Thomas Feuerstein - Prometheus Delivered, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin
Thomas Feuerstein’s ‘Prometheus Delivered’ is the exhibition entry for Berlin Art Week 2017 by the Vienna-based artist who has long studied and implemented science in his art. It is undeniable how technology and science have become a target of artistic preoccupation since decades. Like the ‘Laboratory of Dilemmas’ in the Greek Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale, Feuerstein’s work is a good example of where art and science return to their prototypical inseparable relation before the 17th century. The artist’s main interest focuses on how science interferes with art and how art reflects science in their complicated relationship.
‘Prometheus Delivered’ proposes a visual allegory of the oscillating situation between ephemeral and permanent, construction and deconstruction, stability and transformation. The replica sculpture of ‘Prométhée enchaîné’ by Nicolas Sébastien Adam (1705-1778) becomes the main symbol of the exhibition; The eternal myth of Prometheus becomes a symbol of fragility and temporariness as the marble sculpture is slowly ‘eaten’ and transformed by chemolithoautotrophic bacteria, a paradigm of how science erodes faith in heroes, myths and fables. The bacteria slowly turn marble into gypsum, therefore interfering with and disturbing the binary of science and art, of fact and imagination.
Slightly reflecting the absurd spatial creations of Bruno Gironcoli, Feuerstein’s work occupies the exhibition space in its own peculiar way. The white cube turns into a mystical experimentation lab where intimidating machines interact. Prometheus Delivered consists of a series of 8 ‘processual’ sculptures that individually execute chemical processes but are connected to each other with a long complex hose system. Water flows in the hoses which transfer it from one installation to the other. In every machine sculpture there are organic and non organic materials which compose the matter of the exhibition themselves; pyrite, iron dioxide, gypsum, bacteria, human liver cells. The materials assume different roles in the different installations but always are an inseparable part of the chemical procedures that constitute the main ‘object’ exhibited. Science breathes life into art with the help of real lab biotechnological equipment provided by the Institute for Microbiology of Innsbruck.
The water undergoes different chemical and biological transformations in interaction with the organic and non-organic materials that are found in the sculptures, thus assigning a unique role to each installation. The work builds up an enigmatic relationship with scientific factuality as a foundation for artistic creation. The hoses function as a metaphor for the interconnection of artistic disciplines and ‘genres’ as we travel from classicism to contemporary science; the marble gets consumed offering an allusion to the corrosion of western beauty ideals and values. History becomes a material under the strict speculation of western positivistic streams where myth no longer inspires but assists scientific knowledge.
Although each of them serves different functions, they altogether compose a distinctive narrative. The first machine sculpture one meets when they enter the room ‘Oktoplasma’ presents a 3D printed augmented model of the human liver in formalin. The model is partly the byproduct of the interaction between marble and chemolithoautotrophic bacteria which have the capacity of turning inorganic matter into organic tissue. The liver model is colonized by human liver cell biomass which flocculated the microporous structure of the print.
On the left room one is confronted with ‘Kasbek’, a big processual machine sculpture where the chemolithoautotrophic bacteria feed on pyrite and release sulfuric acid. The water flushes through the machine via glass receptors and is successively transferred with the acid via the hose system on the Prometheus sculpture in the next room where it gradually transforms the marble into gypsum.
Feuerstein’s work aims to pose questions and dilemmas rather than present facts. The dilemma set is bigger than just wondering what the work is about. It is more of a sentimental dilemma imposed on the visitor to reflect on assumptions about the role of science in art and vise versa. One cannot really decide whether the sculptures enter a dialogue with a utopian or dystopian future. One can only know that Feuerstein invites people to take distance from the work, speculate it and reflect on the processes of creation.
Each work serves as a proof of how humanity is corrupting its own existence; how Prometheus, the light-bringer in ancient Greek mythology becomes the subject of mutation when the distinction between form and material is lifted. They are trying to suffocate the ancient hero who stole the fire from the Gods to bring it to humans. The exhibition works as mockery and as a hymn to scientific achievements. Each work is a sculpture which makes up the process and conditions of its own creation. Beyond their functional status, the hybrid machines act as sculptures with their own function: like life itself. The narcotic, plain, neoclassical Haus environment in which the exhibition takes place grounds the work into a scientific reality where it can stand alone and intimidating. One needs to read the accompanying labels very carefully in order to understand the function and message of each work.