Artist in Focus: Ari Benjamin Meyers

June 17, 2020

Keeping with our virtual conversations, we have been checking in with our artists to understand how the recent pandemic has influenced their studio life and routine. This time, we spoke to Ari Benjamin Meyers to get a glimpse of the artist’s studio, work, and thought process.

HOW DO YOU DRINK YOUR COFFEE?
At home, a double espresso with frothed low-fat milk, otherwise a flat white.

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO BECOME AN ARTIST?

I started playing the piano when I was four. I had told my parents that I wanted to be a magician when I grew up but they heard musician and so they started me on piano lessons. This probably has something to do with the fact that my father is a professional musician. For years as I was learning Bach and Mozart I was wondering: when do we start with the magic tricks?

WHAT ARE YOU MOST FASCINATED BY THESE DAYS?
How quickly what we perceive as (fixed) reality can change.
DO YOU HAVE A STUDIO ROUTINE? WHAT IS IT LIKE?
My usual studio routine was actually quite unspectacular, essentially a normal work-week. I try to get to the studio by 9am and leave by 5 or 6pm. For me a routine was very helpful. I say “was” because I haven’t been in that routine for a few months now due to Corona. But in a way, this itself has also been a discovery; it may be time for a new routine, or rather: a new routine may now be required.

CHOOSE AN OBJECT IN YOUR STUDIO THAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU. WHAT MAKES IT MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN OTHERS?

That would be my Grotrian-Steinweg grand piano from 1908. It’s quite old, it can’t even really be properly tuned anymore but it’s the beating heart of the studio.

WHAT ARTISTS OR ARTWORKS ARE YOU MOST INFLUENCED BY?
That’s always a hard one, there are so many. Maybe I can focus the question to the bands I am listening to a lot of at the moment: Protomartyr, Run the Jewels, Idles, Girl Band. Especially Protomartyr, they’re from Detroit and their lead singer is also a fantastic poet; for me they might be the best band playing at the moment. I’m doing a new performance at the Volksbühne in Berlin called Forecast. Actually it was supposed to premiere end of April but now it will premiere end of April 2021. The entire prologue is dedicated to Protomartyr and a song of theirs that I think is so fitting for this moment we are in, it’s called “How He Lived After He Died”.
WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?
“Go Ahead in the Rain” by Hanif Abdurraqib. Slowly crawling my way through the densely packed but very informative book by Niall Ferguson “The Square and the Tower”“Feminism and the Politics of the Commons” by Silvia Federici touches on some similar themes but from a different perspective. Finally I’ve been reading “A Live Gathering: Performance and Politics in Contemporary Europe” edited by Ana Vujanović with Livia Andrea Piazza, which I can very highly recommend.

WHICH CITY WOULD YOU SAY HAS IMPACTED YOUR ARTISTIC PRACTICE, AND HOW?
It would have to be my adopted home, Berlin. I came to Berlin over 20 years ago on a Fulbright Grant as an opera conductor. It was the city itself and the community of artists that inspired me and gave me the space (literally and metaphorically) to make my own path as an artist and composer.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU MADE IN YOUR LIFE?
This may sound trite but I believe in things happening for a reason, even if it takes years (or a lifetime) to see. Coincidence, failing better, happy mistakes and productive sabotage are very necessary parts of my practice. I try to be in a constant mode of rehearsal.
DESCRIBE YOUR IDEAL LUNCH.

Whatever Mahlzeit, the café next to my studio, is serving.

ANY ONLINE RECOMMENDATIONS?
I think ICA Daily is a great new format that has sprung up. Each day curators and staff of the ICA give their recommendations for talks, texts, music and just whatever they find interesting at the moment. What I like is that it feels personal even in the virtual space. I’ve also been fascinated by the growing collection of what until only recently would have been considered quite bizarre: live performances played to empty halls. Local examples include the Berlin Philharmonic (with the conductor at the end often bowing, to no-one) and the Volksbühne Berlin (including recently a stream of my own filmed version of an excerpt from Forecast, performed at a louder volume than would ever be allowed with an audience). Performing for nobody: one might declare it a new performative mode, very much of our time and with implications for both the performers and the work. These performances and others like them may be moving in and of themselves but the act itself of watching at home, usually alone, – a disembodied audience – serves as an oddly unsettling and transfixing testament to our current situation.

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