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Marie-France Rafael
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I must say I have difficulties figuring her out. Let me try with some facts: I first met Marie as a colleague at the Free University Berlin, where she was (and still is) working and teaching as an art historian. Actually her name was (or still is) Marie-France, but she isn’t French, even though she feels more at ease writing in French than in German – maybe this has something to do with the fact that she grew up in Munich – like some 120% of my German friends in Berlin it seems by the way. Actually, she grew up speaking Romanian as I found out later. Although technically speaking she has an American passport, and for good reasons. Anyhow, as you can tell I have difficulties figuring her out or even reporting some relevant facts. Maybe it helps to mention a few things she likes best, or to put it differently, that she only likes the best : she only publishes with the best publishers, likes the best food, and of course the best shoes, actually many of them. Did I mention that she is also a fantastic swimmer. I also lately found out that she used to make really beautiful court-métrages back in her Paris years – and will hopefully do so again soon. Maybe this might explain why I immediately found her fascinating when knowing even less about her than I do today, already when she was Marie-France, my academic colleague from the department of art history.

A diffusion tensor image of Dr. Meshi's white matter fiber tracts. The colors indicate the direction of the fibers

The art of the contemporary 7

Marie-France Rafael about "social media and social rewards"
27.06.16
10 min
Post

INT. DAY. SOMEWHERE IN BERLIN MITTE – DAR MESHI (CENTER FOR COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE BERLIN)

M

How would you describe your neuroscience research with social media?

Dar Meshi

In general, I study how social information gets processed in the brain and how that information motivates us to act and make decisions in the real world. More specifically, I am interested in how we value reputational information, and how we manage our reputation online using social media platforms.

M

How has social media changed our social interactions?

DAR MESHI

Well, all social interaction as we evolved used to be face-to-face, meaning you had a given physical context, with body movements, facial expressions, etc. Then with the written letter, the telephone, and now with the Internet and social media, technology has provided various new ways for people to communicate. Interestingly, social media platforms allow for people to obtain more frequent social rewards and in much higher quantities, than the face-to-face social contexts that we evolved in. Furthermore, on social media, this physical social context I mentioned is missing.

M

What studies have you done?

DAR MESHI

I’ve given people reputation-related social rewards, like compliments, and examined how their brain’s response is linked to their social media use. I found that the more sensitive people’s brains are to social rewards, the more intensely they use Facebook. I’ve also looked at the functional connectivity of the brain in relation to how much self-related information people are sharing on Facebook. Both of these studies capitalized on measures of social media use to examine brain function.

M

In reverse, could one deduce that the brain structure or function changes in response to social media use?

DAR MESHI

That’s a great question. I can tell you that no study has yet examined this. We simply don’t know yet if or how the brain is responding to social media use and if this response is good, bad or inconsequential.

To note, there are some scientists out there who warn that the Internet and social media can affect our brain in a very negative way. But again, in reality there haven’t been any performed studies yet.

M

You mentioned “capitalizing on measures of social media use”, what do you mean by this?

DAR MESHI

Contemporary research hasn’t focused on finding the effects of social media use on the brain, we’ve more focused on using measures of social media use to better understand the brain. What scientists can do is use behaviors on social media as a proxy for a real-world social behavior; meaning, we relate the behavior on social media to a brain measure, substituting it for the real world behavior in order to understand the brain from that aspect.

M

Could you maybe give an example?

DAR MESHI

 In your everyday life you have a social network – not an online social network but a real world network of your friends and family. If I interviewed you, we could figure out the size of your social network and your place within it (are you a hub, a connector between hubs, etc.). In 2010, a study did exactly this and assessed the size of the real-world social network of a bunch of people and then looked at their brain structure. This research demonstrated that a region of the brain called the amygdala positively correlates with social network size across individuals. So the bigger your real-world social network, the bigger your amygdala is and vice versa. These days you (and many others) also have a social network on Facebook, and researchers can use your online network as a proxy for your real-world social network. In 2012, some other researchers did the same experiment that I just described, but they also examined online social network size — the number of Facebook friends — and related it to brain structure. These researchers found the exact same relationship with the amygdala — the bigger your online social network the bigger your amygdala. This is just one example of how scientists can actually use social media measures as a proxy for real-world behavioral measures, and you can imagine how useful social media data could be if there were no easy way to measure something in the real world. We can just substitute the social media measure.

M

And do you think that a person having a lot of friends on Facebook is actually also the same as having a big real world social network? Or couldn’t it just be the exact opposite, meaning that in the real world, this person is more of a loner?

DAR MESHI

Absolutely. That type of person, with a small real-world social network but large online social network, definitely exists. The research isn’t affected too much by individuals like this because scientists use a large number of participants for statistical reasons, but no neuroscience study has yet examined these specific types of individuals. Social media certainly allows you to be social in a way that the real world doesn’t afford you to be. Social media is more controlled and there are aspects that favor more relaxed communication compared than face-to-face interactions, like having more time to respond when communicating on social media, etc.

M

But do you think that social media is influencing our real world social networks, meaning that we are becoming more “social” or “sociable”?

DAR MESHI

That’s a really good question. There’s a professor at Oxford, Robin Dunbar, who put forth a theory called the “social brain hypothesis” in the late 90’s. Dunbar noticed that human brain size is relatively large compared to other primates, so he theorized that this was to manage our complex social interactions. He demonstrated that across species, primate brain size positively correlates with the size of their social group; meaning that the bigger a species’ brain, the bigger the average size of a social group with that species. In humans the group size was around 150. This is the average number of individuals that our brain has capacity to interact with.

M

And are online social networks changing Dunbar’s number?

DAR MESHI

Actually, Dunbar just recently put out a paper demonstrating that social networks don’t.

M

You were explaining that “the brain has capacity for” social interaction? What exactly do you mean by that?

DAR MESHI

Social cognition is highly taxing for the brain. It is very cognitively complex and requires a lot of energy and resources. So this was a major factor driving our brain size during evolution, i.e. the group size grew with the brain size.

M

Earlier you mentioned “social rewards”, what do you mean by this and how do you see the connection to social cognition?

DAR MESHI

To explain, I’ll first talk about rewards in general. Back in the 60’s two researchers from Canada, Olds and Milner, did an experiment: they placed a rat in a box with a button and nothing else, letting the animal explore the box. On average the animal hit the button 25 times an hour. Then Olds and Milner put an electrode somewhere in the rat’s brain that was hooked up to the button and a battery, providing an electric charge directly to the brain of the rat whenever the button was pressed. Olds and Milner measured how many times the animal hit the button and observed that the rat would press the button more or less depending on where the electrode was placed in the brain. The idea is that if the animal pressed the button less than 25 times an hour, they didn’t like the stimulation in that region of the brain, and if they pressed the button more than 25 times an hour, they found the stimulation pleasurable or rewarding. There were certain regions in the brain where the animal only hit the button 4 times an hour, so they concluded that stimulating this region of the brain wasn’t pleasurable. Yet in other brain regions the animal hit the button much more. One place in particular was very rewarding and the animal pressed the button up to 7000 times an hour. This was when the electrode was placed in the “median forebrain bundle”, which connects the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain to the striatum with dopamine neurons. Olds and Milner had discovered the reward system of the brain. Since the 1960’s we found out that anytime we obtain something we value, this area activates (like when we gain money, or when we take certain drugs, or when we have sex, etc.). It’s basically a neural circuit for motivation to obtain all these things. Then in 2008, a researcher named Keise Izuma and his colleagues did a study demonstrating that positive social interactions, like when someone gives a person a compliment, activate this circuit as well. People find social connection and gains in reputation rewarding.

M

Would you then say that social media, like Facebook and other platforms, activate this social reward system?

DAR MESHI

Yes, the first study to definitively show this was just published. Lauren Sherman and her colleagues at UCLA gave people Instagram “likes” in the MRI scanner. Their analysis showed that the more likes someone received, the more activation was observed in their reward system. So we can definitely say now that social media is a source for social rewards.

M

So basically the reward system in the real world or in social media is the same, right?

DAR MESHI

Yes, even though it’s a “virtual” world it’s a place for real social rewards, i.e. you’re having real interactions and people are actually spending time on social media to obtain these social rewards. People are even interrupting their real-world social interactions to interact online, on social media platforms. Whether these rewards on social media actually have any real value is another question though.

M

Would you say that social media is a kind of contemporary loophole, where people can easily get their social rewards, without taking too many risks? And is this a symptom of our contemporary time?

DAR MESHI

Yes, I think that social media provide easy access to social rewards, but I’m not so sure that people aren’t taking risks. If someone posts something controversial, they might receive negative feedback and their reputation might take a hit. Also, even though using social media is an accepted norm in our contemporary society, how far you’re willing to accept the use of social media varies between individuals. For example, one person may think it’s acceptable to pull out their phone at dinner, take a picture of their meal, and post it online for their social network to see. Another person may find this behavior rude. So using social media is not without its risks. Of note though, social media have definitely altered the social norm landscape for some and it will be interesting to see how these norms evolve as new social media technologies continue to enter our contemporary lives.

M

Lets widen a little your example of the dinner situation and talk about the role this person has? I mean how would you describe this person, as a consumer or as a producer of social media, or as a “prosumer” – to use a term by the futurist Alvin Toffler that one encounters now often in the field of contemporary art?

DAR MESHI

Yeah, I definitely agree with Toffler on this point. If you’re posting on social media and also reading other’s posts, you’re a prosumer. To me, it’s interesting that these behaviors are socially motivated. I’m really looking forward to disentangling the drive to produce for one’s social network from the drive to consume information from one’s social network.

The art of the contemporary 6

Marie-France Rafael about "music on display"
01.03.16
8 min
Post

INT. DAY. SOMEWHERE IN BERLIN-KREUZBERG – ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS’ ARTIST STUDIO

M

The deconstruction of music, of the ‘idea of music’, or let’s say of what we think music might be, appears to me to be one of your main artistic strategies. Could you elucidate this aspect  – for instance let’s talk about your exhibition Black Thoughts at Galerie Esther Schipper in 2013 where you used the music of Erik Satie as the basis for your work, also deconstructing it in a certain way.

ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS

In that show I don’t actually use any of Satie’s music but he is present as a reflection. I always want to create a relationship between an audience or viewer and a piece of music, a musical score or a musical performance. Music as we now encounter it is often packaged in a certain way by the music industry and then presented to us as a completely finished, perfectly consumable thing. And as we know, consuming like that negates any kind of real interaction. What was missing for me in my work as a conductor and composer was precisely that: a real relationship among the audience and performers and with the music – in short, the social, messy, openended aspect. In this sense, also the political. 

Imagine a piano recital at the Berlin Philharmonie: a very famous classical pianist is on the program; musician and audience both playing their part, in their costumes, performing their roles in the ritual that is a classical concert. The pianist comes out, starts playing. After two minutes you’ve settled into your role, into your comfort zone, but then suddenly he stops, gets up from the piano and says something directly to the audience like: “No talking!” He’s broken out from his role. And from one moment to the next the whole charade, the artifice of the situation crumbles. Everyone is very awkward, the audience because they realize they are not an audience anymore. Now the concert turns into a performative situation, the audience gets the feeling of seeing something truly live, that things may not necessarily follow the script. That is what I am trying to achieve but in different ways.

M

So you are trying to create situations that open up the possibility for an encounter, be it social or political or let’s say aesthetic. Would you say that the situation is already inherent to the score, as a kind of potentiality?

ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS

Standing up and saying: “No talking!” is certainly not written in the score. But I don’t see it as necessarily outside the score either, in the sense that a score is a basis for a situation. Inside that situation a lot of things can happen – this might be one of them. If music is viewed as simply being equal to its ‘perfect’ reproduction then such performative elements are additional, not included – but if the performance of music means interaction on a social level in a certain space changing over a certain time span then a lot of things are possible without them being extraneous.

M

Speaking about the situation, I would like to know how the score operates in relation to this idea of a situation, especially in an art context. What I mean by that is, can a score be (visually) presented? And could we then speak about a situation as a form of presentation of the score?

ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS

A score is a written instruction. Notated music is the instruction for a musician to play or sing a note at a certain point in time usually in relation to other notes. Artistic instructions though can take a lot of forms, so there are graphic scores, speech pieces, the scores by John Cage or Yoko Ono that are just text. In my case a score is an instruction that leads to a certain situation. In a traditional sense we think of the score as a blueprint for an exact representation of a piece of music, so if I would write down the notes I hear I arrive back to the score it was played from. But if you go back in music history and for instance read newspaper reviews from the time when Beethoven was conducting his own works, those concerts were five to six hours long with different symphonies, concertos and opera arias, most of them premieres. The concert hall was full of sounds and things happening like people playing chess or eating. Some of the more important incidents are reported in the reviews, like Beethoven getting angry at the audience and the audience at him. He was going deaf so there were a lot of problems. . .So here again is the idea of the musical score as the basis of a social situation. In today’s classical concerts there is very little room for this, for the unrehearsed, the so-called extraneous or the contingency, even (or one could say especially) within contemporary music performance practice. We need the Philharmonie or La Scala in all its perfection like we need museums to display the old masters, but we also need another kind of space for contemporary music performance that hasn’t really existed until now, let’s call it a ‘Kunsthalle’ for music. We as composers and musicians haven’t traditionally had this playground as we know it in contemporary art. As a composer I feel a strong pull towards a nongoal oriented musical space, the derive. An art space has of course its own rules, but is still a space you can navigate at your own pace.

M

What I noticed about your work is the fact that you sometimes take one of your previous pieces and continue working with it, by changing it, rewriting it, or giving it a new form – so basically you are working with the same material over a long period of time.Are you especially interested in time-based variations?

ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS

Yes, absolutely. I find that idea interesting, that a work or a composition itself could be revisited and change or be reworked over a long period of time. In the world of contemporary music there is a lot of importance put on the idea of the ‘premiere’ and I wanted to get away from that. Then in classical music there exists the concept of the arrangement, but the arrangement is always considered as something of lesser importance than the original. In a way this is odd, because we know that ‘popular’ arrangements of classical music were at the time often the first contact people had to a work. The string quartet arrangements of arias from an opera like Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, KV 527, 1787) would at the time have been much more popular than the original opera, precisely because they could be performed at home.

M

So taken from what you just said, what interests you is not only the process of composition, but especially also what happens to the piece you created once the composing act is done? The way it is going to be performed and presented and the different and new forms the work can produce?

ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS

Every composer puts a lot of energy and emotion into a piece and after a certain time, let’s say a year, the work is done. Then it is taken out of your hands and you have nothing more to do with it. You write down the notes and that’s it. Wanting to control the variables after that led me into the direction of contemporary art. When you start with a blank space, like a white cube, you have to think about where the musicians are going to sit, on what kind of chairs, and what the color of the walls should be. It is a specific space you have to deal with when you are invited to show in an institution. I usually start with the idea of a situation – usually connected to a specific space – and the composition process will proceed on from that.

M

Do you think that a musical experience must necessarily be an immersive one?

ARI BENJAMIN MEYERS

I’m not interested in creating an ambience or atmosphere in which one gets lost, but rather an always active present. I see it more like a constant series of ‘nows’. Usually when one starts talking about the immersive qualities of music, what’s implied there as a counterpart is a passive audience letting the music wash over them; this kind of ‘zoning out’ leads to a certain isolation and separation among an audience.

Co-Workers, installation view. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Pierre Antoine
Co-Workers, installation view. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Pierre Antoine
DIS, The Island (KEN), 2015, Created in collaboration with Dornbracht and co-designed by Mike Meiré, Co-Workers, installation view. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Pierre Antoine

The art of the contemporary 5

Marie-France Rafael about "the artist as prosumer"
24.01.16
14 min
Post

INT. DAY. MUSEE D’ART MODERNE DE LA VILLE DE PARIS – FIRST FLOOR

Huge sliding doors dominate the entrance to the exhibition CO-WORKERS – NETWORK AS ARTIST, like the doors we are used to see at department stores. Toke Lykkeberg is standing in front of the moving glass planes. He is one of the curators of the show, waiting to be interviewed by M, an art historian.

M

Lets start to talk about the sliding doors. It’s a pretty uncommon opening for an art exhibition

– can you tell me more about it?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

The show starts with doors sliding open. There are a couple of other sliding doors in the show. This is part of the mise en scène or scenography that DIS has been in charge of. The many transparent and reflective surfaces lend the show a certain lightness so visitors sort of float through the space. It’s like a space of flows of images, of data in a networked world. But it also reflects life in airports, malls, Apple stores and Starbucks. I know this mise en scène might recall ethnologist Marc Augé’s non-places. In the 1990s, in the wake of the introduction of TGV or Trains à Grande Vitesse, he was interested in a new kind of solitary passenger who left places behind at high speed. But DIS has been more interested in the connected and social individuals who linger, meet up, chill or work in environments with good wifi that has a ubiquitous rather than transitory quality. Places are not negated but rather mixed. So it’s a world in which many divides seem to disappear like the barriers between work and leisure, private and public, commercial and non-commercial space and what is inside and outside, for instance of a museum. The show discusses the divides between what we once called ‘the virtual’ and ‘the real’, between nature and society, the biosphere and the technosphere, East and West, and many other such binaries that no longer work as opposites.

Toke and M pass through the sliding doors, that produce a muted but peculiar sound each time they open and close. The couple walk into the first room of the exhibition. The large and elongated space is lit through a skylight in the ceiling. A range of artworks unfolds. Each of them represents a discrete artistic position, but their arrangement spurs a dialogue between the works, and configures a heterogeneous unity of different media and materials.

M

The display of CO-WORKERS makes me think of Dan Graham and his work.

Is it a kind of Dan Graham 2.0?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

If 2.0, then I would say: yes. Dan Graham’s work is a reflection on and of the ‘modern’ world and its modernist architecture, but Co-Workers is not discussing the concept of the ‘modern’ world in general.

M

So CO-WORKERS is about the contemporary world? What would you say – in what kind of world do we live right now?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

Of course we wanted to create a show that reflects what is around us. While working on the show we realised that our surroundings were changing while we – and many others – were studying them. The problem with art called contemporary is that it is more fleeting than ever. When things accelerate around you, it is very difficult to be contemporary or ‘with time.’ We’re rather out of time.

M looks around at the different works of art. She focuses on a cubic construction in the middle of the room. It is made of glass and steel, forming a space within the larger space of the exhibition hall. Inside the cube there are three flat screens, a work by Cécile B. Evans, accompanied by a fish tank by Aude Pariset and Juliette Bonneviot and a workplace curated by Felix Burrichter.

M

If I look at this display…

The art historian points at the cubic construction in the middle of the room.

M (CONT’D)

… which seems to be open and closed at the same time – a space floating inside another space. It reminds me of an aquarium, can you please say something about that?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

The glass box traversing the space mimics an open office space. It is a transparent barrier. While it divides the space, it also emphasizes the flow from one space to another. We wanted to give each individual artist, group or collective his, her or their own space, but we did not want to cut it off from the rest of the show. 

Today an artist stands out as an individual, but at the same time as part of a network. They are ‘networked individuals.’ Sometimes you cannot tell one work from the other. The works are shaped by overlapping yet personalized networks. It is almost impossible to separate the part from the whole, the individual from society, they constitute each other. Bruno Latour explains this idea in the following way: If you want to check out a person, you google his name, for example ‘Bruno Latour’. The more links you find about Latour spread out across the Internet, the more he comes together as a person. You might feel you loose yourself in the network, but it might also be where you resurface.

M

Do you think this is an aspect of our contemporary world – gaining something by losing parts of our individuality?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

Douglas Coupland says somewhere in his recent writings: „At the moment we don’t know which will triumph: the individual or the mob. It might be the biggest question of this century.“ My answer to the question would be: both.  

The individual might only reinvent itself, if it gives in to or adapts to its surroundings. You can only shape an environment that you are a part of. By resisting today’s world or simply keeping it at a distance, you don’t change its course. To a certain extent, you might rather have to lose a bit of control in order to regain influence. At least, many artists in the show work along these lines. Parker Ito, for example, creates images that are meant to be photographed by others.

Toke turns to a series of large format pictures. Each part of the series seems to be composed out of different images, drawings and written texts superimposed on each other, in a somewhat raw manner akin to graffiti. Yet, the pictures are framed with a silky and highly brilliant material that lends them the touch of a glossy magazine illustration.

TOKE LYKKEBERG (CONT’D)

The reflector fabric on which he has printed the images are hypersensitive to the faintest change in the light. So depending on the light, the angle, your camera, every photo of his work will be somewhat unique. Parker wanted to make an ‘undocumentable’ work that triggers a multiplication of images the moment it is documented. The work taps into and prolongs a network of images.

Toke takes his mobile phone out of his pocket and points it towards the pictures. He turns flash on and pushes the release button. And indeed, the colourful pictures on the wall suddenly turn black and white, as if they are loosing all their colours when hit by a bit of light.

M

These pictures seem to have lives of their own, changing and never being the same again. The whole exhibition in general somehow reminds me of a living organism, which can be likened to a network, doesn’t it?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

Yes, it might be troubling that something has a life of its own. An oft-heard critique of contemporary network theory is that the individual, the human subject is without power. By reflecting on these networks we might however empower that disempowered individual to impose itself in the networks.

M

Following your definition of network, one could think of an organism?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

If you want things to circulate in a network you need mediation from one node to another. This mediation might be undertaken by an intermediary or a mediator. In the case of the intermediary, there is no transformation of content from one point to another. However, when an image travels from an exhibition space to a camera, to a computer, to Photoshop, to Facebook, to Instagram and ends up as a bad quality print, there’s transformation. There are mediators translating the image so information is both lost and added. Artists work with such mediators in the same way they now work with bacteria, animals, plants and so on. So I’m also interested in networks at the intersection of bio- and technosphere.

Toke and M step into the cubic construction and sit down around the workplace layout.

M

Keeping this gain of loss of information in mind, can you tell me something about the rematerialisation of the art object?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

It goes back to Lucy Lippard’s idea that conceptual art of the sixties and seventies was a dematerialisation….

M

… in favour of the information, becoming the immaterial?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

Yes, you might call it the ‘Helvetica ideology’, following the idea that you can create a form – in this case the Helvetica font – that is so transparent you only get the content. In the course of the democratisation of telecommunication in the sixties and seventies people started to communicate across long distances with ease. They were preoccupied by the feeling of talking with a person without being in his or her presence. So this development was experienced as a disembodiment, a dematerialisation. Some artists got into telepathy, thinking about how they could make thoughts travel from one mind to another without taking on a material shape. Materiality was secondary to the content and ideally you could have pure content. That continued with the way the Internet developed in the nineties. However, with Web 2.0 it became social and now with the ‘Internet of Things’ the virtual and immaterial is evidently embedded in the real and material. So both can make us understand how things rematerialise rather than dematerialise while circulating in the network, but also how the network works and how it is constituted. In a way, we’re not only looking at who is walking around the house, but also looking at the house itself.

M

That is an interesting metaphor. Is this exhibition the housing hosting what is in that larger house?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

We are trying to present images, objects and information that recall the images, objects and information that are around us, but also their surroundings. We both want to present the artworks and the environment in which these artworks make sense.

Toke and M continue walking through the exhibition. They pass by the work of Timur Si-Qin, The Struggle (2012), an installation made of four apparently excessively designed pedestals on which Nike gym bags are hanging. Each of the bags is filled with stones and water bottles. Finally the couple stops in front of a gleaming installation, a cubic box lit by neon lights. On its backside is an image of a boy, which is reflected by a glass surface installed behind the cubic box.

M

Please tell me about this work.

TOKE LYKKEBERG

It is a work by the French artist David Douard, called The reason we no longer s’speack. Slipper of snow (2015). It is an image of a boy that Douard has reworked. His eyes have been erased, the boy’s hand is almost inside his mouth. In a way, right now, I can’t help thinking of The Thinker by Rodin. Rodin got the motif of the thinker from the Last Judgement fresco of Michelangelo, in which one man sits bent over, encircled by the flames of hell. Rodin isolated the figure in his sculpture from any surroundings: The individual suddenly is left alone with his or her troubled mind. This is the modern man. Douard’s contemporary speechless version is a reflection in glass in two ways: A boy is reflected in the glass in the midst of reflecting on himself, withdrawn into his own world. Maybe Douard presents an image of someone in the Internet age who has the possibility to reach out for information anywhere, but ends up trapped by what he’s already into. Today, any new search query is biased by an older one and, as a consequence, one might get caught up in a so-called filter bubble. So a network culture also creates certain disconnects.

M

Would you say that this work is framing a critique of the Internet based society?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

I would personally not use the word critique. It implies looking at looking at the world from the outside. But an artist is always more engaged in the world through his or her work than the critique teaches us. I’d rather say that Douard’s work evokes the pains rather than the pleasures of network culture.

M

So it is more a reflection on the state of things?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

It is an attempt to understand an aspect of a networked world. If you do not feel a certain pain looking at the work, I am not sure you’re on the right track. I am against dividing works into categories such as affirmative or critical. Most works are both.

As they continue, Toke and M find themselves in a room whit a video work by Rachel Rose – Sitting Feeding Sleeping (2013). This visual collage shows images of animals that the artist took in different US-American zoos, as well as computer screenshots and iconic paintings from art history. The saccade rhythm of the video is alternating with more contemplative sequences, conveying a strange feeling of detachment, which is even more accentuated by the alienating computer voiceover commenting the images.

M

For a few years, there’s been a discussion concerning the question whether we should slow down our lives or adjust to the speed of information technology developing faster and faster. What do you say? Is the exhibition a comment on or even a contribution to that discussion?

TOKE LYKKEBERG

About ten or fifteen years ago the French artist Pierre Joseph said: In order to understand how a car works, you have to take it apart. But artists today rather get inside the car and drive it. If we understand the world as networked then there is no outside anymore. Artists are less interested in utopias and more in the potential of the world we inhabit. We should accelerate some things, others we might slow down. But I don’t believe in history given in advance, i.e. that there is a certain goal to reach at the end of the journey, therefore I am not sure what it might mean to speed up the process we are in the midst of.

M

So taking up your metaphor of the artist as a car driver, you understand an artist today as what you call a prosumer: a producer and consumer at the same time.

TOKE LYKKEBERG

Yes, that’s another dichotomy that I would like to mention as example of the end of the great divides, namely production and consumption. What characterises the artist today is that he is a prosumer to a certain extent, part of a network where production and consumption are difficult to tell from each other. So today I see artists more as mediators or prosumers.

Toke and M reach the last room of the exhibition and stop in front of a work by the collective DIS. The Island (KEN) (2015) resembles at first glance an ordinary, white coloured kitchen in IKEA design. One notices water coming down from time to time from an object that might be mistaken for an exhaust hood. Close inspection reveals it works as a shower. The Island combines the social space of the kitchen with the private space of the bathroom – thus creating a scene in which anything can happen, production and consumption becoming one, and the spectator an activated mediator himself.

Brace Brace "Life Ring" (2015);
part of "Produktion" – curated by Kolja Reichert; Gallery nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder

The art of the contemporary 4

Marie-France Rafael about the aesthetics of fear
08.10.15
6 min
Post

INT. GALLERY – DAY

M comes rushing through the entrance of the gallery, passing by the artworks in the first room and stopping before the desk of the gallery assistant in the second room. She introduces herself, explaining that she has an interview-appointment with Annika Kuhlmann and Christopher Kulendran Thomas (Brace Brace), but apparently the two aren’t here yet. M is invited to sit down and wait. She takes out her computer and transforms the little waiting space almost immediately into a working office. After a while Annika and Christopher arrive and the three of them sit down to talk.

M

We could start by who and what is Brace Brace?

Christopher Kulendran Thomas

(Smiling at Annika)

Brace Brace begun as the artistic collaboration between the two of us.

Annika Kuhlmann

We decided to found a luxury life gear brand. Life gear is the term we coined for safety and emergency equipment. We started this as a way to investigate the aesthetics of safety and what they could be in relation to the aesthetics of fear.

M

The aesthetics of fear, like in being afraid?

Christopher gives Annika a little nod with the elbow that she should answer the question

Annika Kuhlmann

The objects we engage with….

Annika is suggesting to go find a quieter place in the gallery, as people are constantly passing by and interrupting the discussion. Everyone gets up and grabs their things. Finally they sit down around a little table in the back of the gallery continuing their talk.

Annika Kuhlmann (CONT’D)

When I say aesthetics of fear, I think about the objects we are engaging with – like the life-ring we made for this show – which are perfect symbolisations of existential fear on the one hand and an almost transcendental hope for rescue and salvation on the other. You would only use these objects like life-rings and life-wests, but also fire extinguishers and many others, in a moment of total catastrophe, when you are faced with the danger of loosing your life. And you use them while putting all your hope for rescue into them – and we are talking about the most existential kind of hope. I am very interested in how those two extreme feelings are manifested in these objects.

M

And would you say that those objects become images of those feelings, of what you called the aesthetics of fear and safety?

Christopher Kulendran Thomas

Beyond image production the whole branding operation of Brace Brace is an operation of fetishising safety and rescue as a luxury commodity in an economy of fear. The functional art works such as the life ring of Brace Brace is an object of beauty that could hold the promise of a future at a moment of existential crisis.

M

So there is on one side the aesthetization of the idea of branding combined with an ‘aesthetic of fear’, could you describe how those two go together in your artistic strategy. I mean are you actually using economic strategies in order to develop your branding. Or to phrase it differently how is your brand working?

Christopher Kulendran Thomas

We are currently in the research phase of launching Brace Brace and the strategy is to develop it as a luxury brand within the art field but with the potential to create a new market beyond the field of art.

Annika Kuhlmann

(Continuing the thoughts)

But there is even more to that. I think luxury goods deal so much with escapism – it’s all about the illusion of the better world, one that you can actually buy, right here and now. So Brace Brace is also an investigation into how a luxury brand can directly engage with a world of fear, danger and crisis – in our case by rethinking safety and rescue as luxury commodities. At the core it is about positioning yourself differently to what is immanent – and that’s the crisis. I like to think of us as a generation that understands itself as ‘pre’ rather than ‘post’, i.e. ‘pre’ as in preparation for whatever we want to see happen. So in that sense what is the world we are looking at, what do we want to salvage and, maybe more importantly, what do we want to, but also what will we need to leave behind?

M

One of the main critics contemporary art encounters is that of becoming more and more a commodified good. Now it seams to me, that this might be the starting point of your work, saying that if that is anyhow the case, why not just start from there and create actually a brand, with commodified goods in the art field. Is that your attempt to rescue art?

Christopher Kulendran Thomas

There are two art historical trajectories that we talk about a lot in relation to this. One is a kind of potential for reversing the Duchampian logic of the ready made, which is about taking artifacts of the commercial world into the gallery and making it art by framing it as such. We are interested in reversing that process, which is the potential of taking artistic operations outside the context of art, potentially to the extend where it’s framing as art becomes irrelevant. That’s the potential of doing art through commercial processes. But there is also an issue of the very form of the artist. We talked about this as perhaps an alternative to conceptual art’s strategies of dematerializing the artwork, which kind of failed to evade its commodification.

Annika Kuhlmann

Brace Brace plays with the notion how the frame for contemporary art has become very confined to the object tradable in the market. Yes, maybe we can ‘rescue art’. But what would that mean? What is the post-contemporary art and how are we ‘pre’? Maybe there is a future for an art outside what we call contemporary art that doesn’t understand itself in the relationship between the artist and the object and the spectator – and maybe then production can work differently.

The camera zooms on the life-ring until the image fades to black.

The art of the contemporary 3

Marie-France Rafael about the commodification of the present
24.09.15
4 min
Post
  1. Gallery – Day

The show has been set up. The front window of the gallery is filled with snails. Inside a camera team from the local TV station is filming. Along the walls of the gallery 2000 science fiction books have been pilled up in alphabetical order, a work by Post Brothers. Other works like a pink c-print on canvas showing to horses are leaning against the wall on the floor. In the back room of the gallery the curator Chris Fitzpatrick is giving one interview after the other. He, the gallery assistant (A) and an art historian (M) have set down for a little chat.

M

(to Chris Fitzpatrick)

Chris, tell me, what is contemporary art for you?

Chris Fitzpatrick

I think contemporary art is more and more indiscernible.

It is less and less essentialized in any kind of given space.

So it is happening that the artists are interested more and more in applied things, leaving art context altogether.

I was telling someone about Post Brothers collection of science fiction books, a collection of 2000 titles. In all of them you have a somehow antiquated idea of the future that already passed – a kind of space aged idea of the future from 1987 and now we are in 2015. It puts a graveyard of great ides that didn’t get realized…

The camera team steps in. They finished their work and are leaving.

Chris Fitzpatrick (CONT’D)

(to the camera team)

Oh, buy and thank you.

(to M)

And so to me the conflation of all the different people, voices and subjectivities that lead to the collection being there and how it is arranged in this sort of absurd alphabetical topography is very much like contemporary art. It’s what that does by doing that. That’s the picture, the picture now is well beyond its frame. To me the information is embedded in that.

A

(to Chris Fitzpatrick)

I think there is an another interview scheduled, maybe we should take a little break if that’s ok?

M

(to both of them)

Yeah, sure, I can come back in a few minutes.

Chris Fitzpatrick is joining his other interview partner and Marie-France Rafael steps out for a few minutes. We see her entering a bakery around the corner and eating her sandwich while walking back to the gallery.

All the three of them are sitting again in the backroom of the gallery.

M

(to Chris Fitzpatrick)

Let’s pick up the conversation where we left it, talking about the picture.

Chris Fitzpatrick

The picture is not necessarily inside a frame. There are things that are invisible, but implicitly they are there. You can’t see those things, but you can see the effect they have on other things.

M

(to A)

And what is contemporary art to you?

A

It could be different things.

Someone is entering the room. A is saying “Hi” but is still continuing talking.

A (CONT’D)

For me as someone who is selling art it is also an exchangeable good. We consume it, but we don’t really need it. But it gives you something.

The complexity of contemporary art is how you deal with it, literally in the double meaning of “to deal”. The snails are a good example, once you put them in the gallery they become art.

Chris Fitzpatrick

For me art isn’t a commodity at all.

If her job is to sell, my job is to spend money.

I only think of art as a kind of pursuit that makes life livable. Without artists the world would be completely uninhabitable. And the fundamental thing about contemporary art is that it is not very contemporary but futurological.

The art of the contemporary 2

Marie-France Rafael about well, sort of: DIS magazine
12.09.15
1 min
Post
  1. Screenshot of a computer

The screen is blank. After a while a link appears:

http://dismagazine.com/

A computer cursor appears and clicks on the link. The homepage of DIS magazine pops up the screen. The cursor continues to scroll over the page and to click through the different columns of the page, clicking on pictures, videos, texts, music etc.

During this one is hearing the voice over of Marco Roso and Lauren Boyle (members of the DIS collective) explaining what DIS is and what DIS does.

GCC "Wish We Were Here" (2015) Postcard; part of "Like the Deserts Miss the Real" – curated by Myriam Ben Salah; Gallery Steinek

The Art of the Contemporary

Marie-France Rafael about the confusion of history or the history of confusion
10.09.15
3 min
Post

Exposition scene

  1. A BAR IN VIENNA – NIGHT

The bar Anzensgruber (known to be a gathering point for artists and art afiliados) is crowded with people staring at a flat screen installed above the entrance. Austria is playing against Sweden, the score is 2:0.

Around a table a group of people gathered together, a gallery assistant, a curator, a few artists. an Austrian guy and a French woman. They aren’t very interested in the game, except the Austrian.

FRENCH WOMAN

So you just arrived today?

(to everyone in the group)

She looks at the group of people, sitting with her back to the flat screen, noticing that some luggage is placed under the table.

CURATOR

Yeah, we arrived this morning from the Triennial in Vilnius

and started straight away to install the show.

He looks at the two artists sitting across him. His gaze keeps moving from the two to the flat screen and back again.

The gallery assistant sitting besides him giggles. She nods to some people she knows entering the bar.

GALLERY ASSISTANT

Yeah, we started installing the artworks today, but we gonna make it on time.

I mean, we have two full days left, where is the problem, right?

Suddenly the crowd in the bar exclaims a unified happy scream turning almost immediately into a scream of disappointment. Everyone at the table turn their heads to the flat screen.

AUSTRIAN

This wasn’t a real offside! It was a passive offside!

FRENCH WOMAN

Oh, so there is a difference between a passive and an active offside?

AUSTRIAN

Of course!

FRENCH WOMAN

(to the curator)

Are you into soccer?

CURATOR

No, actually not, but since I moved to Europe I kind of get the enthusiasm for the game.

FRENCH WOMAN

(to one of the artist)

And you also arrived today from Vilnius?

ARTIST

No, I arrived from Warsaw.

I had an opening there last night and now I’m in Vienna.

FRENCH WOMAN

Well that seems to be a tight schedule.

Again the crowd explodes in cheering screams. Everyone looks to the flat screen. Austria scores a goal and the crowd is ecstatic.

GALLERY ASSISTANT

No one understands what’s going on, usually Austria keeps loosing all the time and now

they win. It’s kind of funny.

FRENCH WOMAN

(to the gallery assistant)

I’m very much looking forward to the show!

GALLERY ASSISTANT

(laughing)

Yeah, me too! Which means that

AUSTRIAN

(to the gallery assistant and the French women)

What?

The game is over. Austria won. The crowd is cheering and clapping. Everyone seems to be very happy.

GALLERY ASSISTANT

Oh nothing, we just talked about the show.

Everyone in the bar is now commentating the game, the TV is still running and one can hear the commentator of the game saying, “We just witness football history”.

FRENCH WOMAN

(to one of the artists)

Wow, did you hear that, we just happened to witness history in it’s making.

ARTIST

What?

AUSTRIAN

Well it’s history because Austria never qualified before.

FRENCH WOMAN

Yeah but what I like is this idea to be a witness of history itself.

ARTIST

And thinking that this morning I was still in Warsaw, then I worked the whole day installing, had a Schnitzel, and now I’m being a witness of history.

AUSTRIAN

People are surely gonna ask you where you have been on that memorable night.

That’s how history works.

The art of the contemporary 7

Marie-France Rafael about "social media and social rewards"
27.06.16
10 min

The art of the contemporary 6

Marie-France Rafael about "music on display"
01.03.16
8 min

The art of the contemporary 5

Marie-France Rafael about "the artist as prosumer"
24.01.16
14 min

The art of the contemporary 4

Marie-France Rafael about the aesthetics of fear
08.10.15
6 min

The art of the contemporary 3

Marie-France Rafael about the commodification of the present
24.09.15
4 min

The art of the contemporary 2

Marie-France Rafael about well, sort of: DIS magazine
12.09.15
1 min

The Art of the Contemporary

Marie-France Rafael about the confusion of history or the history of confusion
10.09.15
3 min