Press Release

Is objectivity possible, or is there no escaping our personal perspective? The exhibition What Is It Like to Be a Bat? brings together works by four artists/artist collectives who address how reality is produced. They ask about our relationship to non-human life—animals, plants, and other life forms—and they direct our attention to things in the world and science that we humans do not or cannot know or grasp.



International exhibitions

International Archives 1st half of 2023

What Is It Like To Be A Bat ?

Kunsthalle Mainz (Germany)

17.03 -04.06.2023




The question of whether objectivity is possible was posed by the philosopher Thomas Nagel in his 1974 text “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”. Nagel uses bats as a metaphor in order to highlight the differences between subjective experience and objective knowledge. Even if we have researched and proven experimentally all manner of things about how bats function, such as how they orient themselves using echo location, it will, Nagel suggests, nevertheless remain impossible to grasp how a bat actually perceives its surroundings. Put differently: Experiencing a mental state is always subjective. From the contemporary perspective, Nagel’s deliberations can be read as a call to behave more respectfully and modestly toward other life forms and forms of consciousness. This constitutes the starting point for the artistic works in the exhibition. The thought experiment with the bat forges a link to contemporary approaches that, like Nagel, insist on less human-centered positions when researching sensory and subject sensations. Empathy and coexistence between species are in their focus, as we humans, facing a world on the verge of climate collapse, we require new models for the coexistence of different life forms—life that is indispensable for an intact environment.

In this matrix where insights from the natural sciences, philosophical problems, and questions of both ethics and politics mix, the artistic approaches in the exhibition can act as bridges, speculate, and research further. Alternative knowledge systems and nature provide them sources of knowledge that expand the Western, human-centered view and shed light on reality as a multiplicity of constructs. Referencing Nagel, Hong Kong artist duo Zheng Mahler explore the limits of the human apparatus and how using technology we can transpose ourselves into transitional states between human and more-than-human consciousness. While Jenna Sutela’s sculptures engage forms of intelligence that are not of human but of plant, animal and computing origin, the film Capture (2021) by Metahaven conjures up a speculative and poetic narrative along the surprising common ground between particle physics, lichens, and bats and in so doing does not exclude the big questions of philosophy, science, and everyday life. Finally, Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė enquire in Mouthless Part III (2023) how climate change and technologization have influenced the representation of nature. Their landscapes are populated by complex, contradictory creatures who turn nature into a space for speculation.

Curated by Yasmin Afschar, Interim Director, Kunsthalle Mainz.

Exhibition 17 March - 04 June 2023. Kunsthalle Mainz, Am Zollhafen 3-5 - 55118 Mainz (Germany). T +49 6131 126936. Hours: Tuesday–Friday 10am–6pm, Wednesday 10am–9pm, Saturday–Sunday 11am–6pm.






What Is It Like To Be A Bat ? Kunsthalle Mainz, Germany

© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2023. All Rights Reserved

Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, Mouthless Part III, 2023; Zheng Mahler, What is it like to be a (virtual) bat?, 2022, Produced with the kind support of ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, in the context of the project ARE YOU FOR REAL; Metahaven, Capture, 2022; Jenna Sutela, Indigo, Yellow and Green Matter (I Magma Cycle), 2021