[Photos: André Wunstorf + Peter Wolff]

Identifying instances of overlap and bleed at the interface of the digital and analogue worlds is probably one of the most pressing issues of our time.

No one addresses such matters more vividly at the moment than the artist Emma Adler.

What happens when everyone gets lost down their own private rabbit hole only then to re-emerge with allegedly secret new knowledge? Adler investigated this by going down the rabbit hole herself. She came back up bearing artefacts of contemporary life and idols of the future.

HOLISTIC PARANOIA is the third chapter in a narrative developed in three solo exhibitions over the last three years. Like the levels of a video game, the shows build on one another, drawing on familiar motifs, reframing the game and mutating. As in the two previous exhibitions SIMULATOR [SIC!]NESS (Zeppelinmuseum Friedrichshafen, 2021) and 7HE GREA7 RESE7 (Galerie Martinetz, Cologne, 2022), the gaming chair is a core feature: a chair designed so that you can sit on it as comfortably as possible while your body engages with the digital world. The chair fuses with its user, becoming an extension of the human body. It’s no big surprise, therefore, to learn that sexual assaults have recently been reported also in digital space. Avatars who are read as female tell of personal experiences that sound little different from the day-in, day-out “real” traumata faced by women in the analogue world. Distinctions between these separate spheres are growing increasingly blurred. Where does a human being begin and where does it end? And to what extent, if at all, can a human being leave their body behind?

Especially in movements of the New Right, which lace their ideologies with esotericism so as to enhance their appeal, one finds a deeply rooted hatred of women. Like racism and homophobia, such misogyny is fed by fostering a sense of the superiority of certain groups over other sections of society. This is where esotericism and right-wing ideologies dangerously fuse. Murmuring conspiracy theories based on nothing but blind faith in an undefined something or other thus quickly becomes a substitute for religion.

Blends of racist ideology and esotericism have been used time after time to establish radical ideas in a broader social context. Right-wing esotericism conjures the notion of a return to a lifestyle that will serve to restore the sorely missed “natural” order. This is achieved in part by marching through inner-city neighbourhoods to engage in the highly “natural” activity of shouting hateful slogans. Adler has portrayed such right-wing talking heads in one of her totem-like sculptures.

The object seems somehow unfamiliar, although its basic structure is still recognisable: a black urinal – with piss troughs and small separate cubicles – bearing the title “SHRN WRSHIP”. Raised on high, it virtually hovers above the setting like a shrine, an altar, awaiting worship. It illustrates how insane and absurd are these structures that inform religions and conspiracy theories. It stands as an ironic commentary on structures that systematically oppress women, drown out their voices, and exclude them. What emerges when diverse fears and personal expressions compete and collide is a menacing, looming dread, in the shadows of which a hatred of women, foreigners, and all things Other runs rife.

Adler takes up the deep roots and wider ramifications of this mindset also in her exhibition architecture. Like the forest you cannot see for the trees, the urge to worship is merged with the insignia of this new yet supposedly freer, better digital world. A dull beat thuds away in the background.

Moving to its rhythm are the “Buckler” (= someone who is bowing and scraping)– ultralight down jackets in a reddish-flesh tone, hollow and headless. That the Internet would lead also to intellectual progress is debunked as a fallacy. Progress, here, is solely of a technical nature.

Adler uses materials that underscore the aesthetics of this rather incidental scenario. For twisted notions are to be found not only in the deepest depths of the internet, but also and above all in our midst – Holistic Paranoia – in the pimped office chair or the stuffy down jacket. Adler plays with precisely this idea, juxtaposing various ideologies that are currently creating a mood in the country and which are, first and foremost, loud.

The original shimmering green Gaming Chair is here transformed into a skinny-legged prothesis: a little wobbly, but deserving of a tribute nonetheless. Whether the body becomes better and more inviolate this way is hard to say. Yet one thing becomes crystal clear in this emphatic exhibition, namely that many of these narratives propounded on an Internet that is frequently imagined to consist of nothing but mind ultimately concern nothing but bodies. Here clash the paradoxes and contraries that are part and parcel of the human condition. And nobody can escape that fact.

[Text: Laura Helena Wurth]

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