Johann Arens’ practice can be encountered in unusual settings – watch out for his new installation at Bold Tendencies later this month. A German artist based in London, Arens looks at how technology shapes our life and our civil behaviour. In 2014, while in residence at the Ratti Foundation in Como he explored how visitors interact with museums in the film Marte e Venere (A Hand Hold Movement), 2013). In it a reconstruction of a Roman sculpture is shown along with the surviving elements that were once part of it; including amputated hands, freestanding feet and genitals. Arens notes how visitor’s iPhones and touchscreens created an interface and an ‘entry-door’ to give a new life to these historical objects. Through the personal and technological frames of iPhones, details of the statues become available though they simultaneously become fragmented in the screens and videos of visitors. Playing with the past of the sculpture, the present of its encounter with visitors, and its future afterlife in the touch-screens, the video becomes an example of a subtle interaction with technological devices.
Arens further developed issues of fragmentation into his new film Moulding Exclusivities, which had its festival premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year. It shows a series of sculptures utilising the remnants from prosthetic manufacturing. All items rendered by the animated camera are assembled from plastics leftover from the fabrication of wearable braces for spinal adjustment. This video takes further Arens’ interest in the body within the realm of what is artificial and what is real. From Roman sculpture to the latest medical research, Arens investigates what a fragment can be. In this case, much like museological artefacts, these offcut elements have no manual function or a ritual purpose, unlike their medical counterparts.
Arens’ interest in the use of technology in medicine can be also seen in Findings on Palpation (which will be exhibited in his next solo show in June at P/////AKT in Amsterdam) filmed during workshops in a training facility for doctors at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. There is a strong consistency of developing thoughts around interfaces, fragments and thinking what an ‘original’ form might be within the context of technological developments.
For this year’s Bold Tendencies, which opens on 16 May, Arens is presenting a new installation using a special packaging method called ‘Foam-In-Place’. As its name suggests, these bespoke foam moulds are used to create cradles for fragile objects in transit. This is not the first time that Arens has made sculptures using moulding techniques. In 2015, while at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam he was working on Plexiglass cases containing the three-dimensional imprint of a hand. In this body of work the moulding effect is taken a step further from body to objects, from cases to crates, increasing scale and shapes.