It’s title is a reference to the idea of soft power, as well as the 80s British New Wave band Soft Cell, while suggesting “a padded cell and by extension the panoptic gaze of the state or the institution.” Also referencing Benjamin H. Bratton‘s reverse panopticon effect as ‘exhibitionism in bad faith,’ where one understands they’re being watched but acts as if they’re not, the show looks at architecture, as it is employed within commercial and museum settings. It thus places emphasis on ‘surface, image and display,’ while rendering us “passive consumers and impotent political agents.”
“Gravity on earth is, besides of seismic events, especially experienced when collapsing or falling. Or while dancing,” says Nina Wiesnagrotzki over an email chat about her past, present and ongoing projects invested in the research of this physical reality. The Berlin-based Japanese/German artist is currently making new work for a two-person exhibition AlembicGrowl with Maximilian Schmoetzer (and curated by Florian Fischer) at Brussels’ Komplot opening November 16.
Currently researching notions of gravity and seismic movements, as well as the supernatural and mythology, the pair will each show a new video as well as individual sculptural elements to accompany the large-scale collaborative piece.
Splitting her time between the profession of artist and medical doctor, Wiesnagrotzki’s research and practice is placed within the space of intersection; between “mythology and technology, the concept of East and West, the human body and the machine.” Her current projects stem from her ongoing research around earthquakes, following on from video-documentary ‘Sansui, Landscape’ (2014) which looked at the Fukushima powerplant tsunami catastrophe of 2011. Meanings of mountains, origin, and disaster are woven into a collaged storyline.
In a conversation about current and other recent projects at i:project space and Chinese Seismic Investigations, the artist brings us behind the scenes of her current research into foundation that moves between ‘conceptually related characters,’ like the Chinese Dragon, the human vestibular organ and the drone.
** A lot of your work seems very concerned with issues of climate change — is it climate change in particular you are thinking about, or are you more drawn to the subject matter of what feels incomprehensible and out of bounds?
Nina Wiesnagrotzki: Climate change or global warming was made visible with the Hockeystick Diagram by Michael E. Mann in 1999. Its name derives from the visually striking resemblance of the graph’s shape to a hockeystick. The diagram shows a relatively constant temperature profile over the last 1000 years and increases significantly from the 20th century to the present. It was controversially discussed, particularly among climate change sceptics. Despite of the graph’s widespread approval, some people still relate to climate solely as changing weather conditions, like I got to know during the US election campaign.
I am interested in a transition from objective facts as embodied in natural sciences into something else, like for example the still disputed human’s impact on climate or an increasing frequency of natural disasters.
My current project can be seen as a continuation of my last experimental documentary Sansui, Landscape, which is based on the earthquake in 2011 that caused the tsunami and in its aftermath the disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. I collaged different significations of mountains in Japan with my own German origin. Being half-Japanese, I grew up in the foothills of the Alps.
** There’s a lot of movement with your work, whether it’s disorientation, or a feeling of instability or of not being able to process the image in front of you before its already changed.
NW: I’m currently working around the notion of the physical virtue of gravity on objects and humans. It was instigated by my interest in the first seismic device that was supposed to be invented in China around 100AD. Actually, it never worked. Theproject’s first two instances were on display at i:project space (Beijing, Oct 2016) and at Chinese Seismic Investigations (Berlin, March 2017).
One trail I am taking up at the moment is sensory mismatch. Unless we are talking about seismic events, gravity on earth is especially experienced when collapsing or falling. Or while dancing. Sensory mismatch of the vestibular system, the visual and the joint sense (proprioception) can cause vestibular dysfunction, an illusion of movement of the self or the environment. It can be associated with a nystagmus, also called “dancing eyes”, which signifies involuntary eye movements. A physiological nystagmus can be initiated through cold or warm water in one ear in the course of a caloric test.
Similar to what Simone Weil writes in Gravity and Grace, “would a society in which only gravity reigned be able to exist, or is a little of the supernatural element a vital necessity?” I am revolving around binaries like mythology/technology, cultural East/West and the human body/machine. These interests are certainly tinted by my medical studies – I am working in a hospital as a doctor.
** Could you tell us about your interest and use of absurdity?
NW: Absurdity can be a great connector between my divergent research, but I don’t rely on it or think about it during working. With regard to my project, one venue I’m pursuing is a morphed 3D animated object consisting of three formally related characters: the Chinese Dragon as a proxy for eastern mythology and science, the human vestibular organ(= labyrinth) and a drone as an agent of science-fictional ideas that beats gravity on earth through technology. The suspension of the laws of physics or to be more precise in this case the gravitation’s pull has an absurd dimension to it.
