Black is for secrets

As Suzanne Vega sang in I never wear white in 2014 „Black is for secrets / Outlaws and dancers / For the poet of the dark“

In her new series of large-format paintings, Nicola Rubinstein takes up the rebellious theme of that song and celebrates a festival of colours in them. The starting point is the colour black. On the other hand, there is no opposing white colour in her works: so then they become not a competition between the poles, but rather a celebration. Rubinstein rethinks and forms what we often define as opposites: it is only through the presence of black that the other colours can acquire an ecstatic vitality, start a dance in that draws us in, in swirling amazement. Suddenly we wonder how many sounds a black tone can have. Rarely has black been so colourful,"said one observer of Rubinstein's work. So then suddenly you ask yourself—what is black? In our everyday lives in the West, when it is dark, when we are in mourning, or even wearing a particular uniform, we become aware of completely different dimensions: darkness is a part of us, not a low point, but rather a way of pausing and thinking in a way that is the opposite of garish and superficial. That said, Rubinstein's work does not exclude the carefree, but still it compensates for anxiety. Being at the mercy of darkness not only teaches us fear, but at the same time also provides a feeling of security at some level, opens up a sanctuary for dreams, fairy tales and riddles... As Stanislaw Lew wrote in 1984 in “Thus spoke Golem” . "You don't know what happens to a star that sets behind the gravitational horizon, because physics only takes you to the edge of the abyss and stops there.“ All that is left behind is the imagination, our imagination - and where physics ends, that's where painting begins, where Black is for Secrets begins. At the same time a celebration of the materials - painting, collages from objets trouvés, drawing always form dynamic layers - the artist succeeds in creating a pictorial concentration that captures our gaze as it moves ever deeper. Almost intuitively Rubinstein builds cosmic spaces, rhythmical landscapes and figurations, anarchic and archaic situations. The abstraction that sustains it here is not a gesture of refusal, but rather a reference to many things, a step into the possible. Rubinstein gives the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the unrepresentable, the undefinable a presence that can be experienced by us through colour, form and their interaction. And our senses begin to dance, we begin to read in these images and to linger, dreamily, in the colourful shadow of the mysterious... Black is for Secrets - "It's the shade and the shadow / It's the depth into your eye". Anke Paula Böttcher

You are invisible now

Alms for nightingales

S H A R I N G She walks down the stairs to the subway. The accordion player stands in the tunnel illuminating the grey morning with his melody. She lingers. Smiles. Tosses a coin. The virtuosity was sent out into the streets… a round of applause or a smile? A salary or a penny? A smile or a penny? Any gift brings happiness – doubled. Then she meets the homeless newspaper vendor, and then the young man who asks for ten pence. She puts little coins in sad hands. Presently the Balkan buskers jump into the scene. They ignore the routine, the exasperated gazes of the Tagesspiegel-readers and the impassive young people with headphones. They break through the routine with their inner rhythm, without finding a home. A coin falls into a shabby paper cup. When she exits the tram, she meets the old man again, with plastic bag and flashlight in hand, searching the rubbish bins.

D R E A M I N G She dreams of inviting the man for coffee. She dreams of storming into department stores and taking all their merchandise so she can distribute them into all the rubbish bins in the city. She dreams of wearing “the star money” dress and to let them rain upon the earth as coins, until everyone has had enough of the fake gold and yearns for colourful raindrops to fall. Those stranded at the margins of society, never invited in and apparently possessing nothing, with nothing to lose. They don’t share a common past ; no lived life nor a life to be lived. Do they still have dreams? What do they dream of and in which language? Do we still dream of the possibility for change? C O U N T I N G According to the UN, 868 million people are currently suffering from starvation and malnutrition. At the same time, about third of the world’s food production for human consumption is discarded. This corresponds about to 1.3 billion tons of food that is produced annually as waste. The industrialised countries are leading the global wastage of food. In Germany, for example, every year more than 20 million tons of food, worth about 25 billion Euros, is thrown away. The amount of food that ends up in the trash in Europe and North America would be sufficient to feed all the hungry of the world. Poverty appears dignified, compared to the ugly face of wealth in its spiritual poverty. We are complaining constantly, without noticing our own poverty.

