Pneumopathology And Dividuality, 2015, Dr. Jörg Scheller (english)

Pneumopathology And Dividuality

On the Investigation of the Modernist Image of Humanity in the Oeuvre of Benedikt Hipp

Jörg Scheller

The modern human being had a name. A birthday. A body height. An address. A nationality. A lifestyle. A favorite brand. A blood group. A fingerprint. A tax number. In short, an identity. He was characterized as an operationally closed system made up of qualitatively and quantitatively definable components, the sum of which turned him into something unique―into a “subject” that, in an act of self-design, submits to its constitutive features; into an “individual” whose internal organization and interrelationships between its parts demand indivisibility; into a “self” whose identity arises out of its difference to other creatures and non-creatures, as well as out of the specific reflective relationship to the characteristics it shares with the latter. Modern man, who freed himself first from his transcendent, then from his transcendental relationships, was self-referential: he integrated the Other into the horizontally structured space of immanence only to the extent that it proved itself to be capable of connection and, even in the diversification of the self, served to preserve the self.

Emerging early on in the oeuvre of Benedikt Hipp was a critique of the these modernist concepts and images of individuality, identity and autonomy of the subject. This critical standpoint initially crystallized in his paintings and drawings by means of recurring faces which are overlaid by shadows, ornaments, patches of paint or masks, and which I have somewhere else called “in-dentification figures”: figures which cannot be identified, and which make an identification on the part of the viewer difficult (for example, Poly, 2009; Unter den Augen (Under the eyes), 2009/10).[1] Even if, in the virtual space of the picture, these figures were often entangled with geometric-abstract or architectural elements, i.e. hybrid, heteronomous beings, nevertheless it was a matter of individual figures that found an appropriate setting in the corresponding individual picture―flat, rectangular, differentiated from the surrounding environment.

In recent years, Hipp has begun to burst the borders between the individual picture and the individual figure, and increasingly to work in a sculptural-installational manner. Now, in addition to the customary paintings and drawings, he includes sculptures, collages, assemblages, moldings and electronic media as well as everyday objects (objets trouvés, ready-mades), for example in Sunk, 2012. His paintings and drawings have likewise become more multifaceted. If until recently his figures presented only their surfaces, there is now a penetration down to the deepest fibers of the flesh (Großes Fleischopfer (Large Meat Offering), 2013). More and more, Hipp's art consists of structures which, in arrangements resembling a course of progression, evince a processual nature. Diversification, pluralization, increasing complexity, interlinking and combination have become the fundamental tendencies. In the title of the exhibition Ich habe meinen Augen nicht getraut, auch meinen Ohren nicht (I Couldn't Believe My Own Eyes, Nor My Ears)) at the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, they reach a provisional culmination―not least in terms of Hipp's investigation of the modernist image of the human being. In this context, it is significant that he speaks of “pilgrims' paths” with reference to his more recent exhibitions.

A pilgrim commits himself to peregrinari, the act of “being in a foreign space.” Even if he has a goal―a sacred site, a certain spiritual state―nonetheless he is inevitably confronted on his travels by the other, the new, the unexpected; indeed, he himself becomes a stranger. He does not embark on his journey in order to remain himself―for example, Odysseus did not change during his odyssey―but in order to experience himself in the other, the other in himself or vice-versa. A book about pilgrims is aptly entitled Sich fremd gehen (Translator's note: The German fremd gehen plays on two meanings―“to betray a lover” and “to proceed in foreign spaces”― which, in relation to the reflexive pronoun sich, emphasize the pilgrim's movement away from himself toward something beyond his identity heretofore).[2]

Hipp's path (of pilgrimage) to Ich habe meinen Augen … leads from the ego to the world, from the individual to the many, from isolation to linkage, from stasis to process, from the virtual space of the picture to the concrete space of the viewer. There are grounds for suspecting an intensification of the skepticism toward the individual that is inherent to the artist's earlier works. One could say that in recent years, Hipp's art has constantly become more “dividual” to the extent that it concentrates on the associative relationships and dynamic interplay between interlinked, individual elements, even while allowing them to maintain their singularity. This approach is vividly illustrated, for example, by the objects connected with rods in the installation Entorganisierter Tresterraum (pneumopathologic studies), 2015. The theme of this work is not the “communion” but the networking of the individual elements. Objects as varied as vegetables (squash), ready-mades (buoy, kidney-plate) and elaborately designed sculptures reminiscent of hollowed-out torsos, to which corresponds a ribcage made out of fluorescent tubes and shining as in a rhythm of the breath, here share not only a common space, but also a common frame of reference.

