Bend’s work “Reef” (2012) includes tires stacked in varying heights and covering the gallery floor, except for a few pathways for visitors. His installation is less an allegory of the perils of man’s encroachment on nature, though, than an embodied depiction of man as always already part of a sublime, or simultaneously terrific and terrifying, nature. The show is not unlike the landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, who incidentally found inspiration in the area along the Baltic Sea and around Neustadt in the Holstein region of Germany, where Bend grew up.
Friedrich’s contemporary Immanuel Kant writes the sublime “may be compared with vibration, i.e., with a rapidly alternating repulsion and attraction by one and the same object.” Three of the gallery’s walls feature projections that collectively engender this kind of vibratory sublime affect. For instance, “The Dive” (2012) is a serene and even awe-inspiring documentation of the scuba divers removing tires; on the opposing wall, the projection “Eclipse” (2012) depicts a vertiginous view of the sky with intermittent planes and cars precariously zooming above and by. The third projection, “Aquadome” (2012), installed on the middle wall is an amalgam of largely underwater scenes of man-made aqueous environments, including naked bodies sometimes frolicking and other times eerily lifeless in pools and saunas; and the eponymously titled world’s largest saltwater cylindrical aquarium in Berlin — an example par excellence of mankind’s desire to contain or overcome nature.
Kant’s theorization of the sublime is ultimately resolved by the stabilization of the aforementioned “vibration” as “restful contemplation;” and ultimately the dominance of reason (the “supersensible”) over the “sensible.” Bend’s installation structures the viewing experience so that the frisson between the attraction and repulsion, which Kant attempts to resolve, is kept in play. If reason or arrogance over the power of nature is what led to this ecological catastrophe, then it seems that the supersensible is something to be avoided.
Kant refers to the supersensible as disembodied rationality, whereas sensibility is often conflated with affect and tantamount to irrationality. Bend’s work is deeply synaesthetic and thereby attempts to keep the subject in the world rather than coolly against it. The pungent odor of the tires — a combination of brine, vulcanized rubber, and encrusted, dried-out algae and coral — and dramatic use of sound — everything from snippets of the apocalyptic 2011 song “Civilization” by the French electronic band Justice to sounds of distressed sea creatures — in the installation ensure that the viewer is never cleaved from the surrounding world.