F A L L I N G Those purged by the company, cast out to the brink, skipped over the margins, those without an invitation apparently have nothing: nothing to lose. No even anything to be respected. You are invisible now has Nicola Rubinstein called her multimedia series. This series is dedicated to beggars. The title is a line from Bob Dylan’s 1965 song Like a Rolling Stone. Ostensibly he describes a narrative of decline as one of loss. If everything is thrown into question then nothing is without doubt not even his questioning. Even though the lyrics describe the decline and fall into destitution of a young woman, the injustice in the song reflects the predicament of those dispossessed by modern industrial society and elevates their plight in the form of a lyric monument. The proverb, that a rolling stone gathers no moss, is cast in contrast to the values of an unscrupulous business ethic, a call to loosen the stones, to mark a discourse between progress and stability, movement and restraint, social movement and resistance… When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose You‘re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal. (Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone)

P A Y I N G  B A C K The living stones on grey, dirty streets lie before magnificently lifeless concrete facades, the paths of our daily lives flanking the parade of our prosperity are waning, making us stumble! You are our shadows, our mirror, our debits and credits. We are all too willing to elide the reflections of our society on moral and aesthetic grounds. Rubinstein‘s recordings of the so-called beggars emerged from a respectful distance, which does not dispense with empathy. The photographs are mounted on discarded found materials, which serve a new purpose to give them meaning. So found useless wood or metal plates are suddenly granted the power of the enigmatic, the marginalized and discarded are retrieved to bring us thousand questions to the forefront of our consciousness. Rubinstein breaks through with You are invisible now into the hermetic circle of bourgeois morality and aesthetics and leaving behind the circuses of sentimentality and ignorance.

R E F L E C T I N G Praying and begging means, when viewed etymologically, asking (for something). The beggars are praying. The prayer pose of Rubinstein‘s protagonist expresses an immediate humility towards the gift of existence, life, of survival. The work does not prostrate itself on the ground in order to attract more bystanders. Lowered heads muffled up, free of shame can be seen as moments of being, or of compassion which has come to nothing. Does not all the nourishment and sustenance of the world mean anything more to us than these simple gestures? What does it tell us to be cold, covered in ivy, or surrounded by coloured tape. The ivy, the symbol of resistance and loyalty appears even in times of mental or social distress here as a negative cast. An indication of lack? Is the frame from tape a question Rubinstein‘s work lends to a sense of desperation to give them a visual grip at least? Here, on a cool metallic surface the sudden shadowy emergence. This is where the two sides of the coin are visible at once. Rubinstein applies the glances and brings them together. Even the slightest light, might conjoin the destinies. On both sides of a solid there is a blurred line which dissolves: Heads or Tails? The soil varies, we become aware of ourselves in others, because, after all, it could have been quite different.

CONNECT Something similar is possible in Rubinstein`s images and complementary video works. In the 2013 film “Bésame mucho” the establishment carry Christmas trees and good conscience in their homes while a woman stands in the December cold of the Berlin Mauerpark, tired with frost-bitten fingers to play her old violin, the melody of a distant summer, a distant homeland, a distant love to elicit. Bésame mucho - the former aria of the nightingale from the opera Goyescas by the Spanish composer Enrique Granados reworked new to music and libretto in 1941 by the Mexican composer Consuelo Velázque. Since then it has become one of the most played and most interpreted love songs in the world. A timeless melody to possess someone, compassing, the common element, jumps geographic and social barriers. You have to be very obtuse to pass this passionate performer without any emotion and reaction. You have to be in great distress to wish a penny from these frosty people. These disparate existences Rubinstein documented on her short film without comment. The struggle for survival and the immortality of a melody combine to express a hope that everything could be different. LOOK AND

