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Itamar Gov: Chemistry and Physics in The Household, 2023

Published by Zilberman Gallery, 84 pages, English and German


Excerpt from “Itamar Gov’s immersive factory of the human body”by Lotte Laub

In Gov’s diagram, one entry reads: “1705. Accidental invention of Prussian Blue (Berliner Blau) by alchemists Dippel and Diesbach.” Below, there follows: “1942. Prussian Blue residue on the walls of the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Majdanek.” The paint residue was left on the walls of the gas chambers owing to the use of Cyclone A and B to murder inmates. Our perception of Prussian Blue—at first positively connoted—undergoes a diametrical inversion. The paint, however, also serves as an evidentiary tool in forensic science.

We find in the diagram several works of literature, which deal with dystopias: e.g., The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Olimpia from The Sandman leads us to Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia, 1936; farther down, we read the name of National Socialist sculptor Arno Breker. The striving for efficiency, the reduction of everything that makes us human to an athletic “Aryan” body is taken by the National Socialists further than ever before or since.

In the first room of Gov’s exhibition, we see silver thermal protective clothing hanging on a clothes line. Reflecting light and blinding us, it seems to evoke a hostile or even post-apocalyptical environment devoid of human beings. In the adjoining room, large, cocoon-like forms, tethered on ropes hang from butchers’ hooks. Prussian Blue— also used on the walls of the adjoining rooms—can be perceived through the layers of gauze. Something is being hatched here; it is as though the materials are waiting for further factory processing. We recall the title Brave New World from Gov’s diagram, referring to the 1932 novel of Aldous Huxley. The novel is set in the “7th century after Ford”: human beings are no longer born, but rather developed in test tubes and bottles. Precisely measured doses ensure the bodily and intellectual qualities that their pre- determined role in life requires. Huxley prefaces his novel with a motto expressing the hope that mankind will be able to avoid such utopias, animated by efficiency and the drive to maximize material comforts—and now seemingly within the realm of possibility.

The exhibition’s final room, dimly lit, reveals an athletic torso lying on a metal, clinically clean operating or dissection table. Lined up in rows at its foot, we see various body parts, including hearts and eyes, while brains are piled onto a little cart next to the table. In E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Sandman from 1817, the physics professor Spalanzani hurls a couple bloody eyes at his student Nathanael. Nathanael had bought a perspective device from the weather glass dealer Coppola, which makes him see Olimpia as a beauty with glowing eyes. He realizes only too late that Olimpia is a machine, created by his physics professor Spalanzani. The deceit played on his power of sight points to one main theme of this exhibition: the duplicity of perception and misperception.

We come across such a machine in Gov’s exhibition, too: a robot sheep, which we see from behind, looking out the window uncannily like a human being. Itamar Gov has thrown a sheepskin over it, and we smell its natural odor as we approach. Is the sheep taking a break from work? Is the sheep itself perhaps the laboratory technician of this scene, in the middle of assembling all the human body parts we see lying around? In Gov’s diagram, we come across Dolly the sheep—a cloning phantasy that was actually realized—but at the same time, his installation evokes cyborg scenarios: a humanoid or animaloid machine hybrid, an artificial body capable of feeling or at least perceiving, which was constructed to be able to live (or survive) in a hostile environment.

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