Inanimate human life at Rijksakademie OPEN

By Doron Beuns

The forty-six international residents of the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam recently opened their studios to the public during the 2019 edition of the Rijksakademie OPEN. Some of these studios seemed like the artist could walk in any minute whilst others showcased carefully curated presentations. Like other years, there was a high variety in interests, techniques and artistic attitudes. However, despite of that variety one could always find overarching tendencies that resonate within the contemporary art world at large. One of such tendencies involves artists blurring the distinctions between human subjects and inanimate machines. For this review we will have look at artist within the Rijksakademie that share this tendency.

Rijksakademie, Rijksakademie OPEN, 2019
Rijksakademie, Rijksakademie OPEN, 2019

We live in an era where an increasing part of our behaviors and desires are mediated by (inanimate) digital entities. This contemporary condition was pushed to an extreme in the installation of Özgür Kar. His studio space centered a large flatscreen monitor opposed by a curved tower of speakers. The flatscreen displayed a black and white animation of a naked male figure that seemed to be stuck within the screen. A similar sense of discomfort derived from the opposing speaker boxes as one could hear monologues that addressed uncertainty, tragedy, desire and everyday nonsense. Each monologue derived from a different speaker box as if these monologues tapped into the multiple parts of the animation’s personality. Kar’s chosen medium and arrangement automatically bring to mind the construction of multiple online identities along with the hysteria and echo effect of the current social media landscape. On the other hand we find that the content of his work addresses the isolation of being itself, a timeless subject which in turn exists outside the online spectrum.

Ozgur Kar, Rijksakademie OPEN, 2019

Another artist that was concerned with the interior of the human subject was Mire Lee. However, instead of monologues we found mechanical guts and the artificial equivalent of bodily fluids. Her abject slime fountain reflected the compulsion to absorb and exert bodily fluids in a state of arousal or existential threat. One could identify an incarnation of “paraphilia characterized by the desire to consume or be consumed by the other” . Lee’s work was located on the precise tipping point of voyeuristic pleasure and abjection. Satisfying slime could easily become personal discomfort and vice versa. We are initially drawn in by the meditative quality of the work. But then suddenly, one becomes aware of the discomforting fact that our interiors are as fluid and formless as Mire Lee’s installation.

Mire Lee, Rijksakademie OPEN, 2019

Recognition and disassociation also played a significant role in the performative practice of Mette Sterre. Whilst covering herself in wrinkled cloth, the artist mimicked the movements of a similarly clothed robotic entity. At arrival, it was hard to say who precisely mimicked who. Sterre seemed to have carefully studied robotic movements over the course of developing her co actors. This reveals that our symbiosis with inanimate machines works in both directions. The French philosopher Jean Baudrilliard once mentioned that objects (including machines) will come to dominate human subjects and divest them of their human qualities and capacities. Mette Sterre’s studio gave a contemporary glimpse into that gloomy prospect. The future is closer by than ever before at the Rijksakademie OPEN.

Mette Sterre, Rijksakademie OPEN, 2019 PHOTO G.J. van Rooij 
Mette Sterre, Rijksakademie OPEN, 2019 PHOTO Tomek Dersu Aaron

All images are at the courtesy of Rijksakademie and the owners.