exhibition refers to this environment and tries to find the bridges that connect the different groups and encompass the various environmental aspects there. Really exciting and lots and lots of work 🙂
Hagit: Amazing. "Rotem Global Tours"…
Hagit: And where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Rotem: This is a relevant and logical question, yet always surprising. I hope that I will continue to do what I love, that I will continue to exhibit a lot and maybe also that the Americans will learn to pronounce my name correctly in the meantime 😅