Hamster Hipster Handy Under the Spellbound of the Mobile Phone

25 April - 5 July 2015

Many people can no longer imagine everyday life without a mobile phone, or “Handy”, as it is fondly called in the German-speaking world.

Its functions meanwhile far exceed making and receiving phone calls: the “cell” is a camera, fashion accessory, computer, flashlight, video screen and much more. As complex as it is contradictory, it forms the core of a whole universe of objects. It shapes our communication, influences our consumer behaviour, reveals our preferences, and brings in its wake entire complexes of things that wouldn’t exist without the mobile telephone. Citing examples from the worlds of design and the media, film and contemporary art, the exhibition will focus on these aspects and show the cell phone as an object that – convenient and harmful, bonding and polarizing – contributes to shaping our cultural self-conception.

Within this context, Hamster and Hipster serves as two contradictory leading characters. Around the turn of the millennium, mobile phone radiation tests were carried out on rodents to provide evidence of possible damage to the human brain and sense of hearing as well as the surrounding neural pathways. In keeping with this logic, Hamster represents the negative consequences of the cell phone for human life. He is juxtaposed with the fictional figure Hipster. As a an affirmative twenty-first-century consumer, Hipster represents a new culture of mobile image generation with its seemingly infinite possibilities and the related narcissistic self-presentation, all of which are linked in turn with cultural and social precepts and conventions such as ethnicity, class and gender.

In the exhibition, Hamster and Hipster represented the two extremes of the object cosmos of the cell phone, which is as complex as it is ambiguous. The two figures are tried and tested role models for illustrating the shift of the mobile’s image from that of a harmful to that of a useful, indeed indispensable, object of everyday use.

The objects on view offered a visual foray into the universe of the mobile phone as a culture and consumer object. They included photographs, interactive installations, video art, painting and street art by artists and designers, enhanced by artefacts of everyday material culture (from the Jugendkulturarchiv Frankfurt, the private Birgit Richard collection at the Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main) and a collection of cell phones (M.E.G.A. Darmstadt).

In order to contemplate the cultural significance of the cell phone from various perspectives, the show also examined literature and popular media ‒ pop music, advertising, YouTube, TV series and film. Here the focus will be on the Western European cultural realm, with intercultural digressions serving as a contrasting foil.

One section of the exhibition is being curated by the media and concept artist Aram Bartholl, who presented web-based works by Internet artists in an offline format.

Prof. Dr. Birgit Richard, Eleni Blechinger, Katja Gunkel und Harry Wolff

Supported by

Supporting Partner

Technical Partner

Media Partner