the process is the artwork

Caesar or nothing

ELLEN RINGSTAD - Caesar or Nothing (2016) - Detail 01_120dpi_1080px_comp8

Here’s one of my latest installations, ‘Aut Caesar, aut Nihil’ (2016) – the latin expression translates to ‘either Caesar or nothing’. It is a personal piece which, beneath its apparent vitality and vibrance, still maintains the ambivalence which is ever-present in my artwork. The mood of the installation alternates from light to dark (see video below), and comes with a reference to existentialist Søren Kirkegaard’s ‘The Sickness Unto Death.

“An individual in despair despairs over something. So it seems for a moment, but only for a moment; in the same moment the true despair or despair in its true form shows itself. In despairing over something, he really despaired over himself, and now he wants to get rid of himself. For example, when the ambitious man whose slogan is “Either Caesar or nothing” does not get to be Caesar, he despairs over it. But this also means something else: precisely because he did not get to be Caesar, he now cannot bear to be himself. Consequently he does not despair because he did not get to be Caesar but despairs over himself because he did not get to be Caesar…. Consequently, to despair over something is still not despair proper…. To despair over oneself, in despair to will to be rid of oneself—this is the formula for all despair.”

– Søren Kierkegaard. (1)

These fish babies are bred in captivity and have just hatched. The little transparent ones in the blue gravel tank are Dolphin Cichlids no more than two days old, the black ones are algae eating Bristlenose Plecomostus (Ancistrus species), and the twenty-eight youngsters in the green gravel tank are two months old Yellow Electric Cichlids. Some hard-working (hungry) adolescent Albino Ancistrus are kept in each of the tanks to maintain algae growth under control. The microcosmos of a fish tank must stay balanced for its inhabitants to thrive.

Originally from the lake Malawi in Africa, the Cichlids are mouthbrooders which means the mother keeps the fertilised eggs in her mouth until sometime after they have eaten up their egg yolk sack. Then she spits them out, but can suck them back into the mouth to keep them safe. With South-American Plecos, the male guards the eggs after spawning and fawns them with fresh water to keep them aerated. He stays put until they are free-swimming. Then they escape the nest to explore the ‘world’ on their own.

Sometimes I wonder if they, despite their confinement to aquariums for many generations already, don’t intuitively long for the freedom of their natural habitat. There’s inherent intelligence in the genetic code, I’m convinced of it.

(1) Kirkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death. A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening [Originally published 1849. Original title: Sygdommen til Døden. En christelig psychologisk Udvikling til Opbyggelse og Opvækkelse] As quoted in: Storm, D. Anthony [Publishing date unknown]. ‘Fifth Period: Direct Communication (1848-51). The Sickness Unto Death.‘ D. Anthony Storm’s commentary on Kierkegaard. Available from URL: [Accessed 2016-03-01].


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