In 1742, the first water wells were uncovered in the middle of the untouched landscape of Kleve. The newly built spa, Bad Kleve, quickly attracted a stream of distinguished guests, who tried to absorb the healing powers of the mineral water by drinking it and bathing in it. Undoubtedly influenced by the mythical Fountain of Youth, they were convinced to invigorate their health and bodies at the spa. Located in the bath’s former treatment rooms, the group exhibition SAFE TO DRINK connects this history to our civilization’s timeless desire to constantly perfect one’s own appearance, health and fitness. Juliette Bonneviot, Kate Cooper and Jenna Sutela investigate the consequences of this longing for a body that is ever young and healthy in contemporary society. All three depart from the notion that we can no longer speak of a completely ‘natural’ body: we function increasingly through an interaction of biological, technological and virtual systems. And although this fusion of biology and technology, and the concomitant objectification of the body elicits a strong fascination, a sense of unease prevails.
Juliette Bonneviot addresses this fluid interaction between natural and artificial in her series Xenoestrogens and Minimal Jeune Fille. Her seemingly metallic Xenoestrogens are malleable, constantly shifting sculptures that invade the exhibition space. They contain the synthetic hormone ‘xenoestrogen’, which is a hidden ingredient in among others makeup, shampoo, contraceptive pills and painkillers – all of which are used to push primarily the female body to optimal achievement and beauty. Xenoestrogens imitate estrogens and in this disguise disrupt the body’s natural endocrine system and subsequently contribute to shifts in physiological processes. Through the attractively shining surfaces and the malleability of the sculptures, Bonneviot stresses the artificiality and the adaptability of both these hormones and the works.
Minimal Jeune Fille moves beyond this hidden, internal process. In sculptures made out of PET plastic, the artist exaggerates the transparent life of the archetypical ‘Young Girl’, who neurotically seeks a purified, virginal body to the extent of altering the body, rendering it hairless, cleansed of bodily fluids and covered in synthetic materials. The socially driven desire for a flawless appearance coupled with the digitally designed visualization of it, allows real bodies to become smooth, highly polished objects.
However, what does it mean for our definitions of humanity and life when we actually exceed our physical limitations? In Rigged, Kate Cooper takes a step in this direction with her creation of a perfected hyper realistic female figure, fabricated with computer-generated imagery (CGI). She deliberately uses the slick language of commercials, in which the enhanced female body often appears as a desirable object. By giving this character agency, Cooper reclaims power over the body and diffuses the boundary between fiction and reality, between digital and physical bodies.
Jenna Sutela’s works are completely detached from the physical appearance of the human body. Entering her installation Let’s Play: Life, one is attracted by a simmering primordial soup. A voice emerging from the mist guides the visitor through the origin of life as if it were an online game. The video RI JIRI I O WA NU RU DAINICHI T-1000 also takes basic conditions for life as a starting point, and shows the deliberate, almost machine-like precision of slime molds finding their way to sustenance. In this way, Sutela subtly connects biological and artificial intelligence, presenting a world view which no longer revolves solely around human existence.
SAFE TO DRINK provides an artistic space for speculation, allowing visitors to rethink the body and their own relationship towards it. The works of Bonneviot, Cooper and Sutela investigate the increasingly porous borders between natural and artificial, where hybrid forms of life emerge. They present a scenario in which bodies move fluidly between biological, technological and virtual domains.
Curators: Marie Stel & Dorothee Mosters
11/11/2017 – 01/14/2018
Museum Kurhaus Kleve