Co-curated by Lara Pan
Oct 13 - Nov 25, 2018
By MARK BLOCH, OCT. 2018
The Braziliian artist Otavio Schipper, born in 1979, has a background in physics and math and even published theoretical research on the subject of time. He holds a degree in Physics from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro but now spends his time making art.
His work at the Shin Gallery on the Lower East Side deals with science in a unique way. It is not a literal presentation of the scientific method nor is it what some might call “fake science.” Instead, he plays with the language and structures of science, creating a mystical hybrid by combining it with it the language of poetry. “You can not be sure about science,” he told me, using that uncertainty in scientific research to present a kind of “unsolvable, unproveable puzzle.”
The exhibition is sparsely populated with strange alchemical objects. The show resembles a “cabinet of curiosities,” a series of assisted ready-made objects taking their cues from the Industrial Revolution, thaumaturgy, Alfred Jarry, Raymond Roussel, the Machine Age and steampunk. The exhibition elicits a spectrum of sensations ranging from enlightened nostalgia to an education in sorcery. The scientific angle is everpresent but not explicit. It is not a clear narrative but the dreamy enchantment reminiscent of the menacing labs in Breaking Bad.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a video work called Golem, part of Schipper’s residency at the Max Planck Research Center where he collaborated with another Brazilian who also happens to be 39 years old, New York City based musician and composer Sergio Krakowski. In 2017, the two were residents at KLAS (Knowledge Link through Art and Science), a program for artists at the Max Planck Society in Germany where they created Golem. While earning his PhD in Mathematics, Krakowski created new technology that allows rhythm to be used as code to control computer generated audio. For Golem, Krakowski built a soundtrack out of zeros and ones to provide a nuanced suggestion of computer code that enhances Schipper’s video, the depiction of an ancient myth through a montage of found footage of microscopic organisms, bacteria and molecules.
A “Golem” is an amorphous, unformed material figure from Jewish folklore that would come to life seemingly from nothing. The golem is magically created entirely from clay or mud. It originates as a shapeless mass, a body without a soul, an embryonic or incomplete substance that animates, then serves his creators by doing tasks assigned to him.
Schipper, who is of Jewish heritage, first remembers hearing about the Golem myth as a combination of Freud, Moses and volcanic ash that conjured up the image of pre-monotheistic Jews wandering in the desert, encountering the earth-shaking volcanic eruptions of a raging Old Testament deity living with a volcano as a body.
Schipper set out to create his work Golem as a horror movie-science fiction compound by collecting footage from “scientists, the Internet, old archives, and especially NASA labs” where footage from Mars supported research that sedimentary rocks known as mudstone were a template for producing organic molecules, the building blocks of life.
Schipper did not create the scientific images but collected them, manifesting something out of nothing himself, animated by language, like the theory that Golem emerged from the volcanic ash in ocean mud.
In an article about Schipper, when Golem was first shown, Max Planck Director Lothar Willmitzer said, “Scientists like artists are driven by curiosity. Both want boundaries and rules destroyed, and both must be a bit crazy.”
The video accompanies Schipper’s drawing series Fluid Trajectory, an investigation, inspired by the field of microfluidics, into the very basics of form and matter. These are thin, insubstantial works in which individual watercolor droplets behave autonomously, much like single-cell organisms, through the organic interaction with the surface of paper.
Schipper did computer graphics at the National Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics, developing apps and translating shaded geometric shapes into 3 -D graphic models by looking for patterns.
Schippers uses the logic of science in an abstract way, not the Pataphysics of Jarry.
“Duchamp is a good reference.” The artist said. “It’s a critique of science. The science is closer to fiction than anything else. It seems to make sense but it is not testable. It has more to do with flexible boundaries.”
Indeed he combines fiction, science, psychoanalysis, history and literature to create pieces that have what he calls “hyperactive meaning.” He creates a bridge between the future and the past by using the history of science and philosophy in strange ways.
In his work, Eyeglasses for Ernst Lanzer, Schippers focuses on a documented case of Freud’s called the Rat Man, an obsessive compulsive patient afraid of rats. In the first instances of the case, a pair of eyeglasses fall on the ground resulting in a telegram sent to an occulist. Through the construction of objects, Schippers recreates the structure of the Freudian theory on the patient. “Not an illustration—more of a psychological matrix,” Schippers explained. “Creating a fictional architecture of a paranoid disorder, a creative rendering of delerium.”
This is the third multi-part collaboration between curator Lara Pan and Schipper exploring the intersections between art and science that began with Mechanical Unconscious in 2014. Pan is an independent curator based in New York that has worked internationally with artists such as Braco Dimitrijevic, Carolee Schneemann, and Wim Delvoye. Her present curatorial focus is on the art and technology interface. Her choices in this exhibition of the Brazilian artist's work transcends but draws the viewer into his background in scientific research. Schipper lives in Rio but often works here in New York as well as in Spain and other parts of Europe. Their collaboration extends not only to Sergio Krakowski but also a new association with the Shin Gallery owner Hong Gyu Shin. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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