In John Armleder’s Art, the Visual Culture of Science Goes Under the Lens

’s most recent solo show at Galerie Andrea Caratsch explores one of the artist’s recurring subjects: the brain. While Armleder has been probing this theme in his work for almost two decades, its image has evolved over time from calligraphic markings to sculptural objects. The new work presented in “OUT!” is largely drawn from a fortuitous find. While traveling in London, Armleder stumbled upon a case of 19th-century papier-mâché animal brain models—made by Dr. Auzoux, a man who spearheaded the use of accurate anatomical models instead of cadavers for medical study—in a fashion store window. These once-educational objects are dissected and translated by the artist through his characteristically genre-bending approach.
Throughout the gallery, iterations based on Auzoux’s models are displayed in seven glass vitrines, immediately creating a sense of peering into a cabinet of curiosities. But Armleder is not concerned with representation so much as he is with the shifts in perception that take place when an object intended for educational purposes is placed in a new context—the art gallery. In fact, he negates the sense of realism that is present in Auzoux’s models by casting the forms out of materials that are irrelevant in an educational setting, like brass and glass. In a piece like Disturbingly Informative (2004), he also scales up the brain to further destabilize the original image—while opening up a space for new interpretations to emerge. “A new meaning appears in this transfer between the idea, motif, and manufacture,” he told Artsy in a recent interview. “By taking a formally complete image…and using it either as a motif or as the base object from which to create a sculpture, we diverge from the meaning of the subject without losing its force.”
A series of large mural paintings like Dolomite (2015) and Gálene (2015) further abstract the nature of scientific imagery in compositions reminiscent of Ernst Haeckel’s 19th-century prints. But while the combination of art and science present in Haeckel’s vibrant works might suggest the sublime perfection of living forms, Armleder’s work pulls in the opposite direction, positing that as soon as an object is presented as art, it begins to disappear. “I am aware of the ambiguity involved in transforming instruments for making knowledge accessible into art objects, displayed in showcases like collector items,” he explains. “There is an accumulation of false leads. But as soon as we head in one direction, aren’t we always following a false lead? Isn’t it the multiplication of false leads that can alone eventually lead us to some kind of revelation—not the revelation, but a revelation of some sort?”

Alexandra Alexa
OUT!” is on view at Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich, Jun. 13–Sep. 18, 2015.