Galerie Kandlhofer is pleased to present Inwelt an exhibition of new works by Maximilian Prüfer. Prüfer’s practice predominantly involves the exploration of natural processes and their transference to the visual image. Within this, Prüfer examines a range of existential, philosophical and political subjects in relation to evolution, humanity’s manipulation of and ultimate interdependence with the natural ecosystem, contravening the human cultural paradigm of separation from natural phenomena. Inwelt focuses directly on the behavioural patterns of ants, their forms of collective intelligence and the relationship with society and human instinct.


The overall concept in the exhibition lies in Prüfer’s interest in collective intelligence and his explorations of the crossover between the behaviour of the ants and that of humans. For Prüfer humans already operate with similar hive intelligence with regards to our social and political patterns for instance. In many biological respects, we are similar in that much of the ants’ behaviour is dictated through hormonal smell as is the case with humans. However, human behaviour extends this to psychology where we as a species maintain a both inherited knowledge and belief systems which ultimately forms what we consider to be truths. Especially within current contemporary polarising political climates it is also clear to see that our attachment to collective thinking and the connection to truths can often be misleading. Through his work Prüfer aims to draw attention to this reality and to encourage both self-awareness of our collective intelligence and as a result foster dialogue concerning societal developments can fracture and intensify this phenomenon.

One of the key areas where Prüfer explores these themes lies in his unique representation technique recording the movements and conduct of insects that he has denominated Naturantypie. Through this methodological process, the very fine coating of the paper is displaced by the movement creating an aesthetic that widens the concept of drawing independent of traditional tools. Within Inwelt, Prüfer has continued this process with a focus on the movement of ants creating harmonized trails as they move across the surface to feed from the honey pots that Prüfer has placed. These honey pots are specifically arranged around the surface to the proportions of the artist, matching the areas of his eyes, shoulder’s, nose etc. so that the markings left by the ants resemble a human nerve system. The paper is then placed outside and the ants are left upon the surface for up to a month to leave the markings and reveal the amalgamation of their activity, which at first starts erratically and increasingly forms cohesive and communal patterns based on the insects’ survival instincts organising their supply of food.

However, the specific patterns that are left behind are also heavily dependent on the weather, with temperature and sunlight having significant effects upon their behaviour. In conjunction with this, the instinctual process is simultaneously manipulated by the artist by way of the very fact that the insects are extracted from their natural environment and the incorporation of the honey stimulus. Thus, the process itself negates the concept of natural unconscious decision making through external circumstances, in this case weather and human intervention. At the same time, the works encapsulate an evolutionary process which continues and adapts. For Prüfer, this visual representation of evolutionary adaptation encapsulates the ontological vulnerabilities and tenacity of life, visualising the unconscious behaviour of people through their animal counterparts.

Furthermore, much historical scientific belief on the behaviour of ants has suggested that the ants will find the shortest and most economical route to the food. However, in actuality based off the average paths they become entrenched in a habitual route that may or may not be the most economical but that has been formed by the group. This factor is also existent in human behaviour. In this regard, alongside the Naturantypie works Prüfer is also exhibiting images of woodland paths created by humans including his diptych Self Portrait as we follow the trail laid out by those before us with the path becoming ever more entrenched. Across and hanging from the ceiling of the exhibition is Prüfer’s installation work entitled ‘Ants on Body Scale’, consisting of three glass spheres through which live ants will create their nest and sustainable ecosystem allowing the viewer to witness in real time their communal actions and behaviour.

Alongside these works, within Inwelt, Prüfer will exhibit a participatory work entitled ‘How much sand?’. The work is devised to explore collective intelligence through the human perspective by exploring the mathematical and sociological theory of the wisdom of the crowd. Aristotle is credited as the first academic to explore this notion in Politics writing:

“It is possible that the many, though not individually good men, yet when they come together may be better, not individually but collectively, than those who are so…“.

Later scientific research by statisticians would go on to analyse the phenomena that the calculation of the average among weight or volume guessing contests would be the most accurate to the actual amount compared to the estimates of individuals including experts in the corresponding fields. In order to explore this concept Prüfer devised a participatory experiment in which viewers are invited to propose an estimate for the number of grains of sand in a jar exhibited within the exhibition. Participants will be directed to an online website which will amalgamate the data from which Prüfer will then calculate the average and manually count the grains of sand.

