Topiary Jig, 2021 (Excerpts)

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

Torsten Lauschmann carefully choreographs and automates objects, audio and images to explore speculative narratives, his new work TOPIARY JIG questioning the fragility of the human body by ritualising the objects intended to assist it. Building on his 2018 Glasgow International work WAR OF THE CORNERS, Lauschmann utilises a strategy from science fiction to project back from an imagined transhuman future where bodies are radically enhanced by technology. Continuing a critique of what he considers to be naïve assumptions about how we might transcend our physical limitations, Lauschmann asks, what might objects presently used to support fragile or impaired bodies become? Through the choreography of a multisensory installation, Lauschmann allows the answer to be led by fragmented, layered and sensorial elements. Disability aids, wedged between the floor and ceiling, give the architecture of the space a sense of precarity: as if they are bespoke measures that have become necessary to keep the institution itself intact. An individual’s aid in our present reality, in this other dimension they seem to implicate anyone entering the space. Lauschmann is concerned by austerity, privatisation and the erosion of the welfare state, and he sees the objects as metaphors for a culture of care. The chopped disability aids, are, according to Lauschmann, dancing a Dance Macabre in a courtly nationalistic fashion. With the effects of lighting and sound the movement of some of the disability aids follow a kind of obscure automated ritual that seems to imply that they have a life of their own, or at least some animating energy that connects them to a higher purpose. Coupled with the all-at-once impact of Lauschmann’s practice this is evocative of a recent development in philosophy called speculative realism, which stresses that there is no true hierarchy between humans and other kinds of objects. Summarising an aspect of the work of Alfred North Whitehead – a critical precursor to this movement – Steven Shaviro writes, ‘[In] Whitehead’s own terms, Western philosophy since Descartes gives far too large a place to “presentational immediacy”, or the clear and distinct representation of sensations in the mind of a conscious, perceiving subject. In fact, such perception is far less common, and far less important, than what Whitehead calls “perception in the mode of causal efficacy,” or the “vague” (nonrepresentational) way that entities affect and are affected by one another …’. Speculative in this sense, Lauschmann seems to be aiming to describe a reality that sits beyond this ‘presentational immediacy’. Some of the crutch supports hold camera phones that feed live images back onto the walls of the space, creating a feedback loop: forming echoes and ripples. This deviates from the kind of linear time that characterised modernity by instead emphasising the coexistence of past, present and future moments. With a walking frame hooked up to microphones to become a kind of wind chime, and the percussive effect of the moving disability aids (some with bells attached, like morris dancer’s), there is also a sense that these objects have become musical instruments; rhythm and sound adding another layering of moments. Lastly, digital images of computer generated topiary tree forms keep trying to establish themselves in the space, only to be cut back by a rigid grid of laser lines. Whist modern thinking tends to separate digital technologies from the past and from nature, here they seem to be part of the same non-hierarchical system that sees humans and objects on the same level of being. Topiary is the deliberate inhibition of the natural growth of trees and shrubs to create sculptural representations; jigs can describe the set movements performed in some morris dances but can also describe a fixture for guiding a machine tool towards an ‘arrested’ object, especially for locating and drilling holes. Together, TOPIARY JIG seems to suggest these seemingly prescribed forms carry with them a certain capacity for transformation. (COURTESY OF TRG, EDINBURGH)

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