The exhibition Animism begins with that which we are all familiar with from art and the products of mass culture—the cartoon for example—as animation. Within art, animation is a common effect used to evoke life and vitality, in particular through movement, although it is also present when art works—sculptures or specific pictures—appear to return the gaze of the viewer. However, what we accept as an effect in art is a subject of historical contention beyond its confines. What do we perceive as being alive? When we ask this question outside the field of art it invariably raises questions which call on us to provide further distinctions for the purpose of clarification. The mere effect of vitality is not to be equated with independent life, this appears beyond doubt. But where is the dividing line? What possesses a soul, life, and the power to act? That the border between animate and inanimate matter, or between pure subjects and mere objects, is in no sense a natural given is demonstrated by the simple fact that in different cultures this border is perceived and conceived of in highly different ways. Consequently, there can never be an ultimately “objective” designation of the “correct” division—in order to illustrate this in terms of one’s own culture one only has to think of the imponderables in the debate on the point of death and the definition of so called “brain death.” However, the dividing line is not a “purely” subjective matter either—after all, it is just as important for the organization of our material relations to nature as for the question of the social and political status of living beings in a specific society. Is it possible to examine this dividing line itself, together with the organizing knowledge systems and practices?
Text by Anselm Franke