When I was a child, my three siblings, my parents and I would occasionally go out for dinner. We would all sit around the table waiting for the waiter to take our order. After he finished his round he would comment on our beautiful big family and point out that I have the same brown eyes like my father. My father and I would then look at each other and smile, like two accomplices, knowing that we actually don’t share any genes—my biological father is from Syria and not German like my foster parents, who were sitting at the table with me.
My performance, moving image, and installation work is concerned with the question of how we see things and how we construct our perception on the basis of our experiences—in relation to others but also in relation to the new media technologies increasingly saturating our everyday lives. In my piece “Like Father, Like Son” (2017), for instance, I used photography to compose ‘new families’ that existed only for the period of the camera’s exposure, by arranging people who didn’t know each other. More than in the resulting images, I was interested in the social situation produced by the act of taking these photographs. How did these constructed family portraits influence possible relations between the participants? With this and other collaborative works, I investigate contemporary belief systems by echoing, altering, and dispersing explanation models in order to explore possibilities for community and co-existence.
The starting point of my works is situational, they change shape and develop in conversation with people, they enter a dialog with the environments they emerge from. While cooperation and dialogue have been a driving force of my work throughout the last years, with my current projects I started to cooperate not only with people but also with various intelligent systems. What can we learn about our perception by watching how machines interpret the world? The film "I'm Not Sure" (2017) shows how an app that was developed as a visual aid for the blind interprets works of art; in my piece "Father's Face" (2018) an Artificial Intelligence translates my mother's memory of my father into a visual image of his face; and my recent work "exercises for the digital age" (2021-2022) focuses on the private, sometimes secret, practices of professional artists: I have conducted 25 workshops so far with artists from around the internet, who think and work with the digital in various forms. Asking them what they are doing to stay healthy physically, virtually or mentally? What is their relation to their virtual selves, and how do they use the digital space to increase their freedom? Each conversation has yielded a fragment of their practice for digital thriving, which we have tried to formalize in an instruction – an exercise for the digital age, that might have nothing to do with fitness.
With these works, I hope to contribute to a dialogue not only about technology and its political implications (e.g. who decides for what reasons which data is relevant, what is to be seen or considered as noise?) but also about art and its potentials to transcend the limitations of our technological imaginary. What does it mean to be a social being in the face of current technological developments, and how can we collectively revivify habituated, reflex-tending forms of life?
© Gabriel Hensche 2022