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The Hubris-Project. Pride and sisyphean Vanity


Exhibition term:
May 1st to August 16th, 2015

Every Wednesday free entrance!


Artists: Narda Alvarado (BO) [1],Chim↑Pom (JP) [2], Ursula Damm (DE) [3]GÆG (DE) [4], Lucy Glendinning (GB) [5], Harminder Judge (GB) [6],Bjørn Melhus (DE) [7], Tobias Regensburger (DE) [8], Xu Tan (CN) [9], Pinar Yoldas (TR)  [10]

Curated by Michael Arzt (HALLE 14), Frank Motz (ACC Galerie Weimar [11]) and Christian Schoen (kunst|konzepte [12])

About the Exhibition:

In the age of techno- and life sciences, the genetic decoding of life, global and extraterrestrial mobility, and the digital duplication of the world, the Hubris-Project uses diverse aesthetic-critical and artistic-visionary statements to call into question human actions in the context of a millennia-old theme in the history of ideas: exceeding the right measure.

Hubris – Pride: The concept of hubris plays a central role in Western ethics. As „superbia”, „pride” or „arrogance”, it designates the transgression of proper measures under violation of divine and human right. The fundamental idea is rooted in ancient Greece, where hubris served as the antonym to „law and order” and was used as a term of jurisprudence. Through the elevation of the self, the act of hubris exceeds simple trespassing of the law: God or Nature is not understood to be the origin, rather humans see themselves as the creators of their rewards. Underlying all the parables of superbia in the Old Testament is this shift: away from the omnipotence of God with his suprapersonal order toward an individual primarily relating to himself. To construct as strong of a deterrent as possible, classical myths always present the act of hubris in combination with the punishment of the respective sinner. According to this message, hubris causes harm to follow every form of elevation above the existing order.

Hubris as a Tool of Reflection: In the history of ideas, „hubris” is a construct used to observe and reflect on our own actions from a distanced perspective. It is the echo of an apparently obsolete canon of values that concern the relationship of the individual to his or her fellows, society and environment. It comes from a time in which the worldly and heavenly realms were divided in a strict hierarchy, in which the earthly order was legitimated through a divine one. Myths describe and illustrate the variety of offenses and above all punishments of their protagonists. Whether Prometheus and Icarus, as prominent examples from antiquity, or Lucifer and Adam in Christianity, the „fallen man” admonishes us not to violate the higher law. Since time immemorial, the human impulse for knowledge and research has collided with the view that sees in hubris the origin of all sins. In the course of the centuries, human self-determination without the ideal of humility has come to the fore more and more. With the beginning of the modern era, when philosophical thinking removed itself from theology, the image of hubris paled visibly. Humans themselves stepped into the foreground, becoming „God to themselves” (Ludwig Feuerbach). We look with pride at our own accomplishments that gradually wrest our environment, our creatureliness and our spirit from the grip of biological laws.

The Timeliness of Hubris: It is the hallmark of our modern society that there is no longer a permanently established order. In the fast-paced global world it must continually prove itself anew. With the loss of importance of the Christian religion, human existence has its frame of reference in personal responsibility for its action. Under public pressure, ethics and morality are discussed in the context of scientific research (for example, gene technology, bio-engineering or neuroscience), environmental topics (like atomic energy production, climate change, scarcity of resources) and economic issues (like global financial capitalism, low wages, etc.), without, however, being able to produce fundamental consequences for a systematic re-thinking. Today, „sense of responsibility” and „sustainability” are the concepts for conveying moral imperative, but they are used in elastic and inflationary ways in all of the social, political, scholarly and economic fields. Because they are not integrated in a higher system of order, they reveal themselves to be mostly meaningless husks of words. Today's debate with the concept of hubris means taking up topical questions and brin- ging them up for discussion. The project serves our self-questioning and self-assessment as people in a world that appears to be run by our determinations.

Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Narda Alvarado (BO)

The Spirit of Things to Come, 2015

Installation
Notebook, drawings
Video, loop

Series of notes and ideas collected with the candid intention to render systematic re-thinking, as an attempt to address the problematic generation of a higher system of order in modern societies.

„The Spirit of Things To Come“ or „Uqua Ajayu Jutantaniw“ (in Aymara language) playfully proposes to put hubris aside and learn from non-modern or indigenous societies, ancient philosophies, or by embracing spirituality or childlike innocence. Nevertheless, this work recognizes that the wise vision of the bon savage is not necessarily found in contemporary indigenous societies. The ideal wisdom may actually belong to the past. Thus, it may be time to walk into direction of the future looking at the past.

