Conceived as a part of the Berlin-based art, culture and technology festival Transmediale’s program, the exhibition Alien Matter dealt with the multifaceted man-machine relationship – with the term “alien matter” referring to both man-made and intelligent matter. Bringing together works by more than 30 international artists in a spacious exhibition room at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, this groundbreaking exhibition curated by the media arts specialist Dr Inke Arns explored shifts occurring in our current environment as well as (im)possible future developments.
One of the highlights of the exhibition was undoubtedly Joep Van Liefland’s Video Palace #44 – The Hidden Universe (2017), an imposing sculpture made of more than 20,000 VHS tapes inside of which visitors could enter through a glass door. As an authentic testimony of the analogue age, the piece questioned the obsolescence of media in a time when technological evolutions seem to progress faster than ever. Right next to it, Burial Ceremony (2015/17), a sculpture by Evan Roth composed of two kilometres of fibre-optic cable, functioned as a powerful response to Van Liefland’s work for it exposed the paradoxical nature of data in the digital era – all at once material, immaterial, permanent and evanescent.
As the Internet is evolving, not only people but also things are connecting with one another and becoming autonomous agents. In the video GreenScreenRefrigiratorAction (2010) by Mark Leckey, the Internet of Things has turned our environment into a dystopian world in which interconnected devices form independent digital ecosystems. Hence, in an environment in which machines are connected and supersede human intelligence, what it means to be human is put into question. Katja Novitskova’s Swoon Motion (2015), an electronic baby swing able to reproduce a mother’s heartbeat and sing children’s songs, or Predictive Art Bot (2017) by Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, an installation displaying an algorithm that generates new concepts for artistic projects, evoked the growing automation of human work and activities – even those we thought irreplaceable.
The installation Xenopolitics #1: Petro-bodies and Geopolitics of Hormones (2017) by the investigative laboratory Aliens in Green offered an innovative take on our evolution by conflating ideas around humanity, technology and pollution. Displaying tubes and bottles filled with green liquid as in a 21st century Frankenstein laboratory, the installation questioned both the impact of industries on our health and the normative rhetoric that comes with the discourse that criticises it, suggesting that perhaps it is the human matter itself that is becoming “alien” in an increasingly toxic environment.
Drawing upon the new definitions that are emerging of what is normal, natural and artificial, The 3D Additivist Cookbook (2016-17) devised and edited by Morehshin Allahyari & Daniel Rourke, provocatively intersects technology, art and science to imagine new designs for our future selves. One of the works exhibited, Kuang-Yi Ku’s The Fellatio Modification Project (2015), coalesced ideas around gender and body modification in a one-of-a-kind dentistry prototype designed to enhance oral sex pleasure.
Though the challenges of the man-machine relationship have become hackneyed themes that come up in almost every sci-fi blockbuster, the exhibition succeeded in providing a fresh perspective on the subject through an innovative concept and curation. We left the exhibition with the disturbing feeling that our environment might have already become “alien matter”- but while this certainly looks frightening, we can at least feast our eyes on the amazing art that it is producing…
Audrey Kadjar is a Berlin-based visual artist as well as a freelance creative and art writer. She studied the humanities in France before completing her MA in History of Art at University College London in 2016. Her past work experience includes positions at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S., the Centre Pompidou and Autocenter Space for Contemporary Art. Audrey is currently developing art and publishing projects. She is particularly interested in body and gender representation, the uncanny and the dynamic interplay between art and technology.
Alien Matter ran till March 5 2017 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Germany Transmediale festival: https://2017.transmediale.de/
Featured image: Aliens in Green, Xenopolitics #1: Petro-bodies and Geopolitics of Hormones (2017) – view of two different parts of the installation. Photo: Audrey Kadjar.