Exploring the Work of Reiner Maria Matysik
It is clear that the revocation of alienation always happens by alienation as a dominant force, self confidence in Germany, equality in France, practical needs in Great Britain. — Karl Marx
Tremendous is life. Tremendous is its diversity, its wealth on inventions, the complexity and the will to self-assertion of its forms. Tremendous is its long winding path through time. Tremendous also is its moral quality. Because, as opposed to the silent joy, wanting to just be and to perceive, life itself is not a good one.
Tremendous also the knowledge: What keeps us alive is also conflicting itself. Life itself does not care about its diversity of shapes and appearances. Sun, the life-less condition of mundane life, shines upon good as well as evil. So the evil can live also. No human life without knowledge about this negativity: Other life is threatened. Violence is suiting the context of any life; and while there is no single one without the other, it always also has been the other which becomes a danger to the individual. Alienation, as it seems, is part of life itself, therefore with the joy it also is creating suspicion, this certainly cannot be denied. As opposed to what the Marxist hope suggests, it is not primarily a wrongly set-up society which mutilates individual things and stops them in their development, but the context of life which can only sustain by extinguishing others.
Biblical texts already, shaping European civilization for over two millennia, a book which begins with two stories about creation, early on is pointing out this awkward difference: Man enters the circle of creation in the first story, in the second, creation per se is not the paradise, but only the garden which God is planting “in Eden towards the East” and which he asks man to farm and to keep in shape. Developing life just as part of “what is”; and as we can read in the story which follows, about the sin, life itself is quickly proving as a problem and not only from what it is different from.
And there is talk about two forms of creation in the beginning of the bible, biblical religion is separating into two cultures two millennia ago: The rabbinic Judaism is shaping its idea to create a fence around the torah with the Talmud to upkeep and to farm like a fenced-in garden. Christianity is becoming the religious justification of global assault with its triumphal procession throughout the centuries, with its roman imperial, later in the renaissance and its conquests. The violent aspect, which has its origin in the will to survive within each individual, is unfolding into a civilized totalitarian ideology. It is this heritage, which, up to today, is part of the missionary impulse of western civilizations with its belief that others, like the nomadic tribes of Africa or Indian cultures in South America, would need to be brought to the same level of civilization.
Human perception is creating stories to compensate for the conflict of life’s power and the inability of the individual. Culture and tradition are forming a network with which the self-conservation of species is supposed to be permanently organized and supposed to be liberated from the vicissitudes of life. Using language and writings, the silent violence of evolutionary development is being interpreted and the power of life is made our servant. Looking at all cultures, the European culture was clearly the most obvious one in forming an idea of the unique value of individual life. In this new era, the revocation of alienation with its origin in the conflicting facts of life is supposed to be achieved by using science which puts nature and history in a position so that all negativity is disappearing. Culture, coming from the wealth of signs and its abilities to create infinities in a self-referential way has a programmatic will to overcome randomness and limits. Life, having become conscious in the spirit, is seeing itself as something absolute in modern times Europe. As seen before: No culture without the phantasms of eternity. What was attributed to God in centuries of theological reflection – absoluteness, omnipotence, omniscience, the philosophical defined conscience of man is now discovering as a purpose for systematically developed spirituality. Delusion, so we can read in a central book of the 20th century, is the shadow of knowledge.
The religious utopia of the eternal life, which is nothing else than the wish of each single living being for eternity, it is being tackled in a technological way in this contemporary project of genetic dominance over age and death. In reality, life not only is conflicting itself in its biological origins, but also within its reflections as a spiritual one. The bare variety of species is neither good, nor any culture as a whole: each, which we know, is carrying violence in its deeps against whose omnipotence it was created, and none of them is unfolding its omnipotence without phantasmagorias. At present, the balance of forces is challenged on a global level for the first time. Since the 18th century in Europe, while creation of the world was debated for the best of all societies: aristocratic or bourgeois, monarchic or parliamentary, capitalistic or socialistic, while, not that long ago, politics was deciding over people’s happiness or misery; now dependency on stability of the eco-system on earth are what history and survivability of the different cultures have to measure against. Natural cycles are not so powerful anymore they can be trusted upon as infinite resources. Market economy as a globally established form of economy is possible in a vast variety of societies which have to get by with each other, looking at questions which are not just social ones anymore. Into which social form a civilization is developing is primarily depending on its ability to regenerate itself: In the age of the revolution it was man’s will and mobilization of his dreams which shaped dynamics of history. In the coming era it will all be about to find a balance with that which cannot be outraged and which does not have dreams. Future seems only thinkable now as a dialogue with a silent nature.
