07.05.2022

Finding FOMO

Nina Mielcarczyk - Public Space, Leipzig, Germany

Text by Anna Reindl

A young woman, her head resting on the dining table, points her smartphone in the direction of the viewer. Is she observing her surroundings through the camera or is there something completely different on her screen? It quickly happens that one feels observed. The smart- phone is a constant companion in our everyday lives. It captures special moments, distracts us, connects us with the outside world. We tap, we swipe, and sometimes lose sight of our actual surroundings. At the same time, there is a permanent fear of missing something – Fear of missing out (FOMO for short). Zohar Fraiman’s work “Finding FOMO” tells the story of a restless search for something we can’t find in the digital world – similar to the lengthy search undertaken by the clownfish Marlin in the Disney film “Finding Nemo”.

Strolling through the grounds of the Baumwollspinnerei, a blue area under the free-standing wing roof opposite Hall 18 catches the eye. Framed by red corners, the blue field is reminis- cent of a viewfinder on modern cameras. The motif of the young woman with smartphone floats as a counterpart above it – close under the wing roof. In her work, Zohar Fraiman deals with the divergence between the analog and digital worlds. At the same time, she encoura- ges a change of perspective. Fixed squares on the floor provide viewpoints for viewing the painting. It is an invitation to capture the work from precisely these angles with one’s own camera and – if desired – to share it on social media. Fraiman, born in Jerusalem in 1987, studied painting in Jerusalem and Berlin. Her figurative paintings, which explore issues of identity and the boundaries between fiction and reality, are exhibited internationally. For the Public Art Space on the Spinnereigelände, she goes one step further. She invites viewers:in- side to enter into a hybrid discussion space with her – via the social networks that play such a large role in her work. It is a shift from analog to digital and an involvement of the recipient. “Finding FOMO” serves as a mirror without mirrors to question our own use and perception of digital media.

Fraiman’s installation confronts us with modern self-subjectification and staging as well as the increasing interchangeability in digital media. The motif of the woman is not coincidental, as Fraiman uses it to focus on the idealized female identity constructions within the digital world. In this context, it is interesting to note that most of the workers at the Leipzig cotton mill were women and that this site was a place with unusually feminine connotations for the time. In “Finding FOMO,” the young woman with smartphone enters into a dialogue with the historical site and its history – both analog and digital.

25.02.2022

We Curate Our Online Selves

Elemmental,

Text by Danielle Cruz *translated into English by Manuel Ignacio Moyano, edited by Anna Fawdry

We spoke to Zohar Fraiman at Arco Madrid 2022. It is the first time the Israeli artist is exhibiting in Spain, represented by Gallery Russi Klenner.

A girl stares intently at her cell phone. There is a mouth-watering cake in front of her, yet she doesn’t seem to care. Her face is fragmented, making it difficult to work out who she is. The portrait captured by Zohar Fraiman (Jerusalem, 1987) in ‘Orangen Käsekuchen’ is a metaphor for our virtual life.

The multiplied faces in Fraiman’s paintings allude to the versions of ourselves that we swipe between every day. Sometimes the faces in her work are replaced or supplemented by cartoon characters or imaginary figures. Everything is there for a reason. At the same time, the unknown is one of the key questions in Zohar Fraiman’s current work.

Fraiman, who is presenting her work for the first time in Spain in this edition of Arco Madrid, is clear: the construction of identity is something we do on a daily basis and is constantly in flux.

I meet Zohar Fraiman at the German gallery Russi Klenner’s stand at Arco Madrid on Friday 25th February. We talk about the aesthetics of the virtual world. Trained in Fine Arts at the University of the Arts in Berlin, the German capital has been Fraiman’s home for the last thirteen years. Originally from Israel, she recognizes the good sides of technology: like being able to talk to people who are far away.

However, Fraiman’s paintings also portray our obsessions. She questions what is real, using direct references to historical painters, including Modigliani, Georges de La Tour and Balthus. She confesses that she also likes to seduce the viewer with bright colors. Indeed, it were these very colors that initially drew me to ‘Orangen Käsekuchen’.

 

DC. How are you finding Arco?

 

ZF. Fantastic. I like it here. I love Madrid. The fair is wonderful. And a little sunshine isn’t bad either, because I live in Berlin and it’s not very sunny there.

 

DC. In your work telephones are often present. Are we slaves to our cell phones?

 

ZF. Interesting question. A lot of the paintings I’ve been doing over the last few years talk about the identity that people feel they have, versus the roles they feel they have to play in society. This evolved into exploring how our digital identities on social media and platforms like Instagram, Tinder, Facebook etc. are a reflection of ourselves. We “curate” our online identity because we desire a certain image. But on the other hand, that’s not really us. It’s like an echo of us.