LOOK AWAY Autumn 2014. The Kurfürstendamm is western Berlin‘s central shopping mile. Between the rich strollers appear like a foreign body, like a fairy-tale figure from One Thousand and One Nights floating begging monk over a carpet merchant. He disturbs the saturated scene, cutting a swath of indignation in the stream of those addicted to consumerism. Many look away, beat contemptuous arcs. Some laugh, dignifying the euphemistic phrase that „Necessity is the mother of invention“? Like “Bésame mucho”- this film marks a difference to the photographic works of Rubinstein. While the protagonist in the photographs remain silent Roma woman playing music and the Roma youth hidden under his robe deliver a performance. Is this to be street theatre in the tradition of the strugglers? Is there a difference between theatre of passion and profession and a theatre of distress? Or: is not hour-long kneeling on ground as well a performance, which truly shows the immediate situation of those desperate people? Whether play of roles, or violin or supplicate without a play: the performed poverty is outlawed, while the performed richness on our streets is admired. Again a coin is circling and shows us the true sides of a paltry silver dollar lost in the dust of time, as Marilyn Monroe sings in the film.

BACK, FORTH, TURNAROUND Poor but without fear or loss, denuded, but freely, we deal with this paradox in Dylan’s song as well as in Rubinstein‘s series. Still, does the artistic treatment of the problem offer us a solution? Rubinstein‘s series is not propaganda, not a reproach, not a euphemism. Instead it offers us a subtle awareness in the quiet coercion or the gentle offer to take on a different slant on the lack of perspective. Let us turn around in order to avert the worst. Rubinstein’s art of communication is about the art of sharing.

Anke Paula Böttcher, 2012/2014

Translation: Daniel Jonah Wolpert

A mask is not ostensibly what it depicts but what it transforms and therefore avoids depiction. Like a myth the mask conceals at least as much as it shows. Claude Levi-Strauss The portraits challenge us to take a stance within the contradictions they contain. Resting between the past and the present. There is a child-like appearance and the hidden pool of knowledge gained through adulthood. What do we really see? What is real, what is imagined and what is suggested?The contrast between the childlike faces and figures and the artificial masks creates images which amplify potential narratives. The children appear to be “in the know” about our world. They appear to be waiting while at the same time their gaze appears to be hiding a secret. The children´s faces are covered with masks which are replicas of historical masks from the 19th century. The photographs gain special appeal by contrasting the childlike youthfulness in the protagonist’s features with the insistent expression of the mask. Viewers might be absorbed into a world of severity, reflection and sorrow, enforced through the picture’s background. This background will be mostly landscapes and sometimes patterns upon the children’s clothes, integrated into the photographs through digital editing. Each detail is carefully considered and chosen according to the prevailing mood in the picture. The German title “Larven” (larvae) adds to the ambiguity as in the German language this is both an antiquated term for masks and for the developmental stage of an animal such as a butterfly. Having played an important social role in peoples’ lives until late in the 19th century, the culture and art of masking has completely disappeared. This may explain the mysterious, passively accusing air which surrounds the masked children’s faces and which, for the observer is fascinating as much as it is alienating. This evokes fear of the Unknown, the Concealed and the Inscrutable, the underlying threat which is tangible despite the intrinsic innocence of the situation. The portraits of children are enthralling but also disconnected from reality. It is difficult not to be absorbed by them. The masked children with their severe faces are sadly accusive, unrelentlessly questioning, disconnected as if they had already glimpsed the end of the world. In the photographs real children are transformed into picture protagonists in a space full of unspoken wishes, fears and dreams. Each portrait fathoms the psychology between myself and the child models and challenges the viewer: what do the protagonists betray about themselves? What can be interpreted from gestures and what from the clothes worn? What idea of man transcends from the pictures and what do the masks reveal about the models? The cover of an assumed identity such as a pseudonym is also an act of masking. This subject is fascinating as in today’s virtual world everyone can create a new (virtual) identity. Under these circumstances one could ask whether in this day and age a portrait can still be created or if the truth lies in the mask/alias?

