Farm Life: Benedikte Bjerre, Anders Holen, Katja Novitskova, Yves Scherer
Benedikte Bjerre, Yves Scherer, Katja Novitskova, Installation image, Farm Life, Golsa, 2022
Benedikte Bjerre, Yves Scherer, Installation image, Farm Life, Golsa, 2022
Benedikte Bjerre, Yves Scherer, Installation image, Farm Life, Golsa, 2022
Benedikte Bjerre, Anders Holen, Yves Scherer, Installation image, Farm Life, Golsa, 2022
Benedikte Bjerre, Anders Holen, Installation image, Farm Life, Golsa, 2022
Benedikte Bjerre, Anders Holen, Katja Novitskova, Installation image, Farm Life, Golsa, 2022
How often, looking at a dog's face, have we thought it looked so 'human'? Or used the expression "fat like a pig" to express discontent with a specific size or shape of the human body? How often might we have referred to a group of girls as "chicks in a chicken coop" or used the expression "mute like a fish" to point out a silent person in the room? Humans read and understand the world by taking our species as the benchmark for comparison. So when we look at animal behaviors, we don't see how the animal behaved or reacted to stimuli – but how it did so according to our perspective.
What might give humans the right to think that the fish don't speak a mutual language among themselves just because it doesn't take place on a verbal level? Why do humans look at pigs with contempt, as if their shape is nature's mistake? In one way or another, we all have fallen into the trap of comparing human behaviors to animals to justify or explain a particular manifestation. Whether too cute or too wild, untamed or domesticated, animals are indeed fascinating to us because we share physical space with them in a different manner than we do with insects, microbes, algae, fungi, and other entities which, while very much alive, aren't as visible to the human eye.
Farm Life is a show that explores the ambivalent relationship and interdependence between humans and animals, domesticated or not. The title quotes an artwork in the show by Benedikte Bjerre, Lisa's Chickens (Farm Life), 2022 – an installation of 50 balloon chickens filled with helium scattered half floating around the space. Written underneath the foot of each chicken is one of the 50 most popular girls' names in the country where the work is being exhibited. Playing on the notion of "chicks," the work comments on the treatment of women and their role in society and history. But it also refers to the part of chickens in modern society, which takes for granted their role in delivering eggs daily.
The artwork's title and the show's title carry another historical reference – that of George Orwell's book Animal Farm. Nearly a century ago, Orwell compared animal life on a farm to the life of humans in a society, addressing how every animal had a similar role or function within human society. Orwell was right to point out that humans have, like animals on a farm, a position to fulfill. Farm Life takes this assumption as a starting point for the investigation of Orwell's methodological premise into the 21st-century society-farm, post-pandemic and amid digitalization – in the wake of social change and increased relevance of the function of AI in society. For Orwell, the farm was the government through which society reflects itself. For the artists represented in the show, the farm is instead an experimental site, a place to explore how to identify oneself as human and interact with other beings on Earth.
For example, Yves Scherer's sculpture of a cat being petted by a human hand confronts the viewer with the contemporary internet fetishization of cats that, in recent years, has invaded social media - from Instagram and TikTok, to Facebook and WhatsApp. What emotions might these memes instigate in humans? Cats are cute, and we all bend to the power of cuteness. In a book published before the pandemic called The Power of Cute (2019), Simon May, a professor at King's College in London, discusses cuteness as a phenomenon that has taken the planet by storm. Global sensations like Hello Kitty and Pokémon, the works of artists Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons, Heidi the cross-eyed opossum, and E.T. – they all reflect the 'gathering' power of cuteness. But what does "cute" mean as a sensibility and style, and why is it so pervasive?
We usually see cuteness as harmless or helpless. Simon May challenges this prevailing perspective, investigating how cuteness is not restricted to sweet qualities alone - it also beguiles us by transforming or distorting into something of playfully indeterminate power, gender, age, morality, and even species. At first, one could suggest that humans feel attracted to it for its infantile references, but is something more uncanny or menacing going on? Cuteness is indeed an addictive antidote to contemporary performance anxieties about our purpose, being in charge of our lives, and who we want to become. Voltaire wrote a whole book on the figure of Candide and his naive approach to life.
