Declining Democracy

Francis Alÿs
Michael Bielicky &
Kamila B. Richter

Roger Cremers
Juan Manuel Echavarría
Thomas Feuerstein
Thomas Hirschhorn
Thomas Kilpper
Lucy Kimbell
Cesare Pietroiusti
Artur Żmijewski



Installation view at CCC Strozzina, Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze

The fundamental themes Thomas Feuerstein’s research is based on are the modes of the structuring of society and the interactions between the individual and collectivity, tracing connections and analogies between art and science, sociology and biology. The Austrian artist defines his works as a “conceptual narration”, aiming at making the principles of social systems visible.  
Parlament translates the interest of the artist for the analysis of forms of social organization into biological metaphors. The piece consists of a sort of  bioreactor made of glass and composed of a central chamber connected by six pipes to an equal amount of ampoules at the basis of the object. The ampoules contain six different strains of cultures of the slime mold species Physarum (belonging to the group of the myxomycetes), a particular life form that cannot be counted among neither animals nor plants or bacteria. It reaches a length of approximately hundred and twenty centimetres and looks like a yellowy substance that is able to move at one to two centimetres per hour. During the time of the exhibition, these cells will move through the pipes to reach the upper chamber, which holds a nourishing substance. The myxomycetes will be able to choose whether to remain split or to merge into a single organism called plasmodium, which, even presenting different distinct nuclei, can become a single giant cell (that can reach a size of several square meters of surface). The plasmodium, the meta-cell joining together all the different original parts in a single “biological body”, can consequently be seen as the symbol for human social organisation, for a single “social body”.
Feuerstein uses an instrument taken from a scientific lab to create a metaphor illustrating some principles of coexistence of living beings. Among the possible implicit references, the model developed in 1943 by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow stands out, the so-called “Hierarchy of Needs”, with which he tried to explain the mechanics that regulate the interdependence between organisms and environment. What moves living beings to actively relate to their own environment is the fulfilment of their needs, at first the primary, the physiological ones, followed by more and more abstract ones like the need for security, for social belonging, the individual needs and finally those related to self-fulfilment. According to Maslow’s model, also human beings follow this logic that makes more abstract needs become impellent only when those connected to the body have already been satisfied.
The piece is completed by a series of prints referencing the individuals’ need to organize themselves in social forms and state structures, underlining the parallel proposed by Feuerstein between socio-political organization and biological processes. Slogans like “E Pluribus Unum”, “Work on Social Flesh”, “Solitary/Solidary Cell”, “Empire Builder” or “Common Cell” emphasize the analogy between the process of “democratic” merging of the plasmodium and the functioning of a real democracy, referring to political positions or mottos. The phrase “In P.O.P. We Trust” (that plays with the typically American “In God We Trust” and in which the acronym P.O.P. stands for “Point of Presence”, a term that indicates a point of access to the internet shared by a specific group of users, and also for “Plasmodium Organism Politics”) becomes the slogan for the artist’s reflection, fluctuating between science, art and politics.

Vetrina di mixomiceti con base
Glass Myxomyceten vitrine and base
170 x 85 x 75 cm
Courtesy Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman, Innsbruck

Thomas Feuerstein (1968, Innsbruck, AU; where he lives and works) works as artist and author in the fields of fine art and media art. He studied philosophy and history at the University of Innsbruck, where he won a doctorate in 1995. From 1992 to 1994 he was co-editor with Klaus Strickner of the magazine Medien.Kunst.Passagen. In 1992 he founded the office for intermedia communication transfer and the association His works and projects comprise installations, environments, objects, drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographies, videos, radio plays and net art. Recent solo shows include: (2011) Poem, 401contemporary, Berlin; (2010) Manifest, Kunstraum Bernsteiner, Wien; Where Deathless Horses Weep, Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman, Innsbruck; (2009) Daimon, Kunstverain Ausburg. Recent collective shows include: (2011) 4th Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art; Kunstforum Montafon, Schruns; VERBALE II, Kabelwerk, Wien; Familien-Erb-Teil, Kunstraum Engländerbau, Vaduz; (2010) Eat Art, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart; original/funktional, Wiener Art Foundation, Wien; N.U.M.B. und du auch, Kunstraum Innsbruck; Malerei: Prozess und Expansion, MUMOK, Wien; Austria la vista, baby, TAF, Athens; (2009) Eating the Universe, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; CELLA, Complesso Monumentale di San Michele a Ripa, Rome.

Declining Democracy