Die Berliner Künstlerin Nicola Rubinstein hat schon vor einigen Jahren die Fotografie als künstlerisches Medium für sich entdeckt. Seitdem sind ihr eine Reihe von Aufsehen erregenden Arbeiten gelungen, von denen "Larven" eine der jüngsten Serien ist. Die Künstlerin fotografierte Kinder, deren Gesichter durch Masken - Repliken historischer Masken aus dem 19. Jahrhundert - halb verdeckt sind. Einen ganz besonderen Reiz erhalten die Fotos durch den Kontrast des kindlichen Gesichts mit der eindringlich blickenden Maske. Die Betrachter werden hineingesogen in eine Welt voller Ernst, Nachdenklichkeit und Trauer. Diese Atmosphäre wird durch den Hintergrund verstärkt. Meist sind es Landschaften, aber gelegentlich auch Muster der Kleidung der Kinder, die die Künstlerin digital bearbeitet ins Bild integriert hat. Jedes Detail ist wohl erwogen und auf die Grundstimmung hin ausgesucht. Auch der Titel "Larven" ist im Deutschen vieldeutig: "Larven" bezeichnet nicht nur Gesichtsmasken sondern auch ein eigenständiges Entwicklungsstadium eines Tieres, z. B. Schmetterlings. Die Kultur des Maskierens, die im Leben der Menschen bis zum Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts noch eine große gesellschaftliche Bedeutung hatte, ist in der europäischen Kultur unserer Zeit völlig verschwunden und vielleicht geht gerade deshalb von den maskierten Kindergesichtern diese geheimnisvolle, in ihrer Passivität anklagende Wirkung aus, die fasziniert und zugleich abstößt. Ängste vor dem Unbekannten, Undurchschaubaren, Verborgenen und trotz aller Unschuld Bedrohlichen werden wach. Die Fotografien von Nicola Rubinstein sind packend und der Wirklichkeit entrückt zugleich. Es ist schwer, sich der Wirkung zu entziehen. Die ernsten Gesichter der maskierten Kinder sind traurig anklagend, unerbittlich fragend, entrückt, als würden sie das Ende der Welt schon erblickt haben.

