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Klara Hobza / Soy Capitan, Berlin

Klara Hobza’s exhibition Animaloculomataurus at Soy Capitan invites speculation about the nature of limits. The exhibition includes a classic “hole board” that wouldn’t look out of place in Brighton or Blackpool or some other seaside town. Entitled “Unter Sardinen”, one hesitates to say the work does what it says on the tin, but in this case it does seem fitting: the visitor can squeeze in behind the board and have a friend snap a pic of a human face among life-sized sardines in an opened tin. The evocations of yesterday’s pier-end attractions continue across the accompanying installation, which includes a quasi-sculptural assemblage of wood and preliminary drawings of “Unter Sardinen”, a rather forlorn looking lightbulb, and the exhibition’s centrepiece, a photo booth which produces pictures of sitters by using imaging techniques that mimic what is known about the visual systems of a selection of animals. The visitor has the choice of having a picture taken from the purported visual perspective of an octopus, a horse, a jumping spider, a dragon fish, a snake, or, perhaps significantly, a bat. Encountering the booth and reading the descriptive text posted outside it, the first thought that occurred to me – which perhaps says everything that needs to be said about me – was “this sounds like Thomas Nagel’s ‘What is it Like to Be a Bat?’” (1974). For those who misspent their youth more profitably in clubs and bars instead of philosophy courses, Nagel’s seminal paper concerns a rather recherche phenomenon from the field of cognition studies known as “qualia”. In a sense, this is a question about the nature of the experience of experience. What does being a bat mean to a bat? Nagel is at pains in the paper to note that he does not mean “What would it be like for me, Thomas Nagel, to turn from a human into a bat?”. He is concerned with what might be called bat subjectivity. To see the world through the eyes of a bat might be a tempting way of approaching the question, but as the exhibition’s press release notes, understanding how other animals see is merely a way for us to make sense of the superficial dimensions of their experience. No one knows what a bat makes of the visual, or indeed, sonic, information that constitutes its sensory experience. To see “as a bat sees” is to visualise the limits of our ability to understand “what it is like to a bat”.

As for the experience itself, the experience of experiencing what it means to be visualised by a bat, the viewer familiar with having passport photos taken in a shopping mall will know what to expect, a mixture of vague interest, and ultimate disappointment: is that what I really look like? Of course the answer is no, and yes all at once. The sense of inherent estrangement from the image of oneself is enhanced and reduced by the photo machine, as the viewer expects to expect distortion but still has a wan hope that the picture will make one look cooler than one actually is.  As for me, I fished, to borrow a phrase, in my pocket for a one euro coin, but I didn’t have the change to actually have my own photo taken (warning for the prospective customer: the machine gives no change (literally speaking)), but perhaps this was for the best, because as a result of not having my own bat-pic to take home, I spent more time with the shots of the other customers who had left their images posted on the outside of the booth. Again, the examples told an interesting tale about the way visual information enters into strange networks of association. Looking at the dude who had his picture taken from the view of a snake, with its lurid primary colour patterning, the spurious associations began forming. One could see this picture as the cover image for the guy’s stoner rock masterpiece, “Snake Eyes”, or perhaps some late period portrait by Karl Schmidt-Rottloff of one of the guys from Hawkwind after some undocumented excursion to Reading Festival. Hobza reminds the viewer that one brings one’s own eyes to whatever one is seeing, and that is perhaps the greatest distortion of all.

Klara Hobza
Soy Capitan
Prinzessinnenstrasse 29
10969 Berlin
Until 7 April

Images courtesy of Soy Capitan and the artist