Weltgeist: Curated by Bjorn Stern

18 January - 18 February 2023

Curated by Bjorn Stern for Galerie Kandlhofer, the exhibition “Weltgeist” opening on January 18 will aim to explore the power of humanism and how it has equipped itself through history to fathom the enormity of not knowing the fundamentals of its own existence, which has caused ideologies, governmental systems, religiosity and other belief systems to function in its ersatz. Stern has included seven international artists whose respective practices illuminate the subject. Janine Antoni - USA, Reza Aramesh - IRAN/U.K., Arvida Byström - SWEDEN, Alejandro Jodorowsky - CHILE/FRANCE, Hermann Nitsch, AUSTRIA, John Robinson, U.K. and Penny Slinger - USA. 

The exhibition is loosely based on the principles of Hegel’s views on the Weltgeist (World spirit), not as an actual object or an all-encompassing, all-present God figure, but as a secular means to better understand and to philosophise about history.

Bjorn Stern has long been fascinated about the idea of connectedness that appear between humans that at times reside outside of language, which may be akin to a spiritual experience. In Stern’s view it is the connectedness in itself that provide this elevated state of humanity rather than the classic subscription to “the other”, which can predictably be found in religiosity, mysticism and the occult or more recent methodologies towards an exalted state such as conventional drug consumption.

Stern is a London based art dealer and collector, who has curated a number of thematic exhibitions in the past three decades on subjects as varied as the history of dreams in art through five millennia, the art of the first Italian republic, how artists respond to the history of competitive sports and in the late 90’s Stern curated the “In-Significant’s” exhibition in Malmoe, Sweden, which predicted post-internet art by over a decade. More recently he has taken an interest in the digital abject in art and its’ effect on real life situations.