** Are you optimistic about the future of the human-technological relationship?
NW: To stick with the just mentioned sensory mismatch: a person who was suffering from an upbeat nystagmus as a result of a malign tumor, was implanted two magnets in his eyes in order to fixate on objects again. The magnet was pinned on a muscle on the bottom part of the eye and the mural of the eyeball. This was the first operation of its kind. These rare-earth magnets, are strong enough so that he could read, watch television, and even work again. The operation was conducted 4 years ago and reportedly his state of health is stable.
I don’t think it is about optimism, but about how this relationship develops. And about how we gain a more intricate perception of our increasingly, technologically augmented society.**
Last Friday, on March 4, aqnb editor Jean Kay, and Video in Common (ViC) founder Caroline Heron visited Berlin’s Import Projects to present a screening and short discussion with the title, ‘The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed’ —inspired by the William Gibson interview quote from an article in The Economist.
As harbinger to an ongoing collaboration with Import, we shared some of the inspiration behind our ongoing video editorial partnership, available to view at the ViC YouTube account, with a selection of films that also address the theme.
At a time when it is becoming increasingly apparent that the global and democratising potential of the internet has been and continues to be restricted by surveillance, commercialisation and imperial neglect, the aim of the ‘The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed’ screening was to explore its implications on art and artists on a political and economic, social and personal level. Where Rezaire advocates for challenging the visual aesthetics of exploitative structures and narratives of a western-centric internet via projects like WikiAfrica in her ‘AFRO CYBER RESISTANCE’ video essay, Schmoetzer presents the insipid effects of branding and corporatisation on mediated experience in ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’. And while Al Qadiri questions the construction of narrative fictions throughout history up to the newly established “heritage of oil” in the Gulf and its alliances with a largely English-based web and economic culture, Warwick explores an imaged reality through Google Maps renderings of the Californian landscape that teems with a history that’s couched in “dotcom neoliberalism”.
The conversation to follow touched on some of these themes, as well as the multi-dimensional nature of so-called ‘internet culture’ and the necessity for open discourse and communication across platforms —online, offline, and beyond.
Below are the full videos and excerpts of the films screened in their running order:
London-based Lithuanian artist Ulijona Odišarija presents a half-hour mix of music across media distribution platforms to produce an unsettling mash-up of mainstream popular culture, tourist videos and self-made social media celebrities to express a fragmented worldview through the ‘eyes’ of the web host.
Monira Al Qadiri: ‘Portraits of the End of the World’ (2015). [7:46min].
Amsterdam-via-Japan-and-Beirut-based Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri explores history as construction in a contemporary milieu of global capital and linguistic imperialism. In an age of networked communication, driven by the internet, the role of the English language and corporate branding becomes central to economic development and rapid cultural change in regions like the Gulf.
Johannesburg-based, French-Guyanese-Danish artist Tabita Rezaire explores the social, cultural and political context of online and networked art hegemony as one replicating ongoing colonial interests and othering of African narratives. Using Wiki Africa as a starting point, she presents an argument for a critical awareness of the world wide web as one controlled by exploitative western concerns and a need for digital resistance.
Steven Warwick: ‘A Postcard from LA‘ (2015). [7:23 min].
In this part anecdote, part observation video piece, Berlin-based British artist Steven Warwick (aka Heatsick) relays his experience of Los Angeles and its surrounds while on residency at German-US exchange programme Villa Aurora in 2015. Here he takes the viewer on a tour of the Californian region via Google Maps and muses on the self-actualisation narratives and neoliberal ideology that dominate its Silicon Valley tech culture.
Maximilian Schmoetzer, ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’ (2015). [9:17min].
Berlin-based German artist Maximilian Schmoetzer presents the dominant narrative of capitalism and corporate culture through a visually striking video where the empty absurdity of branded content, advertising taglines and entertainment tropes threaten to engulf human experience and potentially destroy its very existence.
J.G. Biberkopf performance at Sonic Acts 2016. [2:00 min, excerpt]. Courtesy Sonic Acts, Amsterdam.
