Elise Florenty & Marcel Türkowksy

Opening | Sat, 04 February 2017, 7 pm
Exhibition | 05 February – 18 March 2017
Holding the title of desert warrior, the cactus alters human consciousness, offers moments of contemplation, protects and ornaments shop-windows and waiting rooms, it dances on TV shows, where it also seems to speak Mexican, if not Japanese… As a tragic-comic figure, it cannot escape the laws that bond it to both natural and artificial grounds. Is it its prickly costume of an eternal guerrero - frozen in a position of “self-defence” - that manifests its more evident “self”? What gives humans the desire to recognise it as a possible “alter ego”? A bold accomplice for resistance?
From fable to farce, the exhibition Inter-passion by the artist and filmmaker duo Elise Florenty & Marcel Türkowsky, presents the first act of a project which explore the rather not known but quite common relationship, “kin(d)ship”, between human and cactus. By looking at the inter-relation or rather inter-passion of humans for this plant, i.e. how the cactus' form and materiality can affect human actions and passions, the artists have investigated the subversive potential of representations of this relationship. They reveal shifts of perspectives, roles and power-positions, through methods of mimicking, teaching and possessing. What is at stake here is a double mirroring in which the cactus is “humanised” and the human is “cactus-ised”.
Driven by a tension between botamorphism and phytocentrism, the exhibition draws a “derive” into various extraordinary geographies (from the Yakushima Forest to the Sonoran Desert) and connects both different kinds of minor stories and global gestures. On display is their most recent film Conversation with a Cactus, shot in Japan (2017, 45min), and other "narrative nuclei" – installations mixing moving image (Hdv, celluloid film) postcards and movable mechanisms – that extend rhetoric aspects and metaphoric signs present in the film's cosmology.
Florenty & Türkowsky’s narrative threads entangle discursive as well as sensual elements on a platform of fictional, documentary and performative modes of representation. The two artists focus on the verge of a visible world and its withdrawal, questioning the modern separation between the human and the non human, the animate and the inanimate, the verbal and the non verbal. Looking at mechanisms of survival and possible forms of resistance, it is through the figure of the marginal that they connect to a subterranean yet extraordinary community of thoughts and affects.
For the film Conversation with a Cactus (2017), Florenty & Türkowsky set out to live in Tokyo in order to “reanimate” the legendary Hashimoto Experiment from the 70s, in which a scientist and his wife tried to teach the Japanese alphabet to a cactus, using a lie detector to turn the plant's reactions into sound and thereby gave it a voice. This gave rise to the idea to use plants as potential witnesses in murder investigations.
Conversation with a Cactus Trailer: https://vimeo.com/202474177)
The film combines new technology and cultural traditions through the protagonist Mei, a young Japanese woman who suffers insomnia and lives in Tokyo's suburbs, an environment known for its animist traditions, ultra-technology and “politics of silence”. Affected by the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis, she starts a shamanic journey that turns into a hallucinative exploration of the self and the other, of myth and history, truth and lies, in relation to the Hashimoto experiment. Here the cactus (as a witness) becomes a metaphor for a non-human material existence in the irrational flow of transmission, for a prickly subjectivity that yet refuses to speak the human language. Combining multiple narratives Florenty & Türkowsky adress the fractured nature of cinematic language to look at different possible communications with nature, even the most absurd. They propose a spiral of metamorphoses and mutations, in which the Hashimoto legend and its promising reality seem only possible to unveil in the “dream of an insomniac”. As in their previous works, Florenty & Türkowsky refer here to the writing of anthropologist Viviero de Castro: "one is never certain whose point of view is dominant, which world is in force when one interacts with other beings". And suddenly the cactus shouts “Who is screaming in my dream”?
In Kaktos Atlas (2016-2017), the artists attempt to further develop the Dogugeashi practice, a technique employed in Japanese puppet theatre in which a series of sliding screens generates numerous interchangeable backgrounds for a scene, for dramatic effect or purely as contemplative spectacle. The atlas here collides ritualistic, aesthetic and vernacular manifestations in which humans see themselves in the cactus or see the cactus in themselves.
#Cactus Lovers (2017) is an ongoing study of how humans negotiate relations with Carnegiea gigantea cactus in the wilderness. It is a selection from the artists collection of amateur pictures (from social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, blogs etc.), especially materializing encounters with “kin bodies” in both marginal and touristic desert zones. Is their shared passion for imitating the plant driven by a social media trend, or by a natural inclination to spontaneously play?
In Absurd Stories in Eight Crises (2015-2017) the artists borrow Luis Carroll's eight chapter titles from the book The Hunting of the Snark and continue composing new short stories for the respective titles. The texts often combine the sacred and the profane, uprising and defeat, myths and cultural industry, and the sometimes futile hopes of humanity. It is the attributes of the cactus as a signifier (a calendar, a hallucinatory and regenerative juice, a witness, a cact-eye, a virtual being...) that binds them all, as a gathering of absurd historic and current news in eight crises.
In the last part of the exhibition, the double channel video-installation Neither A, nor not-A (2015) shows an anonymous puppeteer's hand presenting the 48 Japanese letters to a domesticated Euphorbia cactus. As a response to Baldassari’s video Teaching a plant the Alphabet, itself a response to Joseph Beuys’ How To explain pictures to a dead hare, the installation is far away from an expression of futility. While on one screen the blade gesture of the hand is synchronized with a samurai-like disciplined vocal chant in a gridded frame, on another screen (on the back) different “nature vs. culture“ manifestations unfold, colliding in a more organic way: anti-nuclear posters, the grins of cats, science-fiction-like subway commercials, trimmed outdoor bushes, magic Yakushima spirits... What remains is a procession upon the opaque and artificial essence of language as a system of signs.
Originally from Mexico and South Africa, the Euphorbia species has become a domesticated plant all over the world due to colonial journeys overseas spanning the last few centuries, and then to the beginning of a plant trade initially related to botanical gardens and later for individual consumers. A route the artists will set out to re-animate in the second act of this project, titled Nomida Nuda (Naked Names) in Mexico in the coming months.

