Less is more

Less is more

By Christian Smetana

At first glance, many of Andreas Greiner’s works radiate a formal austerity. They appear objective and simple. But each holds a complexity and sarcastic humor that makes it impossible for us viewers to make ourselves comfortable in the reflective distance of an exhibition. With his work, Greiner pushes us back into our everyday lives and puts our decision-making processes to the test.

“We are all part of the problem,” says Greiner, pointing to an essential paradox when he continues, “We know where the problems lie, and we artists often take on the role of commenting on climate change or evaluating events in the global confrontation with ecological problems. This shows a dilemma that also exists in the economy, such as with start-ups that have great ideas. But with all of this, we just increase our activity. Also in art, we produce, we travel, we advertise, and we present. And it’s all the opposite of the only right thing to do, namely to significantly reduce activity.”

Driven by a fascination for the interfaces between people, nature, and the artificial, an examination of a special form of life is central to Andreas Greiner’s work. Thus we get Heinrich, a fine portrait of a broiler chicken. The portrait has long been important for rulers and the elite, and such images have a long cultural history. But Heinrich shows us a representation of a living being humans have genetically deformed. This poultry animal has a  life expectancy programmed to a minimum after a grotesquely rapid growth phase.

Heinrich, Totus Corpus, 2015, Andreas Greiner, Photo: Andreas Greiner & Theo Bitzer
Heinrich, Totus Corpus, 2015, Andreas Greiner, Photo: Andreas Greiner & Theo Bitzer

Closely related to this image is the sculpture Monument for the 308. In this representation, Greiner elevates the skeleton of a broiler chicken like Heinrich to monumental size, enlarged to a 20:1 scale. The skeleton is that of species Ross 308, the most common broiler chicken in Europe. The piece reminds us of the chicken’s ancestors, the dinosaurs. This sculpture manages at least two messages. The first, through the use of scale, is ennoblement. Greiner honors a creature that otherwise exists only to facilitate cheap meat. The second is a reminder of the extinction of a species, which might ironically seem like a hopeful future for the Ross 308.

Monument for the 308, 2016, Andreas Greiner, Photo: Jens Ziehe, Theo Bitzer
Monument for the 308, 2016, Andreas Greiner, Photo: Jens Ziehe, Theo Bitzer

In all this, the dilemma that Andreas Greiner spoke of remains a constant companion.

“Our ecological problems are so complex that there is a terrible gap between our ambitions and the results we are confronted with after our ideas have been put into practice. For me, this became frighteningly obvious in my work Jungle Memory.”

The starting point for Jungle Memory is technology, which Greiner feels is becoming omnipresent. Drones in the air, algorithms sifting our preferences, or AIs  creating works of art. For Greiner, the dominance of technology became palpable. The collapse of parts of our ecosystem and the dramatic decline of forests made Greiner ask himself what sort of forest and AI might have. From there, work on Jungle Memory began. Rendering the data for the AI-imagined forests consumed, according to programmer Daan Lockhorst Greiner, over 80 percent of an average German’s annual energy consumption. Jungle Memory is, therefore, a green forest only superficially.

It’s typical of Andreas Greiner that he not only addressed this realization, but also sought a new way of working. His current work centers on real trees, tens of thousands of them. With his project Forest for Tomorrow, Greiner reacts to the massive forest dieback that’s changing lives in many parts of Europe, as in the city of Goslar.

“The forest around Goslar, like many other forests in Germany, is part of reforestation that took place after the Second World War. These forests are spruce monocultures, and they’re all dying. Over 3,200 hectares of forests grow around Goslar. In two to three years, they’ll be gone. That changes people. It puts pressure on the psyche when your home landscape is suddenly different. If you go for a walk, you see harvesters everywhere, tearing dead trees out of the ground. Trucks carry the wood away. It’s quite apocalyptical.”

Greiner has been given three hectares of land for his project. Together with psychologist Gertrude Endejan-Gremse, he has led approximately 10,000 young people in Goslar to adopt trees. A mixed forest is now being reforested in a spiral, all trees will be plant within the next two years.

“If all this goes wrong and not a single tree grows, I hope the project will have a cultural added value that will change this region. A discussion has been initiated. Forest pedagogues have gotten involved in the schools, and the parents of these children have also had to deal with it. Through this project, we’ve gotten a concrete discussion going in this city about what our environment will look like in the future. What do we want to achieve? Few parts of society can hide from these questions.”

Jungle Memory 0001, image created with an AI trained on many thousand of forest images, programmed by Daan Lockhorst, 2019, Andreas Greiner
Jungle Memory 0001, image created with an AI trained on many thousand of forest images, programmed by Daan Lockhorst, 2019, Andreas Greiner

Geiner further says of ecology and art, “I’m convinced that the current ecological plight of this planet makes a cultural response necessary. These problems are deeply cultural! We’re all forced to break through our cultural patterns and invent something new. We walk around with a cultural worldview from 200 years ago, and we’re slowly beginning to understand what this has done and how much it’s leading to the end. For this urgently needed reorientation, and this makes me a bit optimistic, art is also very important. Here, art can help us all and open our eyes.”

The longer you look at Andreas Greiner’s work, the more surprising it becomes. It touches you in a way that leaves you looking forward to the next experience.

Copyright 2021 TFLC
Ideas for change