Rami Ater "Beinayim" (Interim)
By Noa-Lea Cohen*
A civilian is called for reserve duty in the south. This is an authentic Israeli mundane story; what could possibly happen? Yet, out there, new things are summoned by the vacuum of mental distance and separation from his normal urban environment.
In a godforsaken army base in the southern desert, with a sensitive heart that is attuned to its surrounding and plenty of time to spare, some inspirational connections are born. Thus, in the camp's vehicle repair shop, artist, iron and welding machine meet, and the spark ignited then would never be smothered. This is the story of Rami Ater, a sculptor, photographer and poet whose banal encounter with the rough and raw metal several decades ago had turned out to be a momentous event, resulting in many series of sculptures, one of which is currently displayed in the Tel Aviv Opera House's foyer.
The fierce desert winds etch marks in Rami Ater's pieces representing the rich world behind them. Having traveled the length and the width of this country as a child, its vistas are forever imprinted in his mind; and the empty yet rich desert, , which has captivated the imagination of some of the greatest Israeli sculptors like Danny Karavan, Ezra Orion and Israel HaDanni, is carried in his heart.
Though seemingly abstract, devoid of name and symbolic form, these sculptures contain a secret. They demand dialogue, interpretation and reaction; they carry within them a story enrooted in the land and soaring into the unknown, keeping the viewer alert and aware.
Rami Ater's work is reminiscent of the work of Moshe Kastel, who created new language and style in the world of Israeli art. Aspiring to represent the land's primal roughness in his paintings, he mixed different materials, until he discovered the basalt rock; he then tapped into the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet to connect with the country's bare yet embracing primal vistas.
Similarly, Rami Ater has been working on a sign language, corresponding with his predecessors yet uniquely his own. With a rugged texture, which is the heart of his sculptures, the pieces of iron are connected together, creating scrolls and partitions that are dynamic and communicative. Not merely walls or barriers, these sculptures strive to create a present, local and universal language of grooves, bulges, dents, spirals, snakes and stamps.
Rami Ater's paintbrush is the fire-spitting blowtorch under which the metal surrenders. A physical fire reacting with the artist's fire of life, reaching down to the material, inspiring a long philosophical contemplation. Finding the blowtorch that will provide the ultimate answer is a long journey, along which the images in his mind's eyes are downloaded onto the solid matter. That journey has taken the artist from the US to China, only to realize that the answer can only be found in Israel.
Even with veins of brass and gold, the sculptures do not surrender to the metal's shining and alluring beauty. We first see the texture so virtuously etched by fire in an attempt to melt away the material's harshness and cold tyranny. Simulating physical and metaphorical corrosion eating away at the sculptures, this special texture is influenced by the corrosion in some of Dali, whose work Rami had been following to the remotest museums for years. Like Dali, he scrapes at the metal in a personal interpretation of death eating away at human flesh. Like Dali's ants, consuming the clock to show that time cannot be "re-winded", Ater's welding machine is "eating away" at the live iron to catch the moment that has already passed the morbidity of time.
Fundamental to Ater's work and his latest series are two themes.
One is movement, in a dialogue with Escher's enigmatic kinetic concept.
Much like the Möbius Band of a sisyphic circular back-and-forth movement, Ater twists the metal, following the elusive and deceiving memory, which is the theme of the next series, worked on by the iron artist Rami Rudich, a mentor, a colleague and a friend.
Another theme is the constant play between existent and non-existent, matter and spirit. As Henry Moor said, "to know one thing you must know the opposite." While taming the matter to suit his vision, Ater also looks into the places where the matter is not, and the relations formed there. Peeling amorphous shapes from the smooth iron slabs, he is creating the basis from which the actual sculpture will rise. In his Pillars Series, we see pillars that are more spiral ladders starting on the ground knowing that there is a sky. The sculpture's yearning to leap from its base and stand on its own is very apparent. These pillars are like peels, dunes, wraps creating a presence that envelopes the real thing, which is non-existent yet is right there, at the heart of the shape.
Rami Ater's corpus of sculpture peel away the physical reality from the mechanic power of the material he has chosen to work with. It is looking with wonder at what is left behind the great ideologies; what is left for the individual in his own existential reality.
* Noa-Lea Cohen is a curator and a lecturer on art