Yves Scherer uses cuteness to create candid images that indirectly address the ineliminable uncertainty of life, which finds immediate comfort in images of inevitable safety, like the loyal relationship between a domesticated pet and its owner. The love between a pet owner and their pet connects to the consumer culture. The gratification that comes from giving but also receiving love back as a form of expected response is embedded in the connection between buying a good to fulfill a specific need. In the show, Scherer addresses that same need to fill in the void with another work, this time an almost monochromatic orange painting, All I Need (2022), a combination of nuances of orange color appearing almost as a mark on a wet towel. The title seems to address a desire for a comfortable disappearance within a field of color in something that seems to be that which is not.
The visitor is challenged in the show by several of these unstable equations. A piece in the show by Anders Holen consists of a functionalist design style lamp with two round glass shades and part of a spiral staircase enclosed at the top. The lamp slowly pulsates with light in a pleasant rhythm before the pace suddenly increases, and the lamp begins to flash. The work, entitled Fruit Pyramid with Descending Staircase (2021), undoubtedly refers to Marcel Duchamp's famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase. Still, the content seems to have nothing to share with Duchamp except the experimental component of the work. The lamp in question is, in fact, used in hospitals to remove "dark matter" in the human brain, a term for the clusters of dormant nerve cells that characterize the breakdown of the brain in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Holen addresses how they first tested these experiments with light therapy on mice and rats to verify if the treatment would have had results in the animal brain to apply to the human biological system. Holen suggests that if the therapy works on the mice and the human brains, the two organs, even though differently sized and shaped, are certainly not too different and respond similarly to memory, weather response, and other stimuli.
Aligned with the use of technology in animals to enhance human knowledge, Katja Novitskova's work called Earthware 2018.11.29, 2019 looks at nature through the augmented lenses of microscopes or brain scans. Earthware is a series of works that embody perspectives on the world we didn't get to see until very recently. It suggests a new kind of visual landscape art that depicts life across the planetary planes: patterns from invisible light spectra, genomics landscapes, and algorithmic vision to forms of consciousness that go beyond only humans. Earthware, literally the pottery of earth, presents a series of landscapes that gives an insight into Novitskova's desire to map spaces from a different biological scope. The landscapes are first created on the computer, with or without an algorithmic process and then are transferred on the plaques of synthetic clay. These images are already almost instantly becoming cultural fossils themselves. The rapid changes in imaging technologies and the increasing introduction of AI in the processing and creation of images render previous forms obsolete in terms of function. Still, they also grant them the freedom to be recognized as a poetic attempt of seeing from the past.
The resulting pieces appear as ancient clay tablets or wall fragments showing animal bodies and other entities detectable by the lenses for their heat. The images seem to be taken from the new field of Astro-Ecology, where drones fly across the night landscape in African national parks and take photographs of animals grazing the land, seeing the world in the infrared. This allows them to spot the warm living animals in the dark of night as bright spots of glowing heat light. The photographs are then uploaded on the internet, classified by human beings (the interface on the right top), and afterward by a trained machine learning algorithm. The work's aesthetics recalls memories of the "alien" as science fiction depicts. Similarly to Holen, Novitskova looks at animals using technology to expand how the human gaze works and improve its functions.
Benedikte Bjerre's work Lisa's Chickens (2016-2022) opens and closes the reflections posed by the show. Suppose animals are the closest species to humans, and the species exist only in forms of interdependence with each other. In that case, it might be worth asking why humans have created farms to better organize this coexistence with the species closest to them. We use technology on animals to verify its effectiveness, then test and apply it to humans. We create farms as micro-societies to organize production and sustainment, giving each animal a role and a function. Animals don't need farms to sustain themselves, but we do. It's worth asking whether humans domesticate animals to live on a farm or vice versa. The age-old chicken or egg question finds a different formulation here.