There are pros and cons to cell phones, and we are definitely obsessed with them. They make us become narcissistic; determining how we look online and how many selfies I take to look cool. But they are also a tool to communicate with each other and reach out to other, new people. During the pandemic, I noticed that a lot of my friends were dating, literally online, because they couldn’t meet people. They really made up a character with different rules and different ways to respond to someone and what to say.

 

DC. Is that why your characters’ faces are fragmented?

 

ZF. Yes. These digital identities that we create are like a shattered version of ourselves. Like in this painting [pointing at Orangen Käsekuchen], where it looks as though the subject is taking a selfie or a picture of us. Her face is this digital “glitch”, as if we’re swiping through pictures to see the next picture or story or profile.

Simultaneously, you see an echo in the work of a figure in Balthus’ painting, which influenced me and also talks about female roles. I am very critical of Balthus, but at the same time I also really enjoy his painting.

 

DC. Balthus is controversial in several aspects.

 

ZF. Very provocative, exactly.

However I do think that is something I want to talk about in the work: society’s idealization of beauty. The question is not how we should look and whether it’s good or bad. Rather it is a discussion that I think needs to be had, because social media and our digital identities have become such an important part of our lives. Especially for younger women and girls who don’t know life before social media.

 

DC. You refer a lot to classic painters. Who are your greatest inspirations?

 

ZF. I was trained in classical painting in Jerusalem. In the painting Swipe Sisters I actually looked at a painting by Georges de La Tour where there were people playing cards. And I literally imagined people I know, especially during the pandemic, sitting on their cell phones and thinking “how can I meet someone?”, “can I connect with my family from so far away?” or “how can I go on interesting dates? ”

The women in the painting are these people in my mind’s eye, and the composition I took literally from Georges de La Tour. The figures are contemporary though, mixed in with cartoon characters.

 

DC. Is the figure in the work Swipe Sisters a pin-up or an actress?

 

ZF. Actually, this figure is based on an image of Rita Hayworth, the classic Hollywood actress. A lot of people recognize her. 

I feel like every era has had distinct beauty ideals. Today no one would say that beauty necessarily means being pretty: advertising idealizes a greater variety of different types of beauty than in previous eras.

Some changes to our bodies that are considered beautiful today weren’t even take into account thirty or a hundred years ago. Today they are the norm and you see them everywhere: in social media, advertisements, television, movies, etc.

 

DC. What about the cartoons in your paintings?

 

ZF. For me, the cartoons are a caricature of how certain qualities or characteristics of the figures should be expressed. As children, we watch all these cartoons where all of the characters act dramatically. As adults, we are suddenly expected to filter how we act. Adults aren’t allowed to go crazy any more like in cartoons.

Additionally, there is also an element of bringing fiction into the work in order to blur the line between what is real and what isn’t. That is exactly what these digital identities are all about for me. I mean, we make them. They wear our names, they are depicted in photos of us, but they’re not really us. 

 

DC. Your recent paintings are more vibrant than the previous ones, which were darker in tone, but also magical and spiritual. How did the change occur?

 

ZF. Well I noticed all of a sudden that my studio was really bright. And we’re kind of hypnotized by all these screens too. We open our phones and it’s like “woo!”. This light sucks us in and there’s the endless scrolling… like “I can’t stop looking!”. We are like moths drawn to the light. 

I felt at one point that I wanted to include this aesthetic, this luminosity and these colors to be in my paintings as well. 

And I’m seducing the viewer, saying “look at me!”

 

DC. I also read that the color yellow has a meaning. In Spain it has to do with bad luck.

 

ZF. Very interesting. I think that’s fascinating. First and foremost, the color yellow is bright and stands out, as in the case of this piece [points to Minette and Me]. It draws us in and swallows us up. 

McDonald’s French fries, also bright yellow, I use to allude to commerciality.

 

DC. Do you think social media create an economy of envy?

 

ZF. Well, we are putting our stuff online all the time. Someone posts photos in which the lighting is always perfect and the face almost better than the reality. 

In this piece [FOMO II] I wanted to work on the concept of FOMO. I don’t know if you use it in Spain. FOMO means the fear of missing out on something. Here the subject falls asleep looking at her phone, but her “fictional eye” is still open. I was inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

 

DC. I know your exhibition in Berlin ends soon, but what is coming next for you?

 

ZF. My exhibition in Berlin has now ended, but more are lined up. 

And there are paintings waiting to be finished. I am very excited for the next upcoming projects and shows.

