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Imagine that you are standing in the micro-studio of a street artist in Luanda, and the next moment you find yourself behind a guy picking up money from a Western Union Counter in Nairobi. Suddenly you are on a stage with a young spoken word poet in Berlin and see people in the audience sharing images of this moment on Instagram. You step out of that Berlin bar into a gallery space in Lagos and from there move into the abstract digital universe created by an art collective in Jakarta

How do we interpret and apprehend what we are seeing and experiencing? The continual digitalization of the world impacts cultural production. How does this happen? When and why does ‘realness’ start, and where does it end, if at all? These questions have been explored by many thinkers – from artists to scientists to philosophers – and gain particular relevance in current debate, as tensions between the physical and the digital increase. These tensions create new possibilities of accessibility, which is not only important for growing and maintaining networks, but also for the daily, if not hourly, movement of ideas, commissions, and money between global collaborators. All these factors have never been more pressing than they are now, during a time of worldwide crisis. Paradoxically, as we move towards immaterial experiences, we increasingly rely on physical infrastructure to construct them – from fibre optics cables to data centres.

An average teenager spends around eight hours ‘connected’ per day. Some people have millions of friends on social networks, and much of contemporary communication and interaction takes place in virtual environments. Concepts such as digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are steadily becoming a bigger part of our daily routines and cultural practices. Video games expose us more and more to alternative, inspirational universes, and algorithms impact our decision-making or even take control of our behaviour. Simultaneously, we seem to assume that it is evident that we live in a world that is real and easier to reach and grasp than ever before. 

Realness exists on many levels, in different perspectives and temporalities.

What is real about an entire continent, a country, or a person? What is real about a digital image presented in the daily news and on social media? Which perspectives are ‘more’ real? ‘Realness’ here refers to a common understanding that because of constant digital interconnectedness we see, learn, and know about the world in ‘real-time’.

The web-based project ‘ARE YOU FOR REAL’ is about engaging with and visualizing connections of people, thoughts, things, and places – communication happening through the trading and training of data. It addresses the material and immaterial aspects of the ‘digital’ and how they are perceived from the perspectives of various disciplines: artists, researchers, and coders are commissioned to create works that offer us their understanding of and approach to reality. 

This ongoing project is a platform of exchange that supports formats such as exhibitions, workshops, digital art spaces, and apps. It takes place in arbitrarily chosen sites, as wide-ranging as betting halls, post offices, gaming venues, and cultural centres. 

While there is no intention of forming a linear narrative, a thread links the events and creates moments of encounter. Like the children's game in which a message is created, passed on, and distorted between one player to another through whispering, the outcome is always unexpected and unpredictable. This playful approach generates conversations between perspectives and concepts, helping explore the overlaps and interstices that link fields, formats, and contexts.

The artworks produced will change during the course of the project, as new artists join and take over, add, and react to them. This means that certain qualities of a traveling exhibition will become visible, articulated through the touring of thought and the changes and traces in each work.

The approach for this project challenges the decades-long format of touring exhibitions, as developed by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, an institute for international cultural relations), by sending exhibitions of art from Germany around the world. ‘ARE YOU FOR REAL’ aims to create an international cultural exchange as well as a contemporary co-creative practice of exhibition-making. The challenge is to deconstruct the inflexibility of the classic touring format and explore other models that respond to the questions we are posing through international collaboration and new artistic production.

Julia Grosse, Paula Nascimento, Yvette Mutumba

Enter Artworks
Exit room
Enter Room1
Enter Room2
Project Team Phase 1
Mathias Becker
Ruben Bürgam
Imbrahim Cissé
George Demir
Nolan Oswald Dennis
Gertrūda Gilytė
Kidus Hailesilassie
Marcel Heise
Asmaa Jama
Can Karaalioglu
Zaidda Kemal
Sayaka Katsumoto
Yuyen Lin-Woywod
Luïza Luz
João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga
Rasheedah Phillips
Nelly Yaa Pinkrah
Théo Pożoga
Ainslee Alem Robson
Xiaoyu Tang
Andi Teichmann
Dior Thiam
Michelle M. Wright
Nushin Isabelle Yazdani
Zheng Mahler
Julia Grosse, Yvette Mutumba, and Paula Nascimento
Project management
Nina Frohm and Sabiha Keyif, Visual Arts Department, ifa
Website conception, design, and technical realisation
Yehwan Song,
Social media communication
Will Fredo Furtado
Jenifer Evans (English)
Andreia Pugliese (Portuguese)
Camilo Jiménez Santofimio (Spanish)
Myriam Ochoa-Suel (French)
The language used in this artwork is English
Nolan Oswald Dennis (developed with Noa Mori)
Commissioned and produced on behalf of ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)
> Is your house in order? > Is their house in order? > Is our house in order? > Is my house in order? (Bambara variations) 
About this game:

