For a long time,” says Oreet Ashery, “I was motivated by utter rage.” The winner of the 2017 Derek Jarman award is remembering growing up in Jerusalem, where she was born in 1966. “I had rage about everything,” she recalls, “and got involved in activism.” It’s a spirit that lives on in her art which, as well as film-making, spans photography, performance, workshop, text and music.
We are speaking shortly before her Jarman win is made public. Ashery has just staged, in the run-up to the announcement, a short fragment of her ongoing project NoNothing Salons in the Dark, a series of collaborative storytelling works, at the Whitechapel gallery, London. The fragment contained stories of Syrian refugees and the people trying to help them, recorded in a darkened room in Thessaloniki, Greece, earlier this year. “I was interested in how people work together,” she explains, “telling stories in a darkened room. Even if no one speaks, that is a story, too.”
In her 12-part, web-based video series Revisiting Genesis, we meet an artist with cystic fibrosis and a painter who has had cancer, as well as carers, friends and curators. Ashery herself is an absent presence. Like a lot of people born in the 60s, she began to feel a level of disillusionment with political struggle and asked herself what alternatives there might be, what fights to turn to.
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