'The Taste of Discovery' - Kunstraum Dornbirn

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The Taste of Discovery

(Exhibition in Kunstraum Dornbirn10.Sept. 2009 – 8. Nov. 2009)

In my recent work (Secluded Nights 2004–2007 and Islands of Time 2007–2009), I investigate nature and how western society in the 21st century relates to and perceives nature. It seems that we still relate to it as an 18th century landscape ideal and as such, it is advertised and promoted. On the other hand, natural science has been shaping our understanding of the ways in which nature works and how its molecular structures are built. The microscopic view of science and the utopian ideal of reproducing and controlling nature haves caused serious interruptions in the system itself. Its partial breakdown and disastrous environmental problems have brought back the discussion of nature philosophy versus natural science. 

From the 19th century and into the early 20th century, the Royal Geographic Society financed large scale expeditions to find the last white spots on the globe, and their findings were covered by the media and closely followed back home. The need for new resources as well as faster and safer commercial sea routes created a race to find and conquer the unknown. Private men—eccentric, rich, and most often British—set out with little regard for their safety or fear of death. Two hundred years later, after a period of unprecedented industrial growth and technological advances, the drastic changes in our landscape along with an uncertain environmental future bring nature back into the media limelight. Global warming and the related rise in natural disasters have created a growing anxiety about what science can explain and what remains speculation. The gap between the news, the environmental reality, and how we actually utilize nature commercially shows a certain “perceptual schizophrenia” of our times. On the one hand we demonize the ever-expanding growth; at the same time, we demand a newly discovered and untouched nature. We either consume nature as “couch explorers” in front of our modern fireplace, the television set, or we go to great lengths to travel to the remaining locales that can still offer the impression of romantic, untouched nature and in doing so, we help to accelerate the ongoing changes in our landscape. 

In my latest project The Taste of Discovery, I return to the photographic investigation of my Arctic expedition (Islands of Time) and a mapping of the history and memory of 18th and 19th century exploration. Those expeditions were mainly outfitted by colonial powers to show their global importance and to find new resources to maintain industrial growth back in the homeland. In 2007, I set out to follow the big Arctic expeditions of the 19th and early 20th centuries, outfitting my own expedition and taking Ilulissat, Greenland as my starting point. The choice of Ilulissat was a reference to the historical importance of this town as one of the last stops for all expeditions before they set out into the unknown. Islands of Time was an investigation into the Arctic landscape, continuing the work of my previous landscape projects. Working in the Arctic night using high-powered movie lights, placed on several boats, I created an intervention into the Arctic ice landscape, a modeled reality. 

In my upcoming exhibition at the Kunstraum Dornbirn, The Taste of Discovery, I focus on the expedition itself—the experience of mapping and claiming nature—through recreating the sensorial experiences of Arctic explorations. Entering, the visitor is confronted with a selection of found video footage from the Internet. At the front of the installation, a stack of posters is placed. The poster is printed with the famous London Times ad for Shackelton’s “Discovery Expedition” of 1901—it’s disputed as to whether this ad was ever printed and/or distributed. (It reads: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe returns doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”) The Taste of Discovery addresses the romantic yet dangerous notion of exploration and the people who want to be part of it, as well as the vagueness that surfaces alongside the idea of exploration. The installation consists of two rooms, one of which is a black room with a video work of mine. The video is a movie of an illuminated iceberg which we circled around on a boat. It is shot in 2007 as part of the series Islands of Time. On the opposite wall, the visitor encounters a wall-sized mirror. The mirror is mounted on a ¼-inch piece of steel, which is rigged to work like the freezing compartment of a fridge. On the back of the steel, c ooling coils are mounted. The compressor, which cools the freezing liquid, is in the second room. The floor is outfitted with a small pool about 1” high to collect the melting water, which provides a microclimate for the melting and freezing process. The second room is white and contains the compressor (which exhausts heat) as well as a wooden table, a diesel canister, and motor oil. One of the chairs is covered with several overalls worn by workers while building this installation. The overalls are used and unwashed. The table and the walls will be covered with the writings and research material I used for the project itself.

Upon leaving the rooms, the visitor encounters a second pile of white paper. The paper is sprayed with a perfume, the odor of which consists of sweat, damp cloth, diesel, and motor oil. Every visitor is free to take a perfumed paper sample home. In the far left corner, the visitor hears some found audio downloaded from the Internet which was also part of my research and will be broadcast.