‚Jenny Brockmann: BYPASS – Emergence of Voices’ by Linda Rocco

Jenny Brockmann: BYPASS – The Emergence of Voices is a nomadic project in collaboration with Goethe Institut, taking place throughout 2021-22 across six different locations in the UK. Existing at the intersection of art, science and research, the project reflects on notions of connectivity from multifaceted perspectives, acting as a catalyst in exploring discourses on transdisciplinarity and collaborative approaches.

Working closely with the author of this text, along with experts from various fields in the arts and STEM, Brockmann unpacks phenomena that form the basis of our thought system while adapting to the complexities of society through an experimental approach. Using the body as a metaphor to divide the research process into strands, Jenny Brockmann: BYPASS – The Emergence of Voices will develop over six sites, as interlinked projects with a corresponding local focus.

Born in Germany and based in New York, Brockmann has implemented a process-oriented working methodology across two decades, following a postgraduate degree with installation artist Rebecca Horn. Inspired by modes of representation in the natural sciences and eager to permeate into new forms of reflections, the artist is captivated by what remains concealed, or not easily explained. The invested curiosity in examining the world and its value system leads Brockmann to often choose laboratory-like settings for her projects. In these, art objects, documentation and working situations are in progress, or evolving accordingly to the audience’s own presence. Brockman’s work represents both the outcome of collaborative research, and a tool which aids in advancing new enquires and thought processes, with an ethos of experimental discovery. Ultimately about human beings, the artist’s practice explores the senses and perception, transferring scientific knowledge and rules of nature into art-making. This working methodology, with no differentiation between process and outcome, has been applied in previous projects such as ‘Chronicle of a Place’, New York, Istanbul and Tel Aviv (2013-2015), the interdisciplinary-cooperative project ‘Open Lab‚Irreversible Moment’ in the Schering Foundation, Berlin (2016), and ‘Uncertain Knowledge’, Berlin (2017).

BYPASS – The Emergence of Voices is situated outside traditional spaces for art’s consumption, as museums or galleries. The project is purposefully designed to exist beyond the white cube, responding to real-life contexts in quasi-public sites or educational settings. Following Lefebvre’s conception of space as not an empirically given entity but instead something that is always socially produced, a space for possibilities is generated through Brockmann’s experiential installations and programme of events. Each being an Entanglement, or a constructed situation, as understood by Guy Debord and the Situationist International1: an extended or condensed sequence of constructed moments unfolding in time. Throughout instants of rupture or acceleration, the situation allows interactions to occur and consequently perturb the unfolding, lending an infinite number of unforeseen circumstances. Brockmann has been pursuing what she calls the ‘irreversible moment’ since 2014, coining the term herself to indicate the emergence of an irrevocable turning point within the construction of a situation, often associated with a transformative art experience.
The irreversible moment is a combination of factors which permanently affect the way we see and perceive things, with no point of return. Referring to irreversible turning points occurring in societies, Brockmann has been observing those silent mechanisms of digestion – which go beyond our understanding, often corrupted by the noise of mainstream media and relinquishing responsibilities.

By creating a public laboratory, a non-hierarchical space wherein audiences interact as active agents, BYPASS – The Emergence of Voices interrogates what constitutes our culture, its diversity, and in particular the paths, protocols and structures of how things and people are interconnected. The performative discursive platform, developed into a month-long exhibition, navigates ways to negotiate mutual dialogue – a process that bypasses and connects varying fields to contribute to the production of knowledge in a holistic manner. This ultimately ignites points of departure for further reflections on human behavioural patterns, existing historical layers, biological and social systems, as well as cultural anthropological overlaps. Consistent with the inquisitive and experimental spirit adopted by the avant-gardes movements of the 20th century, particularly Dada (1926) and Fluxus (1961), the dynamicity of the site – a place for confrontation and exchange – is amplified with performative features, allowing chance and ambiguity to play an essential part in the construction of moments.

In the orchestration of each situation, and in the totality of Brockmann’s oeuvre, the body represents a unique point of reference. Conceived as a site of meaning-making, the place where information becomes really significant, the body is a source of embodied knowledge and fulcrum for the work to be fully completed. When venturing into Brockmann’s works, the viewer is often unknowingly responsible for setting into motion a series of consequences which promote them to participants, rather than mere spectators, of the work. At times, it is the audience’s bodily presence which activates reactions in the work, often through sensors. Whether this means closing the audience out from a high-intensity artificially light room, compelling them to peep to see what’s inside (Shy Room, 2010) or prompting them to switch the installation into motion, causing the fastening of the work around their own bodies (The Hug, 2007). The agency of the audience in activating Brockmann’s installations is challenged through feedback and response mechanisms, using engineering, mechanics and physics, to alter each individual experience through technology. The audience can furthermore detect temperature changes when in proximity of the work (Cold – On Sensitivity, 2019) or perceive the motion of their own body in relation to the changing of architecture (Alignment, 2011). Each chain of multilayered intercourses between space and time contribute to determining the works’ own experiential development.

