Working in the murky zone between conscious and unconscious, dream and reality, the artist Joachim Koester explores vast fields of knowledge, ranging from Haitian ritual to esoteric séances, and including yoga, Peyote and other hallucinatory experiences. As a result, he creates works that blur the line separating the documentary and the fictional, asking the audience to reconstitute mental journeys on which they undoubtedly would never embarked. This exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo
allows the visitor to discover films evoking John Murray Spears esoteric séances or Jerzy Grotowskis research on the superior consciousness of the actor and the reptilian brain.
In the depths of consciousness
For the past ten years, Joachim Koester (b. 1963, lives and works in Copenhagen and New York) has explored, in his work, certain alternatives to rational consciousness. In his research, he calls attention to exceptional individuals who have developed corporal experimentation as the means of accessing knowledge. His exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, consisting mostly of new works, is divided into two physical zones. In the zone related to the body, the artist revisits experiences of deepened states of consciousness, accessed through physical movement.
From Haitian rituals to esoteric séances
In two films, he evokes Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999), a Polish writer and theater director who attempted to rediscover the actors heightened awareness through exercises in flexing the spinal cord, inspired by Haitian rituals and by yoga. Grotowski was referring to Paul D. MacLeans definition of the reptilian brain, a sedimentary, almost unconscious layer of the human brain, responsible for bodily movements and basic needs. Another film uses John Murray Spears esoteric séances as a starting point. This 20th-century American activist and spiritualist attempted to access the designs for a sewing machine prototype through a choreography created in a state of trance.
An exhibition with an extension
For the cerebral part of the exhibition, the artist invited two art historians, curators and researchers, Lars Bang Larsen and Yann Chateigné Tytelman, to conceive an extension of the exhibition. In it, they present a group of archival documents borrowed from their research on the nervous system, exploring possible relationships between art, science, and the counter-culture.
Joachim Koester suggests that we (re)discover a constellation of figures and ideas, as he outlines a reflection on the physiological relationships between the body and the spirit, and evokes esotericism, mysticism and conspiracism. Adopting a subjective stance towards the document, he invites the visitor to immerse himself/herself in the interstice between fact and fiction.
Selection of works in the exhibition
Maybe One Must Begin With Some Particular Places, 2012
In this film, the artist studies Jerzy Grotowski, a major precursor of contemporary performance art. At the end of the 1960s, Grotowski moved away from theater to create a system of spatial movements and exercises combining performance, anthropology and ritual. Koester filmed Jaime Soriano, an actor who participated in a work by Grotowski in 1985, as he executed one of Grotowski psycho-physical exercises on the terrace of a house designed by the Modernist architect Luis Barragán.
Of Spirits and Empty Spaces, 2012
This film examines a scheme undertaken by John Murray Spear, an American spiritualist and activist. In the mid-19th century, Spear tried to obtain the plans of a sewing machine prototype, an alternative to the costly model patented by Elias Howe. During spiritualist séances, participants would enter into a state of trance in order to access the plans, which existed in the immaterial realm of spirits. In this mechanical choreography, each participant would embody a piece of the machine. The knowledge acquired during these séances led to the construction of a prototype, of uncertain operability.
Combining documents, videos and works examining the complex relationships existing between the visual arts, exact sciences and counter-cultures throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, this intermediary zone presents a continuation of the artists exhibition. Developed as part of the HES-SO research project led by Lars Bang Larsen and Yann Chateigné Tytelman, Art, Science, Counterculture: Perspectives on a Radical Enlightenment, the appendix consists of a visual and auditory journey, linking shapes with different statuses.