“My breath was taken away by this vision of Eden that presented such a contrast to the Darwinian stuffiness of the swamp. I hardly knew where to look, my gaze suddenly unable to take in the immense sky crossed by a string of fluffy clouds. The distant rumble of the river added to the vastness of the spectacle, its powerful pulsations seeming to extend the horizon.”
(Philippe Descola, The Spears of Twilight)
amazon.com, Inc is known for its all-encompassing product “portfolio,” whose breadth is depicted by a smiling arrow reaching from A to Z in the retail company’s logo. Among countless commodities on offer is a line called “Amazon Basics,” which comprises office supplies such as alkaline batteries, ergonomic chairs, and metal mesh waste baskets. Amazon Spirits shines a bright, strange light on such goods, via backlit replicas of architectural elements from Amazon’s work environment: monochrome panels ablaze with blue LED light mirror the small and high openings of the firm’s early warehouses, as well as doors used as desktops in its offices (a corporate storytelling gesture meant to evoke Amazon’s beginnings in a makeshift garage-as-headquarters).
Transparent foil from Amazon Basics packaging is scattered around the exhibition space, where it reflects green LED lighting, evoking a tropical forest’s enveloping greenery but in a stage set’s electric atmosphere. This dual effect brings to our attention how much hue—i.e., green or blue—is but one dimension of color, just a wavelength of light. Color is further defined by brightness and saturation—not to mention degrees of gloss and transparency, qualities dependent on the substance of matter. The Amazonian rainforest’s inhabitants tend to pay attention to these other characteristics of visual information, which speak of color as feel and function. The Candoshi people of the Peruvian Amazon, for example, seem to have no term for “green” as a category, but do describe green things as looking kamachpa, which refers to unripe fruit. The tendency to dissociate hue from object is useful in a specific context: consumerist manufacturing economies where reproducible objects come in different shades.
For the amazon.com customer navigating torrents of thumbnails, perceptual experience is narrowed to the constraints of a computer displaying a finite, internet-compatible palette. In this context, how could one describe a picture of an object as resembling unripe fruit? The screen-like windows and doors in Amazon Spirits remind us that a screen’s flat luminosity does interact with bodies—Rosenkranz’s glowing, “hot” blue feels vibrant like an animate species of color, like light made tangible. Whether in the shape of backlit canvases, beaming projectors, or a leaky battery pack’s spilled electrolytes, the exhibition explores energy through the motif of the overflow. Blood, that carrier of animal energy, appears in a transmuted form: both synthesised in a lab and alien to human eyes, Anemine is a new generation of medical products currently being developed as derivatives of the green-tinted blood of certain annelids found in the Amazon. This substance formulated to enhance perception is used to paint onto large, human-size sheets of aluminum. The green viscosity of the Anemine paintings unsettles our visual capacity.
The gallery is filled with a field recording of Amazonian activity brimming with the cries of myriad species, delivered by amazon.com’s virtual assistant Alexa—“who,” on the other hand, has a human voice, and a little red light to keep us company, like a reliable presence in a collapsing, deforested world. amazon.com’s ever-expanding universe of merchandise, devices and trademarks is now reaching beyond planet Earth, by dint of its latest, space exploration, project. Although its original design conjured up a capital A streaked by a serpentine, river-like streamer, the amazon.com logo no longer involves any meanderings. Its happy humanoid arrow now points upward, at techno-utopian things to come, embodying a brand, which Rosenkranz visualises as an “echo of a deep future.”
Artist: Pamela Rosenkranz
Exhibition Title: Amazon Spirits (Green Blood)
Venue: Karma International, Zurich
Date: June 7 – July 14, 2018
Images provided by the event.
© Photos by Gunnar Meier.