„The Spirit of Things To Come“ was inspired in the Aymara concept of „K’epnair“ (k’ep=behind, nair=eye) which proposes that the past is in front because it is visible, in opposition to the future that is behind because one cannot see it.

Presented on a handmade notebook, the collection displays a body of elements (people, places, events, environments, technologies, facts) that combined perform as an operative or playful methodology.

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Chim↑Pom (JP)

It`s The Wall World, 2015

Installation
13 puzzle pieces
Video, loop

The Japanese artist group Chim↑Pom breaks taboos: using all possible means, at any cost. For example, the artists had lad mines detonated in Cambodia – together with them, a few Luis Vuitton handbags, which are extremely popular in Japan, flew to pieces in the air. In order to carry out their spectacular undertakings, the members went up to their own limits: Toshinori Mizuno spent his time, working undercover at the Fukushima power plant, in constant fear. This fear passed, and what remained was the snapshot showing him in front of reactor no. 3 – with a red card, like a referee, in his raised hand. These kinds of initiatives go far beyond any mindless striving for effect, and are meant to make clear to Japan, a country that has no desire to forsake luxury, the cost this behavior represents for other parts of the world. It was not by accident that the art critic Noi Sawaragi spoke of Chim↑Pom as a directiongiving new arrival in Japan’s contemporary art scene.

In Leipzig, the collective has continued the work series „It’s the Wall World.“ Fragments from different parts of the world and milieus of society are combined into a puzzle object: the white wall of the gallery carries fragments of seemingly trivial places. The hole left behind in the place in question was closed again by an appropriate analogous object.

Eight puzzle pieces from Japan (from a children’s bed, the room of a so-called „Japanese idol“ [a star of the local pop culture], a restaurant advertising board, a bar where women are provided with male accompaniment, a homeless shelter, the office of a soup manufacturer [all from Tokyo], a cottage in the mountains [region of Tokushima], and a sorted-out gravestone [Awaji-shima]) are supplemented with fragments from Germany (from a discarded exhibition display from the Buchenwald memorial, a private car [Japanese manufacturer], the rear wall of a heatable safe from the former State Bank of the GDR [all from Weimar], the former Stasi central office [Berlin], and a slaughterhouse [Dresden]).

This work by Chim↑Pom deals with the futility of making an image of the world, with its antagonistic elements, that fits together.

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Ursula Damm

The Outline of Paradise, 2014

Installation & Video, 12 min, loop

Sustainable Luminosity, 2012

Video, 4 min, loop

With her works, Ursula Damm creates
a fusion of classic artisanal methods and processes of technical calculation, which she brings together in an abstract intermediate world of genuineness, simulation, reality, and virtuality. In the process, she wanders back and forth between the worlds of science and art. In the interactive sound and video installation „The Outline of Paradise,“ both join together to form a hypothetical model of the future.

The installation offers the fictional product, „Sustainable Luminosity.“ Energy-guzzling neon signs are to be replaced by the fluorescing of glowworm-like mosquitoes. These mosquitoes can be trained to fly in letters and logos. With a real-time sound spatialization system, Ursula Damm trains these mosquitoes to swarm in the form of simple LED letters. Once acquired, these flight patterns are conserved and passed on, epigenetically, to their descendants.

What might sound like the wild imaginings of a scientist with delusions of grandeur appears, in light of the biotechnological developments of our time, far less fanciful. As bold and innovative as this idea may seem, it is equally characterized by ambivalence, with
its inherent shamelessness in wanting the natural biotope of an intraspecific community to be freely at its disposal. The glowing of the insects, which in nature serves above all to attract mates, is placed at the mercy of commercial interests. From a swarm of insects, a sculptural art object is made – and a servant of the omnipresent advertising.

„Sustainable Luminosity“ takes up the contemporary phenomenon of traditional technology being replaced by „natural“ – because bioorganically-produced and thus more „sustainable“ – technologies, singing the praises of the problem-solving potential of synthetic biology. The fact that mosquitoes are used here rather than bacteria, the organisms usually manipulated by genetic engineering, is a device meant to help people feel empathy with the other, smaller species.

As fascinating as is the work itself, equally striking is the dichotomy in which the observer may find himself while attempting to assess and put it into context: are the definitive removal of environmental pollutants, the remedy for excessive electricity costs, and a literally enlightening new idea for saving the climate being presented here? Is this simply a matter of charlatanism, the monomania of a con artist? Or does it serve as a symbol for the boundless subjugation of nature?

