Lina Hermsdorf at Dortmunder Kunstverein

Artist: Lina Hermsdorf 

Exhibition title: Being A Vertebrate

Curated by: Rebekka Seubert

Venue: Dortmunder Kunstverein, Dortmund, Germany

Date: September 4 – October 11, 2020

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Dortmunder Kunstverein

Breaks are either necessary, intentional or forced interruptions, whether that of human activities or of operational functions of machines or other organisms. They foster regeneration and healing, while often also serving as an economical survival strategy. Beyond hibernation as a seasonal mechanism for reducing energy demands, certain animals can enter a dormant state of diapause, a period of arrested activity that enables an organism to overcome periods of unfavorable climate. In periods of extreme drought, the turquoise killifish (lat. Nathobranchius furzeri) native to Africa can reduce their energy requirements in the embryonic state to such a degree that their development is halted and the aging process is suspended — a standstill that can last for several months or years until the onset of redemptive rainfall that allows them to continue in their development.

In her performance and exhibition Being A Vertebrate artist and choreographer Lina Hermsdorf reflects the ability of different vertebrates to deal with necessary breaks. Through minimal interventions into the exhibition space, her new work negotiates the dialectical relationship between growth and stagnation: Alongside live killifish in an aquarium, the exhibition also presents killifish embryos in their diapause, embedded into samples of mud from south-east Zimbabwe. The space itself is lit by growing lights that light up the void below them. This setup embodies the energetic idle mode: While the growth-stimulating light beams into the emptiness, it creates a paradoxical state that Paul Virilio would refer to as “dromological” standstill (frenetic standstill).

For the performance, Lina Hermsdorf collaborated with the Malaysian-Chinese dancer Jessie Jing, whose biography was incorporated into the text and movement sequences of this new work. The exhibition presents sound recordings from the performance, like breathing sounds, that keep up the presence of the dancer’s body.

Being A Vertebrate blurs the boundaries between natural and artificial, reflecting on a performative, personal, and economic level the dichotomies of movement and standstill, life and its suspension. The spatial arrangement and the way in which the performer’s body moves through space problematize natural and economic processes of optimization. They prompt questions around what connects us – as growing and decomposing organisms, as vertebrates, as human beings and as individuals – as well as what separates and distinguishes us.

 Lina Hermsdorf was born in 1985 in Hamburg and graduated after her Theatre, Film- and Media Studies (University of Gießen) in Visual Art at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, with Prof. Peter Fischli. Lina Hermsdorf works with performance, installation and film. In her process- and time-based works she creates situations which focus on the body in its presence and absence. Her narrative works examine how technology can alter our perception of life and are contextualized against a range of connotations surrounding ideas of the organic versus manufactured materials, life cycles, and processes of optimization. Her scripts are often based on biographical elements that are collectively developed alongside her performers in the working process. Her engagement with cybernetics and biological phenomena creates a space for a non-anthropocentric way of thinking where established humanistic dichotomies such as that between nature and culture or human and animal can potentially dissolve.

Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Sanlights, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Audio (17 min), Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Killifish, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf,  Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Mud: Killifish in Diapause, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf,  Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Mud: Killifish in Diapause, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf,  Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Mud: Killifish in Diapause, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Mud: Killifish in Diapause, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Killisfish, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Sanlights, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Audio (17 min), Sanlights, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Microphone, Water, Installation View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020

Jessie Jing, Performance View, Lina Hermsdorf, Being A Vertebrate, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020, Photo: Roland Baege, Courtesy: The artist & Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2020