The body further acts as a metaphor to divide the six interlinked projects into six organs of interest: the skin, the brain, liver, the heart, the lungs, arm and the hand. Brockmann uses the organism as the ultimate reference for a functional cooperation between ‘the whole and its parts’, where its connections refer to the ones currently existing in society: dysfunctional processes, functional levels, and a whole network of blood vessels to represent the emotional layers coexisting in this relationship.

In the quest for organic relationships, balance becomes naturally a fundamental component of the artist’s practice. Particularly visible in previous works such as Out of Balance (2012), the quest for equilibrium is pursued through the initiation of unusual encounters across various fields of discipline, of specialists and amateurs, collectively connected to discourses happening in and around #Seat12. Travelling across the six sites to expand the artistic process through the Entanglements, #Seat12 invites casual audiences and invited speakers to join in, contributing to the unfolding of the work in a non-hierarchial seating environment. Mounted on a single central axis, #Seat12 is a kinetic sculpture developing from a wood base into 12 aluminium branches, which are 12 seats for people facing each other. The aseptic, almost surgical, aesthetic of the work vaguely resembles the layouts of office-like roundtables or circular meetings. The work almost acts as a conference table, similar to the one the Artist Placement Group (APG) situated at the Hayward Gallery in their 1971 exhibition ‘Art & Economics’.

The intensity of a group of twelve on the seat generates dynamics of hesitation and discomfort, seeing that anyone’s small movement has a direct effect on the other’s sitting position. At any given time, for an uncrossing of legs or a slight touch to the hair, the seat suddently loses its balance and 11 people must promptly negotiate through their body and mind, some avenues for collective harmony. Equilibrium is all but precarious, discourses get interrupted, feedback loops arise, and new elements are brought in. During the Entanglements, most seats are designated to a series of invited guests; however, in its own display nature, Seat#12 welcomes whoever is in its proximity and willing to experiment with an interactive sculptural object. In the orchestration of each Entanglements, utter importance is vested in finding common grounds and accessible entry points into someone’s specific expertise, to generate the inclusive and sociotechnical scenario needed for a collective production of knowledge. A diverse and inclusive approach is embedded from the start, balancing the presence of invited guests as academics, STEM professionals, and artists/performers with a mixed audience composed of arts professionals, hospital patients, students, scientists or convicted felons. It’s the exchange of embodied knowledge, rigorous knowhow, genuine enthusiasm, lived experience and casualty, in people sharing perspectives from and around their fields of interest that generates value. Documentation also plays a crucial part in recording the Entanglements – generating evidence accessible to posterity, in the form of videos, maps, sketch ideas and interactive spatial arrangements often made in-situ by the artist herself. The impact of digital infrastructures on humans and natural phenomena is reported through the bodily experience of both the audience and the artist, who’s often kneeling on the floor, bent over a large piece of paper tracing processes and keywords, looking for associations amongst disparate varieties of human sorts. Choosing the body as a site for knowledge production it’s not mere simplification or an exchange-by-approximation endeavour; Brockmann believes that the insights gained through the process are more relevant than any factual information acquired.

Playful yet complex, the work investigates dynamics of space and natural processes, implying that creating society is a constant pursuit of harmony and organic balance amongst different components. The unpredictability of the Entanglements takes into consideration the inherent limitations of language and embraces moments of doubts and misunderstanding as inevitable features of the constructed encounters. The discursive and communicative nature of the work demands profound awareness of the biases and limits of speech, especially when discussing something as complex as human experiences. The “translation” of the moment into words, and the further interpretation into data, becomes of pivotal importance, particularly in recognizing the tendency of Modern Western society to place meanings and absolute truths to make sense of our place in the world. Derrida’s concept of Deconstruction (of language) is concerned with counteracting the idea of a trascendental single meaning or origin, accentuating the evolving nature of meanings which exist through constant processes of negotiation between competing concepts. Suggesting that nature itself is only constructed in reference to the institution, Derrida problematizes the polarized system of dualities of today’s society. The ‘conflictual and subordinating structure of opposition’2 generated by rigid separation is overcomed through opposing to existing binaries, break open the structure itself and step outside those oppositions to look for new analysis and alternative meanings. To remain within oppositional structures only allows hierarchy to ultimately re-establish itself, allowing the same conditions to endure between a dominant and subordinate, without a real, structural change.

Departing from and directed to the body, Jenny Brockmann: BYPASS – The Emergence of Voices interrogates through practice the systematic structure of ambivalence within contemporary representation, such as the dichotomy of human vs. non-human, local vs. foreign, female vs. male – challenging to rethink perspectives in the creation of „new beings“ and technological innovations. The focus is on cultural representations of the globalized, technologically mediated, ethnically diverse, and gender-conscious world that we inhabit today, looking into a social, ecological and economic balance for the individual, as well as for society as a whole.

Linda Rocco
September 2021

Footnote 1: Report on the Construction of Situations, Guy Debord (1957).
Footnote 2: Jacques Derrida, Positions, the Athlone Press (1981) p. 41.