Press release
This exhibition at the Kandlhofer gallery titled “Weltgeist” (eng. World Spirit) aims to explore the question of humanism and its perseverance in a time of self absorption. At the core of my curatorial proposal, with the contributions of seven contemporary international artists, rest the Sisyphean problem with the enormity of us not knowing the fundamentals of our own existence. It is at times a mundane question and sometimes a stupid question and at times a dramatic question. But it is a question since the beginning of consciousness, helped by the advent of language, which has caused ideologies, systems of governance, religiosity and other belief systems to flourish in its ersatz. Humanity can ascertain its biological existence through the clarity offered by science and it can explain its utility through empirical means, such as the evolution of our species, our urge to reproduce and to the need for self preservation. But it cannot explain its purpose. For that question to become meaningful, one can be helped by the many means of speculation that we have invented or discovered for ourselves. Philosophy, at times, can help and in this particular exhibition - a view through the eyes of artists, grappling with the same question.    
The spirit of the world Weltgeist as supposed to the spirit of the time Zeitgeist, speak of a connected humanity. The Zeitgeist speak only of the results of such connectedness. The Hegelian view, for those who have yet to explore his philosophies, speak of the Weltgeist not as an actual object or an all-encompassing, all-present God figure, but as a means to better understand and to philosophise about history. Hegel proposed that the Weltgeist always had representatives in the shape of Volksgeister, the great people of history, who could be relied upon to determine the future and thus circumnavigate the more speculative and in the age of reason and empiricism of the nineteenth century, less appealing application of superstition and religiosity to his famous thesis that “what is real is reasonable”. The future as revealed by the Volksgeister would simply be inevitable.   
And what futures do artists imagine? In my view, they may represent the Volksgeister of our time. Artists operate with the self and the mediation of self examination much in the same way as many of the great people of history, the Volksgeister, did, who honed carefully crafted legacies and mythologies on a world scale, whereas artists create such worlds for themselves. 
Can the proverbial ‘we’ look at such worlds with a surgical mind of reason, or can we release ourselves to the carefree abandon to the experience of those worlds imagined by artists? If the artist is reasonable, then the Hegelian thesis suggest that, it must be real. But are we still driven by reason in this age of technocracy and deontological systems? Artists are increasingly exposed to the blight of algorithmic determinism and our own age promotes this gleefully whilst negating the time necessary for human introspection. The proverbial self is thus caught in a bottle neck of expectation that is compelled into short-termism and a cultural production which lacks the pathways that lead to the transfer of knowledge into a deeper wisdom of the world. Personal mythologies are worthless unless mediated into a shared and connected universality.         
As such, I believe that the stage has been set for this exhibition, which will largely take its cues from human responses to the ultimate unknown of itself, represented through ceremony, ritual and dogma and in more detail through human reflections on collective body dysmorphia, our abandon to artificial intelligence, representations of sacrifice, obsessive compulsive disorder, and arriving at the quest to reaching the sublime through and between other human beings in its more secular understanding of the Weltgeist where, language and understanding of the world begin to collectively fail, replaced by a notion of pure experience. The human search for bliss has always stood in contrast to wisdom, insight and authority, be it in methodologies of forming and organising urban societies or for fear of humanity descending into its basic constituents of chaos and savagery. 
Artists are and have always been effective observers of humanity. They are brokers between the world we understand and that of the experiential world. That is a world which resides outside of language. Artists summon through their creative acts their own spirits or gods or mythologies. The ability of artists to connect pure experience throughout human existence offer constant portals to the Weltgeist in the face of the missing piece for the reason for human existence at all. 
Lill-Marit Bugge, the Norwegian comedienne, once quipped about the biblical God: “If God made man into his own image and thou shall love no other gods than I, That would mean that I should only love myself. In which case it wont be hard to believe in God then..”
Bjorn Stern - January 2023
Bjorn Stern is a London based art dealer and collector, who has curated a number of thematic exhibitions in the past three decades on subjects as varied as the history of dreams in art through five millennia, the art of the first Italian republic, how artists respond to the history of competitive sports and in the late 90’s Stern curated the “In-Significant’s” exhibition in Malmoe, Sweden, which predicted post-internet art by over a decade. More recently he has taken an interest in the digital abject in art and its’ effect on real life situations.
Janine Antoni (Bahamas, USA) 
Janine Antoni turns to the tradition of religious icons, calling on their techniques and convictions to frame her performance gestures. By replacing the traditional deity or saintly figure with bodily gestures, she honours the body's fragility and conductive capacity. For a digital generation born after 1990, it may be a challenge to understand fully the practice of Janine Antoni, one of the most important performance artists of our time. Her complex and multifaceted examinations of human gesture may perhaps be best understood through analogue means. Like Prairie Johnson, the fictional character in the much lauded television series The OA, Janine Antoni takes on the gestures embodied for our time, not as a means of escape, as in The OA, but rather to connect to our real bodies and our real gestures. Antoni may in fact be perfectly situated in this time as a medium for our age that speak of gestures that in turn lead to sublime states of presence through the corporeal.    
Reza Aramesh (Iran. U.K.) 
Reza Aramesh who’s works across multiple media in sculpture, ceramics, textiles and photography looks at the notion of the historical sublime in art through the filter of contemporary reportage images of violence and horror as portrayed in media and the world of entertainment. His works operate in entendres of knowingness about the history of art, a deep sense of empathy for the subjects he depicts in the present and a delivery of irreverence, desire and beauty that has been focused into a reckoning for our age of tired watching, disinterest, spiritual lethargy and myopia.  
Arvida Byström, (Sweden) 
The myth of Pygmalion has been a recent interest in the practice of Swedish performance artist Arvida Byström. In Greek mythology the sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with his own sculpture as it represented a deeper state of beauty than that which could be found in the real world. Byström’s recent works bridges this myth into contemporaneity by introducing the perfect beauty ideal in the shape of AI powered robotics. Her sex doll Harmony has been touring with the artist in various live performances in the past few years where Byström acts as a broker between her online audiences, delivering questionnaires to Harmony in order to gain insight about beauty and the sublime in the 21st century.   
Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chile, France) 
Alejandro Jodorowsky, the now legendary representative of underground art of the latter part of the 20th century, with cult movies such as “Santa Sangre” and practically inventing an entire genre of renegade comic strip aesthetics has developed the practice of Psychomagic since the 1970’s, which acts in antithesis to Freud’s Psychoanalysis. The healing power of his Psychomagic is often relived as performance art. Beginning with the extraordinary 1972 movie “The Holy Mountain”, Jodorowsky has intertwined some of the most memorable and lasting images of his belief in humanism in contemporary times. This exhibition will screen a selection of his most iconic movies. He’s quoted in relation to a more recent self biographical movie The Dance of Reality (2014) in a scene of a young boy being covered in shoe polish by his mother, and where he deals with his own fears of the unknown: saying; “My mother dissolved in darkness. I’ve never been afraid of the night ever again.”
Hermann Nitsch (Austria *1930 +2022) 
In the home town and home country of the artist it may be superfluous to add a layman’s introduction to his long and iconic career as a leading performer of secular and mystic rituals for the latter part of the 20th Century. The interest in Nitsch inside this exhibition stem from his contributions as an observer and constructor of ritual, as well as from exploring his artistry from a standpoint as an analytical intellectual. Much in the same way as George Bataille, the French writer of the early 20th century on the horrors and mysteries of human depravity, so does Nitsch also enter the world of human regression but is able to return to us and give account of the mysterious sources for the creative spirit alongside other explorers of the mind such as Antoine Artaud and Jean Dubuffet. 
John Robinson (U.K)
“To wear heaven on your face..”, a recent quip by the artist who’s practice often involves the examination of the self as ‘other’. John Robinson works in the border regions of performance and painting where the two amalgamate into seemingly otherworldly pictures that approach the surreal. However, all his pictures are from events and situations that have been recorded in the real. Representation in Robinson’s practice take on the disguise as a means to reveal the unreliability of pictures and their meanings. Many of his works display familiarity in the various paper masks that he will dress for his pictures, some of which can be picked up cheaply in museum stores and from online outlets. Here, John Robinson puts the belief systems inherent in historical works of art such as Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia and Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and quite literally wears them on himself as a means to reach the unapproachable and conversely the impossibility to reach any state of bliss from the promise offered by these iconic images. 
Penny Slinger (USA) 
British born USA based artist Penny Slinger emerged from the 1960’s counter culture and her works, mainly in collage, have only recently been reassessed into the pantheon of 20th century art history and in particular within the realm of feminist surrealism. Her initial studies on the surrealist artist Max Ernst paved the way to her special branch of imagery that employs collage as a means to dissolve the confines that humanity finds itself in. She has been looking at our humanity as more fluid and has integrated elements of the female and male within us. Her tantric approach to art is seeking the arrival of the super-conscious, integrating and subverting the world one knows, all at once.  
Installation Views