You Are What You Are: Julius von Bismarck, Jan Bünnig, Julian Charrière, Paula Doepfner, Mariana Hahn, Peter Miller, Tyra Tingleff, Alvaro Urbano, Anna Virnich
Curated by Nils Petersen & Anna Redeker
You Are What You Are is a group exhibition that presents nine emerging artists who deal with nature as the material of our existence. The artistic approaches are diverse and examine the correlations of nature and human beings in various complex ways.
The aspect of irreversible alterations caused by humans on our environment matters equally as the visualization of history, origin and subjective experiences, displayed trough natural materials. Natural processes such as growth, overlay and layering are being visualized in the exhibition as well as traces of light; Questions on our civilizational and historical past are being asked as well as how our future could be looking like and how our posterity will understand our momentary present. Will it be possible to reconstruct our current state on the basis of leftover objects, similar to our usual practice to examine the earliest history of mankind trough objects and geology? What is it that makes us the way we are and the way we act, and what separates us from nature? At the end, there will be the question of what is going to remain of us – and what will remain of nature.
Julius von Bismarck
Central to the work of Julius von Bismarck is the examination of the human perception of nature and environment. By interventions in relations tot he significant impact that human actions have on our environment and how this affects our general perception of nature. The video „Forest Apparatus“ shows the artist, supported by several assistants, carrying huge parts of a sculpture into the woods. There, the single parts are getting build together and finally the whole object gets installed. The sculpture is made out of aluminum, construction foam and color turns out to be a lifelike reproduction of a birch. After the birch has been placed in the middle of a birch grove, the illusion becomes perfect: the sculpture can be hardly distinguished from the real birches around it. The knowledge of the artificial birch changes the perception of the entire forest in a substantially way: If you start to find the unreal tree, suddenly all the trees appear dubious and are getting examined on their authenticity.
The sculptor Jan Bünnig deals in an incisive and ironic manner with both the creative process of an artists as well as the traditional connotations and actual characteristics of the materials he uses for his artworks. Often, his sculptures are site-specific works whose material condition changes during the duration of the exhibiton and thereby evoke associations of growth, mortality and uncontrollability. Most times, the artist uses original materials such as wood, clay, stone and sand and creates forms that stand contrary to their actual material features. With the works the artists present in the exhibition, he stages a past that turns out to be just a claim of himself: the so-called prehistoric objects entitled “Toilet Brush”, “Early Broom” and „Szepter“ appear like archeological finds of Stone Age commodities, but their potential function turns out to be useless and thereby ironically refer to the achievements of the modern age.
With his work, the artist Julian Charrière creates some kind of an “archeology of the present” by imitating, repeating and exaggerating the impact that humans have on our environment. His interventions are visualized by photography, sculpture and video. He stages the piece “Metamorphism” on the basis of scientific exhibtions of naturehistorical museums, but the exhibited object appears to be not a geological relic but seems to come from the future: On a pedestal we see an object inside a glass vitrine which reminds us of a geological find. If we look closer, we discover that the object consists of melted technical material and congealed magma which was put together to a stone. We see fragments of technical devices such as smartphones and hard drives as well as laptops and tablet computers. With this work, Charrière refers to the potential of nature to make history visible through its geological layers. This form of primeval storaging gets faced to our modern form of storaging and saving. By combining the disks and hard drives with the visuals of geological rock formations, he “constructs a synthetic image of a future past, a place where the traces of our civilization will hide among rock formations.“
In her work, Paula Doepfner uses contrasting materials such as bulletproof glass and pressed flowers, melting ice and handwritten texts on paper. Based on the medium of drawing, the artist deals with questions about the universality and transience of subjective emotions and their impact on our consciousness and environment. She integrates neuroscientifical, philosophical and lyrical texts into her work by handwriting them in smallest size onto sheets of paper. Together with the pressed flowers, fragile forms emerge behind glass – and evoke associations of nerves and streams of thoughts by themselves. The ephemeral piece “Stasera” consists of an ice block in which flowers and sheets with handwritten text are frozen in. During the exhibition, the ice melts and releases the frozen material. Likewise the inability to transfer or repeat subject experiences, the sculpture also cannot be reconstructed. The work “Shut softly your watery eyes” shows an organic form out of flowers, earth and pigments behind bulletproof glass and refers also to the fragility and ephemerality of thoughts and moments.
