Susanna Hertrich

Heather Davis "Molecular Intimacy"


→ The Avery Review, Issue 15 (April 2016)

→ Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary, Lars Müller Publishers (July 2016)



Climates: Architecture and Planetary Imaginary

(…) In a different valence, Susanna Hertrich offers a tool for molecular becoming. Her proposition is less about the commons than about the possibility of futurity, and the necessity to become-with animals and techno-objects as a matter of survival. Jacobson's Fabulous Olfactometer (JFO), a sensorial prosthesis, is worn on the head and triggers the "flehmen response" in the wearer when air pollution levels become too high. The flehmen response, which is seen in horses, elk, goats, young elephants, felines, and other animals, is characterized by a raising of the front lip to transfer air containing pheromones and other scents to the vomeronasal or Jacobson's organ, a chemosensory organ located between the roof of the mouth and the palate. The animal uses the response to detect non-volatile organic compounds, like urine and hormones. In the human prosthesis, the movement becomes a warning device. Jacobson's Fabulous Olfactometer is a prosthetic becoming-animal. The boundaries of the human sensorium are extended in an adaptation adequate to the molecular threat that we have induced in our environment—capitalism molecularized as the output of fossil fuels, particulate matter, persistent organic pollutants, plastics, flame retardants, and hormones. "Do not imitate a dog," Deleuze and Guattari write, "but make your organism enter into composition with something else in such a way that the particles emitted from the aggregate thus composed will be canine as a function of the relation of movement and rest, or of molecular proximity, into which they enter." This becoming-animal, which is figured as the future of human life, an accelerated human evolution driven by existing technology, is meant to help us cope with extreme environments. Hertrich's prosthesis creates a kind of involutionary movement, a transversal space that adapts a response meant, most often, for sexual pleasure, here turned to a world of threat, but that still retains the capacity for play, and excitable communication. It is an "achievement" in the sense that Isabelle Stengers means, "as a collective participation of more-than-human agencies in a changing world."(…)


Desiree Förster "Being Interspecies:
Negotiation Processes of Subjectivity and the Event Beyond Representation"


→ Andreas Greiner "Anatomy of a Fairytale" Hrsg. Stefan Vicedom, Verlag für Moderne Kunst (May 2016)



Anatomy of a Fairytale

(…) Artists like Susanna Hertrich see the body as an instrument of sensual perception. She examines how machines enhance human emotions or can arouse non-human instincts. In her work Jacobson's Fabulous Olfactometer (JFO) (2014), she uses invented prosthetics to investigate the extent to which phenomena like the Flehmen response, employed by some mammals to detect and analyze scents by curling their upper lip, can be integrated into the human machine in order to examine such information as the level of air pollution. These artists and designers, who through their confrontation with living processes could perhaps be regarded as new artistic generation, are operating against a background of social, geological, and global crises before which our established categories, great truths, and harmonizing narratives are laid bare as inadequate in the light of the complexity of today's technological, societal, and planetary changes. With the loss of humankind's counterpart in the form of nature, technology, and animal, the artists mentioned pose the question of the location of the human subject in these altered contexts. (…)


"Man/Machine" Form magazine, No. 266 (July/August 2016)



Man/Machine Form Magazine

The themes and forms of expression of Susanna Hertrich's work move between art, design, and technology. As part of various artistic research projects, she has been involved in expanding existing human qualities, such as the ability to empathise, or adding missing qualities. In Prostheses for Instincts, for example, abstract or remote dangers, such as a stock market crash or crime rates can be felt by prostheses on the body and trigger natural reactions like fear.


Alison Hugill Studio Visit


→ Berlin Art Link (November 2015)



Susanna Hertrich’s artistic practice occupies a privileged position as both interpreter and active participant in the otherwise largely inaccessible world of scientific research. Since 2008, she has been working on a series of prosthetics, sensory extensions that have emerged from her close work with scientists and her personal fascination with the study of animal and human instincts as physical responses. Her current exhibition at Art Laboratory Berlin in Wedding shows a fine balance of well-researched cyborg prosthetics and aesthetically beautiful photographs and drawings of her carefully crafted biological armour. We visited Hertrich in her home in Neukölln, which accommodates her brightly-lit studio space as well. While studying at the Royal College of Art in London, Hertrich came across a book by John Gray called "Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals" – or, as she tells me, the slightly more provocative German title 'Abschied vom Humanismus' – which sparked her interest in the biological congruences between human and animal. The ever-increasing institutional fascination with the so-called anthropocene places human beings at the forefront of history and knowledge, denying our intimate relationship to the animal kingdom. In her latest works, Hertrich explores this oversight by imagining several instinctual responses that humans could learn from animals, by way of prosthetic extensions. Her recent piece "Jacobson's Fabulous Olfactometer"; is an elaborate head-gear, which mimics mammalian flehmen when air pollution levels are high. The lip of the JFO wearer is curled back as a response to increased toxins in the air. This reaction – common to many animals – is re-contextualized as a useful tool for humans living in highly polluted urban centres. Hertrich has a self-professed utilitarian approach to art-making, which can be seen clearly in her prosthetic works, however speculative they may be. Nevertheless, they are not without artistic merit: the outer appearance of these apparatuses seem to reflect a nostalgic scientific aesthetic, resembling turn of the 20th century, leather-clad interrogation devices rather than sleek 21st century digital technologies. A lot of Hertrich's current studio work is done at her desk, researching sensory perception. She's about to embark on an extended project in Switzerland, with collaborator Shintaro Miyazaki, at the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures in Basel. The pair are interested in animal perception – how animals see the world and sense the invisible, particularly through electro-reception. A big part of Hertrich’s practice involves actively engaging in scientific research, whether as a teaching fellow or through contributions of peer-reviewed scientific conference papers. I ask her about whether she is taken seriously within the discipline, and she mentions the exciting possibilities brought on by this kind of collaboration – the ability of artists to present refreshing perspectives on scientific discourse by simply eschewing certain deeply engrained traditions and methodologies. She regards her studies as wildly speculative but in many ways, speculation is a huge part of scientific inquiry.(…)


