Welcome to CANDYLAB. Walk amongst the sculpted molecular derivatives of glucose and color, and find and lose yourself in the plethora of sugared forms.
Having opened on Berlin Gallery Weekend, Thomas Feuerstein’s solo show conflates the unlikely bedfellows of bound literature and boundless glucose. Entering into the gallery space, the viewer is treated to a mock construction of a Viennese apartment, a period setting punctuated with outlandish scientific contraptions and candy-coated canvases.
It is difficult not to first be drawn to the room’s centerpiece – a fully operational, brain-like organism titled PANCREAS (Alles Fleisch). Fuelled by the very paper and pulp that acts as a vessel for the world’s literature, this processual sculpture “gives bodily form to the books through biotechnical means”. The machine is fed with the words of various great thinkers (amongst them Hegel, Jean Paul, and Virginia Woolf) and breaks them down, churning out a simple glucose solution. For this exhibition, the organism is fed exclusively the sheets of paper printed with text of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
Thomas Feuerstein, PANCREAS, 2012, Graphic on paper, 61 x 44 cm, framed; Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Thoman and 401contemporary, Berlin.
The fermentation process behind the transformation is most absorbing, particularly the way it merges art and science. Housed within the blown glass tubes of PANCREAS (Alles Fleisch), liquid glucose facilitates the growth of cultivated human brain cells. Nearby, another fantastical-looking contraption titled Destille (SARKOPHAG) produces alcohol from the glucose solution that is used for preserving the cells once they have grown to the weight of a human brain (approximately 1.5 kilograms). Later, the cells are used for research in the field of neuroscience.
Feuerstein’s treatise on transformative energy extends into a narrative that is played out in the candy-concoctions that line the walls of 401contemporary. Displayed within an antique Viennese cabinet are three organic forms crafted from glossy candy and acrylic glass. Each specimen is coated with the glucose formed from the pages of a particular author, and sits atop a pile of books from whence the words came. There is a very clear start and finish in Feuerstein’s brand of storytelling, a cyclic structure that makes CANDYLAB easily digestible, even for those unfamiliar with the science behind it.
The exhibition’s core ingredient of glucose, and its potential for change, is most convincingly realized in IDEE, a rocket-shaped sculpture that, again, rests atop a pile of assorted tomes. It's the notion of the possible, of power turned form that dictates the syntax. Infused within IDEE’s solid-state sugars is a small dosage of potassium nitrate, an explosive compound that gifts the piece with the potential to combust should it make contact with an open flame. As the gallerist Ralf Hänsel mentions laughingly, “that's the beauty of it, the excitement!” Fittingly, for this work, the sugar was extracted from science fiction books.
Moving in nature and effect, Feuerstein manages to mesmerize with questions that his works raise, leaving the viewer wondering how all of this was conceived and executed, and where it all leads. The combination of scientific expertise and an artful hand for igniting a contemplative wonderment in most, Feuerstein leaves you craving the very sugar he so elegantly uses, just to give your brain the fuel it needs to really take in the whole of his mad scientific CANDYLAB.
[Image on top: Thomas Feuerstein, PANCREAS (Alles Fleisch) (Detail), 2009-2012, Steel, glass, plexiglas, technical appliances, glass cells, bacteria, 230 x 800 x 200 cm; Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Thoman and 401contemporary.]