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

GÆG (DE)

passage2011

In May 2011, the artist duo GÆG (Global Aesthetic Genetics) began a several-week-long expedition during which both artists pulled a self-made boat over the main ridge of the Zillertal Alps. Neoromantic striving and Sisyphus-like effort characterized the initiative, whose apparent goal was to reach the world’s most important art event, the Venice Biennale, on time.

The boat’s construction, as revealed to us by the small model, draws from original creation myths – its form was made from earth, the element out of which all organisms arise and into which they eventually dissolve. Accumulated, it served as the model for the fiberglass construction. It is an activity of craftsmanship whose traces we can study in detail on the object itself. The boat is not only a factual boat, but is at the same time a symbol of itself.

At the outset of the undertaking „passage2011“ stood the potent image of a red boat on top of a glacier, which at the same time represented the theme of a person who has arrived at his limits, battling against the forces of nature and his own exhaustion. With the idea of „passage 2011,“ we are reminded of the ancient heroic epics and modern myths, already amplifying the project before it even began.

We feel reminded of previous centuries, when the great expeditions led man to the undiscovered regions of our world (or beyond), turning their protagonists into luminous or tragic heroes. These undertakings have become symbols for man’s appropriation of the earth, symbols for progress and the overcoming of nature by human civilization. Odysseus, who had himself tied to his ship’s mast in order to discover the secret of the sirens’ fatal song, is considered the prototype of the researcher hungry for knowledge, for whom progress is everything and standstill is synonymous with death. The spirit of Odysseus lives on in the research expeditions of Humboldt and his successors, and it is no accident that the accounts of his travels, which served as a model for the logbook of Huber and Aichner, often read like dramas.

„passage2011“, too, follows the structure of a classical drama, divided into three acts. The schema of the play, the escalating action in the first, the climax in the second, and the declining action with the finale in the third act, also resembles – not surprisingly – the elevation profile of the mountain that has been surmounted. It is a drama during which our gaze is directed toward the heroes and their real-life, and simultanously metaphorical actions. In the center we find art, which on the one hand manifests itself in the self-made boat (in the sense of a sculpture), and on the other, in the undertaking itself. But it is merely the representative of man’s striving to go beyond himself, which – sooner or later – can only end in catastrophy or salvation.

During the expedition, the conclusion still remained open: would Huber and Aichner fail on the mountain, never reaching their goal? Or would they row triumphantly through the Canal Grande, finally vanishing into the sunset on the horizon? Besides this, the question also arises of how much concrete action a metaphor can tolerate in order to continue to be perceived as a metaphor. Or the other way around: how much metaphoric quality can an action tolerate?

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Powerwalk, 2013

2-channel video installation, 17 min, loop

The artistic collaboration of Thomas Huber and Wolfgang Aichner had its origin in an extreme situation: during the attempt to cross Europe’s largest glacier, Iceland’s Vatnajökull, in 1988, they were taken unawares by an ice storm and only barely escaped death. 25 years later, both artists set out again for „Powerwalk,“ in order to test themselves against nature in the very same place.

For „Powerwalk“ the two Munich artists, in the context of a week-long expedition, climbed precisely that glacier, in the guise of human energy stations.

During their expedition in September 2013, they carried along mobile windmills, using them to continually produce electricity from wind energy. The energy thus generated and stored in special batteries also represents the artistic fruit of the undertaking. This clean energy finally served, upon their return to Germany, to wash their dirty expedition clothes.

With „Powerwalk,“ the artists create an absurd picture that thematizes industrial nations’ current race for natural resources and energies, and a society oriented toward efficiency, profit, and entertainment.

Huber and Aichner appeared publicly as an artist partnership for the first time in 2005, in the context of the project criticizing genetic engineering and patent policy, „tilia inflata©“. Since then, they have used the name GÆG, which stands for „Global Aesthetic Genetics,“ for their cooperative projects. The letter Æ of their label GÆG, a component of the Icelandic alphabet, is a reference to their significant and extreme experience in that country.

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Lucy Glendinning (GB)

Unknown Boy 2, 2013 /
Skins 1, 2011 /
Feather Child 3, 2011-12 /
Folding Girl, 2011

Lucy Glendinning sees her art as a tool for investigating psychological and philosophical themes. Time and again, with a sculptor’s craftsmanship and aesthetic subtlety, she turns the human body into a semiotic medium. In truth, her works, above all those that were not designed for a public space, are at once unsettling and fascinating, unearthly and beautiful.

