Prize Winner 2020: Agnes Meyer-Brandis

Agnes Meyer-Brandis is an exceptional artist whose body of work is in every sense unique. In her installations and films as well as in those areas of her work that come under the heading of performance art she suggests humorous and poetic links between, on the one hand, the insights and methods of the most disparate scientific disciplines and, on the other, speculative hypotheses and fictional narratives. Founded in 2003, her Research Raft for Subterranean Reefology is an institute for art and subjective science that asks questions without providing answers and, as such, is a part of the tradition of art in the modern world.

Climatology, space research, meteorology, synthetic biology, botany and geology are only a handful of the scientific disciplines that are to be found in her work. As an artist, Agnes Meyer-Brandis flies to the moon with geese, makes tea with Finnish pine trees and encourages visitors to her exhibitions to engage in a biochemical conversation with trees.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis studied at art colleges in Maastricht, Düsseldorf and Cologne. It was in Cologne, during her graduation year, that she created her Earth-Core Laboratory and Elf-Scan, which examined drilling cores with a scanner in the hope of finding elves and other life forms invisible to the naked eye. Her subtle use of interactivity as a means of storytelling was already a feature of her early work – she has an outstanding ability to invent and tell stories. Her Moon Goose Project, which she began in 2008, was inspired by a fantastical tale dating from the seventeenth century, The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin. It tells of a journey to the moon in a flying machine drawn by geese. Agnes Meyer-Brandis has given a new topicality to this tale by breeding geese, giving them astronauts’ names, training them to fly, undertaking expeditions with them and housing them in an environment built to resemble the moon.

Her works exude a powerful aura. They are test arrangements that immediately allow observers to sense that these are not traditional scientific experiments but offer other forms of insight. In justifying its decision, the awards committee noted that “Although Agnes Meyer-Brandis is not pre-eminently a political artist, she none the less opens up completely new approaches to the world of nature and in doing so arguably contributes more to our awareness of its fragility than is the case with many a climate summit.”