Greta Louw "Prosthetic Devices for the Modern Psyche"


→ Hyperallergic (November 2015)



(…) Susanna Hertrich is as much a designer and researcher as she is an artist; her show at ALB constructs a narrative in which human senses, instincts, and emotions are prosthetically enhanced to better suit the specific challenges of the 21st century. "Jacobson's Fabulous Olfactometer (JFO)" (2014), for example, is a device worn on the head and face that incorporates air pollution sensors and will mechanically elicit a flehmen response (a behavior that many mammals exhibit whereby the upper lip is curled back to expose the front teeth) when levels become too high. A slide in the accompanying video explains that "the vomeronasal or Jacobson's organ allows animals to "smell" chemicals, thus providing them with a secondary olfactory sense". The video covers the problem of extreme air pollution in cities like Beijing and leaves the viewer wondering how humans managed to miss out on this common mammalian response — and even whether we’d interact with our environment differently if we hadn't.
The "Alertness Enhancing Device" (2008) cleverly and succinctly juxtaposes the increased psychological pressure of the contemporary world — perceived threat of terrorist attacks fuelled by media ballyhoo, for instance — with the customarily downplayed and ignored real hazards of climate change and environmental pollution. In Hertrich's work, text plays a critical role in communicating the complex philosophical and conceptual background of each prosthesis, and the "Alertness Enhancing Device" is shown in the manner of a history museum display, with neatly printed graphic visualisations of the relative risks of phenomena like terrorist attacks, plane crashes, car accidents, or cancer. Instructions explain that the device is to be worn while watching or reading the daily news and that it will administer mild electric shocks to stimulate goosebumps and raised hairs — bodily reactions similar to those caused by natural instincts. Thus, like Pavlov's dogs with bells, the wearer is trained to be more physiologically alert in the face of real danger.
The show speaks clearly to Hertrich's comprehensive research and expertise, presenting each piece alongside information about the scientific research that underpins it. Many of the devices evolved out of collaborations with international scholars and universities, blurring the boundaries between artistic investigation and technological experimentation, factual data and fictional solutions. Yet the exhibition retains a strong sense of aesthetic considerations. Several of the works feel curiously retro, with brown leather and chrome fixtures; this is a welcome change from the glut of obtrusively "futuristic"-looking works often associated with transhumanism. (…)


Carola Hartlieb-Kühn "Reparatur von Wirklichkeit"


→ Art in Berlin (November 2015)



(…) Unter dem Titel "PROSTHESES. Transhuman Life Forms" zeigt der Projektraum Art Laboratory Berlin derzeit eine Ausstellung mit Werken von Susanna Hertrich. Susanna Hertrich, die an der Schnittstelle von Kunst, Wissenschaft und Design arbeitet, setzt sich mit Prothesen und Gerätschaften auseinander, die eine transhumane sensorische Erweiterung darstellen.Dem Einsatz einer Prothese geht normalerweise der Verlust eines Körperteils durch einen Unfall, eine Krankheit oder durch ein sonstiges Trauma voraus. Susanna Hertrich schafft hingegen Prothesen, um auf Umweltgefahren oder politische und gesellschaftliche Konflikte in der Gegenwart und Zukunft reagieren zu können. Dazu ergänzt sie unseren Sinnesapparat und nutzt neueste Technologien, "um da einzuspringen, wo uns die Evolution im Stich gelassen hat" – so Hertrich in einem früheren Interview. Wie sich zeigen wird, versinnbildlichen die auf der Idee transhumaner Erweiterungen entwickelten Werke keine posthumanen Visionen, sondern vielmehr einen kritischen Diskurs über die menschliche Bewusstwerdung in bestimmten sozialen und politischen Kontexten. (…)