14.01.2022

Self-ish

Galerie Russi Klenner, Berlin

Text by Kornelia Klenner

In her new series of works Zohar Fraiman addresses the question of identity in the age of social media. What is the effect that social networks such as Instagram, Facebook or Tinder have on us and our self and how do we live up to the pressure of constantly having to self-stage, not to miss out on anything and to comply with certain roles?

Fraiman easily traverses through the (art) epochs, making use of image compositions of the old masters such as Vermeer, de la Tour or Ingres, hints at painters of classical modernism such as Balthus or Modigliani with regard to the aesthetics of the bodies or adjourns her protagonists with faces of Disney characters. Nevertheless, the “Swipe Sisters” don’t play cards as with de la Tour but are busy with themselves and their smartphones. Here, and also in the painting “Swipe“, one can find allusions to dating-apps and their set of rules, especially during lockdown times, when the digital identity played an even more crucial role as meetings took place rather virtually. The title of “Swipe” is a hint in itself – people swipe from one potential date to another. Oneself and the other are almost turned into a merchandise, which can be sorted out so that one can easily turn to the next new hot thing. In works such as “Weisswälder Kirsch- torte“, “Girl with a Pearl Necklace“ or “Thin, Long, Slices“ the women are posing, seem representable, yet are somehow lost and torn between culinary delights or the temptations of advertising and the ideal to be slim (such as Modigliani’s necks – or the super thin French Fries of Mc…). It is exhausting, always having to play a role and to stage oneself, but one needs to compete, even if to the point of complete exhaustion – as in “Minette and me“, “IRL“ or “FOMO“.

What is the impact on our identity, with our self when we constantly swipe and pose, indulge in obsessive self-staging through endless selfies, as the artist insinuates with her twofold, multiple or even empty faces? In her surreal like scenarios the border between reality and fantasy gets blurred. And what about the filtered pictures in social media, do they also blur the boundary between reality and online-reality regarding our identity?

Are we all playing theatre as Erving Goffman* constituted in his work of the same name in 1959? There, he describes self-promotion as an important part of the human existence. Of course, it is not new that we need and want to present ourselves in the best light. But today, the options for self-promotion are so much easier and more varied than ever before. Digital cameras and editing techniques in social networks help us in our endeavour to gain social respect and positive reception as well as to present ourselves in the way we want it. We lead, control, manipulate and select. With Facetune, Snapchat and Photoshop we can create the perfect body online. Replies are not spontaneous, but rather curated beforehand. One’s own mimicry can be hidden; there is no need to identify the body language of our (real) counterpart, and issues that do not fit into the perfect picture will not be shared online.

As the smartphone has nearly become a part of our self through the daily use of it in so many areas, we hardly stop swiping and typing. We see ourselves confronted with nearly hundreds of edited pictures and adverts a day. The pressure to keep up to certain ideals seems to be especially tough for women as the artist implies. Through the ideals of beauty and slimness, inherent especially in Western societies, westill define ourselves according to our external appearance – the body is our business card.

Already in ancient times, the Renaissance or even in modern times, people strove to be as beautiful as their ideals in paintings, advertisements, films or the media. Social media now increases the pressure, which becomes a daily issue. While in former times unreachable models or actors served as ideals, nowadays these are replaced by influencers that present advertisement and body norms, disguised as the friend next door, often covering the fact that harsh commercial interests are behind them. “BBHMM” illustrates this in a wonderful way through the reference to the Kardashian family, whose Instagram accounts are among the most popular in the world. The family’s most famous member went so far as to publish a book full of her personal selfies – not to mention the enormous revenue gained through product placement on their Instagram accounts.

Does the selfie symbolize a narcistic society likely to produce a new social Darwinism as the Belgian psychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe** constituted?

Self stands for character, identity, nature or set of characteristics; everything that a person perceives as one’s self or the identity one tries to cultivate in everyday life. Selfish on the other hand, describes someone that is concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself and seeks or concentrates on one‘s own advantage, pleasure without regard for others – a phenomenon that becomes more than apparent on the Internet and by the number of selfies online. According to a survey, we speak in a real-life conversation approximately 30 – 40% about ourselves, whereas in social media about 80% of the posts are centred on one’s own self. Should we then interpret the ish in the title of the exhibition in a way that our self pretends to be something which it is not or only nearly?

Zohar Fraiman asks all these questions in her paintings without preaching, but rather in a playful way, so that one can wonder around from one cross-reference or allusion to another. There is almost nothing that she leaves to chance, apart from the cats that perhaps underline again her humorous handling of the subject. She wants the viewer to have fun with the paintings, in spite of the serious subject. And thus,
the stripes of the wallpapers echo themselves via the Zebras in the background, and the actions of the cats leave plenty of room for interpretation. The colour Yellow, though, which repeatedly catches our eye, is not only an eye-catcher. In Hebrew, it can represent envy and also in German, there is the saying “yellow with envy”.