Juni 20th, 2021

Everything is going to be alright

Cooperation with Andreas Greiner / DG–Kunstraum

Die Ausstellung ‚Everything is going to be alright‘ bringt ein Versprechen oder eine Hoffnung zum Ausdruck. Andreas Greiner und Maximilian Prüfer nähern sich aus sehr unterschiedlichen Richtungen dem Thema des fehlenden Gleichgewichts in unserem Umgang mit der Umwelt beziehungsweise Natur. In beinahe wissenschaftlichen Versuchsanordnungen untersuchen die beiden Künstler die Einflüsse des Menschen auf die biologischen Prozesse unserer Erde und damit wiederum auf uns. Der Ausstellungstitel ist der flammenden Rede der damals 12-jährigen Kanadierin Severn Cullis-Suzuki entnommen, die 1992 – ähnlich der skandinavischen Klimaaktivistin Greta Thunberg 2019 vor dem EU-Parlament in Straßburg – die Delegierten des Weltklimagipfels in Rio de Janeiro sprachlos machte.

Neben einer hängenden Baumschule zeigt Andreas Greiner eine mehrteilige Installation zum Thema Wald. Abbildungen sowie eine Videoarbeit wurden von einer künstlichen Intelligenz geschaffen. Die KI wurde dafür vom Künstler mit unzähligen Aufnahmen aus dem Hambacher Forst und dem nicht minder gefährdeten polnisch-weißrussischen Bialowieza-Urwald gefüttert. Greiner reiste mehrfach nach Nordrhein-Westfalen in die Nähe seiner Heimatstadt Aachen, um dort im Hambacher Forst zu kampieren, zu fotografieren und für das Überleben des Waldes vor der Braunkohlegrube zu demonstrieren. Einige der Arbeiten sind mehrschichtig aufgebaut und zeigen über der Fotografie Berechnungen zur Kompensation von CO2-Ausstößen.

Maximilian Prüfer thematisiert in dieser Ausstellung die Auswirkungen des Menschen auf unser Ökosystem – anhand des Insektensterbens in einer hoch gelegenen Bergregion Sichuans. Hier sind Menschen in Folge eines massiven Pestizideinsatzes seit den 1980er Jahren in die Rolle der Bienen geschlüpft und bestäuben die Bäume bis heute mühsam von Hand. Prüfer reiste sowohl zur Zeit der Bestäubung als auch der Ernte in diese Region, um das Handwerk der Bauern zu erlernen. Er erwarb einen Baum, den er selbst bestäubte, und dessen Früchte er nach seiner Rückkehr im Herbst ernten konnte. Fotografien, Objekte wie Bestäubungswerkzeuge, Pollengefäße und Transportkörbe sowie der Abguss „seiner“ Birne führen uns die gesellschaftlichen und politischen Dimensionen der durch unser Handeln ausgelösten ökologischen Störungen vor Augen. Ergänzt wird dieser Zyklus mit Arbeiten die den derzeitigen Pestizideinsatz in unseren Breitengraden thematisieren.

Oktober 23rd, 2020



“On the walls of the cave, only the shadows are the truth.”

(Plato, The Allegory of the Cave, Republic, Book VII)

In the famous “Allegory of the Cave” Plato explores the tension generated by the multiple representations of reality.

In the context of this exhibition, this myth could be a clue to disclosing the topics behind Maximilian Prüfer’s new body of works. What is the knowledge of that single individual who finally went out of the cave and saw the forms of the real world? What is the knowledge of his companions? And ultimately, what is the knowledge originated by the sum of the visual knowledges of all the men, and where does it lie?

Taken as a whole, Maximilian Prüfer’s research is a multidisciplinary study including philosophy, semiotics and biology, aiming to investigate the multifold approaches to the world understanding through the utilization of insects and environmental phenomena. His work tends to highlight what could superficially be perceived of as natural random activity, detached from human-scale concerns. Gathering together knowledge from different realms, the artist’s practice stages ontological issues within the context of neurological and behavioral biologic mechanisms.

The new body of works engages and expands on topics disclosed by the artist in previous works, pursuing a formal research on the creation of objects by using living insects. The effort to give a tangible form to ephemeral and invisible – to the humans – natural elements drives the investigation, although becoming a secondary interest. The artist now exhibits a new code, staged with a documentation that has become his artistic sign, where micro events recall macro phenomena – the forming of raindrops recalling the creation of stars, for instance.

The analogy between insects and humans, and the displacement of authorship, are rather integral bases for the disclosing of the author’s new discourse.

In his series “Naturantypie” Prüfer has involved the creativity of nature in many different ways. His gesture is suspended between observation and control: imprinting raindrops (Rain Pictures, 2015- ), tracking snails’ footprints (Snail Pictures, 2015- ), transferring scales of butterfly wings onto paper (Butterflies Prints, 2015). While giving instructions to nature, he also captures its elusiveness. Like in previous works – for instance Society, 2015 where he captured traces of ants – controlling and at the same time allowing a degree of freedom remains the crucial scientific procedure for the outcome of the new works, and their significance.

