top of page

with Sadie Plant

at Kunsthalle Bern


after use - features with Sadie Plant

more of a writer in passing than an artist in residence...

join me for a summer of visits to the Kunsthalle, discussions, reflections, comments and commentaries on the exhibitions



On Jackie Karuti's website, I read:


Where the body, machine & location intersect

There is no stage

There is no beginning nor ending

The play has already started


Body, machine, location opens on Friday, but the installation is underway.

first impressions

landscapes: parched, ochre, riverine, bush


crime: scenes, exhibits, reconstructions


slippages: from cactus to insect, scorpion to stars, windows to mirrors, global to intimate, weather machine to projector, sticks to gates, to rulers, to wands


routes: river, road, wooden parcours


interferences: a gazelle in the road, a song from another exhibition


dialogues: a parliament of birds, a meeting of archive and current works


questions: why are the cattle moving backwards? what do the sea creatures have to say?


answers: not yet


The first visitor I meet says: the sticks are an issue. 


An issue? 


Yes: they're too straight and narrow, too phallic, even. Sticks for me are weapons, rods, tools of measurement and control. Haven't you read Ursula Le Guin? 


Not for a while, it's true. So I go back to her texts and sure enough, in "The Carrier Bag theory of Fiction", Le Guin offers nets, sacks, and slings as alternative ur-technologies to sticks: "we've all heard all about all the sticks spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the thing to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story." 


But surely we don't want to purge our stories of sticks, no matter how straight, thin, even phallic. Here in the Kunsthalle, Karuti's sticks are also used gates, skeletal structures, ways of judging distance, making space. Susanne Leuenberger, I notice, sees them as walking canes: prostheses, crutches, things to lean and rely on, aids, supports. They might also be divining rods, or magic wands. Drum sticks. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” wrote Audre Lorde. But they may beat otherwise, mark another time, a different meter, a new rhythm.   

Ursula K. Le Guin's essay is published in Dancing at the End of the World (1989) and translated into German by Matthias Fersterer as Am Anfang war der Beutel, Warum uns Fortschritts-Utopien an den Rand des Abgrunds führten und wie Denken in Rundungen die Grundlage für gutes Leben schafft (2020) Audré Lorde's essay is available in English as a Penguin paperback, and as "Die Werkzeuge der Herrschenden werden das Haus der Herrschenden niemals einreißen", in Sister Outsider, Hanser, 2021.

animal crossings

The first contributor to the blog (thank you:)) responds to "Murder" and "Parliament" with a sense of disquiet. Seeing these video works, he writes, "made me think of how the animal kingdom is described and measured in human terms. Already the term "kingdom", as if all the beast of heaven and earth were subject to a divine hierarchy. A herd of cows, a parliament of owls, a school of fish, a herd of cattle - the way we talk about animals often anthropomorphises them in mythical ways. Instead of simply observing them, we see ourselves reflected in them, measure their behaviour in human categories of ethics, politics, even gender. Terms and ideas that must seem completely alien to the animals themselves, at least in the way we humans talk about them."


A murder of crows, a parliament of owls. "But isn't the murderous crow highly intelligent and social? And doesn't the noble owl also swallow their prey in one grotesque gulp? Humans are animals, yes. But animals are not human, as much as we'd like them to be."


As for the carrier bag, the container: this is surely the Kunsthalle itself. "Archival Ramblings", the exhibition which runs alongside and even around "Body machine location", gives a special weight to this idea that the space, the building, the institution itself is the net in which Karuti's works are gathered and displayed. Herding sticks in the gallery. Wood collected from the hills in Bern. That river - the ochre red bed in one of Karuti's videos, which never flows (even though the elephants, who never forget anything, still expect to find fresh water there and are drawn to their deaths by this memory), perched high and dry above the stone green Aare, which always flows (although always is a long time, and last summer there were rivers in the mountain which ran dry, and thousands of fish, more forgetful than elephants, died).

It's another world, says a visitor, looking here and there, from one sandstone to the other.

But that's not quite the case. Nothing is the same, it's true, but there are plenty of resonances, patterns, continuities. Not only the rivers, the hills, the stone. Also the crows, the owls, the roads, the animals with antlers, the herders with their sticks. Yes, even they are here: their cows are bigger, and the summer pastures are higher, but they too move with the seasons. Here is a sign (of a sign) in the Jura.


The Maasai believe themselves to be custodians of all the cattle in the world: from cows come not only their nourishment and wealth, but also a host of mythological elements, songs, dances, images, soundscapes. The calls of their herders, the clangs of their bells.     

"Initiative zur Rettung des Glockenklangs ist lanciert – wie geht es in Lyss weiter?" asked Stephan Künzi in the Bieler Tagblatt earlier this week (22.5.23)

Bimmelnde Kühe sorgten erst im letzten Herbst wieder landesweit für dicke Schlagzeilen: In Lyss zog ein Ehepaar alle juristischen Register, um die Tiere von der nahen Weide zu verbannen.

Die Gemeinde schützte den betroffenen Bauern zuerst, weil die beklagten Glocken nicht übermässig laut seien und Immissionen nun mal zur Landwirtschaft gehörten. Auf Weisung des Kantons musste sie aber über die Bücher gehen: «In der Nacht führt der Kuhglockenlärm zu Aufwachreaktionen und ist deshalb unzulässig», schrieben die Juristen in Bern.

Eine Lärmmessung zeigte in der Folge, dass Kuhglocken in einer Ecke der Weide tatsächlich zu laut sind. Allerdings nur bei offenem Fenster, wo doch, wie der Landwirt süffisant feststellte, das Paar in einem Minergiegebäude wohne und gar nicht über längere Zeit lüften dürfe.


Share your thoughts.

Thank you for submitting your thoughts!

bottom of page