The following essay tries to apprehend the work of Reiner Maria Matysik, based on this background. For the determination of the connections, in which nature and culture stand for the development of human life forms, the thinking how each is reflected within the other might be helpful. Their tertium comparationis is shaping the relationship which they develop into violence inside their own sphere, which stands as the one of their opponents – be it in regards to human needs for protection from the merciless cycles of nature, or be it the needs for protection by economic contexts against an exorbitant influence of technology and civilization by phantasies brought to life by man. The terms nature, art, society are being encircled to get an idea about the constellation in which the artist’s objects unfold as “prototypes of post-evolutionary life forms”. It is the attempt to make readable the signs of a new heaven on a new earth, to draft the background our history in the future will be played out against. However, it would be wise to be careful with a statement that this would be an all-or-nothing situation: Future or end, it is still about whether what we have been in the past, humans, still able to recognize ourselves in the things to come. In other words, is the future the same as its past has dreamed of: What were those dreams made of?
The word nature designates a context as a whole. Whoever is talking about nature, he means it more in general and regarding its characterizing force he is talking about specifics. Nature is forcing Adaption. First, it appears dual shaped: On one hand its notion stands for “the world which surrounds us with its changes by rule and as a whole, namely as far as it still stands unchanged against man’s influence, hence also used as opposed to culture or art”. On the other hand, nature is – also – what we are. Therefore our very own inner nature plays a part in determining of what we think as nature, its non subjective definition therefore seeming difficult.
Seeing nature from the distance, as an object, nature is also interesting when it is mediated with what seems to oppose its un-changeable rules: With history. The history of earth, the history of a landscape, the development of human nature or of nature sciences are perspectives in which nature does not appear as the opposite of culture, but as an area with an open objectiveness: The laws of nature do not change, but nature, as a process, has a future.
Ever since Darwin’s works On the Origin of Species, history, which nature is shaping, cannot be thought anymore with relationship to something which is outside of nature and sketches out its development, as for example a far-out divine reasoning. Furthermore, it becomes more and more clear that, as opposed to Darwin’s teleological view of the survival of the fittest, in biological evolution dynamics, as written by laws of nature, are forming relationships with historic contingency – to think about nature as a system would still be darwinistic, but seeing its future as being open and undetermined in the same way as civilization would be an insight which is only possible using advancements in microphysical and molecular genetics where spontaneous changes have the same weight as physical predictable reactions. After all, God is rolling dice. Even so, the eras on this earth, the history of living nature, have been essentially characterized in its succession and dynamics by random catastrophes of a cosmic and terrestrial “nature”.
The closer we get to those secrets of nature, the more similar to us it becomes. What was considered nature has traditionally been understood beyond delimitations to culture. Nature gained shape and was outlined by what it was opposed to. Laws of nature, and with it development of nature itself, in its nobility, seemed unchangeable as opposed to areas habitated by man and his rules. Nature has always been, while the created things had their faith decided by man, certainly not always following that path, as shows the history of technology gone wrong. The external nature, first drafted by the renaissance as a complex mechanism, was different from the inner and creative nature, natura naturans, soul, which has been separated by naturalism with the cartesic dualism res cogitans / res extensa, and which flows into the philosophy of the European bourgeoisies using the idea of liberty, becoming a concept of conscience and intellect as a mirror image of nature: Merely opposed to it. In modern times, the calling upon the rights of nature at the same time becomes a point of criticism against the traditional theological justification of European society; inside the society, ever since first mentioned by Rousseau, terms like unnatural, artificial, alienated are being used to criticize civilization in reference to nature. In this thinking about nature it was always rather about how nature appeared to man instead of what it really was from an objective point of view.
