Issue 3/2019 - Artscribe

April 4, 2019 to May 15, 2019
Kunstraum Niederösterreich / Wien

Text: Aleksei Borisionok

Vienna. Changing positions from time to time, the group of people of different ages and appearances hold each other in the water of the swimming pool and delicately caress each other’s bodies in the tender blue light of the spa. Some of them are naked, others are dressed in something resembling uniforms, although lacking their unifying and disciplinary qualities. They pay attention to the movement, traction, and support of the bodies on the water’s surface, to the sense of weightless and fluctuation. For the viewer, it is hard to distinguish between agents and objects of care: they change and replace each other. They are the members of the Army of Love, a para-fictional organization created by Ingo Niermann and Alexa Karolinski and featured in their film production of that title. The main aim of the army is to question the deficit of care and to rebalance the unequal distribution of attractiveness and intimacy. How can care be thought of as a politically disruptive, critical force?

In her book dedicated to rethinking the notion of care in the post-human world, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa defines care as “a concrete work of maintenance, with ethical and affective implications, and as a vital politics in interdependent worlds.” 1 In a similar way, care and its complex relations with technology are unfolded in the TechnoCare group exhibition at the Kunstraum Niederösterreich, which is the first project to be curated by the new director, Katharina Brandl, and her colleague Friederike Zenker. At the same time, the urgent need to re-examine the notion of care in times of environmental and corporeal exhaustion has been manifested in several projects in Vienna this spring, including the exhibition Critical Care: Architecture for a Broken Planet at the Architekturzentrum Wien, with a focus on ecology and urban planning, and the event series Scan the Difference: Gender, Surveillance, Bodies at VBKÖ, which questions the relations between care, medicalization, race, and scanning technologies. With a strong focus on the digital realm and feminism, TechnoCare illuminates the complicated relations of care, agency, and technology, caught up as they are between social invisibility and burning urgency. Technologies and non-human actors are proposed as agents of care, lubricants of intimacy, or even automated lovers.

The Optimization of Parenthood (2012) by Addie Wagenknecht is a massive kinetic sculpture whose robotic arm rocks an empty bassinet. The arm is controlled by a code that allows it to navigate tender and repetitive moves. A capacious image of the metal robotic limb that supplements or even replaces parental emotional intensity and physical engagement serves almost as an illustration of the exhibition’s focal point: the redistribution and automation of care. A multitude of voices is presented in the installation by Italian artist Elisa Giardina Papa. Technologies of Care (2016) presents seven anonymous monologues by online workers speaking into intimate video interfaces, thus reflecting the specificity of their labor in the digital market of outsourced care, ranging from the production of ASMR videos to online dating consultancy with customization of social network profiles. The work examines what sociologist Arlie Hochschild describes as the global chains of care. 2 This concept emphasizes how the labor of maintenance is connected to race, gender, class, and migration. Through the narration, it becomes evident how the area of care, racialized and precarious, is developing similar dynamics in the realm of digital labor. The work by the artists’ collective NEOZOON and collaborators Ines Lechleitner and Alice Chauchat reflects another crucial implication of the exhibition’s theme: the observation of animal-human relations, mutual interspecies awareness, and mediatization of solicitude in social networks.

The numerous recent artworks connected to the issues of care and service economies (for example New Eelam, a luxury housing subscription platform developed by the artist Christopher Kulendran Thomas) are based on the subversion of platform economies and neoliberal rhetoric. However, this deeply affirmative trope leaves behind a bitter taste of exhaustion, feebleness, and surrender. As an alternative, the selection of artworks in the TechnoCare exhibition opens up a space for imagination, for the delegated performance of intimacy, for playfulness and the articulation of hierarchies of care among humans, animals, and objects.



[1] Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds, Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, p. 6.
[2] Arlie Hochschild, “Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value,” in W. Hutton and A. Giddens (eds.), On The Edge: Living with Global Capitalism, London: Jonathan Cape, 2005, p. 131.