“Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?” –Donna Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs
On a recent trip to Germany I made my first visit to the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Inside Neoclassical walls this structure holds the troubling memories of the 20th century past along with disheartening visions of future centuries. Under the current guidance of Director Okwui Enzor, Haus der Kunst presses curatorial boundaries of race, class, gender and medium. This expansive space houses one permanent exhibition in a small room to the right of the great hall with pages of written archives, along with audio and video footage, that document Hitler’s Degenerate exhibition that took place at the Haus der Kunst in 1937. After looting German museums of over 21, 000 works of modern art Hitler created a public exhibition ridiculing, not only the form, but the artists’ sanity. German artists were considered mentally ill for deviating from the classical norm into avant-garde veins of modernism, and if the artists were Jewish or gay, it only fortified racist and xenophobic Nazi propaganda. The exhibition was accompanied by text informing German minds how to think on the matter of modern art but after the exhibition paintings by modern masters, such as Picasso and Kirchner, were sold off on the black market profiting only Nazi pockets. Knowing this history, Haus der Kunst neither sensationalizes nor buries the past but utilizes a impressionable critical eye to approach dialogue regarding the sociopolitical component of the contemporary necessity of art. The current exhibition Blind Faith: Between the Visceral and the Cognitive in Contemporary Art features 25 international emerging artists and collaborators addressing some dark questions of our digital age regarding possibilities of a near or present dystopian future of both mind and body.
Upon entering the exhibition a red plastic body lies center obstructing the path and appears with a small label telling the viewer you are “free to touch.” German-Irish artist Mariechen Danz’s piece Womb tomb interprets a genderless form but one that is also reminiscent of the Body Works touring specimens, or mummy’s corpses, typically viewed from a cautious distance at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York. The glowing red body rests lifeless in a dim room questioning if this genderless identity is less of Judith Butler’s notion of the freedom of “gender performance” and more of an example of Donna Haraway’s interpretation of what cyborgs or possibly AI bodies might feel and look like in the future. Olga Balema’s series Motherland (2016) also probes the charred existence of our bodies after raping and pillaging our natural environments, fracking and polluting every inch of abundant earth. This image of a greedy child suckling on its mother’s breasts is physically apparent in Balema’s sculptural paintings full of latex breasts, bruised and blackened affixed to maps of contemporary war torn nations. Balema’s discourse not only engages with the impact of environmental carelessness on our human shells but asks what will happen to the bodies of women who carry on our species through bearing our young? Can human reproduction be institutionalized if it is taken for granted as a natural process as Margaret Atwood purposes in her haunting fictional dystopian novel turned television series the The Handmaid’s Tale? Questioning the role of our bodies in the future acts as a haunting reminder of the past as these exhibition is housed adjacent to a room full of memories of the Nazi’s regime’s institutionalized and rationalized mass killings of bodies labeled “unfit.” Blind Faith not only acts as a sounding alarm to validate and protect our physicality as humans but also presents criticism regarding the cost/benefit analysis of proposed and present technology making human beings obsolete.
Donna Haraway dialogues with this genderless and bodiless existence in her essay “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” asking if “The Cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.“ Eliminating oppressive gender boundaries is a given feminist assertion but what remains in a post-gender society where humans are replaced by machines? Uniformity does not always render equality as is tragically remembered in the atrocities of the Nazi regime. It goes to mention that Blind Faith also utilizes the tools of technology in order question its’ function in our future forward world. While I was leaving the exhibition, eyes and mind a blaze with information overload, I entered a room previously missed which delightfully was filled with Belgian-American artist Cécile B. Evans’ piece Sprung a Leak. Evans’s installation features a drama played out between two humanoid robots, a robot dog roaming the gallery, a fountain, and a chorus of human “users” problem solving information amply leaking from a network represented by 27 screens. This work among many others in Blind Faith manifests visions of our future relationship with artificial intelligence but also manufactured bodies in order to propose collaboration between AI and human forms and question lines between (virtual) and (reality) impacting not only our minds but what will happen to our humanness if we choose to “blindly” worship technology without a critical eye.