In connection with the major exhibitions commemorating the 200th anniversary of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s death by the State Libraries of Berlin and Bamberg, as well as the German Romanticism Museum in Frankfurt, the BBK Oberfranken also dedicates its annual exhibition of 2022 to this theme. Under the exhibition title “uncanny fantastic or totally real,” the focus is primarily on exploring the connections to new and utopian ideas and developments, extending into the immediate present, in a sensory experiential manner. 24 artists showcase a wide range of artistic possibilities, inspired by their engagement with the life and work of E.T.A. Hoffmann. October 10th to November 27th, 2022

Olimpia, oil on canvas 165 x 110 cm each, 2022

In 1801, E.T.A. Hoffmann visited an exhibition of clockwork-driven automatons in Danzig, which inspired him to create the character of Olimpia in his novella “The Sandman” from 1816. The tragic hero Nathanael falls in love with a female doll created by the physics professor Spalanzani. For Nathanael, Olimpia serves as a female projection surface for erotic desires; the perfect shell of the automaton without personality becomes a mirror of his narcissistic ego, trapped by unresolved childhood traumas. At the same time, Olimpia embodies the Romantic ideal of womanhood, invoking the animalistic side of male desire.

What in the early 19th century fascinated people about animated human figures in the form of waxworks, puppets, and music boxes – the play with primal human fears – is today manifested in the enthusiasm for humanoid robots and artificial intelligence. In the 21st century, this has given rise to the philosophical and intellectual movement of transhumanism, which, through ethical deliberation of opportunities and risks, seeks a new stage of human evolution by further developing the human organism through technology, eliminating diseases, and halting the aging process. Biotechnology, genetic engineering, cloning, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, up to the uploading of human consciousness, serve as tools on the path to the Übermensch.

With his work “Olimpia,” Thomas Michel bridges the gap from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s automatons to the transhumanism of the 21st century. The face of Olimpia was generated by an algorithm and serves as a projection surface for the ideal woman. The double portrait alludes to the artificial doppelgänger and cloning; the two identical portraits engage with human identity and its manipulability, as well as the relationship between original and forgery.