Evolution, nature and supernatural – the exhibition Jaguars and electric eels at the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin questions the things that connect us and separate us at once.
Recently, NASA astonishingly discovered seven new planets, as large as the Earth, orbiting a single star. On six of them, water could really flow — a prerequisite for life, as we know it. Now, perhaps, the question is no longer: Is somebody out there? But rather: When will we get to know them?
These are questions which have been deeply anchored in us through evolution, and, even if there is still no answer, the search for the unknown remains. All this can come through your mind while walking through Julia Stoschek’s exhibition, especially whilst standing in the darkened, square space before Heike Baranowski’s video installation: Gras (2001) and Mondfahrt (2001): On the one hand, the wavering blades of grass in the wind, filmed from the worm’s-eye view as if you were sitting smack in the middle of the countryside: on the other hand, a view of the full moon taken during a boat trip, the dormant heavenly body, who rather wants to dance here. This sounds cozy — and, at first, it was. Then, a disquieting feeling creeps up — because in the work of an artist settled in Berlin and Los Angeles, nothing really comes to rest: The incessant fluttering of the grass, combined with the moon as a vibrating source of light, nothing can be fixed here, everything seems indefatigable, and you sense the ebbing feeling of standing on a ramshackle ship without an oar, fighting against the increasingly higher waves.
The impotence and disorientation — on account of the fact that we don’t keep still, until we have found what we don’t know — resonate in numerous works in the presentation of Jaguar and electric eels. The title of the group show comes from an America-travel report by Alexander von Humboldt, which at that time laid the cornerstone for a holistic view of nature. In the predominantly media-based thirty-nine works of the thirty artists, including Doug Aitken, Bill Viola or Anicka Yi, themes concerning the search for an evolutionary origin, the migration of the kinds, and the transformation of sensations dominate the show. How do we understand nature? How do natural forces interact? And, can one separate naturalness from artificiality?
The collector and entrepreneur Julia Stoschek has become one of the most noteworthy figures in the German art scene today. Her collection of media art might be one of the most topical in Europe, earning her the title from at least one art magazine as the “new Peggy Guggenheim.” In addition to her center in Düsseldorf, last year she opened another private art house, the JSC, in Berlin. A former cinema, the space measures 2500 meters in area, three floors of varying sized rooms, all adorned with primitive, concrete floors — during the DDR-era the Tschechoslowakische Cultural Institute was located inside its halls, which later became a club. Today, art enthusiasts walk through the interlocking building, to lose themselves, which seems to be part of the concept — and fits perfectly to the mood of the current exhibition.
In the cellar, resembling something between a prison and command center, one encounters Manuel Graf’s video sculpture, which lingers in the mind. On a chair, dating from the turn of the twentieth century and bedecked with blue-turquoise upholstery, rests a flat-screen TV leaning against the chair’s backrest — the former noticeably larger than the latter. However, what is showing on the TV is simply what it masks: the chair’s backrest. Suddenly, magnifying glasses appear on the screen, flying around, zooming to the backrest — as soon as the mauve wig falling from above completely turning reality on its head. Two minutes prior, the viewer would have willingly sat down on the chair, what now appears dangerous — a living thing, cross hybridized between insect and reptile. That which was once still familiar to us becomes suddenly distorted. What is real? And what is only constructed? All these questions whirr through the exhibition and are fundamental in knowing who we are and which role we play in all whole. We as humans consider ourselves the center of the universe. But what if we’re not?
Featured image: Guan Xiao - Amazon Gold, 2016. Installation view, ICA London. Mixed-media installation; resin, plaster, acrylic paint, fibreglass, speaker, digital print on mesh, C-stands. On loan from the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin. Courtesy of the artist, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin and Antenna Space, Shanghai.