Hans-Georg Moeller and his co- author Paul D’Ambrosio*** in their book ‘You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity’, suggest that we live in a world, in which our identities are no longer based on the idea of being our true selves, and that instead, we design our identities on the basis of profiles or personal brands. Based on Lionel Trilling they distinguish between different forms of identity. Whereas identity based on “Sincerity” describes a conformity to the roles we are born into or that society imposes on us, “Authenticity” emerged as the base of identity in the 20th century, and which is rather built on individualism and originality. The two argue that with the Internet and social media we more or less curate profiles to be evaluated by ananonymous audience and not necessarily individual people, demonstrated by the number of likes, positive comments or ratings online – a rather abstract being.

How many personalities do we have and what is our real self? Zohar Fraiman succeeds in highlighting painful issues with a lot of humour, with sometimes delicate, sometimes direct implications, a colourfulness and wisely chosen image compositions that create varied moods and associations.

 

*   Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life. Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1959

**   Verhaeghe, Paul: Einsame Inseln mit Selfies und Angst. http://sciencev2.orf.at/ stories/1748130/index.html

***   Hans-Georg Moeller & Paul J. D‘Ambrosio. You and Your Profile: Identity after Authenticity. Columbia University Press, 2021

15.04.2021

Show Me Your Sheroes

Galerie Priska Pasquer, Virtual Gallery

Text by Gloria Aino Grzywatz

Zohar Fraiman’s paintings examine the influence of digitalization on common gender stereotypes. Her work explores how female identities are formed and through which mechanisms they are reconstructed in digital spaces such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Tinder. Using humor, Fraiman questions the practice of internet-based self-staging and criticizes exaggerated and distorted ways of expressing both gender and the self within image- based networks and social platforms.

Fraiman’s large-scale oil paintings emphasize ambiguity and paint images of complex realities and superimposed identities in a playful way. In her works Allegory of Love (2021) and Feeling Fab (2020), the artist engages with processes of digitalization in popular culture. She delves into the phenomenon of the selfie, the effect of swiping as a form of modern self- subjectification, and the increasing interchangeability among subjects on the internet. Her works urge the viewer to reflect on what is depicted. As a recurring motif in her works, surfaces are displayed as an image within an image. Whether they are on television screens, mirrors, or tablets, these surfaces refer to the boundaries between fiction and reality, which imperceptibly merge into one another in digital space.

In her works, Fraiman refers to animated films and TV series like those created by Disney which show manufactured images of women. The artist integrates fictional characters like Snow White and Alice in Wonderland into her paintings and juxtaposes them with both female and male figures. In Me, Myself and I (2020), this results in an ambivalent collision and a merging of worlds. Fraiman’s works emphasize the often idealized notions of femininity and beauty in digital space, which is hardly ever rooted in reality.

SHOW ME YOUR SHEROES creates a surreal, glowing world of color and form, establishing a dialogue with Fraiman’s colorful works Muffin Palace (2020) and I Just Called to Say (2020). The artist borrows the lush color spectrum from the present-day Internet. She is further influenced by the intense colors of modern day pop culture and the aesthetics of advertising from the 50s to the 70s. Her radiant works refer to the glow that the viewer encounters when using digital technologies such as smartphones and laptops.

Unlike in the worlds from which they originate, the fates of the female heroes or anti- heroes in Fraiman’s works ultimately remain unresolved. Will they attempt to lead a self-determined life in a red Pontiac, as in Time to Say Goodbye (2020)? Will they manage to break free from traditional norms? Can they possibly bring about social change? Zohar Fraiman’s works open up dialogue using feminist perspectives. They serve as distorting mirrors which fundamentally question the worlds which have inspired them. The works in this exhibition, as well as the exhibition title, is sparked by the Warren Buffet quote: „Tell me who your heroes are, and I’ll tell you how you’re going to turn out“. How do representations of femininity in digital space shape our understanding of gender? How can we free ourselves from stereotypical thought patterns?

20.10.2020

In the studio with Zohar Fraiman

She Performs

Text by Lynn S. Battaglia

It’s been 528 days since my last studio visit. Whew. When I moved to Frankfurt am Main, Germany last year in May, it took a while to arrive. And what felt like a blink of an eye later, the first lockdown hit. 528 days – almost half of that because of the Coronavirus. Yet here we are. Two weeks ago I found myself in Berlin for work and knew I couldn’t possibly leave the city without having visited at least one studio. And visiting Berlin-based, Israeli artist Zohar Fraiman in her studio in Wedding made up for all those months. It’s been years even since I had a proper Berlin studio visit, which MUST include drinking beer from the bottle, with the effect of one: feeling a lot cooler, and two: having something to hold on to for those short moments of silence when you forget what you usually do with your hands.