In his book Dividuum. Machinischer Kapitalismus und molekulare Revolution, Band 1 (2015), the philosopher Gerald Raunig, proceeding from the theological reflexions of the scholastic philosopher Gilbert de Poitiers (1080–1155) and from the post-structural philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, develops the concept of the dividuum, whose tattered contours evince similarities with the aforementioned aspects of Hipp's works: “Whereas the notion of individuality tends toward a construction of closedness, the dividual singularity emphasizes the similarity in various discrete things, and thus also the potentiality of connecting, attaching, linking.”[3] The fact that the Deleuze-recipient Raunig, by way of medieval scholasticism, approaches a contemporary understanding of the dividual is—as we will see—quite significant.

As revealing as it is to situate Hipp against the background of the current discourse on the dividual or with reference to Bruno Latour's protagonist-network theory, it is nonetheless necessary to engage in a detour for this purpose. In his skepticism toward western modernism (belief in progress, anthropocentrism, technocracy) as well as in his disenchantment with regard to the consequences of capitalism (homogenization, economization), Hipp is close to postmodernist thinkers such as Raunig. Derrida and Deleuze also number among his influences, something that is not surprising in view of Ich habe meinen Augen …: “Like Michel Foucault and others, he [Deleuze] believes that artistic activity, due to its fresh combination of sensory signs and their previously unconceived creation of meaning, is capable of including and rearticulating the social-unconscious element. A work of art is accordingly worthy of its name precisely to the extent that it allows itself to be crisscrossed by social expressions and, in its formal delimitation, to be forced open from within.”[4] But Hipp's skepticism toward modernism and individualism is also nourished by other, older sources. A key figure for understanding the dividual aspect of Hipp's oeuvre is the philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), whom the artist holds in high esteem: a thinker who was not only interested in the horizontal extension of the rhizomatic element, but who also asserted the impossibility of getting around vertical tension in a transcendent sense.

Already in the nineteen-thirties, Voegelin issued a public warning about the racial fanaticism of the Nazis. As a professor for political science in Munich, he reminded German citizens during the nineteen-fifties of their complicity in the horrors of the Third Reich, interpreted the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century as substitute religions, and diagnosed a “pneumopathological deformation” in the intellectual outlook of modernism.[5] According to Voegelin, the exclusion of ancient religions and metaphysics as well as a misconception of the nature of the individual caused the emergence of a “contracted self” (e.g., Fichte's and Stirner's “Ich” or Sartre's “moi”) which projects constantly new, increasingly more radical imaginations onto reality and thereby leads to sometimes smoldering, sometimes escalating conflicts between individual constructs of desire, the reality of intersubjective experience, and the persistence of the divine. For Voegelin, who combined ancient political philosophy (Plato, Aristotle) with tenets of Christianity (experience of the transcendent, salvation only in the Beyond), the original sin of western modernism consisted in ignoring “the tension of the human being in the direction of the divine foundation of his existence”— in Voegelin's terminology the “first reality”—and in maneuvering henceforth within the “second reality,” the reality of mundane projections and constructions. Called to mind here is Pippi Longstocking's secret hymn in praise of the modern successor to a belief in destiny imposed from without (Shicksal), namely the affirmation of the individual's self-determination (Machsal in the terminology of Odo Marquard): “Two times three is four / Or hey-diddle-diddle it's sometimes nine / I make myself a world / where hey-diddle-diddle I feel just fine.”

Remarkably enough, Voegelin was a conservative, but not a reactionary and enemy of progress. He rejected dogmatism, systems and ideologies, and he constantly revised his own work. His conservatism was nourished by what he called “modern gnosis”—social alienation, other-worldliness, fantasies of omnipotence with respect to the concrete unleashing of power. In this context, it is worth mentioning that for the titles of his works, Hipp uses both German that is reminiscent of Heidegger's murmuring, atavistic terminology (Gestell und Kopf (rack and head), 2011; Paraleut # B, 2011; Wegaufnehmer (Zeichner) (position encoder (drawer)), 2012) and English that is sometimes humorous (The Secret, 2007; App for replacement characters, 2014). Sometimes he even combines the two, for example in Mother fuck the fear is back (Selbstverhör und Selbstversteh (self questioning and self understand)), 2014. In the subtext of this title, the overlapping of the traditional European inclination toward profundity along with the pragmatism and optimism of the New World was also typical of the thinking of Eric Voegelin. He was born in Cologne as Erich Vögelin. After fleeing the Nazis and emigrating to the United States, where he was pleasantly surprised by the intellectual sophistication of academic life there, he adapted his name to the English language and thus nominally completed a synthesis of the Old and New World.

