Assembling everything from stock images to Tibetan prayer flags, Transformers posters and fern leaves, Berlin-born artist and self-confessed “evolution nerd” Timur Si-Qin collapses traditional value hierarchies and combines influences into sculptural form because, he says, “it’s all just nature”. His thought process takes root in tracing the history of evolution and “ultimate causes”, drawing influence from theories of morphogenesis, evolutionary biology and “why things are the way they are from a naturalistic perspective.”
Si-Qin returned to Berlin eight years ago, having grown up from the age of eight in Tucson, Arizona, and has found a community of like-minded people in Berlin, largely based around Times Bar in Neukölln. Despite being situated in the current dialogue taking place around “post-internet” artists and technology, he would not choose to self-define in such narrow terms, and instead suggests, “you could make the argument that seashells or methods of gene reproduction in DNA are in principle a form of technology… the internet is just a natural extension of everything that came before.”
In his work “Axe effect”, Si-Qin purchased a sword and pierced several bottles of Axe-branded shower gel, which subsequently seeped out colourful pungent goop on to the white plinth. He tells Sleek about a study that discovered that when a sample of people evaluated two images – one of a person with a branded shirt and one without – participants were “far more likely to evaluate the branded person with positive characteristics like honesty and kindness.”
“This reveals how our brains have evolved,” he says, “namely, to read clues from our environment that could possibly help us navigate our environment. In the case of branding, logos tap into the part of our brains that are evolved to read signals about the fitness of people… I think that is a beautiful thing”. “Axe effect” materialises his assertion that there is a biological, physiological reason for the way the world is ergonomically and aesthetically formed. It combines the emblems of the desire to be sexually attractive (evident in Axe’s brand identity) with a symbol of competition and primality by aggressively piercing the bottles and then “letting the materials do their thing.”
Influenced by everything from Facebook to physics, Si-Qin compares the sun-seeking photosynthesis of plant forms with the attention- or light-seeking focus of advertisements constructed to create revenue. Rather than presenting the imagery in resistance to capitalism and consumer branding, he renders notions of “good” and “bad” as constructions drawn from a survival mechanism rather than essential states of being. In his view, humans have developed society from a natural symbiosis and, as he suggests, “I don’t see a separation between ‘popular culture’ or ‘commercialism’ and the natural world. I always think about how we are pervaded with advertisements in our daily lives and think it quite beautiful because they appear for more or less the same principles that leaves on plants do: namely they grow to occupy any viable space which they can source energy from.”
Recently, in his exhibition with Katja Novitskova at CCS Bard in New York, Si-Qin selected a female face from a stock footage archive, standing it upright on display boards with Tibetan flags draped over the back: both are successful examples of images and objects that have evolved to be popular and prevalent. The face was also chosen by the artist, signalling the process of determination in the human eye filter mechanism, employed when choosing imagery for sexual selection. Si-Qin exploits the way our brains are programmed aesthetically and how this, in turn, informs the way our world is constructed and presented. Multiple sports bags of the same make are hung in the gallery alongside, employed after the artist observed a trend among adolescent Turkish youths for these particular bags. Si-Qin considers them as markers of “fitness”, which therefore communicate the attractiveness of the young males to potential partners, like pheromone signifiers. Placing plants at the foot of the display, he also forms a dialogue with ways in which stores attract attention to create a pleasant purchasing experience.
Positing himself as an “alien-David Attenborough”, the decision to inhabit a “nature-documentary-from-outer-space” perspective means that his view on the world around us passes through nature, science, organic forms and Darwinism, before finding itself firmly in the ad-driven urban jungle of contemporaneity.
Text by Susanna Davies-Crook