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Natasha Ginwala

Double Lives: Epilogue

Alles ist Wechselwirkung.
Alexander von Humboldt, Reisetagebuch, 1.–5.8.1803, Mexiko

Featuring Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Carl Wilhelm Hahn, Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, Emin Pasha, Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II and Emma Hart Willard

The image-world of the nineteenth century remains marked by two major transitions: firstly, a movement from the realm of natural philosophy to the professionalization of the discipline of science; and secondly, with the ascent of photography, a shift from the original to the reproduction. Nevertheless, this era was filled with shape-shifting characters, whose self-definition continued to defy these strict divisions grounded in Western rationality.

The pursuit of collecting "the world as image" mobilized erratic itineraries and hybrid figurations quite unlike the smooth delivery of master narratives. The physician-naturalist, scientist-administrator, cartographer-educator, and photographer-king are symbolic agents who represent the enduring tension between empiricism and rationalism. In surveying the entanglements of scientific and aesthetic operations within processes of imperial expansion, this speculative inventory assembles a set of historical positions from an unresolved modernity in the tradition of "field reports."

The phenomenon of stereoscopy—early photography’s retort to the two-dimensional limits of painting—provides a way to address the double purposes of historical matter as well as the double consciousness of the era's protagonists. Put simply, stereoscopy is a technique in which two separate images, when viewed through an optical instrument, visually merge into a solid "whole" while at the same time generating the perception of depth. This binocular view unleashes an ambivalence between the observer and the world as material under observation.

Double Lives charts unorthodox figures whose practices straddled the line between art and science. It imagines them as "stereoscopic" subjects who remained immersed in the world they were experiencing, annotating, and administering all the while. Through the rational codification of knowledge-forms in the separation of the humanities from pure science, these explorations collided with boundary lines that sought to rearrange subject-object relations. The stereoscopic subject thus acts as a punctum or a ghostly aid, continuing to evoke the immanent relatedness between biographical articulation, material history, and scientific theses.

The presentation includes a propositional narrative of The Emin Pasha Relief Expedition (1886–89) with a selection of items associated with German-Jewish physician, natural historian, and colonial agent Emin Pasha (1840–1892); travel accounts of Prussian naturalist Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809–1864), also known as the "Humboldt of Java," who recorded his observations of geological, volcanic, and botanical phenomena on the island of Java; the Universal History maps of educator, women’s rights activist, and historian Emma Hart Willard (1787–1870); Die Arachniden—a multivolume hand-illustrated survey of spiders across the world authored by German zoologist Carl Wilhelm Hahn (1786–1836) and entomologist Carl Ludwig Koch (1778–1857); Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s (1852–1934) neuroanatomical drawings and stereoscopic photographs that reveal the behavior of the nervous system and its relation to visual perception; as well as a set of photographs of and by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II of Jaipur (1835–1880) that excavate his double role as a modernizing monarch and pioneering photographer.

If art continues to be the domain where entanglements between reality and the imaginary manifest as a form of resistance against fixing an image of the past, a stereoscopic reading animates subjective elements by interweaving history and the material world through the measure of personal experience. This archival presentation also serves as a reflection on the Berlin of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—as a place of international crossings, exemplary literary, and scientific exchange, and as the site of the perpetuation of a particular imperial imaginary within the labors of nation building.

Special thanks to Juan de Carlos (Instituto Cajal), Paola Ivanov (Museen Dahlem—Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Giles Tillotsen (Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum), Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, David Rumsey Map Collection, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. Graphic Design: Maziyar Pahlevan