In his writings, Voegelin made reference to the common-sense philosophy of America and rejected all highfalutin prophecies and promises of salvation; nonetheless, he retained the religious attitude of the admonishing humanist that he had acquired in Germany and Austria before the Second World War. In 1951 during a lecture in Chicago, he said: “In this situation [of danger to civilization], there is a ray of hope, because the American and English democracies, which most fully represent the truth of the soul in their institutions, are at the same time also the strongest powers existentially.”[6] This is a remarkable statement, inasmuch as at that time, European scholars in the humanities often reflexively damned America and England as hotbeds of soullessness, superficiality, and crass materialism. In short, Voegelin couldn't be squeezed into any confining categorization. His inclination toward indefiniteness and his affinity with the Anglo-American world were postmodernist; his inclination toward a critique of culture and civilization was modernist; and his inclination toward mysticism and spirituality was premodernist.[7] Particularly as a Christian, he criticized the institutionalized Christian church and emphasized: “Uncertainty is the actual essence of Christianity.”[8]

It is likewise difficult to pin down Hipp's position in contemporary art. No utopian spirit correlates with his undeniable stylistic references to classic modernism; his postmodernist aspect lacks the frivolous, ironic element; the religious references dispense with a personal confession. He is thoroughly busy, but is not a child of business. His works are often obscure and murmuring, but they do not slip into esotericism. Not least of all, his artisanal care and technical precision are indications of a more grounded attitude. In a methodology comparable to that of Voegelin, Hipp ties into the connections between myth, religion, spirituality and critique of civilization—see the references to votive gifts, rituals and cults (e.g. 2-Figuren (Ritual), 2013)—without strengthening them by means of gnostic-apocalyptic speculations and constructions—which today also appear in the shape of commodity-shaped, post-humanist techno-utopias. Hipp's and Voegelin's mentalities resemble each other in the sense that they do not translate the disenchantment with modernism and its sidekick, the “contracted self,” either into distinctly antimodernist alternative designs in the sense of a reconstruction of the “good old times”—for example, Hans Sedlmayer's attempted revival of the “eternal image of the human being”[9]—or into distinctly postmodernist ones—see Gerald Raunig's “molecular revolution”—but nevertheless embark upon a pilgrimage in the direction of something new, something different.

In the case of Voegelin, who always stood with one foot in the Middle Ages, one arrived—better sooner than later during this journey—at God, even if a god of indefiniteness. As a “pathfinder,” Hipp indicates traces along the way, but he leaves the destination entirely open—disregarding the single exception of the place to meet, the place to pray, the place to kiss, and self-x-ray (2015).

[1] Cf. Jörg Scheller, “Ausstieg ins Bild. Bildwissenschaftliche Bemerkungen zum malerischen und grafischen Werk Benedikt Hipps,” in Benedikt Hipp. Luxstätt (exhib. cat. Kunstpalais Erlangen), Berlin: Distanz Verlag, 2013.

[2] Detlef Lienau, Sich fremd gehen. Warum Menschen pilgern, Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 2009.

[3] Gerald Raunig, Dividuum. Maschinischer Kapitalismus und molekulare Revolution, Volume I, Vienna: transversal texts, 2015, p. 83.

[4] Michaela Ott, “Ästhetische Politiken,” in kritische berichte, Issue 1, 2010, Volume 38, p. 102.

[5] For a compact introduction to Eric Voegelin's concept of pneumopathology and the contracted self, cf. idem, Realitätsfinsternis, Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2010.

[6] Eric Voegelin, Die neue Wissenschaft der Politik, Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2004, p. 196.

[7] Cf. Bert Rebhandl, “Ein Alibi für Dummheit,” 1 September 2006, at “Voegelin experienced much opposition in response to his critique of modernity. But it would be quite possible to 'secularize' this itself, to detach it from the dogmatic referential framework of Christianity and to engage it in conversation with the postmodernist critique of all philosophy of history.”

[8] Voegelin, Die neue Wissenschaft der Politik, p. 133.

[9] Hans Sedlmayer, Verlust der Mitte. Die bildende Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts als Symptom und Symbol der Zeit, Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1977, p. 189.