 

Zohar’s studio is located in a huge building that seems to be the home to many a Berlin artist’s works. After years of visiting studios mostly in London and NYC, I couldn’t stop telling Zohar how huge her studio was – again and again and again. The walls of this great space were filled with bright colored works from her newest series, most of them painted this year. This new series is a sort of coming back to her roots after she had made a detour of dismantling the narrative in her works in recent years , Zohar tells me. Back then she started to become obsessed with certain colours and her works were leaning towards vivid shades of blue and a visual experience with a lot of different layers superimposed on each other. And the themes of the female figure, sexualisation and the question of identity in a society where one might not always fit in started to dissolve into a more abstract narrative. Now she’s back. But as she explains it’s more like if you left a place and travelled the world to come back to the same place just to find out it’s not the same place anymore, nor is she the same person. Her new works deal with the questions of gender and identity in a very humorous and playful way, starting with the bright, neon colours she uses in her works now. In order to let the viewer in on the joke, she started using famous characters and cartoons we probably all know. Characters like the Little Mermaid, Snow White and Alice in Wonderland, but also villains like Cruela de Ville make appearances in her paintings. Never as the main character, but rather superimposing themselves onto the scenes, resulting in an ambivalent colliding and merging of the worlds.

 

Ambatiya , meaning bath in Hebrew, superimposes a funny, yet tragic clash between the Little Mermaid and a shark onto a painting of the school of Fontainebleau that shows two women naked in a bathtub, with one of them playfully touching the other’s nipple. This is done with such a specific gesture, that puts more emphasis and wonder onto the hand than the breast. These slim, limby, gesturing hands are something that interest Zohar so much, that they even become the sole subject of smaller paintings. Reflections is also a theme that keeps repeating in her work. Whether that be in TV screens, mirrors or pictures within the painting itself. She is actively searching for these images within images as a way in which the characters in the paintings can see themselves reflected. While the new series is much simpler in the way that layers are built up – only having one layer superimposed, rather than many – she is taking back the power of the narrative and displaying a strong confidence in the story she is telling. Using different painting techniques, she is careful not to give every part of the painting the same kind of attention. In some parts we can clearly see her brushstroke, while others appear very sleek, and yet another part – mostly the superimpositions – are altogether transparent. This is an additional tool to lead the viewer’s gaze through the painting and let them read the story in different ways.

 

In Me, Myself and I, Alice in Wonderland and Aurora appear as illusions of the woman shown in the painting, when really, they are merged onto her, they are a part of her. We feel like we are let in on a very private moment, witnessing the many personas (or are they ideals?) that come together in one. In the smaller painting B and Me we are confronted with a disturbing, glitchy image of a girl with her Barbie – except that the Barbie has the girl’s face. This is a playful take on the egg/chicken question: what comes first? Is the girl idolising the Barbie as something she wants to look like or does the Barbie look like her? One of the early paintings from this series, Time to Say Goodbye, shows Snow White – the first Disney damsel in distress aka princess – sitting in her car on a stage. It looks like she has it made for herself and is ready to leave, except there is no off. There’s nowhere for here to go as she is but a figment of our collective imagination. In addition to those movies and images idealising what an ideal woman should look like, the narrative also tells them what they should and shouldn’t do. These are figures most of us have grown up with and even the next generations know of them. Of course she was also influenced by them, Zohar says, and is using her narrative and paintings to question what we are presented with: “Is that cool Snow White?”

14.03.–11.05.2020

Zohar Fraiman, Bianca Kennedy, Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo – Trio Show

Galerie Russi Klenner, Berlin

Text by Galerie Russi Klenner

Muffins, dancing biscuits and foetuses, Snow White in a Pontiac, a millstone on the neck or rather on the woman’s boot as well as wild collages question social norms, traditional images and gender roles. The three artists present topics such as oppression, sexual identity and physicality, sometimes in a playful, sometimes confrontational, in a subtle or more direct way.

