Vaping doesn’t really exist in Berlin: why vape when you can smoke a real, live cigarette in most bars? Import Projects’ “eStamina” exhibition, therefore, may be the city’s closest thing to the Vape rooms that have mushroomed in Los Angeles, London and New York. Grégoire Blunt and Emmy Skensved filled a room at Import Projects with fog that contains nicotine and caffeine, along with a video piece featuring narrations about body enhancement from 26 writers (including Sleek’s Jeni Fulton and Egle Kulbokaite). The specially-produced gas fills the audience’s lungs with trace amounts of nicotine and caffeine, clouds of which are spewed by a whirring smoke machine every few minutes. A cube of energy drinks, pale and shiny in the haze, becomes more and more depleted as the opening night wears on. As we consume the drinks, consume the fog, consume the art, our bodies show the effects, however miniscule.
Grégoire Blunt and Emmy Skensved’s practice focuses on economic and bodily consumption, and is particularly interested in its communal and social elements. A previous exhibition, “Tonicc”, recreated a typical vernissage bar, reappropriated as sculpture – a homage to what, for some, is a defining feature of the gallery opening: the free booze.
In “eStamina”, the distributed substances still nod to lubrication (a few minutes in the slightly caffeinated cloud of nicotine smoke, and you might find yourself slightly more alert), while their bright white and flawless form take on the aesthetic vision of what these substances mean in our culture. As technology’s techniques to enhance our bodies weave their way into our flesh, they also make their way into our psyches through the hyper-emotional visual language and rhetoric of today’s commercial market.
The video piece, the centrepiece of the show, is an eclectic discussion of the various ways that technology and products affect our bodies: from how the “shelf-like” aspects of German toilets affects perceptions of our bowel movements, to the ways in which shaving our bodies signals a move towards our earlier, reptilian states of evolution. Hi-shine, computer-generated video illustrations accompany the monologues – performance graphs, or silvery grey red blood cells zooming down a smooth cylinder – nodding to the way that new technology has to sell itself.
“We were thinking of the imagery as illustrations to go along with the scripts. We picked up on certain elements and visualized them with the intent to complement and emphasise a sense of drama in the texts,”Blunt explains. Created completely digitally, the imagery creates visions of the future as proposed by the contributors, and borders on anxiety and hope: these plural critical positions that the artists feel in discussing these issues in the artistic circles they work within.
“It’s part of a greater conversation we’re having with artists who address similar themes in their work,” Skensved adds.
“We chose the broad topic of human enhancement technologies, so that contributors could have a lot of creative freedom and manoeuvrability in their interpretations,” says Blunt. “In the end it’s quite eclectic.” Part of that eclecticism was moulded into the show by the curatorial organisation of the text-production by Skensved and Blunt, who assigned each writer a letter of the alphabet to inspire their creations.
“We had this seemingly logical system, but it’s actually an arbitrary way of organizing the information,” says Emmy. “In a similar way, a lot of technological developments are presented as rational and progressive, but often this is just a reflection of the advertising and imagery used to market these products.”
As technology comes ever closer to our bodies, it seems undeniable that the future lies in commercialising these exchanges. Body enhancement has only just begun to have its effects on our culture. How will our bodies will be modified to fit in with these new developments? Right now, our crystal ball is as foggy as a vape-filled room.
Text by Josie Thaddeus-Johns
Grégoire Blunt + Emmy Skensved, “eStamina”, is on show at Import Projects 15 February until 7 March 2015
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