in the mind of Polish artist Horacy Muszynski it can

‘The golden drop’ by Horacy Muszynski in the art institution De Ateliers.Statue Natascha Libbert

Confrontational. If you think you are ‘just’ visiting an art exhibition, step out of the bright main hall The Golden Drop in the stuffy and dark sleeping quarters of two Polish seasonal workers. The enclosed cubicle is just big enough for two beds and a closet full of bright yellow work clothes. The bedding on one of the beds is stained, in a corner there are some cigarette butts and empty liquor bottles. No window anywhere.

Horacy Muszyński recreated the sleeping quarters for Offspring 2022, the annual closing presentation of postgraduate art institution De Ateliers. Muszyński’s presentation does not look like art, rather an informative exhibit in a company’s visitor center. At the entrance, a table is ready where you are invited to spread a sandwich with honey and follow an audio tour of objects related to this honey.

In his own words, Muszyński created his exhibition at the invitation of Bio-korf, a Dutch company researching alternatives to honey. At the request of Bio-korf, the artist, who is himself Polish, worked on an exhibition about their pilot project with Polish workers in 2009. The purpose of the pilot was to investigate a way of producing honey that does not require bees. Not a bad idea in itself, to spare the honey bee. However, the solution the company came up with is pretty insane: extracting honey from human saliva.

Yes, you read that right. In the eighties, a professor Hendrik van den Berg discovered a special gene. People who have this gene can produce a sweet substance with their saliva, i.e. salivary gland. Or ‘The Golden Drop’, as Bio-korf calls the product. All the producers have to do is hold nectar or pollen in their mouths for a long time. To then have the honey removed from the mouth in a rather unpleasant way, but that aside.

Are you thinking: never heard of Bio-hive and spittoon? It is true. This is (obviously) fiction, Muszyński’s presentation is an art installation disguised as an informative exhibition. The audio tour guides you through the history of ‘The Golden Drop’, from the discovery of the gene to collaboration with a Chinese university and the deployment of Polish workers with the right gene. You will see a replica of the backpack that sent seasonal workers out into the fields to pollinate flowers and the bowls of moss they had to eat, tasteless on purpose so as not to disturb the taste of the honey.

Joan Fontcuberta: 'Solenoglypha Polipodida – Attack Position', 1987. Image

Joan Fontcuberta: ‘Solenoglypha Polipodida – Attack Position’, 1987.

The play with fact and fiction made me think of the Spanish artist Joan Fontcuberta. In 2015, he presented the fictional archive of a forgotten biologist studying bizarre zoological mutations at the Science Museum. Snakes on legs, a monkey with wings, you wouldn’t imagine this professor would have found it. All fake of course, but fake perfectly of Fontcuberta, originally an advertising executive.

The fake job The Golden Drop is not perfect. Little mistakes have crept in to pull you out of the illusion, language mistakes like ‘children’s honey’ instead of ‘children’s honey’ on the label of a jar. But the story Muszyński tells here is so layered that I like it. Fake news, climate change, labor exploitation: the installation tackles all sorts of big themes without feeling forced. Plus, halfway through the audio tour, I grabbed my phone. Just google it: has there ever been research done on pythons?

WHO: Horacy Muszynski (28)

Title: The Golden Drop2022

Where: Offspring 2022, De Ateliers, until 13/11. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 12.00-18.00

Notable detail: Due to the decline in the bee population, farmers in China are actually pollinating their crops by hand.

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