In his latest project “What It Is Like To Be,” artist Thomas Medicus (previously) employs his illusory style to create an anamorphic glass sculpture that changes with every 90 degree turn. The cubic piece is comprised of 144 glass strips that are arranged to depict four distinct images—clothes strung up on a line, bats clinging to a branch as they hang upside down, a diverse patch of mushrooms, and three figures who are caught in the rain. Each glass portion is handpainted separately with acrylic before being mounted in a concrete socle that sits inside a wooden bowl and stretches about 30 centimeters long.
The Austria-based artist’s project references a 1974 paper by American philosopher Thomas Nagel. Titled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” the seminal text questions the relationship between human and animal subjectivity, stating that although people can imagine life as a bat, they can never know truly what it means to be a different animal. Nagel’s work influenced later conversations about consciousness and the ways humans understand and relate to other living beings. In a note to Colossal, Medicus described his connection to Nagel’s writing.
For quite a long time, I was seeking to understand how I can value the natural sciences without having to devalue subjectivity, personal experience, or qualitative research. Back then I wasn’t really able to do that. For me, art was a way to question an exclusively materialistic worldview without at the same time having to be a spiritual or religious person. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” by Thomas Nagel provides a great philosophical basis to put these different worlds in one frame and personally helped me to do that.