A man is what he eats.

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Between 1835 and 1836  Ludwig Feuerbach was professor at the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. As one of the founders of materialism, his philosophy wasn’t only politically influential, his polemics against theology and idealistic philosophy paved the way for research in natural sciences, which he saw as a tool to wrest freedom from religious and absolutarian regimes. In his text „Natural Sciences And The Revolution“, written in 1850 (after the failed German Revolution 1848) he develops a political anthropology, on its last page culminating in the sentence: „Der Mensch ist was er isst“ – „a man is what he eats“.

The mosaic position on a mock-balcony on the top floor of the south refectory of the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nürnberg takes this text as cause and initiation. Architectually speaking the  balcony demands to carry a mural, qualifying almost as a „classical“ location for art. On it and with reference to natural sciences and technology, inevitably, the mosaic by Thomas Eller appears in an ironic tradition with state supporting artworks by Walter Womacka on the frieze around Haus des Lehrers on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, or the epic pictorial narratives by José Clemente Orozco at the Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, both of which represent visual culture and philosophical concepts of the 19th century..

From today’s perspective these references pose an artistic danger, because their old forms of pictorial narration are to analog and metaphysical to be able to convey appropriately the complexities of contemporary scientific, technological and artistic developments and opportunities. All areas of life are now thoroughly digitized. Research and communication appear only to be possible when sensory perception and technical processes are digitized: Matter (as well as material) and information have entered a new stage of mutual interdependency. This has become clear not only since J.F. Lyotard curated the exhibition „Les Immateriaux“ in the Centré Georges Pompidou in 1985. Consequently also artistic production of text and image relies on digital referencing. And in the face of a discussion about informationally (genetically)altered foods Feuerbach’s dictum, „a man is what he eats“ takes on a whole new meaning.

In order to give adequate shape to the above affairs one of the oldest pictorial techniques , mosaic has been applied and reformulated. Each mosaic tile laid assumes the function of a carrier for information and is no longer just a visual stimulus as in a pixelated image on a computer that had been binary coded. Instead each tile becomes part of a widely used two-dimensional code, known as QR-code. Developed between 1994 and 2000 by the Japanes company Denso the square code can hold up to 177 x 177 elements that can contain up to 2953 bytes of information (4296 alphanumeric characters).

For the south refectory codes were created that contain 137 x 137 elements. The choice of a wider chromatic range of mosaic tiles in the format of 1x 1 cm and not just black and white, transforms the QR-codes into a more „traditional“ mosaic. The total 21 Code-Tags that are positioned on the 32.5 meters wide mock-balcony reference the complete text by Ludwig Feuerbach of the above mentioned essay, rendering the artwork into a veritable riddle in textual, pictorial or informational terms. But even as the complete text is encoded in mosaic, whether or not the information can be accessed via smart phone applications or not, depends on lighting situations, perspective and decoding devices and may not work. Thus information is relegated again to a sensorily perceptible esthetic experience, that manifests itself in one of the oldest pictorial media known to us.

MOSAIC:
394,149 mosaic tiles of Venetian quality and 1 x 1 cm in dimension were used for 21 panels of 137 x 137 tiles each. Total weight is 525 kg

Material: Bisazza (http://www.bisazza.com)
Mosaic artist: Valerio Lenarduzzi (http://www.lenarduzzi-mosaic.com)

© Thomas Eller, 2011
www.thomaseller.com