The work from the „Skins Series“ is disquieting, showing an emptied hu-
man shell. The motive reminds us of the mythological figure of Marsyas, who was impudent enough to challenge Apollo in a musical duel (and win), after which he was skinned as a punishment, or of Michelangelo’s famous portrayal of Saint Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel. The presence of a human shell raises the question of the significance of content that has been lost.

The sculpture series „Feather Child“ embodies a clairvoyant, undisguised view of a future society, and where possible, gives an answer to the question of whether, in a world of genetic manipulation, we will still be capable of voicing an objection to the transformation of our bodies. Will need and necessity, or faith in technology and delusions of grandeur be the powers that rule us? Will we act collectively or individually? An unsettling feeling overcomes the viewer in face of the resting, fragile children’s bodies entirely covered with feathers – the atmosphere of a child’s room at night and an experimental laboratory are too little reconcilable.

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Harminder Judge (UK)

This Is Not A Fucking Holiday, 2015

Installation
Audio play, 39 min, loop
3 videos, 10 min & 10 min & 20 min, loop

Out of a combination of spirituality and pop, Harminder Judge constructs the central point of departure for his visual art projects and performances. For this exhibition, the artist, born in India and living in Birmingham, Britain, has conceived a new project centering around the conspiracy theorist Lee Stower, his understanding of the world, and his role in it. The work makes citations from such thematic areas as science fiction, sacred geometry, dystopia, and man and machine, and pursues the process of a man dropping out of society due to particular beliefs.

Stower is actually a sound artist (circuit bender) who designs machines and instruments, playing them himself or carrying them on his body. One of Stower’s latest inventions, and the object of a second video, was a futuristic „jet pack,“ which establishes for him a symbolic connection between the collapse of the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2011, the Illuminati, and a new world order. As the person carrying this backpack, he turns out, in his conception, to be himself the (likewise collapsed) Third Tower, which in its turn stands for the Biblical Jacob’s Ladder.

The setting of „This is Not a Fucking Holiday“ depicts a refuge hut removed from banal everyday life, the interior of which resembles the arrangement of Stower’s home in Birmingham. The claustrophobic narrowness creates
an oppressive atmosphere on the one hand, but at the same time establishes an intimate means of access into the protagonist’s thought world.

While Judge’s own spiritual convictions remain mostly unclear, his works reflect the polyphony of belief systems that characterizes today’s society. How can we, as individuals, assimilate the flood of information and influences? They become a part of our personality, we project our opinion back onto the world. Judge’s work is a summons to personal and community commitment, a summons to more openness to the cultural and religious differences in a onedimensional, profit-oriented world.

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Bjørn Melhus (DE)

Freedom & Independence, 2014

HD-video, 15 min, loop

Bjørn Melhus is without a doubt one of the most significant media artists of our time. Raised in the age of the digital revolution, Melhus, like an archeologist, draws forth elements that he has uncovered from the media and cultural history of the 20th and 21st centuries in order to raise the question of human identity in the context of a culture thoroughly saturated by the media.

In his experimental, fictional short film „Freedom & Independence,“ Bjørn Melhus combines thinking of the neoliberal elite, degraded into a nightmare, with media set pieces containing religious end-of-the-world prophecies. The whole is played against the backdrop of an urban architecture of a megalomaniac appropriated by private excesses (Istanbul).

In this setting, he has a fantasy figure, alluding to the writer and self-declared philosopher of objectivism, Ayn Rand, appear as an über-mother. The audio track is derived from interviews of the Russian author, who passed away in New York in 1982. Equipped with a Biblical, apocalyptic bearing and paranormal powers, this figure directs her children, Mr. Freedom and Ms. Independence, on a tour de force through abysmal landscapes of our global psyche, brooding in madness and yearning for promises of healing.

Freedom and independence given full reign without limits within a radically capitalist society are, moreover, the ingredients of our modern-day hubris. Melhus’ film is a raw journey between the drive for self-optimization, promises of healing, childhood trauma, and the work ethic in a style that combines comedy, musical, and horror film, with stylistic references to evangelical American mainstream cinema.

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Tobias Regensburger (DE)

CAMP 2015 [LEJ], 2004/2015

Assemblage, mixed materials

Things that are left over, whether garbage from civilization or trash from society, are both the material and thematic basis for the sculptor Tobias Regensburger (Kiel), who turned away from his classically-oriented profession to become a tinkerer, a quiet augur who confronts our age’s frenzy of self-destruction with cleverness. As a meticulous collector, he finds forgotten materials in unexpected places, and makes them into set pieces of futuristic objects. He frees the individual fragments from their unknown function and invests them with a new purpose.