Text by Irene Campolmi
Benedikte Bjerre works conceptually with sociological phenomena in a versatile practice focusing on sculpture and installation, which reflect on the current state of society. In her work she consistently examines sculptural qualities in relation to the architecture of a given space. The artist continually uses observations from her everyday life, as she engages in how the beholders experience their surroundings.
Benedikte Bjerre (b. 1987 in Copenhagen, Denmark) has obtained an MFA from the The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and has studied art at the HFBK Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main. Recent solo and duo shows include: Lullin + Ferrari, Zurich (2022), Liste Basel with palace enterprise, Basel (2022), Kunstverein Göttingen (2020, solo), Ringsted Galleriet (2020). Recent group shows include: Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj (2022), Collection exhibition, Kunstmuseum Brandts, Odense (2022), Collection exhibition, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2022), Kunsthalle Mainz (2021), and Lullin + Ferrari, Zurich (2021).
Anders Holen’s sculptures are complex creatures, evoking poetic and enigmatic narratives - often characterized by their brutal expression in contrast with the delicate and fragile material and their fine, glazed surface. The fragmented, assembled bodily parts and the emphasis on the material, puts Holen’s work in a modern practice of abstraction, while still pointing towards a more classical tradition. By exploring elements such as the it and the self in different compositions, his work erases the distinction between the subject and the object.
Anders Holen (b. 1986) lives and works in Oslo. Holen is educated at the Norwegian Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo and works with sculpture and installation. His work has been shown at institutions such as Kunstnerforbundet (2019), Astrup Fearnley Museum (2019), Peder Balke Museum (2018), Kristiansand Kunsthall (2017), Giorgio Galotti Turin (2017), Vigeland Museum during the 9th Sculpture Biennale (2017), Entree Bergen (2016), Contemporary Art Center Vilnius (2016), Kunsthall Oslo (2015), Helper Project New York (2014), Bureau New York (2013).
Katja Novitskova’s work tackles the complexity and eventual failures of depicting the world through technologically driven narratives. By uniting art and science to the level of nature, Novitskova brings awareness to the mediation and representation tools used to depict these realms. More specifically, Novitskova’s work focuses on the mapping of biological territories that are no longer outside but rather ‘inside’ biological bodies. The technological devices, such as microscopes or brain scans, used to mediate and depict those alternative geographies are able to merge datasets and biology, altering how biology and technology develop.
Katja Novitskova (b. 1984 in Tallinn, Estonia) lives and works in Amsterdam. Recent international solo and group exhibitions include: Marta Herford Museum, Herford (2022); Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler (2022, solo); MUDAM Luxembourg (2021); Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen (2021, solo); Belgrade Biennal (2021), Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich (2020); Sharjah Art Foundation (2020).
Novitskova’s work is in the collections of: National Museum, Oslo; Stedeljik Museum, Amsterdam; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Kumu Art Museum, Estonia; Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo; Boros Collection, Berlin; CC Foundation, Shanghai and others.
Yves Scherer's work deals with questions regarding gender, celebrity, and mediated realities. Working with sculpture, painting and installation, Scherer creates immersive environments that combine personal narratives with fan fiction to offer the viewer an often romantic lens or perspective on the self, relationships and the everyday.
Yves Scherer (b. 1987 in Solothurn, Switzerland) holds an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art London. His work has been shown internationally in galleries and institutions like the ICA London, Kunsthalle Basel, Eva Presenhuber, and the Swiss Institute in New York and Kunsthaus Grenchen in 2020. Recent solo shows include ‘By Your Side’, Cassina Projects, Milan, Italy (2021); ‘Leaves of Grass’, Galleri Golsa, Oslo, Norway (2020); ‘Sunset’, Kunstverein Wiesen, Wiesen, Germany and ‘Boys’, Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin, Germany (2019). He is the recipient of a Förderpreis Bildende Kunst des Kanton Solothurn 2012, Swiss Art Award in 2015 and was listed on Forbes 30 under 30 “Art & Design” in the class of 2016.