A small group exhibition titled “Axis: Art – Science” was presented in Berlin’s Backfabrik from September 3 to October 3, simultaneous with the larger Berlin Preview exhibition at the same location. This exhibition was curated by Marcus Ahlers and Jennifer Hickey and presented seven international artists who each engaged the theme “art-nature-science” in a different way.

A visually enticing installation integrating wood, metal, glass, water, slide projections, light and interactive switches was exhibited by Felix Hediger from Berlin. He integrated found materials into an aesthetic thought-provoking whole. The apple contains specific symbolic significance and is presented as both a real object and as a slide projection. The apple serves as a focal point to encourage the consideration of our understanding of nature.

Technical circuits enable the ironic and humorous installation “To squeak or not to Squeak” by American artist Galo Moncayo. A spare visual aesthetic is deployed. Numerous wooden levers, reminiscent of tools as well as abstracted bird heads, are presented in several rows. One is reminded of the reconstructed birdforms of Vladimir Tatlin’s flying machine “Letatlin” from 1930/32. The wooden levers each squeeze an inflated plastic pillow, producing a squeaking sound. If and how often a lever squeezes a pillow is decided by a neural network, the fundamental concept of “artificial intelligence”. The effect of this abstracted and technical presentation is baffling and makes one think of controlled and uncontrolled communication, but not without being amused in the process.

Communication is also the theme of Manchester artist Anthony Hall’s videoinstallation, presented on a television monitor. The viewer can put on headphones and hear the electrical signals -made audible by the speakers- given off by the Long-Nose Elephant Fish (Gnathonemus Petersii) shown in the video. This fish explores his surroundings by creating a field of electrical current. This current is analyzed and transformed into an acoustic signal through the use of electrodes hung in the aquarium. In this way, the artist directs attention to the relevance of the fish’s electrical field in the context of social communications. In another sense, the presentation in video format raises questions regarding the role of media in social communications among humans - lending the piece a vital layer of meaning.

Tim Deussen approaches the theme of human and technology from a completely different perspective. His work engages the theme of the exhibition with an examination of the historical situation of the holocaust in Auschwitz. The dizzying and shocking reminder of the application of human intelligence and creativity to the task of murder is newly evoked in his work “Die Kreativität das Schlächters”. As part of the collage, the floor plan of one of the creamatoriums at Auschwitz is displayed beside texts and photos from Rudolf Höss involving suggestions for the technical improvement of the facilities and procedures for the gruesome annihilation. This historical context serves as a warning reminder of the human faculties associated with new inventions and the questionable potential of the human spirit.
Marcus Ahlers (Berlin/USA) constructs a formally aesthetic hanging sculpture from three construction helmets that each has a plant growing in them and works with saltwater under the title “Electrolysis Project”. He splits the saltwater molecules apart with the help of 12 volts electricity, producing Chloride and Hydrogen gasses. The gasses emerge from the central unit of the installation and seem to disappear into two separate plastic sacks. The results of electrolysis experiments shows the separation of a substance into new components, which are here presented in an artistic form. In this case, these results are intended to function in a metaphorical manner, encouraging a contemplation of substance, existense and perception.
Sebastian Walter is a Berlin native and works with biological materials. For this exhibition he displays the decoding of the human genome in the form of photo-negatives attached to florescent tubes hanging vertically on the wall. The number of tubes is 24, respective of the number of chromosomes in the genome. Four of the tubes glow green and thereby point to the existense of the ̶ 0;Hox-genes” depicted on the photonegative strip. These Hox-genes are responsible for assuring the proper physical form during the development of a living being. The biological manner in which the form of a living organism is predetermined is addressed in the installation through the different colored florescent tubes. In this way, the formal qualities of nature are confronted with the formal qualities of artistic creation. Glass vials containing plant and animal specimens and headphones offering an audible listing of the letters of the coded sequence complete this installation titled “Consensus”.
The works of Nicolas Kerksieck form the beginning as well as the end of the exhibition. An organic bladder-form of latex and plaster lies on the floor and is attached to plastic tubing. The preformed nature and synthetic materials of the fabricated bladder underscores the contrast to the human bladder and the ambivalence between the two. Photographs hung on the wall contribute to the conceptual context of the work. This belly-like form, according to the artist “Kmut”, is thereby in one photograph attached to the exhaust pipe of a car, and in another to the drainage pipe of a sink. Through these connections, the work is coupled with “life” and stripped of aesthetic and thought-provoking energy. The other exhibited works also seem to deal with the notion of duality: one photograph, titled “Lokale Heilung” (Local Healing), show a garden landscape with two empty medical infusion bags hung from one rack, extended with the customary plastic tubing and terminating at two metal pipes. The metal pipes are thrust into the lawn. In an inversion of the norm, here it is nature that is medically treated rather than the human. In this context the relationship between nature and technology is examined in an ironic and critical fashion. The instrument itself stands in the room as a sculptural object.

text by Verena Schermer, art historian (MA)
translated by Marcus Ahlers