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  • Christian Hain

Schering Foundation and Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, Forming the Future

(Berlin.) Feeling SAD? Schering (Pharmaceutics, now a subsidiary of Bayer, and no longer formally connected to the art activities) Foundation recommends a trip to the Marchlands, six hours a day, nineteen days. On the Far Side of the Marchlands is, as usual, a small show at a small venue. The concept could be described as “When nurture becomes nature”; it’s all very green.

The title might hint to Gary Larson’s immortal The Far Side comics that more than often dealt with nature and science/culture, not valuing one above the other. Some photos of Brittany Ransom’s Primitive Borders even resemble a cartoon - just add an absurd, cynical, definitely not anthropocentric, caption. It could also be a coincidence. Another association: A drip feed.

More probably, Ransom visited Robin Meier&Ali Momeni’s 2011 installation The Tragedy of the Commons at Palais de Tokyo, and thought it a great idea. Schering Foundation not offering as much space for a gigantic formicarium, she did it in small, with Hi-tech. Her idea is to show how animals – ants - behave in an environment created with digital tools (modelling software). We’d need to verify with a biologist, but there is no apparent change in their behaviour. Which could be kind of reassuring, giving hope, those fundamentals will never change regardless of our technologist future. But the observations are not this easily applicable to humans: Our brains and behaviour change for the simple use of a smartphone (when was the last time you tried to read a book?), and that’s just the start. The thing with humans is, there’s more than feed, sleep, reproduce. Or there should be. Like buying useless stuff for passing the superfluous time instead of sleeping it away. On the other hand, we’ve always created our own world. At the moment we are working hard on becoming a swarm, a colony. And if this whole universe is but a simulation, created in a computer...

At first look, Keeley Haftner did more of the same, minus the ants. There’s a terrarium, and plastic forms lying around, inside, beneath. The latter are formed like gigantic viruses, and could be dog toys. No animal to be seen, hiding in the mud, maybe? No, these objects are 3D printed corn sugar derivatives, casually decomposing in a plastic compost heap.

Cathrine Disney uses technology to create a fake epidermis, and thinks our attempts at terraforming “futile” (well, she’d have trouble to find anything not successfully transformed on this continent). Disney prefers biotechnologically changing ourselves to suit the planet, overcoming our own, supposed, hostility instead of turning hostile environments to friendly ones. Make the “deficient being” (Arnold Gehlen) great again; er no: make it something else. It befits today’s climate conservatism: Change is evil, and no longer manageable. (Not to deny it, but only to mention there are other reactions conceivable.)

For the rest, three works of Morehshin Allahyari&Daniel Rourke, texts and videos saluting our 3D printed cyborg future. Maybe they are not as serious as you'd suspect: At one point of the video manifesto, they rave about “the anthropocene, the ‘Ctulhucene’, the plasticene.”

It’s all rather depressing. But then, nothing could convince me, the 21st Century is not infinitely inferior to the 18th, or the 19th. But that’s a question of individuality vs. mass, greatness vs. efficiency.

Less Science Fiction, yet (in a way) paving the way to the same future, another show just around the corner at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle: Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) was an Indian painter whose works don’t necessarily look Indian. At his best he postmodernly mixed the influences, or prettied up the past. At his worst, he compares to a mediocre European outsider artist.

Khakhar painted casual scenes from his homosexual life, first only alluded to, and later most direct; also scenes from his final illness, and even some caca. All scandalous for mid-20th Century India. In case you wonder, “Wasn’t there even a 3rd sex in the country? or was that another caste?”, be told, he came from the Muslim part. Thus, even street scenes involving beer bottles were outrageous. And are so still, Khakhar could not be shown in Kashmir, and northwards.

West-Eastern modes of perception are interesting, no doubt, and one of the best works here has a collection of swastikas, burkas, minarets or KKK hats, with some Shivas. It’s nice to discover more Indian symbols in the show, but Hanuman and Rama in love, really?! Overall, there is less tradition than in the works of a Rina BanerjeeBhupen Khakhar seems more Western than she is today. Occasionally, the colours look "Indian", and the topics are Western.

First of all, Khakhar was a cultural mainstreamer, importing Western values to his native country. He can easily be included in the context of Western art, as somebody who made the same, but elsewhere. That’s not colonialist, that’s “diverse”. (So called “diversity” might be the most global uniformity ever seen since that tower fell.)

It’s great to see, Deutsche Bank doesn’t keep a grudge against its former CEO.

On the Far Side of the Marchlands, 2 February-26 March 2017, Schering Stiftung

Bhupen Khakhar, Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, 18 November 2016-5 March 2017

World of Arts Magazine - contemporary art criticism



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