Unknowable Others

Extended Artist Statement 2019

My work centers around one central existential issue that is evoked by technological progress. Before I explain this question in the context of my current work, I will first look back on my early artistic development. I started experimenting with photography as a teenager, my uncle Marco Borggreve is a photographer for classical musicians, who was a big influence to me. Through photography I explored my relationship to the world through the creation of representation of the world. I saw in a naive way out objectivity in the photographed image. I assumed that what I recorded was a correct representation of the object. This obviously did not work out, I realized that in my capture I not only made a visual representation of an object, but that this object exists in the world in many states, that this object in a photograph is reduced to a thing of two dimensions. Even if it were to be a two-dimensional object, even then the bulging of the lens, the minute characteristics of the sensor, the placement of the light and many other factors ensure that it could never be a correct representation, let alone a copy. After this conclusion I decided to make a project out of it looking for a way to make an objective representation of an object. I no longer used my camera as an artistic instrument but only as a way of pragmatic documentation.

In the summer of 2013 I came into contact with the work of Hermann Nitsch, previously I was fascinated by the use of bodies in the work of Yves Klein, the idea that a body could take on other roles in the artistic process outside that which is depicted, but also that the physicality of action can lead to a new way of understanding what a body can be. While Klein offered a new way of portraying and thinking about the body through the use of his models, Nitsch went twenty steps further. Nitsch equates humans with the flesh in his 'Orgien Mysterien Theater', the human being fades into a haze of bodies and blood. In this fusion of bodies I saw a conceptual shift from the humanist Christian essentialist image of man to a more Heidegger-esque concept of humanity in which commodification of a person can take place just as well as commodification of other objects in the physical world.

MRI scans and CT scans were made of my diaphragm and chest after my malformed chestbone started producing health provlems. On the images I saw the human body reduced to a form that in its visual language referred to photographic images, but the perspective shifted to inside the body and let go of the value judgments and limitations of the human perception. By this I mean that common photography finds its basis in what people see, not in what 'is' in a physical sense of the word. This perspective shift intrigued me, I wondered if it was possible to get closer to an objective consideration of an object, I chose for this my own body.

I printed out the 264 images of the CT and placed them in a line across the floor, doing this I created a 76-meter-long portrait that provides insight per frame over a small piece of my body and still corresponds when viewed in length to the totality of my chest. In a later work I projected the images of the MRI scans on sculptures where I placed a large block of ice on four steel pins. This gave the work two different temporal dimensions, on the one hand the spatial representation of my body, converted into a video by the MRI, on the other hand the transitoriness of the melting ice. I was dissatisfied with the second work. In an attempt to be objective, I could not resist to add a poetic layer. The frustration I experienced as a result was one of the pillars that my artistic method now rests on.

This frustration is most easily described as the friction that occurs between the objective and subjective consideration of the body and its relation to the world. We live in our bodies, but because of the limited possibilities for perception it seems impossible to know what those bodies actually are. Technological development offers us all kinds of knowledge about other considerations. As soon as these technologies show their findings to us, however, they fall into abstraction. I could not identify myself with the MRI scans, but they showed me myself. I came to the conclusion that my entire search was actually a bit pointless. As soon as an attempt is made to represent, in any way whatsoever, this changes into a totally new, also unknowable object. 

This frustration is expressed in a more recent work in which I measure all kinds of body processes by means of sensors and then process the data into an audiovisual installation. The data comes from me, I "am" that data, but it takes forms that have nothing to do with me or my body. The knowledge I gain about myself alienates me from myself rather than bringing me closer to myself. Where knowledge should lead to more control, it instead leads to distancing and alienation. What relation does this information have to me at all?

In a performance in 2017, I tried to find out exactly this. I used my NFC implant to share my GPS location with the world via my phone. Through a small red arrow on a website, one could see where I was. I tried to reduce man to his most minimal foundation, his physical location on this world. After some time people started to follow me after national media attention. I was stalked, photographed, harassed. Three times people broke into my house. Apparently the knowledge about the body can still be used as a practical way to act. Knowledge in a pragmatic sense can be extracted from the data, but actual understanding of the phenomenon does not grow. Slowly I ended up in the epistemological absurd as Camus describes it in The Myth of Sisyphus: We find ourselves trapped in a subjective world while we catch glimpses of a truth that we will never understand. From my subjective action I think I know what an arm is, that it consists of meat, here too I know more or less what I have to deal with.

However, at the moment we increase our resolution, things become more abstract. Science tells us that we consist of cells and that these cells consist of organelles and that these organelles consist of proteins and that these proteins consist of atoms and that these atoms consist of neutrons and that these neutrons consist of subatomic particles. We can explain the world, only to no longer be able to imagine it. We have reduced the world in all its complexity to language and unviable abstractions. This same science teaches me that through these particles I am in the physical world, where the physical laws control everything. If I accept that my brain consists of atoms and that stones do too and that they must abide by the same laws, I lose the ability to speak with authority from the subject. The subject disappears, a meat doll takes its place. Within this flesh doll, however, is still that piece that can not accept that the world is factually this. He knows from his experience and probably also from biological processes that it is a human being, that it determines what it does, that it is autonomous.

Stelarc argues that in the future the body will find itself more and more in several places at once, he calls this 'phantom meat'. By this he means that the processes that people control from the body can increasingly take place in different places and at different times than those of the biological body. The body according to Stelarc is as big as its influence on the relationships it is in. However, this perspective contradicts what I had previously experienced in my research with biosensors. I drew the conclusion that it might be a question of control and relationship to biological processes and the form in which this body extension occurs. I argued that a hammer can serve as an extension of the body, a kind of artificial organ. Where the peacock prawn has a claw that he uses as a hammer, we have developed the intelligence to make hammers, to serve as temporary organs where our hands are not sufficient. In my latest performance 'Demolition Man' I use bricks where I attach microphones to examine where my body ends. The sound of the clinking bricks that I use is recorded, edited by my biodata by means of sensors and strengthened back into space. In this performance, the body forms three conceptual boundaries of increasing distancing that both spatially and conceptually increase the distance from the human being as a purely biological being. The first limit is reached in my fingertips, where my heart pumps blood. This is the limit of the body in general consideration. The second limit is the artificially extended body by physical use of a tool and ends on the piece of brick furthest from the first boundary. The third limit is the limit where the noise is no longer measurable. This third conceptual boundary is characterized by a phase change, it moves through the air and is no longer visible. What would remain if only the sound of me remains, recorded and constantly played, without my biological body being present? The afterthought of my body haunts the corridors of the exhibition space.


In my upcoming work. I will use an arduino based system to store as much information as possible that my body generates for one hundred hours. This information takes the form of eight values from zero to one thousand and corresponds to the electrical activity in different muscle groups. By means of software I will draw up the change in the eight numbers as time goes on in a formula, this formula can then be extrapolated to generate new numbers. This means in practice that the audiovisual installation that was part of my performance no longer needs me to physically act. It replaces the need for my biological presence.


I no longer have control, but the algorithm predicts.