Detaching from the previous works, in the flies paintings the artists developed a new technique. As a meticulous scientist, he observed and studies the flies behavior. Thus, after discovering that they are attracted by heat, Prüfer came up with a technique which allows the flies to interpret and perform images. He obtained to make them move to preordained points, driving them to aggregate. The marks left by the flies are the result of the length of their stay and despite the blurriness, the resulting images are immediately recognizable: the Mona Lisa by Leonardo, The Origin of the World by Courbet, The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo… The subjects are famous iconographies existing in the world, and therefore in our mind.

A discourse on the collective creation of knowledge and its storage within the human mind is thus the main argument brought into play by Prüfer.

Fascination for footprints is taken as a starting point, for they represent a language: the primitives were able to read footprints and, by observing them, they could collect information. Drawing on this evolutionary heritage of our species, the author attempts to recall that type of semiotic exercise. He shows that by examining the insects’ footprints, we can understand the animals, but also the humans, both in our social and neurological mechanisms.

On the one hand, the experiments lead to investigate the degree of liberty, and thus creativity, when a given number of instructions is provided to the insects. On the other hand, Prüfer’s experimentations disclose a further reasoning, the one concerning the creation of culture as a collectiveness.

The new works are produced in crates that recall the honeybee boxes. The paintings are thus delivered, on the surface, as zoological experiments for the viewer’s scrutiny. The insects invite a kind of empathy, as with their often clumsy appearance they forfeit some of their fabled efficiency.

The artist observed some of the most significant behaviors of  flies. If one fly moves to a point, the others tend to move there too. Secondly, when a source of heat is present, a large part of the swarm moves there.

In considering the above, we now start to see what Prüfer’s process is disclosing. When the individual acts in-group, two opposite situations may arise: complete chaos and loss of sense, or efficiency and creation of a bigger sense.

The latter generates results that would have been impossible if conducted individually.

In light of this, we understand that the flies could create the image we are observing only thanks to their collaborative work. Similarly, we humans need to rely on a collective knowledge to grasp and represent reality. The artist once again highlights the distinction between the individual and the group as a crucial subject in his work. His efforts address the self-strengthening process that originates when we produce culture in collectiveness. Far from any socio-political utterance, however, Prüfer’s main concern is to put in evidence the value of some intangible human connotations.

These works address an approach which is acutely semiotic and philosophical, bringing into play what has been identified by scientists as ”the collective brain”. It is demonstrated that information may be transmitted directly from one brain to another and that human intelligence is a joint phenomenon. The brain activity of a single human is not sufficient to create and preserve a durable knowledge. It is the common act of thinking, remembering and interpreting that ultimately generates a mutual human background.

Therefore, we are able to recognize those images produced by the insects, because they already exist in our brain as a shared code, which is present within every single mind, therefore within our collective brain. This one is indispensable not only for the creation of a collective knowledge but also for the storage and decodification of it.What the artist provides is a visible image of this phenomenon.

So, what are the “real things”, how do they constitute knowledge and how do they last through their representation?

Referring back to Plato, Prüfer depicts one of the possible answers to those ontological questions:  the essence of things only lies in a collective knowledge.

Finally, we also encounter a double displacing of authority. Not only do these images exist thanks to the work of the flies, but also and more importantly thanks to the whole humanity, for their existence is possible only through a connected cognition. We are all authors, to some extent, of these images.

This new body of works explores a new path by involving, once again, the animals’ activity. Prüfer astutely nudges the enigmatic into the realm of the familiar, and through his tested collaboration with nature, his practice now emerges as an invitation to reflect on our shared knowledge as humans.

Text: Lucia Longhi


Juni 8th, 2019


4 March – 4 June 2018

Museum Villa Rot – Germany


März 2nd, 2018



23 March – 29 April 2017

For six years Maximilian Prüfer has been developing his own printing process. Using what he calls “naturantype,” the artist records such phenomena as the beating wings of moths, or the trails of ants and snails and questions their structural processes. Prüfer’s works are highly aesthetic objects and conceptual examinations of the world.


Berlin, January 17, 2017 – “I’m fascinated by movement and patterns, time, space, and antyhing that flies,” explains Maximilian Prüfer. The thirty-year-old has developed a printing technique that makes it possible for him to capture even the most minimal of movements and preserve them in the form of a print. His specially coated paper is so sensitive that it allows the tracks of ants or the beating of a moth’s wings to be seen. Although the process of creating an image seems to be left to chance, Prüfer also provocatively intervenes in the movements, by using traces of scent, bait, and obstructions to pre-determine the direction paths will take.

For Prüfer, the swarm is a structural model, while the printed surface is a seismograph of the most miniscule state of existence. How do living creatures behave in certain situations; how do they organize themselves—and is it possible to perceive regularities in them? In dialogue with nature, Prüfer explores social and philosophical models using the animals as an example. He particularly examines the correlation between culture and evolution and puts his findings in relation to the behavior of man.

Hatje Cantz

Juli 7th, 2017