Mariana Hahn examines the question of an universal destiny, which – apart from individual experiences – is inscribed in our bodies and in our environment. Using different media such as performance, drawing, video and photography, she arouses questions about our past, about the stories and memories that made us what we are. With the pieces shown in the exhibition she refers to the body and the sea as an archive. The dress made out of silk reminds in its texture of animal skin and fish bellies and thus refers to nature as the material of our existence. At the same time, it is a symbol for the human, shaped by evolution and incorporating history and development. Together with the dried fish heart that refers to the sea as an archive and the lithograph of an antique goddess, the dress becomes an universal body, that archives knowledge in the same way as the sea and brings out new life.
Driven by the idea of making the invisible visible, Peter Miller has developed various experimental exposure processes. Working with media sensitive light, he examines methods for recording the marks that events, objects and living creatures leave behind. By freeing himself from classical methods of photography he expands the medium, questions it and creates a spectrum of interpretation for what photography is and can be. Central to his search is the performative creation of an image and the magical act of its occurrence. The exhibited pieces are entitled „Photuris“ and show the traces of light of fireflies, which Peter Miller recorded in self- built dark boxes. Thus the patterns of movement generated by the fireflies are recorded on the paper, forming abstract drawings of light described by the artist as ‘a magical process‘: natural organic movements visualize themselves into abstract technical forms. On the one hand the works are reminiscent of automatic drawings in which the author has only a limited influence on the resulting pattern, on the other hand the works can be defined as luminograms, which are like photograms, but are specifically about the light that is being recorded.
Tyra Tingleff creates her oil paintings with many layers and creates complex surfaces that evoke associations of organic material, rock strata and water. Starting from secret stories which are hidden and untold, the artist paints layer on layer until it becomes a mysterious surface which is more concealing then unveiling. But although stories are somehow the basis of the paintings, it is not the approach of Tyra Tingleff to create a comprehensible narrative for the viewer. Her paintings start where human language fails in means of expression, and the things we see become things we only feel: “When I paint, I don’t want to paint what I know: I want to touch things, which I don’t know.”
The connection between nature and fiction is the starting point regarding the work by Alvaro Urbano. During the last two years, the old gardens of Florence and Rome got in the focus of his interest: There, he creates situations in which remains of uncertain provenance will be visible for the viewer. He brings antique statues to life by arranging traces of their alleged nightly activities in their surrounding. The viewer gets confronted with an uncanny feeling which remains vague, and reality is put on a level that only consists of imagination. The pieces we see in the exhibition shows a number of leafs that he found at Giardini dei Mostri in Rome and whose dissections remind of grotesque-like faces. With this, the uncanny of the nature gets visualized again – it functions with its own mechanisms, and at the end they stay invisible for the viewer.
For her work, Anna Virnich questions substance that is connected to the human body and its existence inside an environment that is shaped by and focused on material. On large-scaled tableaus, she combines found fabrics with new materials that are often contrary to each other in their sensual impressions. She uses snake skin as well as leather, silk and rayon. The fabrics function as background as well as the image itself and together form a organic, picturesque compositions that oscillate between transparency and intensity. the aesthetic force that is immanent in the works gets manifested in the fabrics that are stretched and pulled over the frame and finds its counterpart in the appearance of fragility, lightness and impermanence of the delicate, soft fabrics. The exhibited work entitled “Shivering Spine” shows abstract forms made out of the contrary materials leather and tulle and evokes associations of strength and softness.