Since 2003, Herwig Turk has been engaged in an in-depth dialogue with various scholars and researchers in the natural and human sciences. In a spirit of mutual inspiration, he involves these scientists in his artistic process. Over a period of seven years, together with a leading cell biologist, Paulo Pereira of the Centre of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences in Coimbra, Portugal, Turk has carried out numerous projects that have been presented both at international exhibitions and in relevant symposia. From 2010 to 2013, Herwig Turk was artist in residence at the Institute of Molecular Medicine of the University of Lisbon. This is also where his most recent work was produced, a four-channel video installation, “The conversation that never took place”, which can now be viewed in Austria for the first time.
In his work, Turk has for years been investigating, in closest proximity, the material culture of the high-tech laboratory, probing, together with scientists, the “unreality” of images produced and utilized in science. He questions the routines and conventions of laboratory work, and in particular the so-called “tacit knowledge” stored in the bodies of men and women involved in research. He identifies ideological motives that lie hidden in the “thought collective” – to use Ludwig Fleck’s term – of the life sciences. In an area of artistic endeavor that takes today’s science as a point of departure, the works done by Turk truly stand out – free from aesthetic bias – looking squarely into the eyes of highly charged cognitive and political debates.
With the 4-channel video installation The conversation that never took place (2013), the artist establishes a point of intersection that allows molecular biologists to articulate attitudes and uncertainties connected with fundamental questions of science. By editing videos of four individual studio interviews and making use of four monitors, the artist creates a “setting” for what seems to be a joint discussion among the scientists of topics they would never actually discuss together. The superficially innocuous aspect here is deceptive, for these research personalities find themselves enmeshed, as it were, in historical contexts in which they are perceived as asserting their individuality.
In the video work hands on (vers. 3), dated 2014, the viewer is brought into a space reminiscent of a laboratory. The black and white grid that serves as a background on both channels is a reference to the classical frames of chronophotography and to the tiles typically seen in the laboratory for molecular medicine. This space becomes the scene of the action, action that is limited to the shadow-like movements of two hands. As if on a stage, the hands become actors – the sole actors here, garbed in tight-fitting protective gloves and the sleeves of the obligatory white lab smock. The minimized visual arrangement totally focuses the viewer’s attention on what is implicitly known by the person whose hands are in motion and present, somehow, in the gestures of these hands.
The hands in motion were filmed in the studio by two cameras and can thus be viewed both frontally and in high-angle shot at the same time on two video screens, one mounted horizontally and the other vertically. In this way, the installation follows filming procedures that are used for laboratory test set-ups and that serve to produce so-called utility films for the purposes of research in the natural sciences.
Herwig Turk lives and works in Vienna and Lisbon.
His projects probe the interconnectivity of the fields of art, technology and science. From 2010 to 2013, he has been artist in residence at the Instituto da Medicina Molecular (IMM), Lisbon.
From 2003 to 2009, Turk worked together with Paulo Pereira, head of the Department of Ophthalmology at IBILI (Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Life Sciences) at the University of Coimbra. In recent years, his work has been shown at venues such as the Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, the Seoul Museum of Art, the Neues Museum Weserburg in Bremen, the Media Art Laboratory TESLA, the Galerie Georg Kargl in Vienna and the Transmediale in Berlin, to mention only these. Herwig Turk is currently working on a monographic exhibition for the Carinthian Museum of Modern Art (MMKK).