Kerstin von Gabain
curated by Marlies Wirth
Video courtesy the artist
The rain had made the air damp when I stepped outside. The smell of wet grass mixed with a minty breeze. Mouthwash. People were obsessed with it these days. I never went anywhere without a bottle of it. The virus had spread faster than the news of it. No one really knew how we would adjust our realities to this. Three million were already infected. Many had died. I waved at the driver and got out of the car. I immediately recognized the building and climbed the stairs. The door was unlocked.
Not that it was in any way important, but I remember every detail of the studio space. It had high ceilings and a peculiar light to it. A large table in the middle of the room. Three different chairs. A sofa bed. A large wooden cabinet with five drawers. It felt special, like it had lived through interesting times in different places. A medicine bottle on top of the cabinet. A closed double-winged door. It was blocked by a chair. I wondered what was behind it. Each of the adjoining walls was flanked by a narrow metal table. There were some setups of new pieces and quite a number of works by artist friends on the walls. I took out my earpods and sat down. That’s when I first noticed the bones.
I looked at the black lighter in my hands and felt confused. The vape had run out of juice again. I lit my first cigarette and tried to focus. Don‘t say anything, I thought. You never know.
About 40 weeks into the pandemic they had found that the virus spread through speaking, carried by the ultrasound of the human voice. And that of bats, obviously. People had stopped talking to each other in public entirely. We’d only communicate through electronic interface. Text-to-voice systems were developing fast.
The anime clips playing on the screen in the far corner of the room had no sound. They were zoomed images of little scenes. Very precisely selected. She was keen on anime and manga. “Strange, but cute,” she used to describe it. Video was a thing she had done at the very beginning of her career. Now she’d come back to it with a clear vision.
Don’t say anything, I urged myself. The virus would dissolve a human within seconds. Instead I picked up one of the pastel-colored rubber bands from the orange plexi box on the table. It could be worn as a choker. It was soft. It felt kind of otherworldly.
I poured myself a drink. The raw aluminum chair was cold but comfortable. One immediately knew that it was a designer piece. I plugged the earpods back in and waited.
One of the bones looked like a leek. “Thigh-bone”, she said. “Marrowbone, too. There are more in the drawer.”
We moved the conversation to the cabinet. I was curious. She had been working with body parts, or the imprints thereof for quite some time now. Wax and acrylic plaster cast was her medium, and she had made some experiments with 3d-printing, too. The surfaces of our urban surroundings, mostly, that she would then transfer back into her material. I liked the abstract forms that revealed themselves only after closer inspection: a hip, a shoulder, a knee. The shapes gave them a techy look, while the wax made them feel organic. Uncanny creatures of their own, though resonating humanness. The feeling of emotional fragmentation and a sense of searching. What would we become in a world of interface and technology?
“I call them the happiness machines,” she said and pointed to a set of strange devices in the hidden corner of the room. I must admit that I was surprised. “Are you ready?” she asked through a text that came with an echo into my earpods. I nodded. “Then let’s switch bodies now.”
Marlies Wirth, May 2020
* All characters, items and plot twists featured in the story are fictional, except for those that are not.
** Happiness Machines are a reference to Adam Curtis’ “Century of the Self”
7.3 x 8.5 x 4 cm
9 x 22.3 x 4.8 cm
8.1 x 2.4 x 1 cm
wax, pig lard
2.8 x 2.8 x 7.8 cm
13.8 x 4.9 x 0.4 cm
wax, pig lard
1.8 x 1.8 x 11.6 cm
leek (bone), 2020
27 x 4,5 x 3,8 cm
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1.5 x 3.5 x 1 cm
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Images and videos courtesy of Kerstin von Gabain
Kerstin von Gabain, born 1979, Palo Alto, lives and works in Vienna.
Kerstin von Gabain's photographic and sculptural works frequently engage with historic exhibits and collected artefacts; she is particularly interested in typologies and classifications as well as the principles underlying the exhibitions of historic collections. von Gabain visual language originates from her interest in various subject matters such as anthropomorphism, anime, horror movies, science fiction, medical history and the relationship between the human body, sculpture and its photographic representation.
Marlies Wirth is a curator and art historian based in Vienna and has been active at the MAK – Museum of Applied Arts since 2006. As the Curator for Digital Culture she has a key role in the programming of the VIENNA BIENNALE and heads the MAK Design Collection. She curates exhibitions and programs in the fields of art, architecture, design and technology, such as “UNCANNY VALUES. Artificial Intelligence & You” (2019) or the themed group show “ARTIFICIAL TEARS” (2017). She is part of the curatorial team for the international travelling exhibition “Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine” (2017, a cooperation of Vitra Design Museum, MAK and Design museum Gent) and was co-director for the 12th Global Art Forum in Dubai and Singapore themed “I am not a Robot” (2018). Next to her institutional practice, she develops independent exhibition projects with international artists, and writes essays and texts for publications.