Art Collector Julia Stoschek recently re-opened her exhibition space in the former Czech Cultural Center on Leipzigerstraße in Berlin. Her second exhibition ‘Jaguars and Electric Eels’ is a presentation of time-based art from her collection. Influenced by Alexander von Humboldt‘s travel writing, the selection of works looks into the evolutionary roots of human life and draws correlations between ecology, economy and socio-political commentary. The collection is said to highlight the union of the ‘artificial’ and the natural world by suggesting there is no real distinction between the two.
Amidst the thirty-nine works, the human body and the human experience are discussed in relation to their journey through nature: often, the videos depict bodies in their most primal or vulnerable state. From the tropical weather of Juan Downey‘s ‘The Laughing Alligator’ to the winds of North Iceland and Sweden in Isaac Julien‘s ‘True North’, the human body is represented as a migratory organism. Furthermore, it appears as an organism that acts as a sensory hub, depending on its environment.
Anicka Yi‘s 3D project ‘The Flavour Genome’ was a standout piece from the collection. Devised for MIT‘s Visual Arts Centre, the film installation examines how different senses or ‘flavours’ can form their own memories and sensibilities, independent of their economic or social value. As the main protagonist or ‘flavour chemist’ migrates through the Amazon forest, they encounter biological mutations that exude new aromas and new species. Yi’s interest in the politics of global consumer capitalism is manifested in the mutations and hybrids of microbiological systems.
Whether encountering natural materials or products of bio-technology, Yi’s work plays upon perception through the use of different platforms, particularly through 3D science. The film challenges us to look into the ways in which we experience our environments and what senses we value most. On one level, the narrative voice is akin to an anthropological presentation but, under the surface, it points to a variety of internal dialogues. We get insights to the lives of plants, animals and their own ecosystems. The focus on the sensory, especially the audio-visual, is how Yi connects with the viewers, who become steadily engrossed in the mystery of these indigenous waters.
Accompanying the exhibition opening was a performance, commissioned by American artist Donna Huanca. With two performers atop her installation ‘Epithelial Echo’, Huanca’s aim was to draw attention to human skin. The installation consisted of a white platform, Plexiglas panes and loud speakers. Behind the panes, two performers stood, their bodies painted in neutral colours. The removal of their clothes in conjunction with occasional movements, symbolically represented the dismissal of excess. Surrounded by her ‘skin-paintings’—’Basalt’ and ‘Obsidian Cell’— the human body was treated as a canvas, and in turn, a natural platform for art.
As sensory hubs, our perception of the world is ever-changing. Sound and sight affects our ability to process and analyse. The show’s strength was in its use of colour, silence and selective audio through headphones. In a building that spans across three floors, each video felt like finding a new discovery. The push towards a technology-based understanding of our world spoke to the complexities of quantified modern life. ‘Jaguar and Electric Eels’ quite comfortably mediated the space between art and nature.