The Destiny of all Life lies within Technology

Sculpture, wood
250 x 250 x 5 cm

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The Destiny of all Life lies within Technology

"Technology" has become a new form of religion, in some way taking the place of ethics. People believe that all solutions to environmental problems and global warming will come from new technological developments, techniques and innovations. This would be very comforting, of course, because it would then be unnecessary for humanity to limit its consumption or change its behavior. Technocrats are the magicians, and others can only listen and must put their faith in the expert. Nevertheless, no one has yet been able to create a truly sustainable society – despite all the technical knowledge and understanding of the most complicated ecological processes, politics and the needs of the people and other species.

People hand over power to technical experts, the same way they believe in God: pray to God that the airplane does not crash and that we do not drown in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. One always believes in technical systems and processes to find solutions; however, this also leads to new problems, because the destructiveness of each new system or process is built-in. It is odd that a business, a community or a country must learn first of all to accept that a mistake has occurred before the failure of the system is reacted to, in order to live with the consequences. An engineer or group of experts makes gigantic efforts to develop a new technology, a nuclear power station, for example. What is often absent is a department that figures out how this invention influences the environment in the long term and what might happen in an unexpected disaster.

„Technologie“ ist eine neue Glaubensform geworden, nimmt auf eine bestimmte Weise den Platz Gottes ein, weil die Menschen glauben, dass alle Lösungen gegenüber Umweltproblemen und globaler Erwärmung durch neue technologische Entwicklungen, Verfahren und Innovationen entstehen. Das wäre natürlich sehr komfortabel, weil es dann für die Menschheit unnötig wäre, ihren Verbrauch einzuschränken oder Verhaltensformen zu ändern.

Technokraten sind die Magier des kleinen Mannes, der nur zuhören und den Experten Glauben schenken kann bzw. muss. Niemand ist jedoch bislang in der Lage, aus all dem technischen Wissen und Verständnis um die komplexesten ökologischen Prozesse, um Politik und um die Bedürfnisse der Menschen und anderer Spezies – so wie es notwendig wäre – eine wahrhaft nachhaltige Gesellschaft zu schaffen.

Die Menschen händigen ihre oft politisch legitimierte Macht den technischen Fachleuten aus, so wie sie an Gott glauben: Gebe Gott, dass das Flugzeug nicht abstürzt, dass wir nicht in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern ertrinken. Für mich ist Religion so, als zöge man es vor, an die unwahrscheinlichste aller Erklärungen zu glauben, durchaus vergleichbar damit, wie technologiegläubig wir sind. An technische Systeme und Prozesse glaubt man stets, um Problemlösungen zu finden, doch dies führt auch zu neuen Problemen, denn deren Abnutzung und Zerstörung ist jeweils mit inbegriffen. Von daher ist es befremdlich, dass ein Unternehmen, eine Gemeinschaft oder ein Land zunächst erst einmal lernen muss, zu akzeptieren, dass ein Fehler aufgetreten ist, bevor auf das Versagen des Systems reagiert wird, um mit den Konsequenzen zu leben. Ein Ingenieur, eine Gruppe von Fachleuten kann riesige Anstrengungen unternehmen, um eine neue Technologie, ein Atomkraftwerk zu entwickeln. Was oft fehlt, ist jene Entwicklungsabteilung, die herausfindet, wie diese Erfindung die Umwelt auf lange Sicht beeinflusst und was in einer unerwarteten Katastrophensituation passiert. Atomarer Restmüll wird nach wie vor unabbaubar in Höhlen verstaut …

Die Menschen sind derzeit nicht in der Lage, dafür zu sorgen, dass unser Planet nicht auseinander fällt. Wir machen eher Anstalten, das Leben, so wie wir es kennen, zu zerstören. Verursacht durch ein Erdbeben und eine sich anschließende Katastrophenkaskade legte Japan mit einem Kernkraftwerk sein gesamtes Land lahm – eigentlich müssten 100 Millionen Menschen umgesiedelt werden: Jene Mutter mit ihrer kleinen Tochter, die in unserer Berliner Wohnung lebt, kommt aus Osaka, keiner direkt betroffenen Stadt, die Mutter meint aber, dort aufzuwachsen wäre für das kleine Mädchen zu gefährlich, die meisten Menschen jedoch geben sich vor Ort ihrem Schicksal hin und bekommen lieber Krebs, als die Heimat zu verlassen.

"Destiny of all life lies within technology” considered under André Malraux, "something perhaps is happening in the history of the mind."

