BY Francesca Gavin in Reviews | 13 JAN 21
Featured in
Issue 217

When Water Becomes a Commodity: Barbara Kapusta’s Digital Desert

At Gianni Manhattan, Vienna, the artist presents a dystopian future in which water has dried out and technology has failed us

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BY Francesca Gavin in Reviews | 13 JAN 21

2020 was marked by a flurry of water-related headlines. The pinnacle hit in December, when it was announced that water would soon be treated as a commodity on the Chicago stock exchange. Liquid and its loss are at the heart of Barbara Kapusta’s solo exhibition, ‘The Leaking Body Series’, at Gianni Manhattan.

Barbara Kapusta, The Leaking Bodies (2020), Gianni Manhattan
Barbara Kapusta, The Leaking Bodies, 2020, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Gianni Manhattan, Vienna

The centrepiece of the show is The Leaking Bodies (all works, 2020), a three-channel video installation on metal rods spanning floor to ceiling. The computer-rendered animation depicts a contaminated desert, devoid of human presence – except for a metallic hand hovering next to an endless pipeline. The surreal scenery is accompanied by a mixture of sounds: breathing, humming, the echo of liquid dripping,  electronic beats and a detached narrator who describes the ‘leakiness’ of humans while a blood-like, oily substance begins to spill from the pipes. Concluding with a close-up of the ghostly hand swatting away dripping liquid as the soundtrack rises, the video ends with a black screen and the voice’s request to ‘watch our intensely leaking, staining company’. In the gallery, two orange wall panels resembling misshapen teardrops contain lines taken from the films, such as ‘The loose ends of our dripping culture.’

Barbara Kapusta, The Leaking Bodies (2020), Gianni Manhattan
Barbara Kapusta, The Leaking Bodies, 2020, installation view, Gianni Manhattan, Vienna. Courtesy: the artist and Gianni Manhattan, Vienna; photograph: kunst-dokumentation.com

The hand, a remnant of the physical in a post-digital world, has also appeared as a motif in earlier works by Kapusta, such as her 2018 sculpture Hand (Upright). This signifier for the human body, as well as the central way we interface with technology, reflects our discomfort with our own physicality. The IRL body becomes a symbol of physical failure and inadequacy in the face of the digital. This is most clear in the final sequence of The Leaking Bodies – the hand flopping back and forth as if boneless. The video recontextualizes the strange layers of the technological in a frightening near future. A future where humans have failed, water has dried away and we are left with just words describing a world of ‘fluid streams’.

Barbara Kapusta, ‘The Leaking Body Series’ is on view at Gianni Manhattan, Vienna, until 6 February 2021.

Main image: Barbara Kapusta, The Leaking Bodies, 2020, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Gianni Manhattan, Vienna

Francesca Gavin is a writer, curator and Contributing Editor for Kaleidoscope and Twin, based in London, UK.

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