  a takes the form of a generative essay-game: a procedural study in distributed poetics where every fragmented statement is assembled from bits and pieces, estranged and recollected. Inspired by Dambudzo Marechera’s Black Sunlight and Toni Cade Bambara’s On the Issue of Roles, a is a digital prototype for forming relations with amorphous and indeterminate archives of: Black liberation dreaming > which is liberation dreaming > which is dreaming > which is liberation. 

a is a longness for telling us nothing we don’t already know.

In other words, a black sun rises and ‘one has to be in a perpetual state of change, without holding on to any certainties’1. ‘It may be lonely. Certainly painful. It’ll take time. We’ve got time.’2 
1. Dambudzo Marechera, interviewed by Alle Lansu, February 1986, in Flora Veit-Wild, Dambudzo Marechera: A Source Book on his Life and Work (Oxford: Hans Zell, 1992).
2. Toni Cade Bambara, ‘On the Issues of Roles’ in Toni Cade Bambara (ed.), The Black Woman: An Anthology (New York: The New American Library, 1970).
This is an embedded YouTube video. To view the video here, please agree to download it from the YouTube server by clicking on the image. Personal data may also be transmitted to YouTube in this process. You can find more information here
This work can be experienced either with or without VR glasses.
The language used in this artwork is English, with some German passages.
Into the Pluriverse
Nushin Yazdani & Can Karaalioglu
feat. Aylin Karabulut, Dounia Hagenauer, Rafiou Bayor, Tiara Roxanne and Ulla Heinrich
VR work
Commissioned and produced on behalf of ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)
Realness exists on many levels and through different perspectives and temporalities. What is real about an entire continent, a country, or a person?

When do things become real? Does a perspective become more real when it is reflected by media interest? Are privileged perspectives more real than others? Who can judge if something is real? Who is allowed to judge? Is there greater realness today because we can experience more perspectives online? Or is this moment just a brief interlude until marginalised voices get fed up with the steady salty swell of hatred they face, fostered by unjust design systems and algorithmic violence, and decide to back away? How are folks creating their/our own non-reformist reforms amid the digital-analogue mess? What are our communities’ positive visions for pluralist futures? Can they become more real when we share them?

With Into the Pluriverse, we enter through a wormhole into five different lives, different places, and different perspectives. One by one we encounter five people and experience how their thoughts interact. Tiara, an Indigenous cyberfeminist, scholar, and artist who investigates encounters between the Indigenous body and AI in writing and in performances with textiles. Aylin, who conducts scientific research into institutional racism, bringing proof and inspirational acknowledgement to many. Ulla, who serves as managing director of the queer feminist Missy Magazine while constantly pushing boundaries in her production of music and art festivals off the beaten track. Douniah, a singer, songwriter, and community activist with big visions and a powerful voice. And Rafiou, an exceptional digital and analogue artist creating 3D imaging with bold strokes.How do these remarkable artists, scientists, and feminists envision our collective future? What do they fight and wish for? And what do they have to say to each other? What questions arise within this discourse?
Featured artists:
Aylin Karabulut is a migration and inequity researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen. After completing her teacher's degree in German and social sciences, which also took Aylin to the US and Brazil, she completed her master of education with honours at the University of Duisburg-Essen in 2018. Her final thesis on students' experiences of institutional racism in the German school system received attention throughout Germany. Aylin is currently working on a doctorate entitled "Schulische Rassismuskritik" (criticism of institutional racism in schools).
Twitter: @_aylinkarabulut
Aylin’s poem for Into the Pluriverse is read by Leila Essa, a literary scholar who currently teaches at Trinity College Dublin

