Visions of cities, structures decomposing amongst human movement, the Anthropocene in both its present-day aftermath and possible futures collide in the latest exhibition by annual sonic and visual arts festival Berlin Atonal, Metabolic Rift. Running from September 25 to October 30, the exhibition interrogates the idea of metabolic systems, nature, and civilization within the halls of Berlin’s notorious Kraftwerk venue.
Its exploration involves over fifty international artists, proceeding through Pan Daijing’s haunting atmospherics into post-industrial environments sculpted by Giuliua Cenci and Cezary Poniatowski. Meanwhile, Liliane Lijn, Viktor Timofeev, and Nina Cannell reflect on the advent of information systems, enmeshing natural potential within significant technological advancements. The exhibition collapses distinctions between humanity and nature, revealing its thesis via an obscured interpretation of history.
This synthesis of pre-and post-civilization into a singular form is central to Metabolic Rift. Rather than exaggerating the Anthropocene, the exhibition reimagines it as a concourse of ecology and time itself, revealing the evolution of human-nature relationships across the past, present, and beyond. Berlin Atonal festival directors and co-curators Lauren von Oswald and Harry Glass discuss this in greater detail over email.
**There are quite a few references to the Anthropocene throughout Metabolic Rift. What about this topic compelled the curation of this exhibition?
Harry Glass & Lauren von Oswald: Hi. Thanks for these questions.
Sometimes what drops out when focusing on a concept like the Anthropocene is the ‘two-wayness’ of the relationship between the human and the natural. Human nature is also a (historicised) bit of ‘external’ nature after all. If you keep this ‘two-wayness’ in view, we think there are a lot of different stories about this relationship to tell, not just the one about civilization interrupting ‘natural’ processes on a large scale. Some pieces seem to be more focused on ecological questions – Ana Alenso’s hanging thing made out of fuel nozzles and hair, Rose Lowder’s ‘Bouquet’ films (apparently she has only taken 23 hours of footage in the last 35 years).
But really, less than any political observation, the name makes sense to us as a description of a type of process. It was interesting to think how self-replicating systems can be nested in other systems and repeat similar processes at different scales. The little creatures filmed by Igor Ademeyko process what is outside of them in a kind of similar way to how the exhibition processes people, and similar to how Daniel Lie uses the moisture in the air left by these people as a way of breaking down the organic material contained in their sculpture. The concept made a bigger impression on us as a description of a form rather than any particular critical angle.
**Following that, I’m curious to learn more about the curatorial team’s perspective on Europe’s relationship to global eco-politics. Will the exhibition address this at all?
HG & LO: Not really, sorry. No-one in the curatorial group we think has any particular interesting thing to say on that topic. Putting together an exhibition is probably not the best way to express a perspective anyway. Probably specific artists or artworks have more to say, and they can definitely say it in a more interesting way than we can.
** Did the artists choose their contributions?
HG & LO: Yes, some artists came to the space and thought about what they could do there and in this context. That’s really fun. Sometimes someone from our team saw something on the internet and got in contact with someone.
**Ghosts and specters also play a role in Metabolic Rift. What histories or systems were you referring to and why?
HG & LO: A ghost is living in the attic at the moment. Regarding histories, the history of the building and the history of the world were two big ones. Given what we were trying to do in the exhibition, we were thinking about systems a lot. It all started by trying to think of the exhibition as a system and to draw it as a diagram, with times and cycles, and see how many people it could process and in what parts. There are some works we had to create systems to accommodate and others that accommodated the system that began to already exist. To avoid congestion in the exhibition’s linear phase, Viktor Timofeev programmed his self-playing video game to camouflage itself when people first pass it and to later reveal itself when rediscovered from a different perspective. There are also sound systems that play the music. There are systems that control the score and timing of the works. We still need to find a good system for turning the thing on and off every day.
**Given the title, I also wanted how, if at all, the exhibition will interface with the ideas consumption and labor. Did the team consider this in regards to curatorial intervention?
HG & LO: Yes for sure. Work is a concept in physics but also in social sciences. It is something that happens in biological cells and also in offices. You need to think about work if you are trying to describe how a billiard ball interacts with kinetic energy but also if you are trying to describe how the cultural world reproduces itself over generations. As a process that can re-appear at different levels it became a way to think about not just what the exhibition is but also what it does.
We are also working in a more boring way. Things break down or get stuck in customs, cables need to be laid and maintained, the system needs to be repaired. We order Domino’s, eat it and install some lights. The poem that Ilya Kaminsky wrote for the exhibition also reflects on the kind of work-system an artist or writer has to enter when she or he decides to get involved in a project like this. There is also some work that the exhibition demands from visitors. It’s a physical thing and people get tired. You’re not supposed to take the lift.
Metabolic Rift runs at Berlin’s Kraftwerk complex from September 25 to October 30. Visitors can book tickets to the exhibition’s guided tour via their website.