Corrupted Air
solo exhibition / Future Gallery, Berlin (DE)
26 April – 1 June 2019
exhibition text


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Future Gallery is proud to present ‘Corrupted Air’ by Femke Herregraven. The show marks the artist’s second solo exhibition at the gallery.
‘Catastrophe’ as a terminology became related to natural disasters only after the Great Lisbon earthquake (1755). Before that event the ‘catastrophe’ was mainly understood as a plot device originating from Greek theatre. It indicated a sudden turn in the course of events usually introduced by an act of God (deus ex machina). With the installation ‘Corrupted Air – Act VI’ (2019), Herregraven presents a triptych on these intersecting dimensions of ‘catastrophe’. In this context ‘corrupted air’ describes a specific air condition, which is both naturally and morally tainted.
On the ground level of the gallery, the work ‘Corrupted Air’ (2018) is installed consisting of two conjoined lightboxes. Herregraven has compiled a table of all catastrophe bonds (catbonds) dating from 1996 through to 2018 and placed it alongside the first mortality table from John Graunt’s Bills of Mortality published in London in 1662, a mere three years before the outbreak of the Great Plague. The historic mortality table or “List of Casualties” does not incorporate the ages of the deceased, but catalogues the causes of death and thus illuminates the reemergence and distribution of particular symptoms and pandemics. This historic categorization and collection of death cases appear to be a preliminary stage of human impulse to find some sort of indexicality of mortalities.
By juxtaposing these two tables, Herregraven proposes how the predictive modeling of highly complex cat bonds is rooted in historical patterns of medieval deaths. Catbonds are financial instruments which insure catastrophic events via capital markets. Circulating on stock markets, cat bonds are used to speculate on future disasters with specified material damage and defined numbers of human victims. Following the insurance industry, it becomes clear in Herregraven’s table, how nearly all catbonds only insure catastrophes in the West. As if the rest of the world is spared from natural and manmade disaster.
Abandoned furniture covered with plastic sheets, insulation material, synchronized voices, and luminous video projections spills out into the subterranean halls of the gallery. Here, the scenario Corrupted Air – Act VI (2019) unfolds as a spatial composition reminiscent of a billionaire’s bunker; a hiding place for the ultra-wealthy in the event of large-scale social unrest or sudden ecological collapse.
In ‘Corrupted Air – Act VI’, the bunker is waiting to be inhabited, but will the Last Man ever arrive? For now, the only life forms underground are scanned digital models of three extinct animals: a trilobite, a lizard, and an elephant bird. These species already experienced their own final catastrophe, and while rebooting on plasma screens they speculate in an audio play (duration 12:40 min) on the Last Man’s arrival. While discussing the Last Man’s obsession with his own extinction while being responsible for the annihilation of so many other species, their conversation constantly splinters and reconnects. For Herregraven, just like this installation, a work is never finished or closed but holds the potential of being turned upside down, at any given time. Rather than a single entity, her works are unstable webs of elements, like an ecosystem searching for its balance. Just like the Last Man’s preparations, the installation and audio play are perpetual rehearsals for an event that may never arrive.
‘Act VI’ from the Corrupted Air series refers to the sixth mass extinction of large amounts of animal species, this time set in motion by humans. One of the digital models is from an elephant bird fossil and is activated in one the videos as well as materialized in ‘Hinged Collisions – ‘Awoken Lesion’ (2019), two CNC routed MDF reliefs framed in server racks.
With this exhibition, Herregraven, explores how the entanglement of languages, codes, sounds, and predictive structures can become a new protocol for ‘image’ making. With the ‘images’, she explores how the mathematical modeling of catastrophe has its material counterpart in the form of survival architecture, and asks whose risk such predictive devices are really concerned with when survival becomes a privilege and commodity.
In her practice, Herregraven draws from a systematic meta-narrative that accompanies her research and production at all times. It concerns financial and geological self-organising systems, in which flows of energy create creative and destructive consequences that change the course of history. The underpinning research provides input for developing new calculations, speculations and conversations that inform her drawings, writings, scripts, videos and installations.
Femke Herregraven born 1982 in Nijmegen lives and works in Amsterdam. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions at museums, art institutions, and biennials including at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; ZKM, Karlsruhe; Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam; Witte de With, Rotterdam; Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; V&A Museum, London; CCS Bard / Hessel Museum, New York; Oslo Triennial; Tallinn Art Hall; Nam June Paik Art Center, Seoul; Riga Biennial; Museum for Contemporary Art, Chicago; Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster; Guangzhou Triennial 6. She is a recent alumni artist-in-residence at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam and is a current nominee for the Prix de Rome.

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Photos by Andrea Rossetti