When you enter the exhibition to the stranger within by Yann Annicchiarico at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, you are initially confronted with an impression of emptiness. This is underlined by a diffuse light atmosphere that resembles a state of twilight. Only a little light penetrates through the gaps in the black Molton curtains. Only on closer inspection does one realise that the gaps are the silhouettes of insects – or more precisely moths – which the artist took from an insect identification book of the previous century (1909).
The art-historical points of reference here are numerous, ranging from 18th-century silhouettes and scientific depictions of insects in books to the Rorschach test in the early 20th century.
In the exhibition’s video work, bright apparitions appear on a dark background. You have to look more closely to identify the crawling creatures: Snails, moths, mosquitoes and flies. Annicchiarico stayed overnight in different places on the outskirts of Berlin and set up a document scanner. Lured by the bright light, the insects performed their nocturnal dance and left their imprint, distorted by the scanner’s traversing motion, as a digital image while the artist slept. The creatures cavorting freely on the scanner’s glass plate form a stark contrast to the symmetrically lined-up moths in modernist insect identification books. The geometric arrangement of creatures is familiar to us from natural history books or biological specimens and is an indicator of the Western idea that nature is subordinate to man and his intellect. Discovery, naming, categorisation and conservation are the tools with which we try to subjugate nature.
Annicchiarico’s work, however, is less concerned with animal rights issues than with a world view that has a dark void at its centre rather than the human being. For Annicchiarico, this void is a space that he leaves for the unknown, for example that of the radical alterity of a flying and nocturnal insect. An emptiness that is actually always filled with something – even if we cannot experience it.
In the first instance, to the stranger within deals with our perception. According to the artist, this stranger within is the unexplored place that conditions our perception on both a biological and cultural level. Annicchiarico’s work deals with the accommodation and mechanics of the eye and secondarily confronts our human nature with worlds, such as the inner world of moths, that are inaccessible to us. Here, the act of seeing leads to an awareness of the limits of our own understanding and the possibility of transcending these limits.