Goldin+Senneby “Insurgency of Life” at e-flux, New York
You remember it as a stressful period.
You had started a new job and your relationship was out of balance.
Your partner had left for France and communication was difficult. You travelled to Paris so you could talk.
Your left foot went stiff.
Part of your abdomen went stiff, just around the solar plexus.
Actually maybe more numb than stiff.
The kind of numb, tingling sensation that you can have when your arm falls asleep. The pins and needles sensation. For a moment you can’t locate your arm. You can’t move it.
Only this time the moment of numbness, of paresthesia, was extended. It went on too long. Your foot was numb. Your solar plexus was numb. And it wouldn’t go away.
You assumed it was psychological. Related to stress. The emotional stress of your crumbling relationship.
“Insurgency of Life” is a retrospective of sorts. A retrospective of a condition. And of dependencies and relationships. Rather than exhibiting a collection of existing artworks, Goldin+Senneby have drawn on bodily experiences from the fifteen years that they have worked together, experiences that have shaped both their artistic and life decisions while remaining largely invisible in their artistic output. These experiences concern living with an autoimmune condition—multiple sclerosis or MS—and what that has meant for their joint subjectivity. The exhibition is also a retrospective of an evolving network of collaborators and collaborations the artists’ work has always depended upon.
In the gallery, a fountain for cultivating fungi is surrounded by ten Lego robots, each continuously thrusting a mobile phone. Both the fungi and the phone-shaking robots are part of a complex set of dependencies—an open system of care and extraction.
The Lego robots are “DIY pedometer cheating machines.” Built using YouTube tutorials posted by patients, the robots continuously trick their smartphone step counter into meeting activity quotas required by insurance companies seeking to harvest patient data.
The fungus cultivated in the gallery grows on nutritional agar, but in the wild it lives off cicadas. The spores attach to the cicadas underground, colonize the nymphs, overwhelm them, and eventually sprout out of their heads like miniature cauliflowers. For centuries this fungus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as an eternal youth nostrum. More recently, its active substance has been patented by the pharmaceutical multinational Novartis as the first pill to treat MS.
Around the time of the exhibition, Apple is set to launch a new health research platform with the slogan “The future of health research is you!” But as any patient in a medical trial knows, it’s never about you. “You” are only the anonymous host of a condition, and this condition is the real subject of study and potential commercialization.
It is often said that you become what you eat. But as you swallow the pill, you are unsure if you are becoming more like the fungi of eternal youth, or indeed, the cicada whose head is about to sprout.
At e-flux, New York
until 8 February