“Machines à penser” focuses on three major philosophers of the 20th century: Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). The latter two shared a life-long need for intellectual isolation: Heidegger spent long periods of his life in a secluded hut in the village of Todtnauberg in the Black Forest in Germany, whilst Wittgenstein retreated on several occasions to a small mountain cabin situated in a fjord in Skjolden, Norway. Adorno, on the other hand, was forced into exile from his native Germany during by the Nazi regime, first to Oxford and then to Los Angeles, where he wrote Minima Moralia, a collection of aphorisms that, among other themes, reflects on the fate of forced emigration. These reflections from the background to an installation conceived by the Scottish artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay in 1987 titled Adorno’s Hut, a centerpiece of the exhibition alongside architectural reconstructions of the actual huts in which Heidegger and Wittgenstein wrote their respective masterpieces Being and Time (1927) and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). These replicas double as exhibition venues within the Ca’ Corner della Regina, containing artworks and documents pertaining to the architectural archetype of the hut as a site of escape and retreat.
As Dieter Roelstraete explains: “these were the places where our protagonists hatched out their deepest thoughts. Isolation, whether chosen or imposed, appears to have inspired them decisively—and over the years their huts have proven to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration in turn for generations of artists, attracted to the fantasy of withdrawal as articulated in its most elemental architectural form.”
The exhibition takes place on the ground floor and on the first floor of the 18th century palazzo, creating an immersive journey that deepens our understanding of these three philosophers and the relationship between philosophy, art and architecture. The project features artworks by Leonor Antunes, Jan Bontjes van Beek, Paolo Chiasera, Alec Finlay, Robert Gillanders, Anselm Kiefer, Alexander Kluge, Patrick Lakey, Goshka Macuga, Mark Manders, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Digne Meller-Marcovicz, Jeremy Millar, Guy Moreton, Sophie Nys, Giulio Paolini, Susan Philipsz, Gerhard Richter, Mark Riley, Joseph Semah, Ewan Telford and the collective whose members are Sebastian Makonnen Kjølaas, Marianne Bredesen and Siri Hjorth.
The exhibition also includes a historical section shedding light on the roots of philosophy’s long-standing fascination with the figure of the hermit and/in his retreat, focusing more specifically on the legend of the Church father Saint Jerome (347-419), famous for leading the life of an anchorite in the Syrian desert while translating the Bible into Latin. Renaissance paintings and prints dedicated to the iconography of the saint—the patron saint of the exhibition, as it were—are exhibited here alongside a Renaissance studiolo containing, among other items, first editions of Heidegger and Wittgenstein’s writings, its outer walls clad in a site-specific installation by the Scottish artist-poet Alec Finlay titled Hutopia (2018).
Photos: Mattia Balsamini; Courtesy Fondazione Prada
The exhibition will be open to the public from 26 May to 25 November 2018 at the Venetian venue of Fondazione Prada, Ca’ Corner della Regina.