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Interview: Amarildo Topalis

When Nir Arieli was called by the Israeli army, he rejected every post but the one of the photographer, having no clue at all that time that, that would be his future destiny. His artwork has travelled all the way to the New York galleries and a lot is still to come.

Why did you choose dancers for your current exhibition in New York?

My cousin Tal is an incredible dancer. When I was a student in SVA he was a student in Juilliard. He introduced me to his dancers friends and exposed me to their performances. I realized then that dance fascinates me. If I can say something personal, I don’t dance at all, not even at a party. I admire dancers because they can do what seems to me impossible. The training process of a dancer teaches the body to do things that it can’t do naturally. I observed it like a child, like it was a super power. Aside to the physical qualities,these are people who are so dedicated to what they do, subvert norms of gender and thrilled to collaborate on projects of different art mediums – It’s quite a pleasure collaborating with them.

My work is very much about intimacy and human connections. After two projects where it was just me and one dancer, I wanted to take a challenge in creating that intimacy with a large group of people.I want to believe that ‘Flocks’ is a significant document of the contemporary dance scene in this point in time. It features some of the most important dancers of our times, and it allows the viewer to experience an intimate moment with them, in a monumental scale (The prints are very large, so visiting the exhibition will give you the full experience).

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What would you like to point out with the title “Flocks”?

Flocks – In Hebrew, my native language, we use the same word ( הקהל ) for a (dance) “company” and a “flock” (of animals). When I thought about that it made a lot of sense. The English definition of the word is “a number of animals of one kind, feeding, resting, or traveling together”. I thought that describes in a pretty exact way the dance company. Dancers are like a special species, and the company is a place that ties their destiny together in a very intense way. They create, practice, perform and travel together. Very close and complex relationships are formed in this social sphere and I found it fascinating. It is the first time I worked with such large groups of dancers and I was interested in what is a company and what identity is formed by the group from the many individual creatives that form it.

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Your career started as a military photographer. Is there anything that stands out from those times, some memory, something happy or uncomfortable for you?

Military service in Israel is mandatory. My first eight months there were very difficult as I refused to be anything else but a photographer. My fight with that rigid system is too long to tell here, but after I won that war, I had two years and four month of the best time. It indeed changed my life. I was sent everyday to do either documentary or portrait work. I was working for the military’s magazine and we were covering everything – air force, navy, ground forces, special units… I was sent with reporters to cover stories about units in field, or to do interviews with high ranks and simple soldiers with interesting stories. It is then that I learned that I’m not a photojournalist but more of a director, I like to stage and interact directly with my subject.

Supposedly, my work now is completely different. It’s about ideas that I’m interested in, people that I choose and themes like dance, which is a million miles away from the military landscape. However, back in the military I was photographing a lot of young men in uniforms who were busy with how their masculinity reflected out and how well they can camouflage their volubility, which is considered a sign of weakness in such environment. I always had an agenda to find that gentleness and sensitivity hidden in the soldiers I photographed, which is something I do in my current work.

Are there differences between Israel and America concerning the art of photography, in terms of the public’s reaction etc?

Like every place in the world, the public eye is affected by the culture, history, politics, heritage… There are large differences between America and Israel, however, I don’t try make work that suits a certain kind of people or culture. I do think that my work is being perceived better in the USA and Europe, and I hope and wish that I could show and create more in Israel, but it is not up to me. I am trying to make work that will intrigue the viewer and I believe that the visual questions and ideas that I try to embed in the work do not have a language or does not depend in culture and geographical location, they are universal.

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Does a well shaped body help the photographer both in making and in the final result?

If you mean to ask if a dancer’s body is easier to photograph – I don’t think so. Maybe it’s nicer to look at, but something interesting and complex could be found in “ordinary” bodies as well. I make work about dancers because I’m interested in their interior world, in their life style, and yes, in their extremely impressive physical abilities and artistic capabilities. But there are other social groups that are easier to access that have beautiful bodies, and I don’t make work about them.

FLOCKS, Flower He Is, PR for Dance, INFRAMEN, Tension are parts of your work. Which one is your favorite and why?

PR for Dance” is not a project, it’s a section in my website of works I got hired to do for dance companies and choreographers. The rest of the projects are all very different and mean different things to me. I think I ‘m usually more about my last body of work, because it is the most relevant to what I’m thinking about at the moment and it is still fresh, there are a lot of unresolved questions and I’m still getting some feedback and reflections from the viewers.

So at the moment, ‘Flocks’ Is definitely the project I’m more interested in.

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Do you think that nude will sell forever or there will come a time when bodies will be covered because there will be saturation? My view is that the viewer can no longer see the difference between porn and art. Is there any limit for balance?

It’s a good question, but I disagree about the viewer’s ability to make the difference. Nude is not a tool, and we can’t use it in art as an excuse, as a base, or as a starting point. I think when you choose to present full nudity, you’re making it something that stands in front of the work, and it might weaken important ideas that are more significant for you to talk about. In my work I try not to use full frontal nudity for this reason. Dancer’s bodies are different, and they are beautiful, and I want to create a certain dimension of fragility, of being exposed, and so I use minimal clothing, and I try to keep the color palate in the skin-tones.

I don’t know to say if there will be any saturation about nudity in the public’s eye. I think that as the world progresses, nudity is less of a taboo and more of a natural thing, and that’s a positive change. But until it’s a non-issue, there is a lot of time.

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What is your next photo project going to be about? Can you give us a slight idea?

I’ve started tests for a new project last summer, but it is too early to say if it is going to develop into a full project and what exactly it’s going to be about. I can say I used a religious starting point to illustrate dark, sensitive, and intimate scenes. And that I think this time I would want to focus on intimate connection of two subjects, as opposed to a single one in my early work (Tension, Inframen), or dozens all together in my last body of work (Flocks).


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