„CAMP“ is a monumental collage of material whose central motive consists of a helicopter. It was presented publicly for the first time in 2004.

The installation’s title alludes to the individual’s habitual drive for freedom (vacation, camping), as well as implying the (military and everyday) struggle for survival and defending one’s own territory, including necessary escape strategies.

The title chosen for this work circumscribes the concept of mobility. Mobility here does not just have its usual meaning of „ability to move,“ but describes,
for example, the dream of freedom and independence to the point of escape: escape from society, escape from the I. The helicopter is synonymous with the thought of escape. In and on the helicopter, everything necessary can be stowed and transported to every conceivable location. Lastly, it is the old dream of flying, whose realization could open up unbelievable possibilities for man.

The work, presented in Leipzig, concentrates on the helicopter, whose physical condition leaves behind an ambivalent impression. As an uncompleted helicopter, which is consequently unsuitable for flying, it has either never left the ground, or smashed into the earth after a flight. In any case, „CAMP“ is a metaphor for man’s striving toward something higher, at least toward something distant, the other life, and is thus a symbol for human failure.

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Social Botany, project (2013- ), video still from Visible Speech Writing. Foto: Xu Tan

Xu Tan (CN)

Social Botany: ZHONG
(Planting/Seed/Species/Race/Semen), 2013-14

5-channel video installation
different duration, loop

As a social practice artist Xu Tan, former member of the „Big Tail Elephant Group,“ critically investigates in his works the human conditions in developing countries during the process of their integration into the global economy. Xu Tan deals with urgent questions, such as the situation of human migration and their role in the framework of hegemonic, capitalistic power and order structures. Or he probes, with his engagement with the general public, the feasibility of critical art in China.

In his research-based work series „Keywords,“ running continuously since 2005, Xu Tan investigates socially- and culturally-loaded meanings of words, things, and spaces and their effects on human cooperation and confrontation. As a part of this work, he is involved with a group of collaborators, united under the name „Keywords Lab,“ in the context of „The Social Botany Project,“ investigating relationships between people and their natural and constructed lives and worlds. He is not only interested in the contrast between man and untamed nature, but also what the changing attitude toward plants says about the transformations in our society and culture.

For „Social Botany,“ he collects, together with his group, a wealth of material, whether from gardens on roofs of Hong Kong buildings, or from the swimming gardens of the boat residents of his home city of Guangzhou, a city that has been undergoing very rapid growth for several decades. Altogether more than 80 people were interviewed who work in the most varied areas of botany, from farmers to government officials, to protagonists from the world of art and culture. The analysis concentrates on three contexts: agricultural planting, urban and rural development, as well as self-initiated garden movements.

In the framework of the „Hubris Project,“ the work focuses on the first context with the keywords: „duration,“ „animalistic freedom,“ „seed,“ „bloodline,“ „eudaimonia (human flourishing),“ and „concern for fertility.“ To this end, Xu Tan created reading spaces, videos, texts, and other materials brought in being supplemented by results from his on-site investigations. The compilation of video interviews
and documentations that he refers to as „composition“ is completed by two videos in which he addresses himself directly to the viewer (he speaks here of „visible speech writings“).

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Photo: Claus Bach, 2015.

Pinar Yoldas (TR)

Regnum Alba, 2014

Archival print on rag paper

The oeuvre of Pinar Yoldas is characterized by the connection of her expert scientific knowledge with her artistic practice. Yoldas calls into question our seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge and progress – her design of a post-human ecosystem whose inhabitants, through the evolutionary pressure of selection, have long been capable of incorporating, to their advantage, plastic molecules into their bodies, supports Yoldas’ thesis that modern-day fauna will quite soon be completely transformed.

The work „Regnum Alba“ (the „White Kingdom“) refers to a specific animal group in Carl Linnaeus’ famous publication „System Naturae,“ which includes animals without pigmentation. Over fifty different representatives of particular animal races are gathered together, collage-like, in the picture; due to mutations, they suffer from the genetic defect leucism and are incapable of producing colors or pigments. These animals usually display white fur and light skin, since the skin, in contrast to albinism, does not contain any melanocytes. In the research field, there exist countless scientific treatises on
the subject that establish a connection between environmental pollution and leucism. In our perception, the presence of color and variations of pattern provide animals with identity and, at the same time, define their beauty.

Through the creation of a „Kingdom without Color“ the artist investigates a phenomenon that, through mutation, seems to converge into an eerie minimalism.

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The exhibition is funded by: