Blind Faith: Desires and False Truths in the Internet Age

At Haus der Kunst, Munich, artists including Ed Atkins and Otobong Nkanga explore compliance and resistance in an era of wild digitalization

Put simply, Plato’s allegory of the cave imagines human beings ascending from darkness towards the light of knowledge. To succeed, they have to transgress the materiality of corporal being, breaking the chains of a human condition bound to the senses. ‘Blind Faith’, an ambitious exhibition featuring 28 artists at Haus der Kunst in Munich, updates this enterprise, attempting to challenge what an accompanying text terms the ‘conventional methods of measuring and evaluating our existence’ in an era of wild digitalization.

The show’s choreography is expansive and immersive, with prominent sound and video works intermingled with large-scale installations. The gold light of Mariechen Danz’s installation Womb Tomb (2015) saturates the first room, casting shadows of glass reproductive organs onto the walls. In the centre, a human figure lays flat, rendering the space a laboratory and pointing to the body as both an instrument and source of deeper knowledge and truth.

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Ed Atkins, Safe Conduct, 2016, three channel HD video still. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome and dépendance, Brussels

In a separate room, Ed Atkins’s Safe Conduct (2016) sees three screens and a single audio landscape play across a metal structure. The hyperrealist CGI and found-footage video follows a male figure as he moves through an airport security check, eventually ripping off body parts and layers of skin to the soundtrack of Maurice Ravel’s ‘Boléro’ (1928). As the fallacy between reality and virtuality collapses, so does the suspension of disbelief that normalizes what is ostensibly a military complex. Next door, the avatars of Jon Rafman’s video Poor Magic (2017) desperately try to break the walls of their virtual reality.

In the main space hangs Otobong Nkanga’s The Weight of Scars (2015), a tapestry affixed with ten monochrome photographs. Presented like a flow chart on what might be a map, the circular images depict sites in Namibia that have been mined for raw materials used in consumer products, their surfaces scarred by both machinery and the destructive colonialism that set it in place. Nkanga is interested in what is not captured – that which occurs before and after a photograph is taken – and the relationship between a single shot and the context it is presented in. Within this exhibition, the evidence of violent destruction is set into conflict with the desires and false truths created by a consumer culture.

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Cécile B. Evans, Sprung A Leak, 2016, installation view, Haus der Kunst, Munich. Produced in cooperation with the University of Liverpool. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna/Rome

Cécile B. Evans’s impressive installation, Sprung a Leak (2017), connects humanoids, a dog robot, a fountain and a network of screens. In an automated three-act play, the protagonists search for a beloved, CGI-generated beauty blogger named Liberty. Hanne Lippard’s installation, Mindfulmess (2018), sees an empty couch positioned between two speakers, which recite familiar spam messages about healthy lifestyles, maximized efficiency and self-optimization, thus proclaiming the psychological exhaustion inherent to neoliberalism. Kader Attia’s video installation Reason’s Oxymorons (2015) shows interviews with psychoanalysts, storytellers and healers, in order to foreground the differing concepts of mental illness and healing in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. However distant, these works all suggest that emotions, desires and psychologies – and, therefore, beliefs and supposed truths – are designed, changeable and ideologically produced.

‘Blind Faith’ makes a significant leap between concrete examples of how we are disciplined by digitalization and how the body might represent a tool of resistance. The latter is proposed in a strangely unspecific manner – in David Zink Yi’s brightly coloured objects, for example, or a large, intestine-like sculpture from Nicholas Hlobo – while attempts to overcome notions of gender or race are highly politicized, as with Wangechi Mutu’s collages of black, female bodies and Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s Teeth, Gums, Machines, Future, Society (2017), a film and sculptural installation that intertwines subcultural references with the notion of the Cyborg. Such diversity is demonstrative of the exhibition’s ambitious scope, but it also leads the conceptual threads to become tangled and, as a result, ‘Blind Faith’ regularly loses its focus. That is, unless a forceful destabilization of the taught relationships between body and mind was precisely its aim.

Blind Faith’ runs at Haus der Kunst, Munich until 19 August.

Main image: Otobong Nkanga, The Weight of Scars, 2015, (detail). Courtesy: Galerie In Situ Fabienne Leclerc, Paris © M HKA

Issue 196

First published in Issue 196

June - August 2018

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