press release

Between 1799 and 1804 a young naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), visited the American continent for the first time, making two expeditions. The most adventurous section of his journey was the trip down the Orinoco to the Rio Negro in Venezuela. At the time, his report on this journey laid the foundations for a holistic way of looking at nature – one that was way ahead of its time. Von Humboldt was the first researcher to point out how the forces of nature, both animate and inanimate, work together. In 1853, these first chronicles of the New World were published in a special edition entitled “Jaguars and electric eels”, an excerpt from the Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctical Regions of the New Continent. The largely media-based works in the collection of the same name on show at the JULIA STOSCHEK COLLECTION in Berlin describe a reality that no longer distinguishes between naturalness and artificiality but sees things as a whole and as equals. Starting with the idea of the kind of ecology that focuses not only on natural circumstances but also on the economic and socio-political situation, as well as on technological progress, the exhibition investigates an alternative interpretation of anthropology and zoology.

Accordingly, the total of 39 works by 30 artists evidences the search for our evolutionary roots, looking into questions of indigeneity, of hybrids and synthetic forms of life, the migration of the species, and that of our constantly changing perceptions of reality due to all kinds of different influences.

The work of Anicka Yi, a US artist, plays a pivotal role in the exhibition. Yi’s oeuvre investigates forms of life, organisms and microbiological processes. Taking her observation of the Amazon’s indigenous people as its starting point, the artist’s 3-D video THE FLAVOUR GENOME (2016) investigates the role played in our perception by sensual experiences. In her film, nature is seen as a fabric composed of many different perspectives and forms of perception. Whilst plants, man, technology and animals mutate into amorphous beings, the fields of bioengineering, neurosciences and science fiction are blended together.

The transformation of sensual impressions is a topic taken up in the work of Ryan Gander, Trisha Donnelly and Heike Baranowsky. Gander’s video PORTRAIT OF A COLOUR BLIND ARTIST OBSCURED BY FLOWERS (2016) in particular literally shows us how impediments to our senses of vision, smell and hearing lead to large amounts of information being complemented in our minded by imagining this missing data.

Another important complex of topics concerns the observation of nature, especially the aspect of the ability to adapt, one which guarantees and characterizes the survival of one particular species or that of mankind. Mainly documentary in nature, these works do not, however, look to create a perfect reproduction of nature. Instead they set out the way that the latter is manipulated or represented in present-day media. This is to be found, for example, in Cyprien Gaillard’s central work KOE (2015) and in Kader Attia’s work MIMESIS AS RESISTANCE (2013).

As the various artists’ contributions to the exhibition illustrate, our modern life science questions both the line between naturalness and artificiality and the ontology of objects of all kinds. The different complexes of subjects move within that intermediate space between nature and art, their various systems offering new approaches to interpretation and methods of classification.

Doug Aitken, Kader Attia, Heike Baranowsky, Trisha Donnelly, Juan Downey, Encyclopedia Pictura/ Björk, Cyprien Gaillard, Ryan Gander, Manuel Graf, Cao Guimarães, Nancy Holt & Robert Smithson, Martin Honert, Donna Huanca, Isaac Julien, Simon Martin, Nandipha Mntambo, Ana Mendieta, Paul Pfeiffer, James Richards & Leslie Thornton, Ben Rivers, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, STURTEVANT, Bill Viola, Guan Xiao, Anicka Yi, Aaron Young