All traditional perspectives in regards to nature become questionable, as was elaborated by G.Böhme, where the delimitations which they are based on are not plausible anymore. Meanwhile, it is obvious that culture does not exist on an island on a sea of nature, but ever since and always of global nature, internal or external, is actually shaping it. Vice versa, culture is proving itself as elementary shaped by the natural basics of its reproduction. Its organization as human work on and with nature is what is giving sociological rules its variable forms. Nature sciences, which are researching interactions in nature, following its specialization is now explaining excerpts of nature, not nature as a whole. In alliance with technological competency they not anymore strive to recognize “the being” of nature but instead is probing its potential: hence, with the scientific shift in paradigms nature seems different which is not different per se, but is just presented in a different way by variable optics of apparatuses. The fragile ecosystem Earth in the big picture, and our own opaque life specifically cannot be dominated in such an objective way as suggested by the big success of nature sciences, and this is shown by the need for alternatives in technology and medicine
History of psychology and the history of the theory of cognition clearly show that spirit and intellect, as well as their methodical objectivism as science are barely understood and in its more general, i.e. sociological context they are not understood at all if they are seen apart from the nature of its carrier: man. In the same way, in a context of nature speculations up to the philosophy of Ernst Bloch, it always has been known that the utopian horizon of man, his openness in regards to future, is nothing purely intellectual but has a material base in the playful movements of natural impulses, be it in experiments of evolution or be it in the variety of sexual practices. Nature as “the given”, has become itself; teleology, which seems dedicated to its evolution, in reality, is rather shaped by ideas which point to theology, ontology and metaphysics: concepts of human imagination. Nature is more open, more determined by randomness and variation as opposed to suggestions from system theoretic drafts about purpose and functionality.
A quick glance already shows that with all the talking about nature it is really us being the subject, be it as individuals or humans as a whole. Nature is playing a role there as subject of dominance because of its instrumental handiness, as well as a resource of joy. Its implicitness is the alternative without the alternative to the existence of sociological demands. In everyday’s sleep already which is given to us by nature we can experience a periodically occurring distance which is needed by man to even become man, after he was able to rest and recover from encounters with himself and his equals in nature.
Natural exchange, metabolism, breathing are the most simple forms of “to be”. We do not need to bother about the conflict as which the cycles of life as a whole are brought to our awareness when it comes to the trusty beating of the heart, accommodated by the joy of the individual to just be alive. Plants and animals don’t know about doom, the fact that nature consists of life and death: They just are, although threatened and always just temporary. Defending the dark unconscious life is forming the base for each good life: This is why nature needs attention paid to. As long as we have bodies and do not only move across screens in two dimensional worlds, nature will always be a factor with our view of happiness based upon.
But where nature is not suitable as an ontological quantity anymore because its concept becomes fuzzy in the same way as it is interfused by civil interests, its shape will appear perspectively: in regards to an argumentative justification of this or that differentiation. Discourses decide what nature is: within language and cultures a relationship to nature is seen as relative. Itself, it is the contextual relationship of all things shaping the individual. Nature gains importance in the discourse which it is part of. Its idea is coming right from the ability to abstract from its appearances. With the density of sociological life and the move of work away from the natural living environment nature has become an esthetic resource in the western culture, an idyll which is subject of longings for another way of life ever since ancient times.
With the era of industrialization the implicitness is being lost which has been there for all generations before. The transfiguring view onto beauty in nature as a measure for social order certainly vanished in the developed problem-consciousness in modern civilizations: at least in a general context: experienced sun sets still stay beautiful even though reproduced in pictures endless times. Thinking about nature therefore reflects onto the position of the collective and only from there onto the position of the individual towards nature. And here it is not only progressing technological possibilities which lead our knowledge about it out into the open.
Technological potential of man is only mirroring its changed self-understanding and that of his position in between nature and history. Technology is realizing what is already laid out by nature. Nature therefore is not anymore what just “is”, because man himself in the 20th century of his time became a restless factor without generally looking for peace in a meta-physical creator. So it is decided what nature is and what it will be, not only anymore with the slow rhythm of evolutionary developments but also in society: not because nature would have lost its unreachable existence or because societies now are capable of things which have been unimaginable two generations before, but also because a loss of a binding relationship to physics is coming alongside with the loss of unambiguousness of philosophical orientation after the end of (an era of) binding meta-physics. It is also the encounters of an irritating openness of human nature between transsexuality and virtual satisfaction in binary coded pseudo-worlds which, again, is provoking the thinking about nature. On a background of an awkward starting position for the contemporary consciousness in its position relative to nature, the awakening potency of culture is developing towards its genetic reconstruction. Human intellect is proving as biological power, with depth and intensity which was unthinkable to current life. Only gods and demons in fairytales and lore had the powers which man has today. It is not the philosophical criticism which is putting religious traditions into its place in metaphors, but foremost the practical self-consciousness of a technological civilization.