Tamara Marszalkowski "Prothesen als Thesen"


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 25.11.2015



Jacobson's Fabulous Olfactometer ist eine Prothese für den Kopf. Genauer: für die Nase. Sind Schadstoffe in der Luft, setzt sie einen Mechanismus in Gang, der die obere Lippe des Trägers hochzieht. Eine Verhaltensäußerung wie bei einigen Säugetieren, die gezielter Witerung dient. Es handelt sich hierbei um eine künstlerische Arbeit, die zur Zeit im Kunstverein Art Laboratory Berlin in der Ausstelliung "Transhuman Life Forms" zu sehen ist. In ihrer künstlerischen Forschungsarbeit untersucht Susanna Hertrich die Bedeutung der Prothese für das 21. Jahrhundert. Das Olfactometer entstand während eines Aufenthalts an der Universität Peking, da lag die Smogproblematik nicht fern.
Susanna Hertrich arbeitet an Prothesen für Instinkte, die der Mensch nie entwickelte. Während sich seine Umwelt veränderte und die Probleme komplexer wurden, blieb der Körper des Menschen unverändert- Weder ergonomisch geformt npch praktisch in der Handhabe, sind Hertrichs Prothesen eher sperrig und auffällig. Sie sind künstlerische Hypothese und technisches Experiment zugleich. Prothesen im klassischen Sinne stellen einen körperlichen Zustand wieder her oder gleichen eine Behinderung aus. Die „Prothesen für Instinkte“ hingegen beziehen sich auf Immaterielles: sie sollen ihrem Träger Instinkte verleihen und vor abstrakten Gefahren warnen, etwa plötzlichen Einbrüchen am Aktienmarkt oder Erdbeben. (…)


Zylvia A. Auerbach "Gloomy haven"


Text zur Ausstellung in der Felix Ringel Galerie/garage (Januar 2010)



Manchmal begegnet einem Unvertrautes, etwas, das fremd erscheint und nicht eingeordnet werden kann. Denn der Alltag findet in scheinbar objektiv erfassbaren Raum- und Zeitstrukturen statt, die dann fremd werden, wenn etwas sie durchbricht. Für Susanna Hertrich ist eine Skulptur mehr als nur ein bloßes Objekt. Bei ihr darf sie sich als mineralogisch anmutender Serviceroboter im kuscheligen Bett über den Technikwahn erheben oder in Gestalt von kleinen Windrädern, ausgelöst durch einen Bewegungsmelder, tanzend performen ("Outside/Inside" 2008). Im Bewusstsein von Vergeblichkeit ist die Möglichkeit des Scheiterns allgegenwärtig, denn "es könnte auch alles ganz anders sein". Dunkle widersprüchliche Gedanken charakterisieren das Dilemma menschlicher Existenz und werfen unlösbare Fragen auf. Die Werke Susanna Hertrichs sind der Versuch diese Grenzerfahrungen in Bildern zu verdichten.
Wenn die Künstlerin eine Form zum Gegenstand ihrer Arbeit macht, dann wird dieses Ding zu etwas anderem und trägt fortan einen weiteren, besonderen Sinn mit sich. Um etablierte Sehgewohnheiten zu unterlaufen und neue Erfahrungen zu ermöglichen werden Kalender, Spiegel, Lampen, Windräder – um nur einige Objekte aus der Welt des Realen zu nennen – "behandelt" und in ihrer Funktion verändert. Der Gedanke des Performativen spielt dabei eine zentrale Rolle, auch der Gebrauchsanweisungscharakter von Titeln und beigefügten Texten ist nicht unwesentlich, geht es in erster Linie doch um Soziologisches und Mentales. (…)
In der Tradition des "Crossover" arbeitet die in Berlin lebende Künstlerin gleichzeitig mit unterschiedlichen Medien: Skulptur, Installation und Fotografie. Bereits schon während ihres Studiums in London beginnt Susanna Hertrich mit Installationen, die den menschlichen Körper und sein Sensorium zum Thema haben. Die surreale Phantasie in der Produktion von Objekten wird mit einer Mechanik und Konstruktion gekoppelt, die unbelebten Objekten Leben einhaucht. Der Traum von der beseelten Puppe oder dem Automaten, wie er bereits Jahrhunderte zuvor geträumt wurde, erlebt hier eine poetische, suggestive Fortsetzung durch die Interaktion des Betrachters. (…)
Die Vision der Künstlerin ist eine zeit-räumlich gemeinsam mit dem Rezipienten erlebbare Wirklichkeit; sind es doch stets die Benutzer der Apparate, die eine Arbeit mit ihren unausgesprochenen Ängsten und geheimen Wünschen erst komplettieren. Interagierende, reagierende, belebbare Plastiken, die den Menschen in den virtuellen Raum – in offener Zeitrhythmik – hineinführen, ihn begleiten und in ein innovatives künstlerisches Wirklichkeitskonzept als Bestandteil des plastischen Werkes integrieren.