Industrial Rhapsody: Contemporary Photography & Sculpture with Glass

28 April – 24 November 2023

Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung
Georg-Muche-Str. 4
80807 München

Are contemporary photographers interested in the complexity of industrial production processes, in the spirit of technological invention? How do they approach industrial worlds and technological developments? International artists, including newly discovered young artists, are addressing work, science, and research. They engage with industrial progress as an impetus for social evolution and at the same time explore the cultural, economic, and social effects of human commitment on our world. The spectrum ranges from socio-critical observation to fascination with and astonishing at inventions and human energies to design the future.

Unlike their historical predecessors with their subjects such as the factory, the human being and the machine, and industrial architecture or Bernd and Hilla Becher with their typologies of industrial culture focused on objectivity and “neutrality,” the artists in this exhibition aim for a narrative quality and emotional aura. They often make industrial space seem like a magic place, like “such a great place to set a story” (David Lynch). Their images tell with suggestive power of the factory as a historical relic and as a fascinating phenomenon of futurism. It becomes a place of performance and staging. The medium of photography is revealed in all its technological and artistic possibilities and goes beyond traditions to unfold a spectrum of the experimental.

Wang Yimo (b. 1996 in Chongqing, China) has blended animation, collective performance and video installation. Her Rhapsody on Earth (2021), which inspired the exhibition’s title, plays in a disused power plant; the protagonists are former workers. Cao Fei (b. 1978 in Guangzhou, China) also turns an industrial site into a stage. In Asia One (2018), she stages the daily work of the company’s only two employees — at China’s largest sorting facility for shipping goods — in interaction with robots and artificial intelligence. LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1982 in Braddock, Pennsylvania) presents an industrial ambiance as a place of a work ethic and identification. Collective storytelling is her vehicle for lending a voice to the workers at an automobile factory that is closing: General Motors in Lordstown, Ohio.

In the work of Stéphane Couturier (b. 1957 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France), an industrial space, in this case the Toyota assembly plant in Valenciennes, becomes an effective, abstract image of dynamic lines by superimposing photographs taken at different times. Industrial automation hardly needs a human being any longer. In the work of Matthieu Gafsou (b. 1981, Switzerland), one is sitting, uniform and faceless, in front of a computer. Defects and deformations from technological change as a consequence of “transhumanism” lend a mysterious quality to his works. The industrial scenes of Vera Lutter (b. 1960 in Kaiserslautern), which require days or even works of exposure in a camera obscura, look imaginary, illusionistic, and almost uncanny as a result of reversing the tones and capturing time.

Edward Burtynsky (b. 1955 in St. Catharines, Ontario) presents spectacular images of global industrial landscapes that tell stories of the effects on the planet of human activities. Naoya Hatakeyama (b. 1958 in Iwate, Japan) demonstrates in breathtaking fashion with his “choreographed” explosive moments the energy released in that process used to meet the demand for mineral resources. The effects on humans “when a country moves towards the future at unprecedented speed” is related by Nadav Kander (b. 1961 in Tel Aviv, Israel) as well as of nuclear armaments, which have left behind ruins in a mixture of “beauty and truth.” With the burning oil wells of his series Kuwait: A Desert on Fire, Sebastião Salgado (b. 1944 in Aimorés, Brazil) dramatically illustrates the threat war and violence post to industrial sites. Thomas Struth (b. 1954 in Geldern, Niederrhein) presents a view into the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the largest scientific facility in the world for research on the origins of the universe using particle accelerators. Philosophical questions interest him as well as the political dimension, whether these highly complex conglomerates of cables and valves offer hope for a better future.

Sculptures in the medium of glass add a new, creative, perhaps even visionary dimension to the exhibition. Whether mouth-blown and handmade or produced using modern technologies, they are the poetic part of Industrial Rhapsody: the floating sculpture of blown glass and cast bronze by Eric Sidner (b. 1985 in Houston, Texas); the Ring of Fire (2013) by Colin Reid (b. 1953 in Cheshire, England), inspired by the elements of nature, or the whimsical sculpture Present III (2022) by Namdoo Kim (*1985 in South Korea), which plays ironically with the values of an industrial society. For the first time in Germany, this exhibition shows the thrilling machine-like configurations of three-dimensional geometric forms of colored glass in gridded structures by Kristi Cavataro (b. 1992, in Connecticut); tubing of borosilicate glass, used in industry for containers, is filled with hormonal substances by Jes Fan (b. 1990 in Canada); furthermore the energetic connection of solar panels and electronic circuits to light and pigments to create a painted wall work that changes with the lighting by the British-Pakistani artist Haroon Mirza (b. 1977 in London); and the fictive desk with a large-format monitor as a desktop by Niko Abramidis &NE (b. 1987 in Munich), which makes the global circulation of money visible by means of visualizations and aerial photographs.

The exhibition was curated by Dr. Eva-Maria Fahrner-Tutsek and Dr. Petra Giloy-Hirtz.