Empathic Creatures, curated by Cathrin Mayer (*1988 in Vienna), is the first solo show by Austrian artist Barbara Kapusta (*1983 in Vienna) in Germany. The artist presents a new series of works including a film, sculptures and a text that emanate from the artist’s interest in female science fiction and the correspondence between the body and speech. Empathic Creatures describes a post-apocalyptic scenario, which is inhabited by four characters deeply in need for exchange after the exhaustion and collapse of a political system, while at the same time struggling with the evolution of this new community.
Wandering up the stairs to the exhibition space, one encounters a wall text that introduces the “Society of Empathy”, the central entity of the show. The letters appear to be tossed and torn within themselves, as bits and pieces form their shapes. The font is organic, seemingly bending to its own spoken sound. Similar shaped objects are occupying the main exhibition space: two silver glazed hands, one 8, one 0 and two (. These objects are determined by a double nature: they are linguistic signs as well as corporeal bodies or maimed, fleshy creatures. The film introduces the characters again in a vast landscape that is reminiscent of a once existing civilization, now only inhabited by the survivors. How do they live together? How do they communicate?
As much as Kapusta describes brokenness, despair and brutality, she also speaks about tenderness, gentleness and closeness. She talks about a fragmented body and its desire and limits, its sadness and brutality. A central, recurring element in the artist’s practice is the conjunction of the body with materiality and speech. Materiality seems to be a predominant element for Kapusta, providing a resonating body through which language surfaces.
American feminist theorist Karen Barad describes matter as an “active participant in the world’s becoming”, saying that it is not ascribed to a fixed mass of a solid object, but rather is characterized as a coagulation of actions. Materiality in Empathic Creatures also becomes entrusted with a queer agency that allows diversity and vulnerability to be constitutional parameters in the commencement of a new society. The exhibition also mirrors an interest in Donna Haraway’s studies on technoscience, political consciousness and the surrogate, as well as non-binary and non-hegemonic social systems. Kapusta’s work can also be read as an expression that consciously reflects the discards of our present, in which actions and things refuse to be identified as good or bad, and instead shift from one to the other continuously.