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Eva Grubinger: Kiasma. (Reviews - Helsinki).

Eva Grubinger's Operation R.O.S.A., 2001, is a kind of Gesamkunstwerk, orchestrating sound, sculpture, and the moving image to assay what might be called the new-economy consciousness. It features a several-meter-high video projection of a baby, as happy as in a diaper commercial and playing with a rattle comprised of emblematic objects in different colors. On the floor is a sculptural version of the rattle, in a I:I ratio with the oversize screen version--a scale disjunction which makes the sculpture eerily calibrated for paranoid speculation about its symbols: a triangular Moebius strip, an inverted mushroom, a star, and a honeycomb.

The gallery is filled with the histrionic voice of a young woman reminiscing about her East German childhood. Rosa is the narrator's name, as well as an acronym for Rechnergestutzte Orientierung der Selbst-Ausbildung (Computer-Aided Orientation of the Self). Rosa's parents were employed by Robotron, East Germany's computer-technology trust, working as scientific researchers developing a conditioning program for a new human being who would be at once a capitalist individualist and a socialist egalitarian. The Rosa/R.O.S.A. identification in the title reflects the narrator's suspicion that she has been her parents' lab rat for the conditioning program, the prototypical utopian operant. Teutonic punk-rock legend Nina Hagen, herself a former East German citizen, delivers a vigorous reading of Rosa's self-examination. Hagen perfectly translates the ambiguity of identity, sounding like a machine one moment and a young mother the next.

The projection of the baby is a looming symbol of a new beginning for the human race. And it prompts questions as to who we are--consistent egos, or synthetic subjectivities engineered by information networks and education systems? In a metaphorical sense, genetic manipulation of the human body is already taking place in the way social machines distribute the self. With the both sublime and ominous new possibilities for human engineering come pointed questions of teleology: Where do we want to take our history and our progeny? Which criteria should be applied in the selection of historical memory?

But for all its questioning, Operation R.O.S.A. reaches a closure, a sort of symbolic stasis. Yes, it's thrilling to hear Nina Hagen read Grubinger's fiction. The rattle, transmuted out of its two-dimensional existence and materialized on the floor, seems so weirdly real and out of proportion that it deserves to be up there in a post-sculpture hail of fame with weight benches in Vaseline and the like. And conspiracy theories, utopian conditioning in the nuclear family, macropolitical paradigm shifts, and a pinch of freemasonry could make for a bumpy ride. But in the end, Operation R.O.S.A.'s elegantly orchestrated analysis is delivered with such rational balance that its criticisms remain innocuous. The work is less delirious than the mutations of the reality surrounding it.

As John Miller puts it in his catalogue text, our contemporary fascination with utopian structures stems from "an obsolescence of visions rather than practices." Operation R.O.S.A. evokes this at the frontier of highly specialized biotech practices, where possibilities for creating a world of one's own are better than ever. Visual arts production, of course, is a privileged cultural platform for such speculation. When engaging with issues that are "now" to the degree that Grubinger's subject matter is, the necessity for new points of orientation becomes pressing. Operation R.O.S.A. reflects the way our world is being engineered and reimagined this very moment. This is a process that cries out for interpretative tools that only a new vision can give us.
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Author:Larsen, Lors Bang
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:595
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