In the August edition of Double Feature, Timur Si-Qin presents his work “Attain Mirrorscape”.

What a person can say about the world that surrounds him and how he reaches such an understanding are questions philosophy has been grappling with since time immemorial. While metaphysics still attempted to decode things and to get to the bottom of them, Kant’s Copernican Revolution redirected attention from the object of the realization to the question of how reason and thus cognition itself functions. In the 20th century the so-called “linguistic turn”, for its part, brought about another paradigm shift: Thought underlies language, the theory goes. It is only language then that we can analyze and try to understand. In case of doubt whether things even exist in themselves beyond language and thus outside of our own consciousness, we are entirely unable to say, or as Wittgenstein pinpointed: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. The influence of this theory on the philosophical and sociological world was tremendous and thus to a great extent it also affected artistic trends and their reception.

Timur Si-Qin, Attain Mirrorscape (video still), 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Société Berlin

For some years this rumbled through parts of philosophical academic operations and, as some believed, caused a new paradigm shift to play out: From the linguistic turn to the material turn. Loosely summarized under the self-imposed name of New Materialism or Speculative Realism, some philosophies reflected back on metaphysics and dealt once again with reality, i.e. that which is found outside of our own minds.

Matter matters

In the exhibition “Speculations on Anonymous Materials” held at the Kassel Fridericianum from September 29, 2013, to February 23, 2014, visitors were able to see the influence of this philosophical trend on the burgeoning art scene: Alongside artists like Ed Adkins or Pamela Rosenkranz, Berlin-born artist Timur Si-Qin (born 1984) also exhibited there. His multimedia work, consisting of sculpture, video work and spatial installations, along with interviews with the artist himself all reveal how he draws directly from New Materialism. “Matter matters,” as Italian philosopher Maurizio Ferraris proclaimed at the symposium accompanying the exhibition, and it would be apt as an accompanying caption to Si-Qin’s work.

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Timur Si-Qin, Attain Mirrorscape (video still), 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Société Berlin

In his work, Si-Qin often draws upon images or products from the advertising industry, making a theme of their material nature. The sculpture series “Axe Effect” includes a shower gel bottle impaled on a Samurai sword, presented as a violent incursion into physical hygiene, and at the same time picking up on the macho image of the advertising campaign: The products bleed cleanliness. In his contribution to this year’s Berlin Biennale, Si-Qin installed an artificial landscape in his work “A Reflected Landscape”. This incorporated an LED screen, which showed live images of the exhibition room and thus the installation itself along with all its exhibition visitors. The landscape reflects itself in the eye of the technology, whilst the dividing line between technology and nature dissolves.

The portrait of an acting landscape

For some pieces, Si-Qin develops his own brand logo: “Peace”, “Truth by Peace” and currently “New Peace”. Here, “New Peace” is to be understood as the logo of a speculative future New Materialism religion with the slogan “Replication Serves Variation”. The work “Attain Mirrorscape”, which can be seen in the DOUBLE FEATURE, appears to be an almost seven-minute publicity film for the New Peace religion. Slow tracking shots reveal a virtual landscape underpinned by spherical music and recurring click sounds. If you look at “Attain Mirrorscape” in the light of the latest natural science-philosophical theories, according to which all life in the world including all flora and fauna can be understood as a sentient subject, then here you do not think you are seeing a digital, lifeless panorama, but rather the portrait of an acting landscape.

Interpreting Si-Qin’s works as ironically distanced commentary on capitalism or advertising madness is to misconstrue the work as so much post-modern concept art. Rather, in line with the speculative realists, one could understand the images, which appropriate advertising for example, as a representation of an actual reality, which exists independently of linguistic or cultural codes.

Farewell to postmodern self-referentialism

For the second part of the DOUBLE FEATURE, Timur Si-Qin decided against a classic motion picture and instead opted for a YouTube walkthrough of the video game “Until Dawn”. The game appeared at the end of last year on Playstation 4, and involves an interactive drama from the genre of survival-horror adventures. It tells the story of an outing by eight friends to a remote mountain hut, close to which two female friends disappeared without trace the previous year. “Until Dawn” consists primarily of long sequences of storytelling, during which the gamer has to make decisions at certain points which, in turn, will strongly influence the course of the story.

Timur Si-Qin, Attain Mirrorscape (video still), 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Société Berlin

As Si-Qin explains, he has been through the entire walkthrough of the game, since it can be watched easily just like an overly long genre film. He was fascinated that the game managed to present the simulated space as an actual potential of reality instead of as fiction or virtuality. Very similar, therefore, to his own works, in which the description of the world could perhaps be summarized thus: In a solely philosophical sense things gain a reality, be it virtual or not, since they always exist in one form or another. The focus here is on the objects and their material nature itself, which one can most certainly grasp as a farewell to postmodern self-referentialism.