The Exhibition as an Open Lab
On artistic research by Jenny Brockmann
“Artistic research does not create universal, accessible and inter-subjectively verifiable knowledge; it opens up spaces for thought (…)”
— Elke Bippus
Art historian Elke Bippus describes artistic research as the opportunity to open up thought processes. The aim of research in art, in her opinion, is to create processes of knowledge production and moments of discussion. Within these investigations, knowledge is seen as distinct from an understanding of knowledge as the accumulation of pure facts and the simplification of complex processes of building knowledge. The knowledge of artistic research contrasts with the current increasing economization of knowledge by valuing insights gained more than information acquired.
Jenny Brockmann’s works also create spaces for thought, and, to be more concrete: spaces for experience. In the form of sculptures, interactive spatial arrangements or sketched ideas, the German artist has been researching for several years, dynamic and spatial processes as well as processes in nature, and combinations of materials. Her works are often the starting point for philosophical discourse and questions about patterns of human behaviour and social structures. Characterized by discursive aesthetics, the works always function as instructive examples and illustrative models for her investigations as well.
For the last three years, Brockmann’s artistic research has been shaped primarily by debate with a term she coined herself, the concept of the ‘Irreversible Moment’. In her research on the ‘Irreversible Moment’ the artist is searching for the reason behind fundamental structural and spatial changes, or the transformation of bodies in space. Further, she enquires about the socio-political significance of the ‘Irreversible Moment’. When and how do social, ecological and economical irreversible turning points occur? And is it possible to find new ways in which to confront the ‘Irreversible Moment’? Among other things, Brockmann searches for forms of visualization and thus also for intellectual approaches to this ‘point of no return’, i.e. the point from which there can be no going back, the moment in a process that leads to something never again being as it was before.
‘Irreversible Moment’ 20-14-220-9  presents one of Brockmann’s first experimental set-ups relating to this extraordinary moment. The viewers see an oversized bowl of water, in which a rigid wax form is floating. The object is accompanied by pictures that document the generation process of this wax structure, and a series of thermal images outlining the structural change from hot fluid into a rigid wax formation. It is not surprising that Brockmann, as a sculptor, initially concentrated on the physical alteration of form and material in her research.
For the first time, in the exhibition Open Lab ‘Irreversible Moment’ experimental set-ups like this and a broad survey of past discourse on the ‘Irreversible Moment’ is presented and installed as a starting point for continuing knowledge processes. The exhibition also aims to be an active space for discussion and the production of insights. The German title for the exhibition ‘Wissensraum’ (knowledge space) refers to a description by German scientific historian and media expert Henning Schmidgen, who describes the laboratory as a space for knowledge and an exemplary location of modernity. 2 Developing an exhibition as a laboratory means centring it on the process of knowledge production. Brockmann creates objects, architectural elements and information carriers for Open Lab ‘Irreversible Moment’ that not only enact different laboratory functions but also offer insights into her artistic research. Viewers experience moments of changing viewpoints Perspective #2 , interdisciplinary research, maps of discursive processes involved in Drawing 20-16-030-6 , and suggestions for interaction Seat #12 .
In addition, due to a diverse programme of research on the spot, the exhibition space is turned into a living laboratory on the ‘Irreversible Moment’ and so expands the exhibition’s spectrum of activity. The programme includes two discursively oriented lecture evenings: Chance and the ‘Irreversible Moment’ and Interpretations of the ‘Irreversible Moment’. In addition, during a two-day children’s workshop Experimental set-ups on the ‘Irreversible Moment’ and an interdisciplinary workshop Field Research ‘Irreversible Moment’, children, adult visitors, and invited experts will debate approaches to and everyday contextualizations of the ‘Irreversible Moment’. The knowledge processes emerging will flow in turn into Brockmann’s artistic research, providing input for future investigations, artworks and analyses relating to the ‘Irreversible Moment’.
One important aspect in Brockmann’s artistic practice is interdisciplinary work. Interested as she is in new perspectives and approaches, in her investigations the artist often works with experts in different fields. In periods ranging from six months to two years, collaboration also developed in this way in the context of her artistic research on the ‘Irreversible Moment’ with Kevin Bethke (chemist), Franka Herwig (accordionist), Andreas Menzel (physicist), and Jeremy Wade (dancer). The resulting dialogues, devised experimental set-ups, and thought experiments are now being subsumed for the first time in the exhibition in the shape of models and sketches, as well as in Drawing 20-16-030-6.
Drawing 20-16-030-6 extends along an impressive, 3.5 meter (11’6”) wide, black roll of paper, which – fixed on tripods – hangs down from a height of 3 meters (10’11”), unfolding an oversized cartography of ideas, questions and positions relating to the ‘Irreversible Moment’. In the form of short notes and concentrated illustrations, here Brockmann makes knowledge processes comprehensible using delicate white lines. The method of cartography (mapping) used in natural science to visualize spatial information about landscapes or celestial bodies is adopted by the artist and helps to orient within the landscape of thoughts on the ‘Irreversible Moment’.
Change in Perspective and Spatial Experience
In the works developed especially for the exhibition, Perspective #2 and Seat #12 Brockmann very consciously creates pieces focusing on physical experience and spatial awareness. In a similar way to Brockmann’s working method for her series Rooms [2010–2015], in which life-sized, architectonic models of rooms invite visitors into various perceptual spaces, the elevated level of Perspective #2 offers visitors a change of view within the exhibition. At a height of two meters the visitor not only leaves the customary field of experience but also becomes immersed in the exhibited, supplementary information materials regarding the ‘Irreversible Moment’.
Seat #12 creates a seating opportunity for twelve people, referring to a circular conference table layout. It sets up an unusual situation with its swing-like function: every movement, even the very small- est, made by one of those seated has a direct effect on the sitting position of all the others. Equipped with twelve aluminium arms, all linked in the middle, the seemingly futuristic object deals with communication. A voiced, or perhaps merely sensed discourse on the perfect balance inevitably evolves between those seated.
It is impressed upon visitors to the exhibition Open Lab ‘Irreversible Moment’ from the very start that artistic research may be understood as opening up space for thought. Brockmann places a wall directly opposite the entrance, and with this intervention she initiates a decision process for her audience. The usual mode of action when ‘consuming’ an exhibition is replaced by the question of whether the exhibition should be entered to the left or to the right of the wall – that is, whether to go first onto the raised level that provides a survey of the room, or whether to move into the exhibition space first. Of course, it is impossible to predict whether this decision will become a personal ‘Irreversible Moment’ – however, we can be sure that it will determine, irreversibly, the visitors’ first view of and reference to the exhibition.
1. Elke Bippus, Kunst des Forschens. Praxis eines ästhetischen Denkens, diaphanes, 2009, p. 16 2. Henning Schmidgen, Labor, 2011. In: Europäische Geschichte Online, ieg-ego.de, 03.01.2013