When asked where they went to school, some people will resort to evasive tactics. You occasionally see it on Facebook profiles, or sometimes hear it in fragments of conversation snatched on buses, or in a certain type of pub. “Oh, I went to the university of life,” they quip. “I studied at the school of hard-knocks.”
When asked where he studied, artist Ariel Hassan deftly sidesteps. “One can study how to draw, or how to edit a film. But studying art is a myth. Unlike rules of architecture, or a book of law, one develops a sensibility to bring to our time an encounter with something else which erodes a bit the ego and the durable point of view that we have on things. These encounters can sometimes be articulated or not. But if one is able to easily explain it and plan for it, then it is not art. I didn’t prepare myself to be an artist or to make art,” he explains. “I never had much patience for people; there was no other choice.”
The artist was born in 1977 in Argentina. Some 20 years later he left and found himself first in the US, and then Spain and finally, by 2005, in Adelaide. This pattern of migration left its mark, and Hassan has made the most of the challenges posed by a life characterised by disruption.
“I grew up in Argentina during a transition period, and instability was the norm,” Hassan explains. “I guess if you grow in instability, you become unstable, fluid, and you learn to adapt quickly to abrupt changes. There was no better option than to give way and take advantage of this chance, find my own paths, keep fluid and curious about the world, and absorb as much cultural information from as many places as possible.”
Since 2008, Hassan has divided his time between Adelaide and Berlin, ensuring that change remains a constant in his life. He seems to be energised by difference and motion. “I’m an outsider, or insider everywhere,” he says. “Maybe it’s better in-between, cannibalising all cultures to make my own instead of colonising or feeling I need to adjust. After all, we are all transient.”
Hassan may or may not have formally studied philosophy, but he is certainly comfortable with philosophical concepts. When asked about using explicit sexual imagery as the starting point for his series OIKONOMIA, photographic work which is on show in his solo exhibition Making All Things Equal, Hassan gives a very detailed response indeed. “OIKONOMIA refers to ’house management’,” he explains. “I guess it is a take on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, and the complications of fluid modernity in establishing limits and the acceptance of freedom or subjugation to any given system: how sometimes necessity becomes contingent, and we are forced to take action or accept certain decisions, whether we like it or not, even if it means contradicting ourselves.”
As examples of these philosophical conundrums in contemporary life he cites “refugee detention centres, the burkini ban, drones in wars, child slaves in exchange for cheaper fashion items, or sexual morals in modern societies: commodification and taboo arenas of extreme practices as a form of escapism from the restraints imposed by our political life and other problems within democratic spaces”.
Whatever his formal educational status, Ariel Hassan is clearly very well read and deeply interested in philosophy, literature and politics. Yet, as he points out, all of this is just a by-product of his passion for art. “I am interested in accessing the space of art. And in our world full of images, there is still little of it out there,” he says. “Philosophy lends my work some parameters in order to not be so totally obscured and silent. And it helps me keep sceptical about results. It keeps me wanting to make things better, to understand better, to not be easily satisfied. My work acts like a vortex that brings everything in, mixes it up, destroys it and gives me the task of putting it all together again within my capacities. I have no interest in using politics or literature in my work per se; these are a causality of me being me, making work that I don’t want to control, but that I ultimately do.”