Conceptual Narration

So as to blend the narratives of communal living – irrespective of the logic of the expelled third – people and cultures need corresponding narrative forms: It is not “via the sciences, not via facts, but only via stories” that we can approach our selves and create common realities.1 We are forever busy inventing stories, because our brains, on a neuro-biological level, cannot help but confabulate. The stories we invent, or by which we are written and driven, are not merely fictitious and symbolic, they are also bio-political and technical. There is no escape from stories, they have no beginning and no end. Once they are institutionalised they become discourses, politics, ideologies; and when morality comes into play they turn into dogmas and fundamentalisms.

This is exactly where Feuerstein’s method of “conceptual narration” comes in, linking up the factual with the fictitious and vice versa. Conditions of this kind, one may interject, are to be found all over: in politics, religion, advertisement, and even in the sciences. Yet for this very reason it is necessary to develop methods of how to contingently deal with cultural narratives. Even though this here is undertaken with the limited resources of art, exemplary possibilities keep cropping up of perceiving, as a story among others, “true” -narratives refusing to be stories, and of leaving its presumed outcome – the moral of the story – open. Stories as dogma and axiom, aiming to make invisible the incompatible, thus are no longer of interest. Stories, moreover, become tellable poly-contextually and reality may be confronted with other versions of the same reality.

Thomas Feuerstein’s works and projects deal with the symbolic manifestations and material “special effects” of social narratives under the changed circumstances of technology, economy, and politics. Exhibitions turn out laboratory-like test arrangements subjecting cultural “confabulation machines” for the generating of identity projects to artistic experiments. When Feuerstein, for instance, takes as a starting point the “special effect” of the International Space Station (ISS) and makes it a “special effect” of his own art, he involves us in stories on politics, modernity, technical dreams of omnipotence, utopias, and sci-fi scenarios. The object serves as a node and not as an insistent, finished work. It catalyses stories and it is a relay station tying together and transforming realities. As a complex, cultural artefact the ISS may be based on high technology, but compared to architectures of earlier eras it also embodies a symbolic condensate of Western modernist civilisation. Feuerstein takes this condensate of a materialised confabulation literally and creates an ice machine that physically grows out of the humidity produced by the perspiration and breathing of the visitors to the exhibition.

Thomas Feuerstein’s method of conceptual narration provokes confabulations operating like a mycellic network rather than causally and dually. The works elude the conventional concept of an individual work as they are linked to each other just like communicating vessels. When plankton and laboratory flies become the material of Feuerstein’s art, this hints, among other things, at the fact that the ISS functions as a survival capsule, an interstellar habitat, a bioreactor, and as a laboratory. In the installation Manna Machine swimming algae multiply inside a bioreactor during the exhibitions, and on the one hand are processed into pigment for paintings, on the other are used to feed drosophila flies. Algae and flies form, within the installation, a closed, almost autopoietic system of the kind en-visioned by space engineers in the shape of so called bioregenerative life support systems. The different contexts of use at first operate in the separated spheres of the real, i.e. the algae as food, and the symbolic, i.e. the algae as paint. In a further work series the flies thus bred become pixels for portraits of persons who, on various levels, have dealt with the relation between singularity and sociality. The real and the symbolic, the biological and the political once again form a conceptual node symbolising that Feuerstein’s artistic confabulations happen in a space inbetween, in the inter esse of reality.

  1. Wilhelm Schapp, Philosophie der Geschichten, Wiesbaden 1975, S. XIII.

Examples and illustrations of "Conceptual Narration":

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