This exhibition sheds light on a certain social trend that has transpired with the rise of modernity and that has been further amplified by the circumstances of the pandemic – a growing tendency to withdraw.
Dopesick is the experience of negative symptoms due to withdrawal from medication, usually opiates. We withdraw in order to restore our strength and reorganise our thoughts. During the recent decade scholars from different sociological disciplines have described contemporary society as characterised by social inequalities, political fatalism and disenfranchisement, increasing rates of loneliness and mental health issues, and isolation. This can be traced back to the marriage between human nature, labour and capital at the beginning of the 20th century and the subsequent rocky relationship of these three. Paradoxically, the increase in humanity’s social and material power coincides with a cer- tain collective powerlessness in the face of human-created ecological, technological, political, cultural and social change. This in turn creates a feeling of alienation, a will to withdraw and leads to a lack of need to engage or participate and self-isolation from the outside world – whether forced or voluntary. This globalised indifference seems to be a symptom of our time.
Spread across the walls of the exhibition and bearing within them the symbolism of development, continuity and of the creative force of human, as well as epitomising the intelligence and conscious- ness of nature, Julia Znoj’s fire twisted metal spirals – Deadly Swirls – draw reference and parallel be- tween internal, melting and collapsing processes presently at work. Spirals represent “going in circles,” yet they have a beginning and an end. Znoj breaks with the dichotomy of inside/outside and looks at what seeps through the different habitual systems of the techno-capitalist reality we are living, spiralling out of control.
A sense of dystopian organic vitality is created by Vanessa Billy’s Whiplash – a deconstructed tractor tire unwinding across the room. As if peeling a fruit, the artist cut the tyre in a circle from the inner rim to form a continuous rubber cord whose circles and coils suggest the tightening of a noose – the more you pull, the more you choke. The focus of Vanessa Billy’s works, often made using industrial waste materials, is to make visible the handprints of human actions and the web of relationships present in the everyday existence of humanity on the planet. Billy proposes hybrid forms as a way to escape the dualism of nature/culture and makes tangible the macro and micro inflictions on the environment of the planet and all its life forms. Old Flesh suggests fossils, traces and memories of another time, whether human, plant or animal, alluding to a certain permeability between the different species. These forms may recall fossilised ancient creatures or remains of beings we are not yet aware of. The mist emanating from the barrel in Empty the Earth to fill the Sky in the next room immerses the rest of this dystopian landscape into a cloud of unknown, creating a bridge between the past and the future.
Another gateway is created by Alban Schelbert’s omnipresent soundscape Thanks For Visiting The Park Today that takes us on a dystopian sonic walk. Vibrating back and forth from one room to the other, the four-channel composition, combining prepandemic field recordings from Tokyo, gives the sur- rounding pieces a voice and alters our senses. The work’s peaks and troughs echo each other leaving us wondering what we have already heard.
The distant flickering of Hunter Longe’s Relics of an Evaporated Sea takes us back to the lamp scult- pures that guided us up the staircase. The works from this series contain selenite crystals, a type of gypsum mineral deposited around 165 million years ago that the artist collected in Utah. Across the room is Elizabeth Philpot IV, which is part of a series that contain belemnite fossils (also seen in the stairwell), paying homage to the 19th century amateur palaeontologist Elizabeth Philpot as well as to the extinct squid-like species that she helped to discover. The first lamp sculpture at the base of the stairs, Offrande Météoritique II, contains Libyan desert glass, which formed when sand vitrified upon a meteorite impact 29 million years ago in what is now Lybia. These glowing stones, cast in molds of discarded packaging, mark a threshold to a distant past or a possible future, lured by an electric hum.
Anthropogenic influences make themselves visible in every work present. The “fil rouge” running through the exhibition is a certain whisper emanating from each piece, like the lament of a past ex- tinction event or the withdrawal from one that has yet to hit. At the same time, the whisper ushers us to rethink or re-feel the way we position ourselves in the world around us – how to engage with it, how to take better care and how to pull out of this state of dopesickness. It is a space that invites to linger in precarious and fleeting moments of encounter, yet it also invites us to look, listen and open ourselves to a new understanding of community and of ways of sharing the planet with living and non-living beings.
curated by Kristina Grigorjeva