Nonhuman Subjectivities

Introduction | The Series Nonhuman Subjectivities (2016-17)

Four to five hundred years ago Copernicus and Galileo 'removed' the Earth (and humanity) from the centre of the universe. In Western Philosophy this coincides with the 'epistemological turn' away from cosmology. Western civilization, through the enlightenment and into the modern age, has continued to place the human experience at the centre of existence.

Recent philosophical works have strongly questioned anthropocentric approaches (e.g. the Speculative Realism of Quentin Meillasoux, Ray Brassier or Graham Harman, as well as the positions of John Gray, Isabelle Stengers or Rosi Braidotti). 'Objecthood' becomes the centre of the discourse - and with it a reality, "which is indifferent is to subjective-human cognition and can not be conveyed through a subjectivist or anthropocentric conditional knowledge and, therefore, can not be primarily codified culturally, linguistically, politically or historically." (1)

As the humanities finally respond to the 'Copernican Revolution,' more and more artists are taking up the role of vital actors in interdisciplinary fields between the humanities and natural sciences. In response to these current trends Art Laboratory Berlin is initiating the series Nonhuman Subjectivities: in 2016 and 2017 we will implement a complex series of exhibitions, events and symposia with artists and scientists as well as scholars from the humanities.

For the 2016 program we have chosen to present exhibitions on the microbiome, animals and cognition, and creatures:

The Other Selves. On the Phenomenon of the Microbiome
Francois-Joseph Lapointe, Joana Ricou, Saša Spačal with Mirjan Švagelj and Anil Podgornik, Tarsh Bates
27 February - 30 April, 2016

The exhibition, the first of our new exhibition series Nonhuman Subjectivities, presents various artistic reflections on the complex microbial environment found on and within the human body. Scientists say that bacterial cells are as numerous as human cells in our body. The phenomenon of the microbiome also brings forth many complex questions about human identity and our relation to our multiple selves.

On Animals. Cognition, Senses, Play
Rachel Mayeri, Maja Smrekar
28 May - 17 July, 2016

This exhibition presents works by Rachel Mayeri and Maja Smrejar. In their performative, multimedial work about animals, the artists make use of certain strategies of narrative and the phenomenon of immersion, in order to approximate the irretrievable perspective of a non-human counterpart.

Both positions share the concept formulated by Donna Haraway of "cooperative actions": overcoming conventional dichotomies of nature/culture, human/animal or subject/object is all about joint action. In the sense of Haraway's term "naturecultures" the works of both artists exist in this very productive interdisciplinary space where issues of non-human and the human are considered together. Ultimately Haraway's idea of "otherness-in-relation" can be understood as core to the exhibition: "[A]ll ethical relating, within or between species, is knit from the silk strong thread of ongoing alertness to otherness-in-relation." (2)

Learning from Creatures

How could jellyfish control a complex machine? How does a microscopic worm, commonly used for laboratory experiments, perceive homo sapiens? How would cyborg silkworms behave? Do complex social animals, such as ants or bees, have a sort of social subjectivity? The exhibition Learning from Creatures presents several outstanding international artists who reflect in different ways on the skills, natures and behaviours of various creatures.

1. Aural Aquatic Presence
Robertina Šebjanič
3 September - 9 October, 2016

The exhibition investigates agency and sentience in one of the 'simplest' of multicellular creatures: the jellyfish, placing it into relation with a human made machine. Also noteworthy here is the importance of sound in marine systems, as well as the effects of human intervention on aural aquatic systems.

2. Under-Mine
Alinta Krauth

26 February- 2 April, 2017

The exhibition project investigates the problematics and possibilities of communicating nonhuman perception through the interface of artistic practice and new technologies. By means of interactive and non-interactive video that use generative and time-based techniques the artist considers potential narratives of animals under threat from climate change.

Nonhuman Agents in Arts & Culture
As a follow up programme to Nonhuman Subjectivities it took place from June-December 2017
(more information)

1- Armen Avanessian: Epilog. Materialismus und Realismus. Spekulative Philosophie und Metaphy-sik für das 21. Jahrhundert, in: "Realismus Jetzt", ed. by. Armen Avanessian, Berlin 2013, p. 8.
2-Haraway, Donna J.: The Companion Species Manifesto. Dogs, People, and significant otherness. Prickly paradigm Press, Chicago 2003, p. 50.

With the generous support of:

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Made possible in part by a generous gift from Michael Schröder.