Vanessa Billy
Chloé Delarue
Gabriele Garavaglia
Florian Germann
Dominique Koch
Pamela Rosenkranz

Istituto Svizzero, Rome
16 Oct, 2020 – 12 Feb, 2021

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Text by Gioia Dal Molin

Hybrid creatures or composite beings have forever populated our cultural thinking. Furthermore, creatures that escape a clear identification with a single species and whose bodies are an assemblage of human beings and animals or different types of animals are depicted in the most ancient drawings and sculptures. Just think of the Great Sphinx of Giza or the Faunus, which is depicted as a half-human-half-goat creature in Roman mythology. In the 21st century, hybrids are omnipresent. On the one hand their potential forms have multiplied, reaching a level never seen before, thanks to advances in technology, in science, and genetic engineering. More than mythological mixtures between humans and animals, today’s hybrids present themselves as crossbreeds between human (or other organic matter) and inanimate matter.

We are all hybrid beings: our iPhone, for example, has long become an extension of our body, just as microchips placed under our skin have become reality. Alike, there are invisible, synthetic, sometimes hormonal and psychoactive substances that we consume and mix with our bodies to become hybrid creatures. Depending on the point of view or context, these transformations can be considered both optimization attempts driven by capitalism or self-induced and obstructive gestures. On the other hand, hybrids, and the idea of hybridism in general, turn out to be very stimulating food for thought. Speculations about a post-human world or Donna Haraway’s cyborgs lead us to think about our present, as well as a broader notion of hybridism, such as the interweaving of two systems that are genuinely separate.

WE HYBRIDS! was planned and conceived in early 2020. Back then the pandemic was only a vague rumor. At the beginning of March, we decided to postpone the exhibition WE HYBRIDS! for half a year. The world is a different place now. However, the questions posed by the artists and the thoughts inspired by them are still relevant, perhaps more than ever. The global experiences of lockdowns and the feverish search for a vaccine show us that some kind of coexistence with the virus is probably inevitable. In a highly technological world, not only implanted microchips but also viruses transform us into a kind of hybrid creature. At the same time, as a globalized society we have recognized more than ever that the assumed hierarchy between ‘human being’ and ‘nature’ are null and void. Inevitably, we have to think of the kinship between humans, animals, and other creatures propagated by Donna Haraway, of her call to make oneself ‘related’, to enter into what is probably also a conflictual yet hybrid interweaving; this too is probably a version of the future we must deal with.

WE HYBRIDS! is both a statement and a thesis. The group exhibition brings together six young artists from Switzerland who addresses the idea of hybridism through different media and narrative models. The interactions and connections between human and technology, but also the amalgamation of organic, microbial or mechanical bodies, are the central themes of Vanessa Billy’s work. In the exhibition, she presents a series of newer sculptural works which all revolve around the topic of the hybrid blending of bodies and materials. Only on a closer look we realize that the vegetal, knotty structure Human Reach, is actually an overly long finger (perhaps a hint to the predicted mutations of our human body produced by the omnipresent use of our smart phones) while the Chromosomes remind us that modern genetic engineering has long been able to make all kinds of hybrid mutations possible.

Chloé Delarue is interested in both cyberpunk novels and the influence of technological developments on the human body and mind. Since 2015, she has been working on her complex body of work TAFAA (Toward A Fully Automated Appearance), whose objects are hybrid assemblages of organic and non-organic materials that resemble archaeological remains of the future. TAFAA – TANNED SUBMISSION, the work presented in the exhibition, is made of neon tubes and cuttlefish pewter, while the latex-cast molds of a burnt car engine produce a peculiar smell and move slightly through the draught caused by the fan. And so, this undefined hybrid figure faces us when we enter the first exhibition room. Florian Germann experiments with different materials and—as he puts it—”their energies” and charges of meaning his sculptures with his own stories. The artist is fascinated by Blade Runner, cyborgs and aliens. The two objects he created especially for the exhibition can be seen as kind of a ‘human-animal-machine-hybrids’.

Influenced by speculative narrative forms of science fiction literature, in which fiction and reality mix, Gabriele Garavaglia’s photo series Fook Moon (2017–2020) is based on a performance, and shows portraits of, let’s say, human-like creatures, whose eyes, however, seem incredibly inhuman. At the same time, a large graffiti sign on the wall warns against the ‘Biohazard’. In her video Holobiont Society, Dominique Koch traces the power relations of the capitalistic present, which act as a hybrid, sometimes conflictual system. In doing so, the artist recalls the biological idea of the ‘holobiont’, an organism in which hosts, microbes, bacteria, and viruses coexist. Finally, Pamela Rosenkranz shows two new paintings from the series Sexual Power, for which she consumes the synthetically produced substance Viagra while painting and mutates into a hybrid-like being by mixing her own human abilities with an artificially produced substance.

WE HYBRIDS!, installation view at Istituto Svizzero, Roma, 2020. Courtesy: the artists and Istituto Svizzero. Photo: OKNOstudio 
WE HYBRIDS!, installation view at Istituto Svizzero, Roma, 2020. Courtesy: the artists and Istituto Svizzero. Photo: OKNOstudio 
WE HYBRIDS!, installation view at Istituto Svizzero, Roma, 2020. Courtesy: the artists and Istituto Svizzero. Photo: OKNOstudio 
WE HYBRIDS!, installation view at Istituto Svizzero, Roma, 2020. Courtesy: the artists and Istituto Svizzero. Photo: OKNOstudio 
WE HYBRIDS!, installation view at Istituto Svizzero, Roma, 2020. Courtesy: the artists and Istituto Svizzero. Photo: OKNOstudio 

Featured image: WE HYBRIDS!, installation view at Istituto Svizzero, Rome, 2020. Courtesy: the artists and Istituto Svizzero. Photo: OKNOstudio

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