Elise Florenty
(b. 1978 in Pessac, FR) and Marcel Türkowsky (b. 1978 in Berlin, DE) live and work in Berlin. Studies in Theory of Cinema/Visual Arts (Nouvelle Sorbonne, Cergy-Paris Art School) and Ethnomusicology/Philosophy/Sound Studies (Humboldt University, UDK - Berlin University of the Arts). Since 2009 they are working together as artists/filmmaker duo, exploring the multiplicity of the self through a spiral of metamorphoses that interrogate our power relation - always shifting - to the Other. Major exhibitions include: Through Somnambular Laws, Le Plateau Paris, How To Awaken The Spectrum In Between, Izolyatsia Foundation, A Walking Paradox, Kinderhook & Caracas, Berlin, Hostipitalite, Iselp Brussels, Void of Memory, PLATFORM Seoul, Wheels of Memory, La Synagogue art centre Delme, Life Ticket, Les Églises art centre, Color Blind In Eight Crises, CAC Passage, among others. Their work has been showcased both in art venues and international Film Festivals such as FID Marseille, Centre Pompidou - Hors Pistes, IFF Rotterdam, DocLisboa, Torino Film Festival, Ann Arbor FF, EMAF, CCCB Barcelona, MAF Tokyo, BERWICK, FIC Valdivia, NFF London, CAPC Bordeaux, MAMCO Geneve, Palais de Tokyo Paris, Crédakino d'Ivry, Passerelle - Centre d’art contemporain Brest, CAC Vilnius, Muzeum Sztuki Łódź, La Triennale di Milano, MATADERO Madrid, Museu da Repùblica, Rio De Janeiro, among others. In 2014, their Film The Sun Experiment (Ether Echoes) received the EMAF Award.

Image Caption: Florenty&Türkowsky, Blade Gesture., 2017 Courtesy the artists.

The exhibition is kindly supported by Insitut Français, Ministère de la Culture et communication and France invitée d’honneur de la Foire du livre de Francfort 2017 („Francfort en français“).