Douniah is a Berlin-based singer, writer, and visual artist from Hamburg and Agadir. The interdisciplinary artist processes her Amazigh and German cultural heritage and identity in a mix of soul, indie, and poetry-influenced sound and visual concepts. In collaborative projects with Kabulfire Records Producer Fuchy, with High John, as well as with Treibhaus-Kollektiv, she has been active as singer, producer, filmmaker, and storyteller. She is currently working on a solo music project, which we will hear and see in 2021.
Instagram: @douniahagenauer

Rafiou Bayor is a 3D and visual artist from Munich known for his bold strokes and monochrome colour schemes. His recent work is influenced by spontaneity and simplicity, and inspired by childhood memories, cartoons, friends, family, basketball, and nonsense. Currently he is focused on drawing facial expressions and exaggerating them. Rafiou is part of the artist duo 4d.lab, an experimental multidimensional platform for visual art.
Instagram: @randomrafiou

Tiara Roxanne is an Indigenous cyberfeminist, scholar, and artist based in Berlin investigating encounters between the Indigenous body and AI. More particularly, she explores the colonial structure embedded within artificial intelligence learning systems through writing and through performance with textiles. Currently her work is mediated through the colour red. In 2013 she received the Zora Neale Hurston Award from Naropa University, where she earned her MFA. Under the supervision of Catherine Malabou, Tiara completed her dissertation, "Recovering Indigeneity: Territorial Dehiscence and Digital Immanence," in June 2019. She is currently a researcher at DeZIM-Institut.
Tiara’s audio track for Into the Pluriverse has been audio engineered by the composer Abigail Toll.

