The fetish, 2002
Text for the catalogue “Legal Crimes”, Kunstverein Freiburg, 2002 / Klaus Görner is a curator at Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt
Richard Wagner’s right hand, cast in bronze, with the patina of time, mounted on a flat plinth. It is the hand that wrote the score that recorded the first chord of Tristan, the hand that signed the papers that were the “Ring of the Nibelungs” – the master’s hand, the productive hand.
What prompted the 19th century to create such an object? And what is this object? It is a profession of allegiance to the master and doubtless an object of reverence, a devotional item that sends a holy shudder down the spine of the true Wagnerian. Yet it is something more than this; it is a fetish. If considered in this light, it becomes clear that the cast hand essentially concentrates some of that energy which we so revere and admire. In the form of this artificial fragment of a body we reassure ourselves of that energy and likewise make it our own. As a made object – and in this it differs from a relic – the hand evokes the creative potency that was expressed in such exemplary manner in the person of Richard Wagner. When it rests on the piano or on the sideboard, we can hope that this fetish will enable us to participate in that potency of reverence that the hand will be compelled to bless us, will be transformed into a productive hand.
I believe that this has left its mark on Jochem Hendricks’ sculpture entitled The Artist’s Brain. By means of an analogue process he has succeeded in producing a ‘cast mold’ of his own brain. It now rests, gleaming silkily, under a glass hood, there engendering all the magic of a fetish. Like Wagner’s hand, it is a ‘cast’ of the fragment of a living body, albeit in this case a section that is invisible. During Wagner’s life time it was possible to hold the living hand next to the cast model; indeed, perhaps this occurred. By contrast, the two brains can first be compared by autopsy. In other words, proof of their identity can first be sought after the death of the artist. Another difference that bears noting is the shift from visibility to invisibility. This has consequences for the ‘casting process’. While the hand arose in an analogue process the path to the brain unravels through a set of digital records that can then be converted into a sculptural entity.
This shift corresponds to that from hand to brain. The activity or impact of the hand derives from the visibility of the process of production, it is formed in the material. The activity of impact of the brain, however, lies in an invisible domain. We can only conclude that the brain works through an intermediary, that is to say we only ever see an indirect expression of its activity. We can discern along this (historical) path from hand to brain a shift within art. In the course of the 19th century, the font of artistic energy was gradually transposed from the heart and hand to the head. This ‘relocation’ went hand in glove with a shift in attention from the soul or emotions to the psyche. The brain is the new fetish – the creative potency of the artist is localized in it. And not just that of the artist. The example of Albert Einstein’s brain shows that the path taken by the new fetish of the genius. It takes a special position in the mythology of everyday life and of research. Questions of talent and genius are no longer measured in terms of the heart and mood, but, in the case of Einstein, in terms of the size of the parietal lobes and the absence of a groove (sulcus) in the lobes. Creativity or even genius becomes a measurable quantity that can ostensibly be demonstrated with reference to the brain. While in the 19th century lovingly casts were made of the hands of artists, today the artist provides us with an exact copy of his brain. For it is the brain that is the new central organ of the age.
The Artist’s Brain is intimately connected with his Eye Drawings. The latter convincingly elucidate on the change described. “Eye drawings are drawings accomplished solely with the eyes without the hands intervening in any way – the perceptual organ is likewise the instrument of expression.” The description Jochem Hendricks offers of his Eye Drawings is as sober as the process itself. In a laboratory at the Berlin Technical University Hendricks used a device that tracked the movements of the eyes by means of infrared rays, records them using video technology and them inputs the data into a computer which digitalizes the individual dots on which the eyes fixated. These dots are then joined up by lines and then printed on a page using a plotter.
Drawing has always been considered as the an immediate form of graphic expression, as a first, almost unadulterated reflection of the artistic idea. All further elaboration lead by means of the hand’s activity and the material ever further away from the original idea. The idea as art’s core and objective can be considered the red thread that runs through Western art. Enabling the idea to emerge as purely and in as undistorted a visual form as possible would then be the cardinal issue of all artistic endeavor. In other words, the eye drawings could be regarded as another short cut along the path to achieving that ideal of immediacy.
However, the by-passed hand alone does not provide an impression of the idea. The hand as an organ of expression may have been short-circuited and the eyes – as the protrusion of the brain – now draw as the perceptual organ themselves. However, the circuitry interposed between the two creates distance. It transforms the invisible into the visible and thus shifts the problem onto another plane. To this extent, the brain is again merely a fetish, which, through quasi-magical attempts, again tries to master and grasp the ideal. The difference between the visible and the invisible, and thus between the subjective and the intersubjective, remains unaffected by this; indeed, the arch-suspicion that art merely produces merely shadow-like impressions of the idea, our Platonic inheritance, certainly does not cave in. The insight gained through Jochem Hendricks’ works is therefore not that we see an old dream fulfilled, but witness its carefully calculated failure.