Barbara Barsch, Berlin


Nicola Rubinstein   LARVEN   

Diese Fotos von Kindern mit Masken geben dem Betrachter Rätsel auf. Eher ernst wirken ihre Gesichter bzw. das, was man von ihnen erkennen kann. Für den Betrachter ist es irritierend, wenn nicht verstörend, die Augen, die zu diesem Gesicht gehören, nicht zu sehen. Dadurch, dass sie hinter der Maske verborgen sind, wird die Bedeutung des Blicks für die Annäherung an die Individualität des Kindes noch verstärkt. Die Kinder, die die Künstlerin Nicola Rubinstein in ihrer Serie „Larven“ fotografierte, sind allesamt noch sehr jung, so jung, dass die Maske auch teilweise verbirgt, ob sich ein Mädchen oder ein Junge hinter ihr verbirgt. Aussagekräftiger ist da schon die Kleidung, manchmal auch die Art und Weise, wie das Kind seine Haare trägt. Geschlechtsspezifische Posen gibt es noch nicht. Der Körper ist leicht, die Schultern sind schmal, die Gesichter weich und irgendwie verletzlich. Man würde gerne erfahren, warum das eine Kind ausgerechnet diese Maske trägt und ein anderes Kind jene. Sich zu verkleiden oder zu maskieren ist für Kinder ein lehrreiches Vergnügen. Viele von ihnen schlüpfen gern in eine andere Haut, probieren sich im Spiel aus in wechselnden Rollen. Die Maske entfaltet in diesem Fall jedoch eine Wirkung, die sich unterscheidet von gewöhnlicher Verkleidung. Von ihrer Machart her hochgradig artifiziell, nehmen ihre starren Züge paradoxerweise dennoch den Ausdruck des sichtbaren Teils des Trägers an. Die Kombination einer fremden, eher erwachsenen Physiognomie mit dem kindlichen Gesicht lässt ein neues Mischwesen entstehen. Bei den Masken handelt es sich um Repliken historischer Vorlagen aus dem 19. Jahrhundert. Kulturgeschichtlich hatte die Maskerade damals – etwa im Rahmen von besonderen Festen – noch eine starke Bedeutung. Allerdings war das Tragen von Masken oder Larven eher eine Angelegenheit der Erwachsenen. Unter ihrem Schutz war es möglich, sich unerkannt unter seinesgleichen zu bewegen und anders als sonst zu verhalten. Unter dem Einfluss der Masken posieren auch die Kinder in diesen Bildern und probieren sich in neuen Rollen aus. In manchen Arbeiten der Serie fällt auf, dass sich das Muster des Kleidungsstücks im Hintergrund fortsetzt, so beispielsweise in dem Foto von Junko. In den analogen Bildern von 2005 hat die Künstlerin die Kinder in verschiedenen Landschaften fotografiert. Dadurch werden Anknüpfungspunkte an die klassische Portraittradition (Velazquez, Reynolds) oder die Romantik (Runge berühmtes Portrait von seinen Kindern im Garten) greifbar. Diese Fotografien werden innerlich gehalten durch Fragen aus der Sicht der Fotografin und des Betrachters, gerichtet jeweils an das Kind als Hauptmotiv. Durch die Inszenierung einer ambivalenten Bildrealität, die sich aus Anspielungen konfiguriert, erscheint die Situation im gewählten Ausschnitt konstruiert, ja artifiziell. Um die Larve als Leitmotiv dieser Serie auf symbolischer Ebene zu deuten, bieten sich als Assoziationsfeld für die Sinnbildlichkeit von Larven Momente des Übergangs und der Metamorphose an. Doch wird der Betrachter dieser Ansichten von Kindern mit seinen Fragen und Deutungsversuchen letztlich auf sich zurückgeworfen. Auch wenn alles nach Auflösung drängt und Entlarvung - diese Bilder verharren im Schwebezustand.

Almut Andreae  

[Translate to Englisch:] Filigran und Fundarbeit

[Translate to Englisch:] Bilder bewegen, dass heißt auch, das Material bewegen, aus dem diese Bilder sich zusammensetzen. Durch dieses Probieren, wie die Elemente zueinander passen, welche Wirkungen diese oder jene Konstellation aufeinander ausüben, wie sich eine Linie oder ein Flecken, eine Färbung oder ein zerraufter Umriss in dieser oder jener Umgebung verhalten, das alles erst schafft jene zweite Stufe in Bezug zur Wirklichkeit, die Kunst genannt wird. Nicola Rubinstein ist in diesem Sinne eine Bewegerin von Material. Wenn eingangs steht „Filigran und Fundarbeit“, dann bezeichnet das meines Erachtens zutreffend die beiden Spannungspole, in denen sich ihr Werk bewegt. Bei dem Material, welches sie verwendet, handelt es sich oft im ursprünglichen Sinne um Fundmaterial. Der suchende, aber nichts Bestimmtes ausspähende Blick ist das erste Stadium, in dem sie ihre Arbeiten schafft, also bevor sie ihr Atelier betritt. In diesem Entwicklungsprozess, welcher mikrosensible Räume hervorbringt, entstehen ihre Arbeiten...  Ebenso wie die Grafik spielen objets trouve in ihren anderen Ausdrucksmedien eine nicht weg zu denkende Rolle. Immer wieder sind es auch Textilien in ihrer Doppelbedeutung als Oberflächenstruktur und körperlicher Stofflichkeit, die sie verwendet...  

Stefan Raum