Simon Castets: In a recent text, you described your practice as a way to convey the sense of freedom you experienced while train hopping in California as a teenager, and also as articulated around the idea of “reverse engineering.”
Ariel Schlesinger: Yes, I am trying to re-live that time. We would always go on adventures and shared ideas on how to do “scams.” We were riding the bus for 50% off or for free, rolling dollar bills and making fake month cards. There was also the trick of pouring salted water in a Coke dispenser. It makes a short and sometimes the machine starts spitting cans. Other times it just fucks it up. My friends were publishing zines about these ideas, and all the copies were made by tricking the Kinko’s xerox machines to make it all for free.
SC: Were these your first encounters with reverse engineering?
AS: I guess, but I didn’t know that term yet.
SC: Right, but you said that when you were train hopping, the information was not shared, for fear of losing the sense of secrecy, while when you are hacking an iPhone, which you did recently, it is something you learn from the Internet, not word of mouth.
AS: Exactly, that’s what I am researching through my work. I often reflect on that difference, secrets shared and secrets kept. I use techniques to inject some worries into my objects, to make them a bit neurotic. I am interested in keeping them intact but transforming their functionality.
SC: Do you feel that, being Israeli, your work is interpreted through the angle of political violence more often than necessary?
AS: Only recently, I felt that my work was connected to my exposition to this conflict. I realized that I was constantly worried and pessimistic. My work reflects these issues but in a deep, unconscious way.
SC: How do you determine which objects you want to transform?
AS: These moments can happen instantly; just a quick, unfocused look at an object can make me realize what I need to unlock in that object. Sometimes it can take years, but in all cases a moment of falling in love is necessary.
SC: You have a flickr.com page on which you post travel pictures that you describe as “Minor Urban Disasters.” They are quite reminiscent of Martin Kippenberger’s “Psycho buildings.”
AS: “Minor Urban Disasters” is a series of photos that I started taking in 2005 in major metropolises around the world such as Berlin, Paris, Milan, Tel Aviv, New York and Tokyo. Depicting unexpected encounters with the city, this project started when I came across the flickr.com pool of images named “Minor Urban Disasters,” which was initiated by Cornelia Durka, who invited other individuals to contribute their own photos on the theme. My interpretation of the theme was to portray what happens when reality goes wrong for an instant, and I see this project as a sketchbook.