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Haus der Kunst opens "Blind Faith: Between the Visceral and the Cognitive in Contemporary Art"
Blind Faith: Between the Visceral and the Cognitive in Contemporary Art. Haus der Kunst, 2018. Installation view. Photo: Maximilian Geuter.

MUNICH.- Social media and the internet have caused print media, radio and television to lose part of their former monopoly on news, facts and background information. Although the breadth of information sources has expanded, the mass of information-be it substantiated or fake-has had a destabilizing effect on the individual because of its unmanageable scope. As a result of this development, hard facts have lost in significance; there is now a tendency to mix news and information with emotional elements. In extreme cases, "sound information" is replaced by "blind faith."

Overall, there is now more scope for development, but this trend may have "contributed to the corrosion of certain cornerstones of society, such as religious and political institutions," maintains Director of Haus der Kunst Okwui Enwezor. Two years ago, the director invited three curators from his team to conduct comprehensive research on the aesthetic considerations of this social development in the works of young artists created in the last five years.

"Blind Faith" is an amalgam of the physical (blindness) and the immaterial (belief). The selected artworks all employ the human body as an instrument and understand the mind as a realm for in-depth experiments, which facilitate the emergence of a new form of knowledge.

The exhibition brings together works by 28 internationally emerging artists and collaborators, who explore concepts of truth, truthfulness, opinion and belief using a variety of media, including drawing, sculpture, video, installation, sound, music, digital image creation, murals and robotics. Participants include Ed Atkins, Kader Attia, Olga Balema, Melanie Bonajo, Mariechen Danz, Cécile B. Evans, Andrea Éva Győri, Benedikt Hipp, Nicholas Hlobo, Marguerite Humeau, KAYA, Hanne Lippard, Wangechi Mutu, Otobong Nkanga, Jon Rafman, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Mary Reid Kelley, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Raphael Sbrzesny, Jeremy Shaw, Teresa Solar Abboud, Jol Thomson, and David Zink Yi.

Form many of these artists, the body-with its internal and external organs-is both a historical and a physical source of knowledge. In search of the truthfulness of world experience, the body undergoes states of ecstasy and intoxication as well as crises, such as illness, or is sent on a spiritual journey.

Raphael Sbrzesny uses a variety of steel corsets in his work. As a "self-coercive apparatus" (Norbert Elias), the corset once represented the relentless disciplining of the body, even to the point of harming it. Sbrzesny develops his corsets into a kind of percussion instrument: the pressure conditions in the body become audible. Autoimmune reactions, panic attacks, gout disease, inflammation and reactions to physical stress are assigned special attention. Kader Attia explores concepts of madness. His documentary Reason's Oxymoron (2015) unites the other side of reason, psychoanalysis and alternative healing, and highlights that the understanding of mental illness varies according to culture.

With TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURES SOCIETY, Lily Reynaud-Dewar focuses on a liminal threshold of the body: the teeth, which are the only visible part of the human skeleton, revealed when we talk and laugh. The artist introduces her vision of a world without discrimination, in which teeth and tooth prostheses-regardless of their origin-express an ideal of equality, giving rise to a panorama of polyphony.

The anatomical study of single organs has been a part of artistic research since the Renaissance, and finds its contemporary continuation in "Blind Faith." In the installation Womb Tomb by Mariechen Danz, numerous organs are visible, their outlines casting gentle shadows on the walls, evoking Plato's cave allegory. Danz bestows the organs with their own voice. The viewer of Mary Reid Kelley's This is Offal is privy to the findings of the physician conducting the autopsy of a suicide victim. The central work of the largest space in the exhibition depicts an organ as well: Tyaphaka (in English "orb filled with water" or "eye") by Nicholas Hlobo is an enormous whale-like sculpture made from rubber tubing and ribbon, winding its way through the gallery. Teresa Solar Abboud produced a series of salmon pink ceramics skewered onto metal bars. A similar tendency is evident in the works of Jon Rafman and Andrea Éva Győri, in which not organs, but orifices are central instruments for the understanding of the world.

Ed Atkins uses digital technologies to pointedly criticize their lack of credibility. His avatar in Safe Conduct removes his own skin, layer by layer, as effortlessly as if it were a latex mask. The situation goes beyond what is physically imaginable for a person, while also probing the ethical structures that humans have put in place for their own protection.

Hanne Lippard and Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa are also skeptical; they examine the exploitation of human fears by social media, which treat emotions as a commodity and do not shy away from manipulation. The mechanisms that engage and lure users are ultimately mechanisms of greed, e.g. for social recognition or material consumption. In Sprung a Leak Cécile B. Evans also deals with the mounting permeability of private spheres and those which are being made public by the use of social media. The automated performance is played out between two humanoid robots, a robot dog, a fountain, and a chorus of human "users" that must deal with the information copiously leaking from a network represented by 27 screens. The characters' main concern is the alleged death of an animated beauty blogger, Liberty, with whom the robot dog has fallen in love.

Melanie Bonajo tries to evade the pattern of consumption and material necessities. In her trilogy Night Soil the first film focuses on the recent interest in Ayahuasca, a plant-based psychedelic brew that has been used by people in the Amazon basin for thousands of years, but is now being increasingly taken by people in Western urban centers. The film Fake Paradise operates at the intersection between bodiless cyberspace, the psychedelic world and out-of-body experiences.

A deeper connection with the spiritual may be a way out of this conundrum, by turning to religion, to spirituality. Jeremy Shaw has also been interested in the effects of psycho-activating drugs before turning his attention to snake rituals, speaking in tongues, trances, and practices such as yoga and breathing exercises in his films. In these cinematic works the structure of the ego, including its limitations, dissolves. Humans and their suffering are also relativized when one regards their place in the universe, or in the expanses of nature. About the knowledge stored in a mountain, much older than humanity, Otobong Nkanga comments, "What millennium is it today? Does it matter? The land has been there much longer anyway."

The exhibition was curated by Julienne Lorz, Daniel Milnes and Anna Schneider. The catalog will be published in May by Prestel, ed. by Anna Schneider; 224 pages, ISBN 978-3-7913-5778-2.

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