In both the contemporary arts and, more recently, the art that has unfurled on the internet, artists have augmented their work with font or language. The current text/pixellation called ASCII art, or text pictures, devised mainly by anonymous artists, uses computer programmes to generate images. These images are mostly of famous personalities and are created solely by their portraits in letters, symbols, text and sometimes using their words in quotation. Many of these portraits, such as those of Bob Marley or Ronald Reagan, are dependent on the quirky desire to embed information as image in these stealth-like memes that have interpreted the Matrix wallpaper as a popular culture motif.

Similarly, other inventive tropes used to depict the world as text were present in the absurd interventionist times of the Dadaists and more playfully in the work of the smaller Fluxus group of artists. Further popularised by Pop artists, they are found particularly in the soliloquy by Robert Indiana and recently in the jetsam chronicle abstractions by Cy Twombly. The dawn of the postmodern era has recapitulated the place of text as image, in a movement loosely collated as art and language, albeit there already exists an art group of the same title. If anything, language in art has allowed for the porous seepage between theory and art. This complex interdependence further provided a space for the desire by many writers and cultural commentators to be artists and artists to twin philosophy.

In the weighty summer exhibition of 2013 the director of the Maeght Foundation invited the French philosopher, Bernard Henry-Levy, to curate on the theme of Painting and Philosophy. Levy, kept a journal throughout his three-year research period and engaged the director of the foundation in detailed recording of the attributes of his findings, thereby mapping the fundamental shift and nuanced interplay bordering Painting and Philosophy. The director, Olivier Kaeppelin, similarly retorted to Levy:

“which truth do we, each with our own individual experiences and sensitivity, give to the image and to forms? It is essential to understand the question of knowledge through sight and thought.”

The twentieth century history of text or language as representation in the visual arts, is now a familiar sight in museums and collections, giving a vivid claim to its use as form. The tradition was one that began in the Middle Ages, where in many paintings the act of reading, a letter or a book would allow a further way to decipher the specificity of the subjects’ action.

“Rembrandt (1606-1669) was one of many artists from the Renaissance who depicted Biblical subjects in his paintings, some of which clearly depicted actual letters as in his painting, Moses with the Ten Commandments (1659). His message is clear: Without the actual tablet with the writings of the commandments, this image could have been depicting anyone. The tablet and writing were necessary to make clear the powerful image of Moses revealing the Ten Commandments to his followers.”

In many ways, to understand the work, Destiny of all life lies within technology, one has to understand its relationship to the history of art; how eloquent messages entered as images and the particular strategies used to address individual artists concerns. On initially encountering Destiny of all life lies within technology, one automatically reads or recalls the words as Arbeit macht frei, a deliberate ploy by Tea Mäkipää to display the power of our collective memory.

The work, unlike much that was described in the initial passages of this text, is three dimensional. It is not so much a sculpture but more like its original form, a gateway, a portal that one enters and, in examining it further, one is presented with an image that reads but from another side. A simple distortion of present and past, of two places that form a passage, is presented. In a 2006 videowork based on the actual gate at Auschwitz 1 by the Polish artist, Miroslaw Balka, entitled β, one looks at the flipped β in the word ARβEIT, in close proximity and from the reverse side, as if viewed from within the compound of the camp. With drifts of snowflakes falling on the sign, a mystifying mixture is presented for one’s initial comprehension.

In having to revolve the turnstiles of recognition, we stumble upon the source of the image; a recollection dawns from the collective archive, as we begin to understand and share the joke played by the prisoners whose metalwork skills provided a historical kick for their fascist captors. The flipped β, like the change in the context of the text by Mäkipää is a play between proximity and distance, breathing deeply on memory and thus confusing the initial observation.

In revisiting any iconic record of historic truth, we easily and subliminally accept its foundational intent, as is the case Mäkipää presents. Recognition drives her other fundamental shift, the re-framed truism that she exposes. Here, work makes (you) free becomes Destiny of all life lies within technology. She plays on the notion of being made (becoming) and of destiny, free(dom), technology and work as life.

The use of a truism provides a sense of pervasive wisdom, (before the head figures them out). We then realise, in the folly of transference, their composite relationship to the cage of history. Work makes (you) free and Destiny of all life lies within technology seep from the sunken mantle, from the axioms of the past to the increasing psychosis of a future yet to be. Incredulously, yet evocatively, the promise of advantage from work or technology sounds as if this were one’s kismet and holds no apocalyptic submission.

Are we fated?

As the earlier question by Olivier Kaeppelin asks “which truth do we, each with our own individual experiences and sensitivity, give to the image and to forms?” In mediating between the past as a form in which a traumatic historical record has ascended, the mediation in Destiny of all life lies within technology makes a world transgressing humanity more recognisable as the trauma of what we have become and what we have forged from the remnants of an earth of misshapen values, finally fermenting into the technological era, yet another visuality.

Shaheen Merali