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Talking to Thunder Solo show, Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf, 2017
When, at the end of August 2016, it emerged that more than 300 reindeers were struck by lightning on the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in southern Norway, Julius von Bismarck immediately booked the next flight. A chartered fishing boat brought him and his team near; a day and a half later, he stood before the site of a natural catastrophe of historical proportions. The sad trophies of this journey are 130 antler tips of different lengths, sometimes a few centimetres, sometimes up to 30 cm long, which he took from the animal carcasses on the spot. Each individual antler tip, which is mounted in stainless steel for this exhibition and placed on a metal rod at the height of a reindeer head, testifies to the relentless brutality of nature, which is so inexplicable to us.
Julius von Bismarck is interested in various concepts of nature: he confronts the Western dogma of nature as an environment that is in need of protection with the image of nature as a punishing deity, a natural force which invariably devastates and is to be soothed and worshipped. In the north of Colombia, he met the shaman of an Indian tribe, whose people are stricken by the frequent thunderstorms occurring in this region, and who speaks with the thunder as if it were a real person. The title of this exhibition, "Talking to Thunder", stems from this conversation.
Since he was struck by lightning while camping in his car in the wilderness about 10 years ago, von Bismarck has been attempting to tame lightning bolts. He travelled to an atmospheric research lab in New Mexico, to a naval base in Florida, and he visited Venezuela time and again - there is a remote area where there are particularly frequent electrical storms.
The electric current between the ground and the sky can be measured. If it is particularly high, an electrical discharge can be provoked by building a bridge, for example in the shape of a Kevlar-spun copper thread, which is shot into the sky by a small rocket. In a fishing village in the middle of the Venezuelan jungle, and after long experiments, von Bismarck succeeded in capturing several lightning bolts. With a time lapse camera, he has filmed dramatic thunderstorms: lightning perforates the sky, plants sway heavily in the storm, gushes of rain whip the surface of a lake. These recordings, which are silent because of the nature of slow motion, have been set to sound with the artist’s own imitated noises. The resulting video can be seen on the third floor.
In a group of photographs von Bismarck additionally shows the lightning striking palm trees, tropical plants and a lake. The lightning bolt itself becomes a sculptural object, almost tangible.