17. Mar2023-04. Jun2023Add to Calendar

What Is It Like to Be a Bat?

ExhibitionKunsthalle MainzAm Zollhafen 3-555118 Mainz
Exhibition Opening: 16.03.23, 19:00 – 22:00

Exhibition presentation of the digital work "What is it like to be a (virtual) bat?" von Zheng Mahler, erworben von ifa für ARE YOU FOR REAL

Since 7 March 2023 the major ifa-commission, the virtual artwork "What is it like to be a (virtual) bat" by Zheng Mahler is accesible on areyouforreal.ifa.de. In addition to the purely virtual form, the work can now also be experienced in physical space in the exhibition "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" at Kunsthalle Mainz from 17 March 2023 to 4 June 2023, which will present the guided meditation in virtual reality and as an immersive video installation. Videos from the research phase of the project will also be shown alongside a research zine which documents the various elements of their field research and development of the work.

Other artists of the exhibition: Dorota Gawęda & Eglė Kulbokaitė, Metahaven and Jenna Sutela.

Curated by: Yasmin Afshar (Kunsthalle Mainz).

Additional programme on 17 March: Artist talk on art, technology and science

What is it like to be a (virtual) bat? is the second artwork in Zheng Mahler's series of multispecies sensory ethnographies around the ecosystems of Lantau Island, Hong Kong. It is an attempt to acknowledge the limitations of human sensory capacities and how technology can be used to "mediate" these constraints through the embodiment of more-than-human experiences.

While the first work focused on Lantau's water buffalo population, the current one looks at the island's bats, specifically the pipistrellus abramus. Moving beyond a purely ethnographic approach to documenting the bats' behaviour, the work explores larger philosophical and anthropological questions with new technologies. As a starting point, it takes Thomas Nagel's seminal 1973 essay "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" which explored the question of whether a human being can truly understand what it feels like to experience the consciousness of non-human species.

Zheng Mahler approaches this question from the perspective of current research in virtual reality and the field of  "animal embodiment" which allows users to experience the physiological and sensory faculties of animals. By simulating the sensorimotor contingencies of what it is like to be a bat through immersive technologies, they ask the question whether we can get closer to the subjective, qualitative experience of being one.

The work has been revealed over the course of a year with the research phase taking the form of a website on the ARE YOU FOR REAL online platform commissioned by ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen in Germany. The website has functioned as a repository for the field work Zheng Mahler conducted surveying one local bat species in a village on Lantau Island, using text, thermal video, ultrasonic recordings, photogrammetry and virtual reality.

Laura Wünsche

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D-70173 Stuttgart

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