the unconventional curator

a chat with tape modern’s amir fattal


Artist Amir Fattal embodies the best of contemporary Berlin. Fattal is a young Israeli conceptual artist whose work eloquently explores the relationship between Berlin’s painful history and the universal existential concerns of the individual. As one of the creative minds behind the increasingly popular exhibit series Tape Modern, Fattal is also an integral and warm part of Berlin’s defining flash-vernissage. Here, we discuss the intricacies of Berlin’s social and intellectual depths.

Der Künstler Amir Fattal gehört zum Besten, was Berlin’s zeitgenössische Kunst zu bieten hat. Fattal ist ein junger israelischer Konzeptkünstler, dessen Arbeiten eloquent Berlins schmerzvolle Vergangenheit in Beziehung zu individuellen, existenziellen Angelegenheiten setzt und erkundet. Als einer der Köpfe hinter Tape Modern ist Fattal auch integraler Bestandteil und Förderer von kurzfristigen Ausstellungen, die etwa nur für einen Abend existieren. Hier reden wir über die Komplexität von Berlins sozialen und intellektuellen Tiefen.

Ana Finel Honigman: You’ve said before that you recognize a unique Berlin aesthetic. What is it? Is it a grunginess or lack of cynicism?

Amir Fattal: The grunginess relates to material. It’s a certain kind of material that relates to culture and subculture. Technology in general is another main tendency that I have seen over the past ten years. This obviously relates to issues of East/ West, but also an interest in different decades. Berlin has always had an ‘80s aesthetic. The residue of what has happened in the city for the past thirty years has a lot to do with the development of left groups. Berlin was the centre of all this radical thought before the Wall, and that remains in the aesthetic. Berlin rejects glossy and refined aesthetics. The look reflects the life of the people.

AFH: Would you catagorise it as a magpie aesthetic? Is it about a heightened and profound sensitivity to not wasting or squandering material?

AF: That is one side of it. But the other aspect is the internationalism. The art world here is becoming increasingly international. People bring their own aesthetic from their own contexts of the culture and subculture from their country of origin. There is a lot of influence from the East particularly. And people are very aware of combining cultures.

AFH: Do you see a self-conscious diaspora awareness being part of Berlin’s own identity now?—Berlin as the new “melting pot”?

AF: It is a continuation of the East Village, in many ways. A lot of the people who were active in New York in the ‘80s seem to be reviving that energy here. I can’t say that it’s anything new. But it is very concentrated here now.

AFH: Do you think these analogies are helpful or harmful for the scene? We all know that Berlin is like Paris in the ‘50s, New York in the ‘80s and London in the ‘90s. But what does that mean for us? Do you feel that it creates a sense of premature nostalgia and pressure?

AF: We’re all aware that it doesn’t last too long. But I have been here for ten years and the main things that make this a cultural Mecca haven’t changed. Artists can have lives and studios here. They have a lot of opportunities to show here. They can have a side job and still support themselves. This is the most critical element. They can have nice lives here.

AFH: You were just appointed to a new job that really will help artists here with having nice lives.

AF: Yes, I will soon start as the director of the Fine Arts Project at the Funkhaus Berlin. It is a legendary 1950s building complex on the greenbelt eastern bank of the Spree. It was the broadcasting centre of the GDR until German reunification. Now it runs services for the music and film industry, such as recording studios, a theatre stage and film studios. It will start with ateliers and a real support system for eleven artists, which I’ll run.

AFH: In terms of the internationalism, is there anything particular to being Israeli here? You’ve spoken before about feeling like an object of fascination because you’re Israeli. How so?

AF: Oh, that thing.  I never thought about it before moving to Berlin. Moving here from New York was interesting because my generation of Israelis do not have the same fear and hatred of Germans as New York Jews. My generation is open and curious about Germany. But my Jewish acquaintances in New York could not understand why I wanted to move here. They were a lot more conservative.

AFH: Conservative or overly sensitive?

AF: I think they weren’t overly sensitive. They just weren’t curious. They had an opinion about Germany and they were just not interested in the reality. They just didn’t care enough. They were happy with the symbolism of Germany. Israelis are more obsessed with Germany but curious and open to interacting with the contemporary German society. There has been a boom of Israelis here over the last five years. Israelis heard about Berlin and wanted to come to participate in it. The fascination is mutual. Germans and Israelis have a healthy curiosity.

AFH: It seems that Germans have more of an emotionally invested interest.

AF: Israelis are certainly sexually objectified in Berlin but I think it is mutual.

AFH: On that level, sure.

AF: For me it was never interesting. I never thought about how I would feel on a sexual level as an Israeli. But it started to get on my nerves that people found me attractive because I am Israeli. Israeli means “Jew.” And a lot of my art was referencing that.

AFH: You’re in a show that I curated at the Grimmusem about intimacy. How does that work you’ve contributed relate to this theme?

AF: It was the first work that I did when I moved to Berlin. I shot it in various sex clubs in Berlin. It was also a response to the subject of the nude in journalism or war photography. Those images changed our relationship to the naked body. The big bang was obviously the images from the death camps in Germany. I wanted to discuss how these images affect every aspect of our relationship to our naked bodies. The sexual aspect is obviously there too.

AFH: Do you feel that analogy is over-exhausted in mass culture? Holocaust comparisons seem to be the fallback.

AF: That was only one layer for me. There are so many other aspects, including the sex appeal of death. There were elements of the S&M scene and HIV. We are influenced by so many different sources, culturally and intellectually, that I wanted to connect my experiences in Berlin with these influences. But then I moved away from the subject of sexuality towards an interest in death in Berlin, on a larger level. I started to work with different archives and estates. I was searching for structures and services within the city which deal with death. I was interested in the objects that relate to death.

AFH: Do you feel that Germany has a healthy relationship with memorialising and remembering?

AF: It is normal considering the past. I love the markers around the city. I don’t live here with a constant memory—I go about my life. But there is something really powerful about realising that someone walked through the door where you’re standing and went to a terrible end.

AFH: Integrating these elements into the city creates a culture of real maturity.

AF: Instead of a big memorial, having these subtle elements is really nice and important.

AFH: How has your role at Tape Modern relate to your work?

AF: I’m not sure there is a relationship. I saw the space and decided it was perfect. I had a need to work with other artists. I work in my studio all day. I wanted to make exhibitions that related together. There is always something interesting about bringing fourteen artists together and making something coherent.

AFH: How do you select whom you work with?

AF: I started with the people closest to me. But I felt that I had exhausted that and I decided that I didn’t want to be the sole curator. I invited other people and they opened it. I help with logistics but I am fascinated by what they do. People now know it and it has some stability. So many artists have shown there that it is

AFH: Are big known names important?

: For me it isn’t. Artists tend to not care. But curators want big names in the show. For me, it’s a hassle because the galleries tend to be really demanding for famous artists. There are enough galleries for famous artists. They get so much exposure. If Damien Hirst is showing across the street, then we don’t need to show him. We need to show people who need exposure because so many people come through that area. There are so many artists in Berlin and so many people who want to see what they do.

[Images: Amir Fattal, photographed at MK Gallery, by Maxime Ballesteros exclusively for sugarhigh]