The work of Reiner Maria Matysik is reflection on this shift in a self-understanding of man towards nature. In artistic impression they bring to light what is accompanying us in mere diffuse discomfort. This unease primarily only seems to be coming from the asking for dominance of technological abilities; deeper, it results from tensions between the direct happiness with nature and the insight into the context which it is creating as doom against its individual emanations. The new quality the old uneasiness is getting is coming from the fact that mankind has to be responsible for something in the future which no single human can be responsible for: the programmatic intervention in the dark foundation of himself.
The objects and installations of the artist’s biological sculptures need to be read as an expression and presentation of this self-understanding. The uncertainty with which nature is appearing to us on the horizon of our possibilities repeats itself in the ambiguity of his project. The life forms called “post evolutionary” are ambivalent and add to tension in our split relationship to nature with a conflicting esthetic gesture: What it holds readily available as an expression of sensuality, allurement and promises, it takes it away in cold horrors as an utopist depictation of life which overpowers and replaces the human biotope. The flawless functionality of their existence is causing even more irritation since they are no functional beings in regards to human interests: they don’t digest spilled oil nor absorb superfluous carbon monoxide, they do not produce nutriments in an adverse environment, and they do not create ice to possibly prevent the melting of the polar ice caps. They are optimally suited for the biosphere, but a biosphere where man gave up his self-confidence and crown of creation to others. But the vitality, which is invoked by Reiner Maria Matysik, only at the very first glance is a natural one. Life of his prototypes is not alive, but it appears as art. The bulletproof dominance of their optimum functionality is a product of the imaginary. It has its origin in the imagination of the artist in which resides the desire for an untouched and endless nature which as a whole keeps up and feeds, so as everyone is used to from blood circulation in their very own bodies.
Nature as a whole will stay intact and will forever be in a constant change. The conceivable climatic catastrophe will not be one caused by nature, but one for humans and countless other species. Only from the viewpoint of individual life something noble is created from the trivial facts of eternal nature. Life needs to be abstracted as a term and it has to be made subject-matter to escape the decrepitude of individual life. Exactly this is what happens in the artistic concept of post evolutionary life forms. They stand for strategies to cheat death. And it creates a technological utopia wearing the mask of nature: life of those sculptures is light which shines for its creator and gives him an unnatural glare. The esthetic modeling of post evolutionary life is presenting itself as a fetish.
Thus, the fantastic momentum of the project is coming from the real insufficiency in existing nature. With the change in its perception throughout various eras and societies two aspects have been kept: the terror from the blindness of its violence and the insight in the non-availability of individual life, that is, without being able to fully take ownership. In the beginning, life is unavailable since it is being shaped before it is rising into an individual. This does not hinder us to shape things once they entered into this world; learning and education also shape an inner nature. Until now we could see this work as a dialogue with what already existed. The recent demand for sustainability or the demand for ecological stability is in the tradition of an attempted balance act between what the earth gives and the things we take. But there is a new quality of encounters with nature arising from the deciphering of the genetic code: do we like what we can read? What if not: who is writing a new text of life?
In spite of such possibilities the orientation on existing nature is failing. In the future, it will be about which nature we want, and not only because it can be decided on a technological level. What has only been debated within society will also fundamentally decide our understanding of nature: who do we want to be?
This decision stays open, and: technological abilities of man will not be able to answer these questions. Technology is not the answer, but part of a strategy. Where it leads to cannot be learned from nature but from encounters with it. Possible answers might arise from an imagination which is constantly drafting itself anew on the steps between the unconsciousness of bodily impulses and making it a subject-matter in theory and practice by culture.
Even with this violence of context cited earlier as a motor for this power of imagination with its clandestineness with which it is shaping individual life, the level of abstraction is being moderated with reference to that it will be the relationship to the very own nature able to give the answer: It is recommended, for the questions in regards to the big picture, to look for orientation in the little things: the relationship between man and women maybe, or the one between parents and children, young and old ones, beauty and ugliness, the healthy and the ill, strong and weak, the healthy and the handicapped. This will show us what kind this nature is we want to be. Human life has its dignity and its chasm in the fact to be able to give meaning to things which seem pointless: non reproducible joy of life only lived once. The question about nature will be decided with the attention we are willing to give to what is already there and which will vanish and never be repeated. Only if we are convinced that it is not all that bad in its various shapes: No matter whether age, illness, ugliness or death, we will be able to not do the one or the other thing. Nature then would be the code for a relationship, which, – as in the mysterious alchemy of religion – has transformed from doom to revelation: Something given to us.