2020 – The Plague I , at Fresh Legs Berlin, Gallery Heike Arndt DK , Berlin-Friedrichshain, Germany
As an artist, I have been dealing with animal metaphors and their anthropomorphic design in the visual realm for a long time (incarnation of the monkey according to Kafka’s “Report to an Academy”, 2015; sharks according to Brecht’s “If the Sharks were People”, 2016). In 2017 I turned to the concept of swarm intelligence in animals and insects, plaguing myself to complete a graphic series of 11 sheets, dedicating one hand-drawn industrious ant to each of the approximately 28.000 artists in Berlin and Brandenburg for whom it is difficult to find enough recognition to be able to live from their art. In 2019, while reading the newspaper about the behavior of financial investors and hedge funds on the housing market in Berlin, I came across the so-called locust debate (“Heuschreckendebatte”) from 2005 and the dispute between Mr. Müntefering (SPD) and Professor Wolffsohn, as well as an ad from Thyssenkrupp that said “[…] to prevent a swarm of locusts [financial investors like hedge fonds] from descending on a company and picking it clean”.
Fascinated by the equally productive and destructive potential of the grasshoppers in the economy, I used my photos of desert locusts from my years in Namibia (2008–2010) to graphically and aesthetically deal with the beauty of the horror of these insects, which endanger Africa’s and Asia’s food supply. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a small swarm of about a square kilometer can potentially destroy the basic food resource of 35,000 people within days. Exactly that happened in February 2020, when huge swarms of desert locusts invaded the states of East Africa attacking and preying on the livelihood of millions of small farmers. All of that coincided chronologically with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the apocalyptic pictures from the hospital in Bergamo were suddenly merging with pictures of the devastated fields in Kenya.
The forces of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdowns have given me the Camusian feeling of being at the mercy of others and the threat of an insidious plague on my doorstep. In preparation for this exhibition I thought that the title “Plague” might be suitable for connecting the visitor, the viewer, the curator and the gallerist with me as well as with my works of art. Something that could be perceived with all the senses and simultaneously give rise to a lasting reflection on what a plague is all about. Still under the impression of the exponential growth of the swarm of desert locusts, which has spread from East Africa to Pakistan and India, and then influenced by the exponential growth of coronavirus cases before the lockdowns, I decided to complete the graphic series project 1000+1. The idea was born, the list of materials for the project gave an outlook on the extent of plaguing oneself:
A handmade chocolate + a glassine paper candy cup
A two-part box of chocolates, each with a printed and a non-printed side
Tissue paper strips to be inserted in two parts
Four staples per box
Five printed and consecutively numbered grasshoppers from my graphic series
With 1000 of my art objects to be produced and given away this meant:
1000 handmade chocolates
1000 glassine paper candy cups
2000 tissue paper trips
2000 box parts (top: printed sketch paper + bottom: unprinted cardboard)
5000 printed and consecutively numbered grasshoppers from my graphic series
2888 characters printed by the printed
The production of the objects also required the photography of my graphics for the production of the print template as well as the subsequent cutting and unfolding and stitching and assembling of the top and bottom sides of the boxes and their filling with the chocolates. All in all, it took six days of monotonous work, a plague for myself. I intended to create bitter-sweet feelings. I hoped that the visitor would enjoy the sweet sensation of my piece of handcrafted chocolate while in a kind of cognitive conflict by being visually stimulated to reflect plagues endangering the foundations of our lives. Ideally, visitors would be equally stimulated to think of things the human race can do to remedy, or better yet, prevent such situations in the future.
I sincerely thank the gallery owner of the gallery Heike Arndt DK and her team for creating a space to experience my artwork and reflect on the impacts of various forms of plagues on humans and nature in general. My object “+1” is also a thank you and pays tribute to Lee Mingwei and his participatory understanding of the art of giving and taking that was on display in his exhibition “Gifts and Rituals” (2020) at the Gropius Bau, Berlin at which I could be part of with my object ”Favourite Jacket” in the “Fabrics of Memory” department.