The ashes we leave behind by Ariela Wertheimer
A multidisciplinary artist born and based in Israel, Ariela Wertheimer has been drawing and photographing for the past 30 years. In her work, she interprets life processes, fleeting thoughts and vulnerabilities; seeking to mediate her weaknesses, difficulties, hesitations, struggles, and fears through the creative forms of photography, painting, video and ready-made.
HomeLandscape at Palazzo Mora | Photo credits: Federico Vespignani
Her personal life story and historical and cultural environment have been the source of inspiration for Ariela Wertheimer. Throughout the years, Ariela has translated neon lights of big cities into light boxes, graphically edited billboards transforming them into photography and digital prints, and converted the underside of boats into huge abstract and colourful paintings resembling aerial photographs and skin diseases.
At the beginning of her career, she focused on gender equality and social and gender-based constraints, which she expressed and learnt from until developing her most recent work. Today, Ariela explores stories that focus on cultural conflicts, traumas and pain, but also stories of triumph and empowerment. These works and tales are transformed and grow in cultural and political meaning, like in the exhibition HomeLandscape, an installation now on display in Venice, Italy, for the exhibition Personal Structures - Reflections.
HomeLandscape connects landscape to the body, the physical to the spiritual, wistfulness and memories to reality. This is a follow-up exhibition to Skin, which the artist showed at Palazzo Mora for the 2019 European Cultural Centre art exhibition, focusing on the connections between inside and outside, between mental trauma and the sheath of the enclosing body.
Photo credits: Federico Vespignani
As with Skin, the starting point for HomeLandscape is biographical. Once again, it encompasses all feelings, both joy and pain, that surrounded the making of this exhibition which in this case is about the medical treatment of Eitan, her partner. Ariela documented this difficult process and made the central motif of the installation. She printed brain scans, enlarged them and converted them into mind maps for people to walk through memory lanes. She peeled and sanded pieces of information to put in test tubes for safekeeping. And she collected face masks that represent the identity and memories of all of those who wore them, concealing them under a netting sheet to create a desert vista. HomeLandscape presents the trauma and navigates through it, revealing the different stages of loss and grief, as well as reflecting on the courage and care that took to be able to deal with it.
The installation on the gallery’s floor in Palazzo Mora is site-specific and has been installed as a performance, which has been documented for the purpose of the show as well. The video work shows the lengthy physical process of laying down the masks and arranging them. All of these masks have different sizes, designed to fit the unique and distinct faces of dozens of men, women, and children. While each mask is prepared for a specific recipient, it is also part of an amorphous mass, buried under camouflage netting.
The covering was created by the physical action of dipping the netting in paint and dragging it over the scattered masks. The masks, however, not only enter into dialogue with the net but also with the walls that encompass it. The materiality of the masks resonates with the surface of the photographs on the walls, which Wertheimer sanded to expose the marks and evidence of an ancient layer. Moreover, the grains of coloured matter accumulated in the act of sanding were collected in test tubes, a testimony to the layer of dead skin a moment before its regeneration.
Ariela Wertheimer is an artist that fills the objective with emotion, making subjectivity an essential part of her creations. As a result, the artist presents a physical installation with emotional storytelling hidden within: each piece of the exhibition, each photographic scan, each grain of sand and each mask is a piece of the process, a little bit of her partner, a memory to be held onto forever, with no beginning nor end, forever. They are the ashes we leave behind.