A Demonstration seen through the eyes of Maria Morata, member of the preselection team of Berlinale Shorts:
Creating a taxonomy and classifying the world has been the big project of modern Western science, and it still informs current modes of knowledge today. Sasha Litvintseva and Beny Wagner explore this paradigm and navigate the closed, highly structured and almost claustrophobic spaces of anatomical theatres, archives, libraries and natural science museums, all of them designed to produce, harbour and disseminate scientific knowledge. Their elaborate images of these places of wisdom and scientific progress are alternated with and dissolve into images of seemingly impenetrable forests, gardens with sculptures of mystical monsters, animals and majestic clouds to create a visual and conceptual dialectic between culture and nature. The whole is accompanied by a selected musical soundtrack that urges the viewer to keep their eyes and mind open.
Armed with their scalpels and white lab coats, naturalists and scientists confirm the existence of the material world by opening up bodies, looking inside and revealing the secret darkness of human organs and viscera. As a result, a quite vast collection of pedagogical monsters emerges, consisting of anatomical human models made of wax and wood, offering a direct and haptic vision of muscles, nerves, bones and glands for medical research – with some of them ending up in curiosity cabinets for museum visitors. Vitrines, drawers, labels, as well as illustrated books containing detailed descriptions of medieval chimeras and animal and human malformations, both inhabitants of the realm of speculation and imagination, complete the immersion into the architectural interiors that fuelled this epistemological and scientific revolution.
Through the use of flickering images showing fragmented glimpses of reality disconnected from each other, circular and dizzying camera movements, and veiled images which erase the contours of objects, a message seems to appear. A message that warns and sounds a critical voice against an atomised and parcelled-up knowledge that eludes the whole, serene and complete complexity of nature.
Does scientific knowledge wonder about the beauty (and monstrosities) of the natural world? Or does it instead worship the scientific techniques and technologies that may dangerously lead to an arrogant anthropocentric vision and the domination of nature? The final sequence of the film superimposes a hypnotic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the human male body. This does indeed allow us to see the interior of the body without the surgeon’s scalpel, but it still preserves its status on the stage of the theatre of science. To be admired. Ready for applause.
Maria Morata (Madrid 1970). Independent curator, researcher and author in Film and Visual Arts.