 

Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo carefully composes her works of art which feed on intimate memories and (life) experience. Her work though is not as harmless as this description sounds. Her mostly political works (installation, video, collage and sculpture) deal with tough topics, sometimes in a subtle, often in a very intensive, direct and challenging way. Themes such as race, gender, power structures or sexual self-determination and their interrelationships are analysed, deconstructed and scrutinized. It is of great importance to her that everyone can connect something with her art. At the same time, she wants to confront people with difficult topics, point to different lifestyles that might even clash, but from which the artist draws her inspiration. She drives things that are not immediately perceptible – desire, fear, shame, vulnerability – to extremes so that they cannot be overlooked. In doing so, she likes to make use of common forms of presentation from pop culture that are accessible to most people. The more personal, the more comprehensible for the viewer. In her collage ‘You have something I desire’ or with the row of kissing mouth sculptures ‘I remember you’ she explores in a light and playful way the desire and longing for someone. As opposed to that the concrete blocks chained to the silver boots weigh heavily as a clichéd notion of femininity and a symbol for the woman who is being prevented from moving forward. The image of a young Vietnamese soldier framed by exotic flowers in the collage ‘Wild Flower’ in turn evokes associations with the fetishization of the exotic or with colonial tourism. Coming to the collage books she really goes wild. Here she glues cut-outs (from coffee table books or magazines) of mostly female body parts, faces of celebrities, fashion icons, film scenes and more with wild deliberation and intuitively on, above and next to each other. The artist makes it over the top by adding rhinestones, coloured adhesive strips as well as hearts and slogans scribbled with a felt-tip pen. The result is a diary or graffiti, deconstructing social taboos, commodity fetishism, sexual violence and oppression, utopian ideals and ethnic paradigms.

 

Zohar Fraiman creates moods and emotional states in her figurative, sometimes abstract paintings, which show dream-like, absurd and mysterious scenarios. Contrasts and contradictions, complex emotional worlds – the ambiguous is paramount here. Imagination or reality, American dream or harsh day-to-day-life, digital versus real world – the boundaries are blurred. The paintings hint at ideals and expectations, expectations the society has regarding female identity and the role of women. Influenced by the Internet, social media, cartoons and the intense colours of modern pop culture, Fraiman transfers this colourfulness also to her paintings – with the aim to create a glow that radiates toward the outside world or evokes the before mentioned moods. Zohar Fraiman plays with the aesthetics of advertising of the 50s, 60s and 70s, also by means of the colours, borrows from cartoon series / figures, record covers, myths or cult films. ‘HB’ for example, shows a kind of huge mouth with scary teeth – the gate to hell or a kind of ‘vagina dentata’ (the myth so called by Freud) or do the women flee to paradise from their own nightmare (to the palms and dolphins)? Here, there is plenty of scope for one’s own interpretations. We find a similar dream-like atmosphere in ‘Muffin Palace’, based on the cartoon ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, where you could also identify research instruments. Are they investigating the mystery of female sexuality, as the woman touches herself (also alluding to ‘OMG Yes’ an app on the science on the sexual pleasure of women)? And the big muffin in the middle of the picture? It also stands for the female genital in English slang … The fate of the female sheroes or anti-sheroes in her paintings ultimately remains open – can they make their dreams come true, do they break free from social norms or do they even change society? Aladdin’s Jasmin doesn’t seem very happy in the oh so cheerful ladies’ circle in the painting ‘I Just Called to Say’, but in the case of Snow White in ‘Time to Say Good-Bye’ she seems determined to take control of her own life. Up and away she drives in a bright red Pontiac – away from Hollywood, her old life, who knows. These are all questions that the artist asks and that we should or could answer ourselves.

 

Bianca Kennedy gives voice to lifeless things or to those who do not speak. The topics are varied, Bianca Kennedy is open to everything, not limited to specific issues. The topics flow to her and with an idea in mind usually an image follows of how to implement it. It is important to her to see things from a different point of view, to slip into the minds of others – this can be an animal, but also a plant or even a foetus. Evolution topics, the intelligence of plants, food, our living space, find on the ground might suggest, who their place in her work, but also human abysses or ‘body horror’. Sculptures, plasticine figures, drawings come to life in her stop- motion films or cartoons. In her stop-motion video ‘Limbo Weeks’ she stages the bronze sculptures of Fabian Vogler sometimes as a bathing pregnant woman, sometimes as fantastic creatures that dance in the uterus ballroom and turn nature’s wheel of fortune. It is within the first seven weeks of pregnancy that the biological sex of the unborn child is being determined, which remains, as Bianca Kennedy’s film shows, a game of hormones and coincidence. The artist illustrates the arbitrariness of life and biological gender determination in a funny and unusual way. And incidentally she manages to touch upon a difficult topic such as intersexuality. Perhaps her works are so unusual, playful or detailed, because they are not restricted by a certain attitude or style, but rather implement ideas in an unbiased manner. By evoking childhood associations and playfully presenting her topics, she creates empathy and inhibitions for the viewer are removed. At the same time, the playfulness is combined with black humour and sometimes disturbing images. The bathtub, which appears in ‘Limbo Weeks’ and which could be associated with myths that the temperature of the water determines the sex of the child, is placed in a different form, in reality in the exhibition space and opens up an immersive bathing experience for visitors, in which they can immerse with the help of virtual reality glasses. ‘VR all in this together’ allows us to become a voyeur and watch others taking a bath.

