Brain Without Organs

Kunstverein am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V.
Curated by Warren Neidich and Susanne Prinz
May 18 – June 12, 2021

Participating artists include John Armleder, Alfred Ehrhardt, Douglas Gordon, Dafna Maimon, Warren Neidich, Tabita Rezaire, and Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch.

“Galaxy Brain” by Erik Morse on ARTFORUM

Brain Without Organs is the first of three acts in an exhibition-play that unpacks and explores the potential of activist neuroaesthetics. The brain without organs (BrwO) is an apparatus used by activist neuroaesthetics to confront neoliberal cognitive capitalism in which the brain and mind are the new factories of the twenty-first century. BrwO derives its name from the earlier concept of the body without organs (BwO) as it was first defined by Antonin Artaud and later expanded upon by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. As Deleuze quotes Artaud in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, “The body is the body / it stands alone / it has no need of organs / the body is never an organism / organisms are the enemies of bodies.”1Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (London: Continuum, 2005), 35. Accordingly, the problem of the organism is ameliorated by the production of a body without organs, which unleashes its unformed, “unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities, or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles.”2Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 45. This then becomes the entrance point for the first part of the Activist Neuroaesthetics exhibition, which sees the organism defined by indeterminacy and contingency.

In cognitive capitalism, the laboring body has been subsumed by the laboring mind, which creates metadata that is sold to corporate clients and government agencies for the purpose of marketing consumer products and surveillance. While the body without organs had formed a counter-hegemony against the forces of control prevalent in Fordism, in this new phase of capitalism it is no longer sufficient as an apparatus of emancipation. The stratified body and its psychosexual appendages – which once formed the plane of consistency of the machinery of dissensus of the body without organs – has been replaced by the laboring stratified mind, which has little to no agency. New territorializing styles of cognitive management such as memes, fake news, clickbait, and Google Bubbles have joined advanced digital design techniques (first used in game design, such as 3D modeling and motion-graphic animation) and become pervasive on various media platforms (such as news and films) to create engaging and emphatic attention-grabbing environments that set different intensities in motion on the plane of consistency. The apparatus of the brain without organs has co-evolved with this technical assemblage and, as a result, it is equipped to form a new counter-hegemony and burgeoning political field. Like the BwO from which it springs, there are many BrwOs – some of which free themselves from these potential imprisoning intensities (which sculpt the brain’s neural plasticity) and disrupt the flows between the intracranial, situated brain and the extracranial counterpart with which it is entangled to form the scaffolding which the brain without organs and activist neuroaesthetics inhabit.

[PDF] Edited by Warren Neidich.

The Brain Without Organs exhibition began in the lobby downstairs with Warren Neidich’s neon installation A Proposition for an Alt-Parthenon Marbles Recoded: The Phantom as Other (2021), a dynamic presentation of a neural network changing in time and on view through the entire exhibition cycle until August 21. The accompanying video Brain Without Organs, Simulation of Virtual Reality Version (2021) could be viewed in the gallery upstairs. Also upstairs, historical information was paired with Alfred Ehrhardt’s 1939 photograph Fiber Trains of the Varols Bridge (Human) from an experimental scientific picture series exploring abstract forms existing in microcosm, which the artist himself connects directly to consciousness.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition were three additional films further exploring topics important to the brain without organs and the potential of activist neuroaesthetics. Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s Item Falls (2013) exposes how much the apparatus of the camera, and technology in general, has become incorporated into one’s own self-image and subjectivity, and Tabita Rezaire’s Premium Connect (2017) investigates cybernetic spaces where the organic, technological, and spiritual worlds connect. In the back room, Dafna Maimon’s film The She The Same (2014) was developed (alongside performances and artifacts) with the help of a neuroscientist to explore the way in which we understand our own bodies in relation to others through the story of a protagonist with a delusional misidentification syndrome.

Additionally, John Armleder’s O.T. (candle, blue) (2004) was periodically lit over the course of this exhibition, representing both the fire that erupts in the mind during a new idea and the plastic nature of experience in molding the brain’s form. The imperfection of the object in time and its abnormal melting and shaping draws attention to the idea of a diverse and multiplicitous brain. Lastly, Douglas Gordon’s 30 seconds text (1996), based on an experiment performed in France in 1905 when a doctor tried to test human neural reaction by communicating with a condemned man’s severed head immediately after the guillotine execution, literally transforms the environment, allowing the viewer to see the work only for the same limited period of time. This light switch is like a blade moving through the neck and spinal cord to the demise of human consciousness in direct and literal relation to the exhibition’s title.

This project is made possible with support from Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Stiftung Kunstfonds, Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V., and private donors.