Nobel Prize in Medicine
Ariela Böhm extraordinary temperaments inherited from her parents, both scientific and artistic.
Scientific and artistic activity are among the most remarkable achievements characterizing that formidable network of systems and neuronal neo-cortical circuits typical to the Homo sapiens brain.
Scientific expression can manifest itself from the very beginning, as perfect as Minerva in the act of emerging from Jupiter's brain, or reveal in its incompletion the extensive labor of the creative act.
An essential difference between scientific and artistic creations is that the latter are the result of the creative activity of a single individual. Scientific activity, on the other hand, while arising from the happy intuition of a single individual, immediately becomes a collective work expands as studies bring about further knowledge on the subject.
Ariela Böhm's creative activity is inspired by the history of human thought.
The work "All'alba della scrittura" ("At the Dawn of Writing") calls to mind the biblical tablets. Through the engraved signs, the artist speaks a coded language that the observer must decipher.
The meaning of the work "Riflessioni sulla convivenza" ("Reflections on Co-Habitation") is different, offering an interpretation of the origins of human activity from its archaic appearance, to the complex interaction of the current events of the third millennium.
This beautiful piece, made from the daring union of diverse elements (wood and terracotta) in harmonic contrast, symbolically represents the intertwining of mental activities, such as scientific and artistic creativity.
Ariela herself, artist and scientist, lucidly explains on the pages of this catalog, the reason why she chose such a subject, both simple and complex: “the shape of water, water that shapes”.
Indeed, one should not forget that this brave and determined woman, now fully devoted to art, has been a high flying biologist in the past. Only apparently did she give up her scientific research, her struggle got actually transfused into her investigating approach to the world of her new artistic experience.
Such an approach is apparent in her slow, meticulous and thoughtful observation of the water, epitome of movement and fascination, as well as in her skills in testing, challenging and dominating unusual materials, in adapting them to her artistic needs, aiming at recreating the varied and multifaceted sea-environment, as if itself were a pre-artistic substance in need of moulding.
Ariela Böhm signs (seals) her works with a deep respect for the laws ruling over her chosen material.
Her material of choice is ceramics, treated according to the old Raku technique, whereby she emphasizes its interior legitimacy, its meaningful shapes, its visual values, its sometimes parched and barren, sometimes shining surfaces, the choice of its textures, its iridescent brightness. She transforms it into a flat meandering of waters and land – of alternating fullness and emptiness – of shoals and lagoons, into the winding trail of a river flowing to the sea, into the infinite detours and crossings along a river’s course, that fragment the surface into the ancestral symbiosis between water and land.
She converts it into stalactites and stalagmites forming the shape of a sand-glass, she fits it around the circular forms of a wave, or a whirlwind, or along the rugged yet geometrical figures of white ice crystals, or around the spherical shapes of pebbles surfacing from the river bed.
She softly manipulates lead, grim and uniform, turning it into a restless matter, woven with glares and darting light reflections, transforming it into a vast leaden though vibrant sky, scattered with hypnotic snow-crystals, or into an expanse of water whose flow files and moulds pebbles.
She employs stucco, aluminum, and acrylic colors on canvas, in order to rend the indented and magmatic expanse of bluish glittering glaciers as seen from far away, far above.
She scratches silicon, after spreading it on flat dark surfaces that seem to hint at a purple sea. She spreads it in long sinuous shapes recreating the incantation of her own emotions, of her watching slowly, of her scanning the huge foaming waves, that break and withdraw to gather their strength, that spread and overlap, foaming and hoary.
She uses the transparency and lightness of a secret concoction of resin, as per the ancient tradition of craftshops, and lays it onto “the internal surface of the glass slab”, giving way to a “delicate and immaterial projections of shadow and light”, so a to transform a silent “neuronal structure” into the vibrant geometric shape of a cobweb, itself hinting to the lightness of dew.
She makes use of photographic techniques to put us in front of the skeleton of a boat on the shore, worn by the continuous lapping of the sea, coming to rest on the sand, or to make us feel the impalpable evanescence of steam.
Most of all, she captures our attention so as to make us part of her own emotions and allowing us, in watching her art, to give her work completion.
Scientist and writer
Pindar and others wrote famous and obvious comments about water: a substance that seems simple. Everybody knows its formula to be H2O and that on this earth there’s no life without water. Many know the laws that rule its pressure, flow, speed. Richard Feynman once wrote:
“The subject of the flow of fluids, and particularly of water, fascinates everybody. We can all remember as children, playing in the bathtub or in mud puddles with the strange stuff. As we get older, we watch streams, waterfalls and whirlpools and we are fascinated by this substance which seems almost alive relative to solids. …We have tried to dam the water up – in our understanding – by getting the laws and the equations that describe the flow, but in an unique way water has broken through the dam and escaped our attempts to understand it.”
Feynman goes on describing how dry water (disregarding viscosity) and wet water behave, the latter not devoid of viscosity and keeping a molecular layer perfectly still attached to the surfaces of solids on which it runs, sometimes at high speeds. If water flows in laminar flows it loses little energy. It loses a lot, in case of turbulent flow: sometimes it may seem chaotic, instead it follows regular patterns, complex intricate and repetitive.
A French researcher insisted that water had memory. Apparently he cheated in his experiments but some scientists believe they were correct.
We have no direct experience of the state water is in at high depths in the ocean. Because of the pressure it can reach temperatures well beyond 100°C without boiling and it is home to a large number of bacteria and odd fauna, which is, maybe, where life began without chlorophyll synthesis involvement.
Not many of us have professional use for world descriptions, be they scientific or qualitative. They fulfill the cultural desires of many. In everybody’s mind they evoke concepts, ideas, bursts of consciousness, impressions, emotions, which in turn may trigger projects, feelings, impulses that make us think, make us evolve.
