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Chemistry and Physics in the Household

Ongoing project, 2023 -

On the morning of May 2nd 1915, esteemed chemist Clara Immerwahr – the first woman in Germany to ever receive a doctorate – went out to the garden of her house in Dahlem, and shot herself to death in the chest. It was a couple of days after the first “successful” live test of her husband’s newest invention, a poison gas attack carried out by the German military against Belgian soldiers in Ypres. After pursuing further destructive chemical endeavours in the years that followed, Immerwahr’s husband received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work in 1918, and in 1922 founded the German chemical company that soon after developed the Zyklon A and B.

A close examination of the different elements in the life story of Immerwahr and her protest through suicide reveals a transnational and long-standing net of individuals, incidents, objects and realities, unexpected continuities and affiliations in which the hunger for scientific and technological progress has been pushing aside – or rather crashing – questions of ethics and moral responsibilities. Bringing together historical moments and fabricated futures, “Chemistry and Physics in the Household” forms a trajectory that moves between different realms, temperatures and textures, questioning collective and individual responsibilities in a society that cherishes progress, innovation and efficiency.

The four site-specific installations follow the century old alchemical attempts to turn cheap metals into gold, their pursuit of an ultimate remedy and the accidental creation of Prussian Blue in 1705; beauty secrets of the European aristocracy in the 19th century; the diversion of the development of field fertilisers into means of exterminating humans; Nazi desires for and depictions of a perfect human body; the Space Race and the colonisation of Mars; cloning, automatons and robotic utopias. The starting point of this exploration is a small newspaper advertisement dating from 1901, announcing a lecture by Clara Immerwahr, titled “Chemie und Physik im Haushalt”.

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