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'Spider Drone' Sculptures Marry Surveillance and 60s Sci-Fi

'Vision Instruments,' Björn Schülke’s ongoing show at bitforms gallery, uses seemingly futuristic technology to make ultimately purposeless sculptural objects.

Raumpatrouille Orion, known by American viewers as Space Patrol Orion, was a German sci-fi TV series from the 1960s that depicted a united Earth of the future caught in the middle of intergalactic war against alien life forms. Although its seven-episode run was short, the series gained a cultlike following in Cold War-era Germany, the not-so-coincidental cultural period in which German artist Björn Schülke grew up. His ongoing solo exhibition at bitforms gallery, Vision Instruments, reimagines the prop technology used on the show as a series of functional, yet ultimately useless sculptures, like a hi-tech version of the Japanese art of Chindōgu ("unuseless"). 

Vision Instruments, Björn Schülke, 2017

“A lot of my works have an aesthetic similar to scientific and medical devices, or industrially fabricated machines,” Schülke tells The Creators Project. “But, they are often not what the design leads us to expect,” a facet that becomes increasingly clear as you closely inspect the works in Vision Instruments.

Defender is a space rover-esque creation with three wheels in a triangular formation. It continually orbits itself while its other contraptions spin independently. There are no easily apparent purposes to these movements, but the hi-tech aesthetic of the contraption contradicts its seeming uselessness: there must be a purpose behind these movements. Defender must be defending something.

Defender, Björn Schülke, 2016

Spider Drone #3 looks like a futuristic surveillance tool and behaves as one as well, including a long, extending arm equipped with a small observational camera. But whereas surveillance cameras are often discrete and mysterious objects of authoritative control, Schülke’s iteration is sprawling and clearly noticeable from a distance. Stranger yet is its LED screen, which literally reveals what the footage being recorded looks like, a facet not only counterintuitive to surveillance, but one that effectively severs the idea of a higher power is spying on your every move. Instead, you are the one surveying yourself.

Still from Raumpatrouille Orion

“My work in general is inspired by machines, kinetics, aeronautics and space, as well as artists like Jean Tinguely, Alexander Calder, and Panamarenko,” Schülke reveals. It comes as no surprise then, that the dated but fascinating technological imaginings of Raumpatrouille Orion served as bountiful inspiration to the artist.

Drone #9, Björn Schülke, 2016

Raumpatrouille Orion was a very funny and bizarre TV series from the sixties that I discovered as a student. The set design was very cheap to build, yet very brilliant and absurd. For instance, a regular iron is a part of the main control unit,” the artist joking adds. “This special humor and absurdity has inspired a lot of my later works.”

Vision Machine #8, Björn Schülke, 2016

Visit bitforms gallery in Manhattan before February 20th to see Vision Instruments. More of Björn Schülke’s can be perused here.

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