exhibitions

1 October – 8 November 2020 (Vernissage 1 Oct, from 18h)

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

1 robot, 1 poem, 1 film

Patrick Tresset, Richard Brautigan, Adam Curtis

Have we been living in symbiosis with machines for long? Already in 1967, the writer Richard Brautigan was impatient:

I’d like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.


Or did he mean that ironically? Whoever has his portrait drawn by Patrick Tresset’s robot (Human Study #1) will experience an equally intimate and irritating machine moment that immediately makes one think of Brautigan’s cyber romance. Tresset’s work has been shown all over the world (Pompidou, Fondazione Prada, Tate Modern, MMCA Seoul, BOZAR Brussels, TAM Beijing, Mcam Shanghai, Mori Museum Tokyo).
So who is watching over whom? In his three-part series from 2011, which also borrows the title from Brautigan’s poem, Adam Curtis takes a critical look at the interplay of man and machine. He examines the shiny soap bubble of the Californian Ideology (Ayn Rand!) and the naive promise that computers would somehow liberate mankind. Curtis’ film is running as part of the exhibition.

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Leben wir längst in Symbiose mit Maschinen? Der Dichter Richard Brautigan konnte es 1967 kaum erwarten:

I’d like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

Oder meinte er das ironisch? Wer sich von Patrick Tressets Roboter portraitieren lässt erlebt einen ebenso intimen wie irritierenden Maschinenmoment, der unmittelbar an Brautigans Cyber-Romantik denken lässt. Tressets Arbeit ist schon auf der ganzen Welt (Pompidou, Fondazione Prada, Tate Modern, MMCA Seoul, BOZAR Brussels, TAM Beijing, Mcam Shanghai, Mori Museum Tokyo) gezeigt worden, im symbiont space wird sein Roboter auf einen Dokfilm von Adam Curtis treffen.


Who is watching over whom? Curtis nimmt das Zusammenspiel in seinem Dreiteiler aus dem Jahr 2011, der den Titel ebenfalls von Brautigans Gedicht entleiht, gewohnt kritisch-souverän in den Blick: Die Californian Ideology als grosses Luftschloss und das naive Versprechen, dass Computer die Menschheit irgendwie würden befreien können (was, das zeigt sich bald 10 Jahre später noch einiges deutlicher, ganz und gar nicht geklappt hat). Curtis’ Film läuft als Teil der Ausstellung.

Kick-Off, August 2020:

viRus
Life as liquid/vivum fluidum
An audio visual research and a series of events about the mystery of viruses

Pei-Ying Lin: Virophilia

audio visual research – portrait gallery of eminent viruses, with a choice of scientific visualizations (of the invisible)

Fair enough, we have won the war. The invisible enemy is pushed back, the aggressor not that aggressive anymore. But was this the right narrative, after all? Obviously, for politicians like Trump or Macron, it was a tempting metaphor:

Nous sommes en guerre, en guerre sanitaire certes. Nous ne luttons ni contre une armée ni contre une autre nation, mais l’ennemi est là, invisible, insaisissable, et qui progresse. Et cela requiert notre mobilisation générale. Nous sommes en guerre.

But nature doesn’t work like that. Viruses are not our enemy. After all, we are partly viral, on a genetic level: at least 8 percent of our genome are of viral origin. It might as well be that we have to share the position of the pinnacle of evolution with the viruses; we are perfect counterparts. While we’ve evolved along a pathway of ever-increasing complexity, viruses have streamlined, successfully jettisoning all but a handful of essential genes. Life has taken two different paths. One leading to minimal beauty, the other to ornamental splendor.


What is life, anyway, if we are all interdependent? It might be that viruses have descended from living cells, so they are still alive now – but in a unique way: when viruses infect a cell, that reunion forms a complete living system. John Mattick, molecular biologist: “People say viruses aren’t free-living. But that’s a philosophical question – are we free-living?” – “We can’t live without plants. Life is an interconnected system.”

The artist Pei-Ying Lin has for years investigated this interconnectedness, this permanent symbiosis with viruses. Her work imagines and examines the virus not as the other we should be afraid of but as a symbiotic part of us. It might as well be that it constitutes a much closer relationship than the one we form with our microbiome.

And yet, we can’t help to picture the enemy. We need to see the invisible.

Contagium vivum fluidum (Latin: “contagious living fluid”) was a phrase first used to describe a virus, and underlined its ability to slip through the finest-mesh filters then available, giving it almost liquid properties. Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931), a Dutch microbiologist and botanist, first used the term when studying the tobacco mosaic virus, becoming convinced that the virus had a liquid nature.

Viruses can be benign as well as malign – the sheer concept of illness doesn’t make sense from a viral point of view. Every infection is an exchange, altering both the host as well as the visitor. And that’s not only true for biological infections: “The word has not been recognized as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host.” (William S. Burroughs)

Deutscher Saaltext zum Download hier.