Vilnius-based Lithuanian artist J.G. Biberkopf interrogates the images and technologies of the so-called Anthropocene era through live A/V performance. His work defines the mediated human experience through conceptual interpretations of speculative ecologies, hyperformalism and new materialism in a world of online information.
Hannah Black, ‘Fall of Communism’ (2014). 5:23 min. ‘All My Love All My Love’ (2015). 6:34 min.
Berlin-based British artist-writer Hannah Black explores what Rhizome describes as “the conditioning of bodies, or the condition of being bodied”. Her two video works tell of the tension between the interior and exterior self through text and moving image, where theory and autobiography, intimacy and commodity, desire and identity become conflated.
There is a screen supported by an aluminium frame standing in the middle of Berlin’s Ashley. It’s on a rectangular white carpet on a black painted floor in a single-room space on Oraniestraße, where the viewer is invited to sit cross-legged in front of a projection with headphones. The carpet is covered in splodgy brown cutouts that at first glance appear irregular and random. The ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’ video by Maximilian Schmoetzer, for his event of the same name screening January 20 to 23, is already on.
It’s unclear if it’s at the beginning or near the end when a 3D computer generated dinosaur appears. As it moves within the frame it becomes apparent that the shapes on the carpet are in fact the predator’s skin, flattened out. “It’s just a script you have to follow”, says a voiceover and you wonder if this extinct animal is in fact the narrator.
In 2012, Austrian adventurer Felix Baumgartner set a series of world records when he jumped out of a capsule from around 40,000 km high and managed to break the sound barrier. Part of the skydiver’s trip is animated in Schmoetzer’s piece, the hero himself being in no way present. According to the Bird of the year 2022 press release, Baumgartner has since figuratively “fallen from grace” after being charged with punching a Greek truck driver in the face.
The focus, then, is more on the objects in Schmoetzer’s piece, as well as the corporate sponsorship that made Baumgartner’s trip possible. After all, it appears, the product image is more stable than the human behind it. Plastered in Red Bull energy drink logos, the capsule that carried Baumgartner to a world record, travels through the troposphere. Found footage of a boy appears as he shows the interior and exterior of a colourful Nike shoe. Later, the personalised capsule is situated in a modern apartment, anthropomorphised and walking around in these same Nike shoes. Outside we recognise the galaxy.
The interior of the capsule is captured in a wide angle frame that we recognise as one from a GoPro. “Be a hero”, the narrator says, and we see the small action camera at the centre of a photoshoot. The product’s theme line is not meant for its user anymore, the product itself has become the hero.
The dinosaur appears again, now headless. “There is a safety in its fakeness”, it says and ‘Peter and the Wolf’ by composer Sergei Prokofiev is playing in the background. It’s the section of the score before the wolf appears. The danger is not yet visible but its presence can be felt as we see soldiers run between containers on a cargo ship. Shooting into the air, aiming at an invisible threat. American musical theorist; Gary R. Lemco sees Prokofiev’s piece as an allegory for the political situation in the Soviet union around 1930, when it was written. In his writings the wolf represents the underlying threat of the Nazis.
So then, where is the threat in Bird of the year 2022? Is it in corporate ownership within a culture of consumerism? Maybe. “You wake up. Today, all the world’s weariness will be lifted from your shoulders. Instead you will be honoured with a nomination for the Bird of the Year award.” Or, maybe not. The quote from the end of the press release seems to be as absurd as the capsule that is now dancing in a silly manner in the middle of a red circle. The video was a trip and it didn’t quite make sense, but here’s an honour anyway. Congratulations, carry on. **
Spotting a rare bird in Estonia sometimes happens by accident like when a flock meets a storm, which effects the route of their migration journey. The text accompanying A rare bird in Estonia writes with pleasure at how such occurrences can be the reason for there being determined a new found species.
Berlin-based artist Schmoetzer’s work contains specific narratives through which sense can be made of heightened currents in our responsive and networked surroundings.
For the duration of the Margit Säde-curated exhibition, Konstanet will be moving into the space and operating out of its exhibition space while remaining open to the public, thereby making what normally remains behind the scenes visible to the general public. The artists involved include Rafaël Rozendaal, Alex Cecchetti, Esther Mathis and Hanne Lippard among others.
Over the seven-week programme, Konstanet will host three different events: an introductory talk on November 27, the opening of Michele Gabriele‘s new exhibition followed by an artist talk on December 12, and the opening of Maximilian Schmoetzer‘s new show, also followed by an artist talk, taking place on January 8.