Such penetrating signals also come to us from other sources. They come from natural structures or processes, though many among us look at them without understanding them – as if they were mere patches of colour. They also come to us interpreted by artists. This is when things get more complex and more interesting. We are then looking at nature, intermediated by a mind that transforms raw material, coding it in words, images, or sounds.
Ariela uses images of water, still, flowing or frozen. She tells no tale, nor does she formulate theories. She presents the final result of shapes and colours that impressed her mind. Her works are panoramas or mental landscapes. You cannot speak of them as a whole, you can only report impressions case by case.
The large swollen ocean waves, their crest about to break, raises in me a sequence that it’s no use reporting in grammar sentences:
“there’s no surfer on it, but maybe nobody would be able to slide on a wave like this one: Ariela didn’t calculate it because she felt it in her hands, as if she had created it, and Bloombergen, the physicist, who studies electromagnetic and light waves, perhaps could formulate its equations just looking at it, whilst a normal person would not think of the equation or the shape’s harmony but would only summon, even without wanting to, the noise it produces and the roar that will hear he who sees it breaking on the shore, and whatever this thing is made of only another artist can devise, or maybe an expert in materials, and maybe it is completely irrelevant.”
Ganges Delta is a labyrinth of channels and little matters that it is the real thing because the image is derived from a satellite image. The reaction is induced by colours (doesn’t matter whether false or true) and by her choice of structure, one that raises in me thoughts of networks, connections, nodes and the branches uniting them. Again my spontaneous reaction is thinking of the statistical and formal structures of that network. Then I think of the artist, Ariela, producing messages that are not univocal because they will cause very different reactions to different people. And I think about classifying the people watching these images. Some may understand Ariela’s fluids and crystals as ornaments. Some as stimuli to perceive nature differently. Others as messages written in a code that cannot be expressed in words – generated by feelings, translated into shapes and colours that aim (only?) at producing more feelings.
Among those even the feelings that struck hidden chords in me – who am a mechanic and blacksmith of pragmatic and alien words.
Linguist and Philologist
Among Ariela Böhm's work, I favor the pieces in which the use of new materials and innovative techniques tends towards the recovery and re-proposal of expressive forms of initial, inventive moments of the history of mankind.
The artist has metaphorically defined the pages of earth, fire and light, dedicating them to the genesis of writing.
Their material base is made up of Raku technique terracottas that, with the scintillated luminosity of fragments emerging from a remote past, offer them up as fundamental elements, in serial obsession, of a singular human event, sub-species scripturae.
It is precisely this "archaic-ness," artificially induced in these ceramic works, that seems to construct the necessary mediator between writings and structures.
The ceramic technique adopted by Ariela is an ancient art, imported from China and Korea, which became established in Japan between 1570 and 1590 in the creations by the celebrated Raku dynasty.
The thirteenth Raku master died in 1945, but the art of terracotta that bears the name has nevertheless reached us.
Today, it is preferred by artists who, like Ariela, recognize themselves in the imperfection of materials deformed during their extremely high temperature firing process, capable of conferring to the last result the unexpectedness of an "excess" that has cracked and contorted every surface, such as after an extreme drought or a disruptive event.
On these tortured surfaces, which come out of the kiln in unexpected forms - furrowed with engravings, very Tuscan crevices of arid lands, blackened at the curled edges, like after an atomic explosion - the writing appears to be in relief.
They are not therefore engraved, in negative, like Mosaic Law tablets, but in positive, precisely like seals.
They nevertheless preserve a certain dawn-like clarity that affirms the eternity of writing in respect to its perishable and contingent foundations.
That Ariela Böhm's exercises are not intended to be merely simple, decorative ornamentation has been demonstrated also by the fact that, among the examples she has chosen, besides the various proposals of Linear B, there appear examples of Assyrian cuneiform writing, as well as Syrian, Palmyrene and Aramaic writing, coming from the same or adjacent regions of that Hebrew world that is one of the poles of this sculptress' human and artistic creations.
Ariela Böhm's pages must be seen together, all together.
The curled one (subjected to which fire?) and the curved on (due to the humidity of which vault it was hidden in?); the one with holes and the one almost rolled up by a careless hand.
Traces of history and therefore threadbare, dark, but illuminated by the residual shreds of a lost splendor (the enduring glaze); traces of ancient veneration because they embodied the toil and greatness of mankind in its need to "create" the past, rendering it infinitely re-travelable with the advent of writing.
Seeing them all together, however, evokes a certain sense of unease, as if one of the details weren't quite right, something that is identifiable only from a precise perspective, something connected to their creation.
The letters are in relief. But when one carves into a plate, one does just that: carves.
It is impossible to find a well-formed, perfect letter. On an inked copy, the letters are not in relief.
It is as if the scrap, the poetry, finds its significance precisely in this.
The choice of making it the other way around, in relief, gives the strong sensation of truly finding oneself in front of the original archetype. Writing carved into stone is carved, like in Moses' tablets, and it is hard, like the tools require; the soft word is the word written by brush, as in the Arabic, Chinese or Japanese alphabet.
On Ariela's stone, the word is miraculously soft, almost as if it were living, biological material. And even this is disturbing.
As if the artist rediscovers the organic meaning of things in the moment she transforms them into words, names them; she thereby recreates them, she becomes their author for the first time.
What we behold is a truly magical operation, and perhaps this is why it succeeds in being so intense and integrated with the intellect; because the dawns of civilization are the dawns of mankind and of us all.
And for each one of us are all the more intimate when we preserve the memory and will to feel ourselves part of the human community. These works together contain great hope and great vision.
Bringing us back to our own foundations, they seem to say that a foundation is once again possible, that hope is not lost, and that within humanity there truly lie the seeds of the divine.