Ulla Heinrich studied cultural education and cultural management and worked for many years in cultural and neighbourhood projects with children and young people before turning to project management and communication. As an accomplished music nerd, she organises punk concerts and free educational events with her queer-feminist collective. She develops emancipatory utopias for a feminist future together with artists, scientists, and activists as part of her collective dgtl fmnsm. Ulla is managing director of Missy Magazine, the leading German-language magazine for pop, politics, and feminism.
What is it like to be a virtual bat?
Zheng Mahler
mixed media (text, infrared photography, ultrasonic recordings, drone video, photogrammetry, virtual reality system)
Commissioned and produced on behalf of ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)
What is it like to be a virtual bat? is the second work in Zheng Mahler’s series of multispecies, sensory ethnographies around the ecosystems of Lantau Island, Hong Kong. It is an attempt to acknowledge the limitations of human sensory capacity and how technology can be used to mediate these through the embodiment of more-than-human experiences. The first work in the series, presented at Para Site Hong Kong and UCCA Dune in Beidaihe, China, was the culmination of long-term fieldwork conducted with the wild water buffalo and cow populations living in Lantau Island; it explored the buffalo’s unique sonic experience of the landscape through hearing that peaks at 40,000hz, almost double that of humans at the ultrasonic level. This new work takes a similar approach in using technology to communicate the more-than-human experience of Lantau’s non-human inhabitants by focusing on the native lesser short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis) while also incorporating elements of philosophy and anthropology. The starting point was philosopher Thomas Nagel’s seminal 1973 essay ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ which introduced the problem of qualia or the ‘hard problems of consciousness’ to philosophy. The essay explores whether the mind is reducible to an emergent faculty of the brain and human physiology, or if an aspect of the ‘raw feels’ of consciousness, the subjective quality of experience, is irreducible to the brain’s material structures. Nagel conducted a thought experiment by asking whether it is possible to ever understand what it is like to be a bat. Zheng Mahler’s approach to this question is empirical and draws from the field of VR, with its recent focus on animal embodiment, and the sensations of presence this can induce, as a strategy for creating greater empathy between humans and animals. Working with drones, virtual reality, and 3D scanning, and photogrammetry, Zheng Mahler attempt to simulate the bat’s sensorimotor contingencies in order to ask whether replicating the physical properties of being a bat can get us close to the subjective qualitative experience of being one. The project also attempts to engage with a neglected aspect within animal embodiment using VR, which has a bearing on Nagel’s approach to the question of qualia: the transitory, liminal states between human and animal, and how important these are to the possibility of understanding non-human ontologies.
Mmere Dane: Black Time Belt
Rasheedah Phillips (Black Quantum Futurism)
digital collage
Commissioned and produced on behalf of ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)
Mmere Dane: Black Time Belt maps several historic all-Black towns and Freedom Colonies around the United States that were destroyed by displacement, development, racist violence, and environmental injustice. The site functions as a speculative archive of an alternative past-present-future where all those towns survive and form a network of Black temporal zones—or a Black Time Belt—protecting their communities from the impacts of temporal oppression, namely unhealthy measures of time as linear and progressive. Mmere Dane: Black Time Belt evades linear progressive histories and the legacies of spatial displacement of Black communities, allowing for a transcendence of space-time. “Mmere Dane,” an Adinkra symbol meaning “time changes” or “times change” in the Akan language, signifies the dynamic nature of change and the temporary nature of any state of events.
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enter artwork
PHASE 1: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A (VIRTUAL) BAT? This first phase of the project will involve the writing of an essay engaging with the various interlocking disciplinary approaches to the question of consciousness and reality which Zheng Mahler’s work seeks to examine.
Coming soon
Phase 2: A FIELD SURVEY OF BAT SPECIES ON LANTAU ISLAND, HONG KONG This phase will involve field research on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, specifically in and around the village of Mui Wo, to identify the varieties of bat species living in the area. Several identification methods will be borrowed from systems used by bat workers to conduct field surveys of bat populations, with the data collected becoming the basis for visual and sound-based artworks. VISUAL IDENTIFICATION Roosting and feeding areas for the bats will be located using visual identification techniques, with Hong Kong bats known to inhabit caves, drainpipes, and the fronds of the Chinese fan palm and banana leaves. The bats species known to inhabit Lantau Island include the short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx), the himalayan roundleaf bat (Hipposideros armiger), the pomona roundleaf bat (Hipposideros pomona), the greater bent-winged bat (Miniopterus magnater), and the intermediate and large horseshoe bats (Miniopterus magnater). ACTIVE ACOUSTIC IDENTIFICATION Active acoustic identification of bat species inhabiting a demarcated area in Mui Wo will be conducted using an ultrasonic microphone connected to a real-time spectrogram making recordings of bats feeding in specific areas. The spectrogram recordings will be compared with spectrograms of bat calls made in other geographical locations to help with identification, while heterodyne techniques will be used to pitch shift the calls into human-audible ranges. These recordings and accompanying spectrograms will be presented on the project website as field documentation. THERMAL VIDEOS OF BATS Using a modified camera in which the dichroic filter used for passing infrared light has been removed and replaced with colour filters for absorbing visible spectrums, video documentation of the bats in the landscape will be created and turned into heat-mapped thermal videos in order to show the bats’ flight paths and behaviour. INFRARED AND ULTRAVIOLET PHOTOGRAPHY Photos of the various bat-inhabited environments in Lantau will be taken using analogue cameras and infrared film. These photos, capturing the strange, unearthly infrared moonlight reflected on the tropical landscapes the bats inhabit, will become a part of the exhibition.
Coming soon
Phase 3: ECHOLOCATION AND SENSORIMOTOR SUBSTITUTION A study of the echolocation systems of the bats will be conducted through a literature review of bat physiology and neurology, focusing on the ways in which the bats’ ultrasonic CM and FM calls reflect off prey and features in the landscape, and the ways in which the return signals directly influence the motor behaviour of bats in flight. This in turn will form the basis for the development of a drone system which incorporates a version of the bats’ echolocation system built using microcontrollers and ultrasonic sensors alongside mounted infrared cameras. Drone recordings will be made using these cameras and sensors, with the data collected used as the basis for VR systems which simulate the experience of being a bat. These drone-flight videos using the electronic echolocation system will also be documented on the website.
Coming soon
a whole, a joint, a fracture: take your time
Dior Thiam, George Demir, Luïza Luz and Mathias Becker
Consent Policy
Ruben Susanne Bürgam, Gertruda Gilyte, Théo Pożoga, Andi Teichmann
The Conversation
Marcel Heise, Yuyen Lin-Woywod, Zaidda Nursiti Kemal
Eine Reise zum perfekten Strand
(A Trip to the Perfect Beach)
Xiaoyu Tang & Sayaka Katsumoto
A matter of time…and other things that cannot be determined
Nelly Y. Pinkrah
Mercado Modelo
João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga
Is Discourse Reality?
Michelle M. Wright
Asmaa Jama and Ibrahim Cissé