08
.09.–21.10.2017

Die Bösen dürfen nicht weinen

Galerie Russi Klenner, Berlin

Text by Thibaut de Ruyter

Exploring the relationship between humans and animals leads us on a path that goes back to the beginning of mankind. In 1974, Joseph Beuys spent a few days living with a coyote in a New York art gallery. Earlier in the first half of the twentieth century, Balthus painted the happy lives of young girls with their cats. Further back comes the epoch of fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood from Charles Perrault and beyond that the devils and chimeras ornamenting Gothic cathedrals. Travelling back even further in time takes us to Greek mythology in which we meet with Centaurs and to the Egyptians who associated dogs with gods. Our journey finishes in the dark caves daubed in prehistoric paintings. In short, our connection to animals has been an endless source of inspiration for artists: it is present in religion, literature, society and even our dreams.

 

The painter Zohar Fraiman (born 1987 in Jerusalem) has, since 2012, been examining the interrelation between humans in combination with figures of devils and, more recently, wild animals. In her most recent paintings, wolves co-inhabit the world of young women almost happily. Sometimes, the wolves and women merge to create hybrid figures. If one searches for a clear common thread connecting the paintings thereby creating a fairytale, one will only be mislead. The story is fragmented, from one canvas to the next, without any linear order. One can of course try to build up one’s own narrative but Zohar Fraiman’s paintings are more than a simple illustration to an untold story.

 

Instead we are left, as in a play, with scenes involving different actors that will, from one tableau to the next, live out their lives and their relationships. The principle of theatre echoes within Zohar Fraiman’s world. Many of her paintings are composed with mountain landscapes that resemble a backdrop, whilst figures stand on the proscenium waiting to give their final bow. One must only look in Koo Loo Loosh (2017) at the four men who stand contemplating a stage in the distance where indistinct characters move whilst bananas float into the sky, to understand that all what we see in those paintings is a mise-en-scène.

 

In all the paintings from the exhibition Die Bösen dürfen nicht weinen [The bad ones may not cry] the border between humans and animals is blurred and the roles are constantly shifting. Women are victims and suddenly take power; wolves guard their territory together but also decide to eat each other; brides appear without telling us if they are willing to marry and, sometimes, it’s even fun to play guitar. It’s a game of domination and submission where — from one painting to the next — characters change their social and sexual roles. Indeed it is this constant role change that impedes any symbolic interpretation in Zohar Fraiman’s work. What is left is a world that more or less resembles our everyday where the enemy from yesterday is the hero of tomorrow, where good intentions create failures and strange stories depict a damaged reality.

22
.04.–30.07.2017

entfesselt! Malerinnen der Gegenwart

Schloss Achberg, Ravensburg

Text by Martin Oswald

Zohar Fraiman schöpft in ihren verschlüsselten Allegorien zwischen Naturschauspiel, Pornografie und Verklärung aus einem ikonografisch breiten Fundus. Dieser umfasst Anleihen aus der religiösen Symbolik, kunsthistorische Motive, filmische Sequenzen und Figuren bis hin zur Psychologie und Alchemie C.G. Jungs. Scheinbare Gegensätze verschmelzen dabei zu einem neuen Ganzen, das Brücken schlägt zwischen der eigenen Lebenswelt und einem erahnten Anderen. Es sind kalkulierte Bildrätsel nicht ohne Provokation und ironische Brüche.

 

