Catalogue "The Gates of the Sun and the Land of Dreams"

Aljoscha’s Interview conducted by Antonia Lehmann-Tolkmitt (March 2017)

Dear Aljoscha, after the last exhibition we did together at the Gallery1, you are now presenting a large room installation as well as recent objects, paintings, and drawings. Biological technology and genetic engineering are the main sources of inspiration for your body of work. Can you explain to us briefly, in how far your work is positioned between art and science?

Since I was a child I have been interested in futurism and the latest scientific revelations and, naturally, I have been keeping myself up-to-date about the latest developments in this segment, especially when it comes to biology. Over the past two years, I have particularly been fond of the concept of bioethical abolitionism2. I have so to speak moved from biology to bioethics.

So you’re saying that you see yourself as a scientist as well as an artist?

Yes, I am an artist, and for me art is the highest degree of science. Not only is art highly intuitive and highly individual, but it also allows and leads to interdisciplinary knowledge, it most and for all questions everything and generates Utopian dreams and visions. Strictly speaking, I’m not a scientist, of course, nevertheless I have created new aesthetical research results as I primarily deal with the creation of absolutely new and unknown ways. As any scientist, the question of “what if...” drives me forward – an almost childish curiosity. Naturally, all my pieces of art contain certain aesthetic features that express my personality, but whenever I start out on a process of decision, the end of my journey is never clear. And that’s what makes this aesthetic-scientific work so exciting.

Your theory of “bioism”, a new approach of aesthetics which makes art materialize via vitality and organic growth, which in the future might ideally rise from live matter, is so far mainly a Utopian dream. However, there is Bio-Art which creates an environment where a re-conception of artistic methods and visual language in the face of technological progress is dealt with. Could your work be allocated to this environment?

Of course. I have already integrated live organisms into some of my installations. Still, technical and financial opportunities do not allow a complete composition of purposeless living creatures. Actually, new organisms are being developed, but this primarily happens in areas where expensive large-scale investments might pay off: energy generation and health industries. From an artistic point of view, Bio-Art is still stuck in the interpretation phase – it’s all about exploitation and only minimal changes from the things that already exist. For me as an artist, it is extremely important to practice this new approach of aesthetics every day and to really create artefacts of bioism, that’s why it primarily happens on a purely visual, Utopian level.

Since the year 2009, you have added to the objects and paintings a number of so-called “interventions” (or “G-signs”) which you first installed in 20 German museums, some of them of greatly renown such as Museum Ludwig, and later on in international museums such as Tate Britain. Without making any agreements or asking for permission you install miniature objects into the context of the exhibit at the respective museum. What was your intention behind your invasion into these “holy shrines”, and what does your “museum of the future” look like?

Since I regard all my objects and pieces of art as living beings, exhibition rooms are like natural habitats or laboratories to me. That way, it’s absolutely logical that such institutions serve for the unexpected landing or spreading of new creatures as viruses. This, of course, happens without permission, as it does in the wild. I see this as a raid of biological power, vitality. From my point of view, the “museum of the future” will more and more mutate into a zoo-park or a paradise-like garden with undiscovered animal and vegetative species.

I have the impression that in recent years your work has developed towards interventions or a socio-political statement in a parallel way. For your action in your home country Ukraine in the fall of 2015 you searched the country for destroyed Lenin-monuments and – similar to your museum interventions – put acrylic sculptures into their place and in that way turned the demolished monuments into contemporary installations. Are these political campaigns, that is: do you intend to point out melting pots of deficiency?

The impression that my work is drifting towards interventions is not quite correct. I still intervene, but not as often as I used to. Now it’s maybe two to four campaigns per year instead of 12 as in, say, 2010. My artistic movement primarily refers to futurism and the global development of mankind with the mutual effect on our and artificial species. As a basic rule, I never regard mankind as the summit of creation and that is why I am not interested in short-dated political events. However, nobody can be completely isolated from society – and that is why current events involve me. Yet, my creatures and I will not be found on only one side of certain political conflicts but will rather be watching from above, e.g. flying over barricades or sitting in the dark interior of demolished Lenin statues contemplating iconoclasm and the future of the human race.

With your large-scale installations in sacred places you have also obtained special attention in recent years, for instance in St. Petri’s Church in Dortmund (2015), Palace Church in Bonn (2016) or – most recently – the Sala Santa Rita in Rome (2017). The installations have a divine air, the contextualization of your contemporary way of dealing with questions of life sciences in these sometimes medieval churches is a thrilling contrast. What is your intention?

Sacred rooms are very enticing because they are rather vast and often offer fantastic possibilities for monumental pieces of art. That is why the conditions for the realization of the micro- and macro-compositions there are ideal for me. Another basic aspect is that churches were originally created for religious, philosophical and artistic aspects as well as superhuman feelings. There, the knowledge of the meaning of “the whole” and teleological considerations come together: thoughts about the origin, life, freedom and necessity, autonomy and dependency, me and the world, relation and isolation, creativity and mortality. Also, the church is generally open for thoughts about the future and visions. That is why the creation of a large body that seems to be out of this world and that raises all old and new questions of mankind is always a great pleasure for me.

The title of your exhibition you show at Beck & Eggeling and at the same time at Benrath Palace is “The Gates of the Sun and The Land of Dreams”. What is it about Homer’s Odyssey that fascinates you?

The title is actually subdivided: “The Gates of the Sun” is meant for the exhibition at Beck & Eggeling and “The Land of Dreams” is for the extended installation at the Corps de Logis at Benrath Palace. Apart from the formal and obvious references, this of course has a deeper meaning. The entire sentence from Homer’s Odyssey is: “When they had passed the waters of Oceanus and the rock Leucas, they came to the gates of the sun and the land of dreams (...).”3 Here, I found a marvellous connection to the theo- ry of the bioethical abolitionism already mentioned above: the eternal hedonistic pursuit of painlessness and bliss, of the basic human right of happiness, of “paradise engineering”!

A great conclusion. Ute Eggeling, Michael Beck and myself would like to thank you for the collaboration which is always inspiring.

1 Sensorial Panoptikum, Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf, 2012.

2 Bioethical abolitionism: “is a bioethical approach that intends to eliminate the suffering which due to the evolution is there in all of us by means of biotech- nology (e.g. synthetic biology, biochemistry, nano- technology etc.). Thus, the extended area of biology which includes the creation of new forms of life car- ries hope for all of us. That is a central message of my work” (Aljoscha, 2017).

3 Homer, 2008.

Antonia Lehmann-Tolkmitt