The intruder is not just any foreign body in a world that would otherwise be seamless; the intruder is the principle of the seam itself.

Ten years after Jean-Luc Nancy underwent a heart transplant, the philosopher reflected on how the intrusion of a foreign organ into his body revealed the estranged and the foreign within the seemingly familiar. While his organism requires this ‘foreign body’ for survival, there is always the danger of rejection, and his potential death. The delicate state of his circulation, brought about by the workings of countless intangible processes, forces, and mechanisms, is a balancing act between neediness and dependency.

The inaugural exhibition of the „Am Schwarzenbergplatz‘‘ project by KOW (Berlin), LambdaLambdaLambda (Pristina/Paris), and Simone Subal Gallery (New York) present works by eight international artists whose practices include painting, sculpture, installation, and film. They each engage with questions of human identity, not as a rigid or isolated entity, but one that is shaped and altered by various influences. The works on view make visible the complex and fragile workings of the foreign body within the ‘seamless world.’

In the works of Candice Breitz, Brilant Milazimi, Sharon Franklin, Baseera Khan, and Mie Yim, bodies appear as fragments of human physiognomies – dissidents of a controlled and normative reality. Meanwhile, the works of Marco A. Castillo, Dierk Schmidt, and Hana Miletić, point to the historical and political contexts of identity formation and belonging, through abstraction and an absence of distinct bodies.

The porous boundary between body and heart, probed by Jean-Luc Nancy, is as difficult to define as the inseparable connection between critical self-reflection and social consciousness within the presented works.

Candice Breitz, (* 1972, Johannesburg) is primarily known for her moving image installations. Her works explore the complex interactions between the individual and various communities—whether the immediate family community or wider social structures, ranging from national affiliations to race, gender, and religion. She also reflects on the growing influence of mainstream media such as television, cinema, and popular culture on these community dynamics. The group of works presented in the exhibition are titled Extra (2011), comprise of a single-channel video installation and a series of staged photographs taken during the filming of the soap opera Generations.

Generations, broadcast on SABC 1 since 1994, showcases the emerging black middle class in South Africa within the media industry. As the dialogue is mainly conducted in Nguni languages, white lead actors are intentionally excluded. The shooting of Extra lasted two weeks, during which the actors were instructed to ignore Breitz‘s presence. She intervenes in real scenes of the soap but does not interact with the actors who ignore her. The images provoke reflections on the implications of whiteness in the new South Africa, without offering easy solutions. Extra thus engages with whiteness from a post-apartheid perspective.

The series of rattan sculptures by Marco A. Castillo (*1971, Havanna) is inspired by a generation of interior designers and architects who worked on the construction of utopias. This movement was active at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution and could be considered the ‘aesthetic muscle’ of the revolution. Their mission was to design and create new spaces that would shape the life of the ‘new man.’ The result was simple furniture and objects of practical use, yet with avant-garde design occasionally reminiscent of Scandinavian furniture and early Ikea designs. By the late 1970s, this process was halted due to a lack of capital, a limited market, and the stigmatization of such productions as ‘bourgeois’ by important institutions. Castillo suggests the continuity of this tradition and experiments with the possibility of an avant-garde that never materialized.

The Lam (2021-ongoing) series refers to the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam (*1902 in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, †1982 in Paris), who had Chinese, Congolese, and Cuban roots. While Lam was not part of this aesthetic revolution, his work is an important reference within Cuban modernism. The work Lam (Combinada 1) (2021), now on display in the exhibition, is a wall relief consisting of round, square frames made of different types of wood into which rattan is woven. Lam recalls indigenous African forms as an important aspect of island modernist design. The aesthetic revolution coincided with dramatic shifts in the traditional Cuban family structure and the collapse of the middle class. Castillo’s reliefs resemble house plans, almost acting as „containers“ that preserve the image of the Cuban family in collective memory.

Dierk Schmidt’s (*1965, Germany) work Broken Windows 3.1 (Modelle), (2014/2015) and four paintings, all titled Untitled, are exemplary works of Dierk Schmidt‘s practice, which has been engaged with Europe‘s past and, in particular, Germany‘s role in colonization for decades. Two events have gained special relevance for the artist: the Berlin Africa Conference, held in 1884-85, where European powers divided the continent between themselves along artificial boundaries; and the 2001 lawsuit against the Federal Republic of Germany filed by the Herero and Nama, two ethnic groups from Namibia, demanding recognition and compensation for genocide and other crimes committed by the German colonial authority.

Through these two events, the artist developed a language to discuss German colonial policy through the subject of the restitution object. Broken Windows 3.1 (Modelle), (2014/2015) are small-scale models of existing display cases, empty and with shattered glass. These traces of violent damage or liberation, depending on one‘s perspective, represent the continuation of a German collection policy that has not adequately confronted its own historical injustice to this day. The glass surfaces feature geometric drawings, implying the process of surveying and mapping – historically thought to be rational acts over supposedly ownerless territories.

The glass, as the carrier of this information, reinforces the impression of a transparent or objective representation of reality. One of the display cases, Untitled (spontaneous fracturing due to internal stress), gives the broken object a voice to comment on its own predicament. Paintings made of acrylic glass and oil paint formally resemble the display cases. However, they depict something that is not directly visible: the explosive force that causes the glass to shatter.