Das querformatige Bild Kissing at the Golden Gate aus dem Jahr 2016 ist voller solcher Anspielungen. Der auf einer blauen Eisfläche über einer Frau im roten Kapuzenkleid lehnende graue Fuchs scheint für diese nur auf den ersten Blick eine Bedrohung. Beide liebkosen sich. Hinter deren Köpfen lassen sich zwei hellblaue Kreisscheiben erkennen. Die Ähnlichkeit mit dem Heiligenschein in der christlichen Kunst ist nicht zufällig. Tatsächlich ist das Motiv der Begegnung Joachims und Annas an der Goldenen Pforte aus dem Freskenzyklus von Giotto di Bondone in der Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua (um 1304-1306) entlehnt. Die Szene, in der sich Anna und Joachim vor der Goldenen Pforte, daher der Titel, in ähnlicher Haltung küssen, ist in Fraimans Fassung horizontal gedreht. Das Bild ist allerdings mehr als eine Referenz an den Künstler Giotto, der die Malerei durch eine neue szenische Einheit von Zeit und Raum revolutionierte. Die Künstlerin ersetzt die Figur des Joachim durch ein wildes Tier, die liegende Frau ist wie von einem bösen Geist umklammert. Im jüdischen Volksglauben ist dies der teuflische Totengeist des Dybbuk. Zohar Fraiman zeigt die Frau also als eine im wahrsten Sinn Besessene. Womöglich aber ist für sie der Wahn nur eine Form des Nonkonformismus, ein Weg zur Freiheit, soll die Besessene doch einen Mann ehelichen, den sie nicht liebt. Der Stoff ist mehrfach verfilmt worden, jüngst durch Marcin Wronas Dibbuk – Eine Hochzeit in Polen (2015). Von Einfluss auf Zohar Fraiman war zudem der 1981 in Berlin gedrehte deutsch-französische Psychothriller Possession von Andrzej Żuławski. Das Setting auf der Eisfläche ist wiederum der szenischen Kulisse von Christoph Schlingensiefs Egomania – Insel ohne Hoffnung (1986) entlehnt. In diesem auf einer norddeutschen Hallig gedrehten Film begegnen wir einer Frau in rotem Kleid vor einer unendlich weiten, trostlosen Eisfläche, die wiederum an das Gemälde Eismeer /Gescheiterte Hoffnung des Romantikers Caspar David Friedrich erinnert. Zohar Fraiman bedient sich somit eines nur auf den ersten Blick chaotisch wirkenden Zitatenschatzes, der an unser kulturelles Gedächtnis appelliert. Vielleicht erinnert sie aber auch nur an den letzten Besuch im Golden Gate, einem besonders beliebten Berliner Club, in dem sich, halluzinogen aufgeladen, ganz profan all jene Dramen abspielen, die seit je den Stoff für Mythen und Legenden liefern.

0
6.12.2014–14.01.2015

Infold Enfold Unfold

Dorothea Konwiarz Stiftung, Berlin

Text by Michael B. Ron

What does one who looks through a screen see? While one is covered, what can others, who are looking, see? The figures Zohar Fraiman (b. 1987 in Jerusalem) paints are covered under a white cloth. Underneath they hide unseen, unseeing. And the closer one looks, the less one sees too. Could those figures see us behind their white screens? Is there anyone under those screens at all?

 

Front or back, in or out – Fraiman keeps it dubious. She paints figures on wooden doors that open up to an altar triptych. In her Talal/ טלל* series of self built boxes, a number of fragile and intimate objects engage the viewer to follow a trail of images and incidents from one box to another. The outside of each box appears to be raw and blank, yet inside each work is an image that aims to fulfill the viewers curiosity after opening the box. The images inside each box are trapped unless revealed by the viewer, reflecting a trapped possessive spirit hidden within another body.

 

Those covered figures unfold to more. In the altar piece Tallit *(2014), three figures on the front unfold to a triptych presenting a great crowd in white, resembling waves carrying sea foam while breaking on shore. They seem to bend back and forth together according to a single tune, in a frozen eternal movement. We may animate them and bring them closer together while closing back the doors of the triptych. Then the all-over landscape painting infolds into three figures, as in an inversion of German romanticism, infolding the sea into the lonesome monk. This act is repeated in Untitled (Don’t See Us) (2014), even more abstractly. Don’t See Us calls to the song written by hip-hop band The Roots. Giving another painting of a covered crowd its title from The Roots, Float like Hovercrafts/Sting like Vaccinations (2014) shows the connection Fraiman makes between lyrics from these songs to the paintings content.

 

These enigmatic figures being portrayed by Fraiman seem genderless, as if the white fabrics infold sexuality. In the Jewish orthodox synagogue only men pray covered with a tallit, separate from women. But in Portrait of Grandmother Bugmann on her Wedding Day (2014) it is a woman who is covered from head to toe with a white fabric. Covered grandmother Bugmann reminds us of the bogeyman, she looks like that featureless ghost, yet she seems more vulnerable than frightening. Que viene el Coco (2014), hints at another painting, in which we finally face the bogeymen with several figures who unveil their faces. The faces, emerging behind the tallit through a vaginal fold, are red and demonic. And yet, after looking at Grandmother Bugmann covered up and demons exposing their faces, we stumble upon a pure white bride and a demonic red devil enfold into each other’s arms in Kiss (Avoiding Kiddushin Series) (2014). Is such a kiss enfolded under the white screen in Enfolded Kiss (2014)?

 

Fraiman engages the curious viewer with looking without seeing, whether she unfolds the unseen openly all over the canvas, or infolds it intimately into boxes suggesting secrets. The viewer looks, but doesn’t see. Seeing is restricted, out of bounds. Religiously, one mustn’t see the sacred. Morally, one shouldn’t look at the demonic. But under a cover of white purity a bogeyman may hide, and a demon shining in red may expose us to a moment of eery romance.