Limits of Knowing

Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany

In disagreement with the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht, the writer and theorist Antonin Artaud defended the emancipatory potential of immersive theatre to heal us, albeit painfully, by first disturbing our subconscious. Similarly putting the spectator’s body at the centre of the performance, and replacing spoken language with something multi-sensory experience, the ‘Limits of Knowing’ is a month-long set of exhibitions and programs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau organised with the Berliner Festspiele.

What happens when the stage extends into virtual space? This is one question posed by works such as Rhizomat VR (2017), a 360° film by artist Mona el Gammal, featuring an ultra-sanitized, geographically indistinct world in which the Institut für Methode, a global private company, suppresses its population with mind-control tests and devices – before the VR cuts mid-way to a somewhat predictable voice-over of an underground resistance group. The ‘immersion’ experienced in Gammal’s work, as with several others in the show, is representational but doesn’t allow for audience intervention. The effect is more like reading a book than having a vivid dream or playing a video game, which belies the suspicion that VR headsets alone add much to experience.

immersion17_p_rimini_protokoll_c_samuel_rubio_01.jpg

Rimini Protokoll, Nachlass – Pièces sans personnes, 2017, Limits of Knowing, Martin Gropius Bau. Courtesy: Martin Gropius Bau 

; photograph: © Samuel Rubio

Rimini Protokoll, Nachlass – Pièces sans personnes, 2017, ‘Limits of Knowing’, Martin Gropius Bau. Courtesy: Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin 

; photograph: © Samuel Rubio

Other works, too, focus less on ‘unknowability’ than on amplifying ordinary sense experiences, suggesting that the real limits concern not what we can know but how. While Gammal’s Rhizomat VR treats sight as primary, Rainer Kohlberger and William Basinski offer a new approach to aural immersion as part of their ‘Arrival of Time’ series. In On Time Out of Time (2017), an eight-channel soundscape manipulates data detecting gravitational waves from Caltech’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, while we watch giant stroboscopic images on screen. Chris Salter + TeZ’s Haptic Field (V2.0) (2016/17) fits visitors with haptic sensors, vibrating devices and sight-obscuring glasses before they navigate a four-room series of pulsing lights and oneiric sounds. In Lundahl & Seitl’s Unknown Cloud on its Way to Berlin (2017), visitors can download an app that tracks the arrival of an electromagnetic cloud; donning headphones to hear it, they find themselves joining a community of fellow listeners on Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, and in Assam, India.

immersion17_p_rimini_protokoll_nachlass_c_jirka_jansch.jpg

Rimini Protokoll, Nachlass – Pièces sans personnes

, 2017, ‘Limits of Knowing’, Martin Gropius Bau. Courtesy: Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin; photograph: © Jirka Jansch

Rimini Protokoll, Nachlass – Pièces sans personnes

, 2017, ‘Limits of Knowing’, Martin Gropius Bau. Courtesy: Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin; photograph: © Jirka Jansch

The use of such innovative technology suggests that, if our knowledge is limited, it’s often the result of trying to capture new phenomena using older means. Yet, the show’s most interesting work – and the one that best highlights its own immersive capabilities – offers a more subtle way of thinking about the limits of knowledge. Rimini Protokoll’s Nachlass (Estate, 2017) centres on death as the ultimate moment where knowledge breaks down, and examines our attempts to control the traces we leave behind for others. The eight mini-chambers that comprise the work are each constructed to convey an absent person’s farewell address. The rooms themselves are varied: in one, we’re in a cellar bleating with West Coast punk, watching a video of a 40-something Swiss base jumper preparing for a trip; in another, we’re shoeless on a patterned carpet eating Turkish Delight while listening to a Zurich-based Muslim making preparations for his funeral in Istanbul. Moving through the series of rooms, it is difficult not to be transfixed, but I found myself vacillating between thinking about the people whose goodbyes I am participating in (at least one of whom, we learn, died between the work’s creation and its exhibition) and my own mortality.

In ‘Limits of Knowing’, the central concepts of unknowability and immersion appear only tenuously connected. If immersion has radical potential, as Artaud thought it did, it requires more sound, more touch, less sight; sight, after all, has long been the most epistemically privileged sense. Instead of amplifying our normal ways of sensing, immersion ought to disturb our entrenched ideas about what we see and know.

Main image: Mona el Gammal, RHIZOMAT VR, 2017, ‘Limits of Knowing’, Martin Gropius Bau. Courtesy: Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin; photograph: 

© Mona el Gammal

 

Shivani Radhakrishnan is a writer living in New York.

Issue 190

First published in Issue 190

October 2017

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018