Brilant Milazimi (*1994, Kosovo) translates the world surrounding him into images that are simultaneously bitter, tender, and strange. The large-scale paintings shown in Fremdkörper each depict a figure seemingly isolated from their surroundings. The distorted bodies are set in empty, abstract, or undefined environments that provide no clear points of orientation, as though they exist in a psychological plane. Although inscrutable, the elusive figures are imbued with an emotional intensity – giving a poetic melancholic language to the artist’s subconscious. The paintings reflect the artist’s experience of Kosovo’s isolation and alienation from the rest of the world.

Drawing on her background in documentary photography and inspired by the long tradition of handiwork in her family, Hana MiletiÓ (*1982, Zagreb) has developed an artistic language based on the production of textiles. Miletić uses the process of weaving to reflect on the social and cultural conditions in which the artist herself works. Weaving, requiring practice, time, care, and attention, allows her to formulate new relationships between work, thought, and the emotional sphere – as well as to counteract acceleration, standardization, and transparency in the workplace.

At the beginning of the working process, the artist explores public spaces and looks for foil coverings that have been applied as protection or temporary solutions to broken or exposed objects, as well as temporary glued repairs. Employing weaving techniques, Miletić reproduces public gestures of care and repair while consciously engaging with the transition of objects. The artist simultaneously highlights the fragility of our everyday world and acknowledges our own limitations by giving aesthetic value to imperfect surfaces, marked by damage and flaws. Miletić‘s art underscores the urgent need to develop a medium that expresses the social impacts of the capitalist world on millions of people.

Sharona Franklin (*1987, Vancouver) works with a variety of traditional and unconventional media, including sculpture, textiles, social media platforms, and publications. Her work encompasses themes of bioethics and physical impairment. Franklin explores the psychological, social, and medical facets of life with chronic degenerative diseases, especially those with genetic and environmental factors. Fremdkörper features several objects by the artist made of gelatin, a transparent material also found in human bones.

The material’s animal origin also implicates questions of bioethics and the use of animal and human cells in the pharmaceutical industry. The artist’s material lists read like a package ingredient list, often including flowers, herbs, syringes, food, and expired medicine. The gelatin sculptures serve as metaphors for transparency and vulnerability as well as for the ethical and ecological complexity of the numerous medicines she must take and inject daily. Without medications and various aids, it would be impossible for her to manage her daily life. Franklin’s works are characterized by reminiscences of the aesthetics of the 1970s, a conscious appropriation that reveals the psychedelic or consciousness-altering dimension of pharmaceuticals.

Baseera Khan (*1980, Texas) works across media, including painting, sculpture, and performance, to investigate and disrupt social and political systems. Khan addresses wide-reaching issues such as surveillance and invisible labor, as well as probing their own identity as a non-binary Asian American person. Fremdkörper includes two photographs, Tent Square, Pink (2023) and Made in India, Found in Egypt, Black (2023), from the ongoing series Laws of Antiquities. These images capture the artist’s collaboration with museum curators and conservators to establish new dialogues with objects from the Arts of the Islamic World collection at the Brooklyn Museum.

Many foreign holdings in museum collections were acquired under questionable circumstances, and Khan symbolically reclaims access to their cultural lineages by staging performative interventions with the fragile objects. Khan photographed objects from the collection and used the resulting printed images as studio props, compressing both the physical and historical distance between themself and these symbolic artifacts. Am Schwarzenbergplatz also presents one of Khan’s Acoustic Sound Blankets (2022). In this series, Khan cuts a hole in the center of a sound-absorbing blanket resembling an oversized abaya. Gold embroidery around the openings is inspired by patterns passed down by the artist’s maternal family.

This intangible heritage has been passed down on small, portable, pieces of fabric. Khan has used the Acoustic Sound Blankets in various performances at museums and the Women’s March in 2017 – slipping under the blanket and reaching only her arm out from the hole or pulling audience members underneath it with her. Each of Khan’s works explore the familial, cultural, and historical networks that shape their subjectivity.

Mie Yim‘s (*1963, South Korea) art is a fascinating play between saccharine colors and prickly shapes fraught with contradictions. She describes her artistic process as follows: „When I work, I start from an emotional space in the past from my childhood.“ The artist’s sudden immigration from Korea to Hawaii when she was a young girl left an indelible impression of isolation and longing. Her works are characterized by biomorphic forms reminiscent of hybrid, sometimes even mutating, human-animal-plant beings. Like distorted cartoon characters, Yim’s figures stare at the viewer through grotesque and bulging eyes.

Her works reveal a deep knowledge of the canon of painting; St. Bacon (2024) is a subversively ironic comment on Francis Bacon, appropriating his iconic screaming pope figure until the male figure completely dissolves into the painting. In Yim‘s Quarantine Drawings, created during the lockdown on cotton Shizen paper, rich, dusty, blurry, and slightly out-of-focus surfaces are juxtaposed with hard and angular elements. Characterized by pulsating surfaces and flowing forms, Mie Yim’s paintings oscillate between abstraction, figuration, and surrealism, creating metaphysical portraits full of pathos, humor, and horror.