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SYNAPSE Workshop 2015 | June 30 – July 4, 2015

Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene–initiating some thoughts and a collaboration with/through Southeast Asia

21.10.15 | PROJECT: Blog | AUTHOR: Renan Laru-an

* Space of abundance

The stadium effect has unknown and unclear logic. It occurs when pest species of rats create a doughnut-like structure in an upland and terraced landscape of rain-fed rice paddies. Spiral without concentric points, each terrace is divided into two: the perimeter of the paddy is left without damage while the interior is completely mowed. As rats assert a topographical classification of territorial and nutritive boundaries in terms of the limit and capacity of sufficiency, it simultaneously annuls images and roles accumulated by every actor on the field. The stadium’s edges show a vegetative fortress that hides activities from human traffic and animal predators, yet it allows the inter-penetration of smaller animals into the porous border. Native rodent species expose introduced species, such as feral rats, in a series of competitive reclamation of nearby forest land, controlling the movement of destructive species into the field. Erosion and water seepage—induced by deep-burrowing giant earthworms, weaken the stadium’s walls. Rats feed on golden apple snails found in rice nurseries. It reinforces a hypothesis that rat breeding concurs with crop stage. This attachment of rats’ reproductive cycle and rice’s cycle of production complicates approaches to rodent management and damage control. Rats’ idiosyncratic use of an upland agroecosystem possibilizes a fleeting architecture with tight—if not intimate—relationship between abundance and insufficiency, competition and protection, and management and resolution.

* Space of contamination

The expansion of capitalist frontiers and the intensification of the so-called “Third World Colonialism” based on ecological plunder and staging of development has pushed indigenous communities tied to land cultivation out of their homeland’s fertile coordinates. Retreating to the surrounding hillsides, indigenous people have demilitarized their presence only to re-militarize their absence as a technology of resistance. In 1979, a group of T’bolis of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato signed a petition addressed to Asian Development Bank (ADB). The letter calls for a rigorous reconsideration of and expresses strong opposition to the funding agency’s commitment in the government-initiated construction of a hydroelectric dam. As a coordinated response, the triumvirate of the dictator’s regime (Ferdinand Marcos), corporate giant PEMCO (Philippine Electrical Manufacturing Company), and Asian Development Bank enervated T’bolis resistance by integrating it in paternalistic developmentalism and values of modernization through sophisticated employment of violence. However, before finally losing the chambers of the valley to speak, the T’bolis apprehended their subjugation to the terms of development: integration and displacement. In the letter submitted to ADB, they emphasized two statements:

This land and these lakes God has given us. We do not want this land to be destroyed by flood because it is precious to us, our ancestors were born and were buried here. We would rather kill ourselves and our children than to witness the terrible destruction this dam would bring. We have heard that new lands will be set aside for us in distant and foreign places. We would rather be drowned here and be buried with our ancestors than to live far away from our homeland.

The necropolitical position of the T’boli people, who believe that “The Land Cannot Be Owned  by a Few People Ever Since,” inverts the fantasy of the nutritive in the psyche of development. When they asked the electric company where they would hang the lightbulbs and when they marched towards the municipal hall to submit themselves for legal prosecution, they reappropriated the means of capture and contamination that their invaders had deployed. After becoming extracted from their ecological intimacies and relational sphere, they presented their injured beings only to ask if they could take them all in and that if were capable of subtracting themselves from being already extracted.

* Space of introgression

The project Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene inducts itself through the space and reverberation of introgression, a plant breeding technique that relies on incidental cross-pollination, and relies on the intermittent loneliness and ecstasy of herding—of thinking and doing collectively, within the disjunctive unities of contemporary knowledge production. Or, naively, it crumbles at its germination with self-inflicting critical possibilities: How do we herd subjects that we don’t know? Can we herd things that we don’t know?

* Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene—the project

Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene is a multi-part, hybrid program of activities for reading discourses on development and integration. It seeks to attach a multi-layered and dialectical approach to the current modes of understanding and explanation of the Anthropocene. Deploying the (pre)determined and scattered articulations of the Anthropocene Project into the grounds of Southeast Asia, it gathers mediating structures and systems of exposition through the region’s political economy and knowledge scenes.

The practice of reading aims to be polyphonic and fractured, while allowing different impulses to collapse within the quandaries and histories of development and integration. The indeterminate and alternating coordinates for reading in Southeast Asia could chart speculative routes for new practices of mediation and translation:  releasing subjects and methods of reading from disciplinary self-containment and transforming codified discourses of development and integration.

Each session lays out the network of the Anthropocene, development, and integration in a complex situation where the procedure of knowing and not-yet-knowing relate to or come in conflict with one another.  The set of activities animates creative tension and collaborative determination across interacting knowledges beyond their territorial boundaries.

The initial reading of Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene is focused on the Philippines and shared with international collaborators and local experts dedicated to problematizing development and integration. Composed of three sessions between Metro Manila and the province of Laguna, the broad scope of the iteration is funneled through the following vectors: intervention, violence, and reaction.


Introductory session*

Introducing Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene is a presentation of new work produced by Munich-based artist Christian Illi titled Planting Rice, a video essay documenting his trip to the International Rice Research Institute and the farmer-led alternative group MASIPAG. The public briefing will feature fragments of the project and its trajectory to be led by project curator Renan Laru-an with additional notes in short conversations with collaborators. The session will close with a slideshow of materials from Jan Patrick Pineda’s Memorial of an Inquiry, as a reference to the development and integration image figuring into the artist’s appropriation of the PANAMIN Research Foundation.

*Held on October 14 at Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center

Session Intervention begins with a lecture-presentation by project curator Renan Laru-an on histories of foreclosure and proceeds with propositions surrounding intervention, in the format of a video program. The session classifies artistic intervention and intervening images as processes of reading, then it complicates the discussion with the critique on how such reading unites with/diverge from knowledge-based interventions (i.e. the curatorial) and with broad disciplines, such as social sciences.

Session Intervention is co-curated by David Ayala-Alfonso (Bogota/Los Angeles) and Mahardika Yudha (Jakarta).

Session Reaction encounters reading scenes and practices of three institutions committed to development, integration and preservation. Visiting the University of the Philippines-Los Banos Museum of Natural History, International Rice Research Institute, and alternative research organization MASIPAG serves as an opportunity to discuss how these infrastructures communicate and represent their articulation of development and integration. The session concludes with a video forum divided into four screening programs, which expounds how the network of the Anthropocene, development, and integration forms subjects of action and intensifies critical thoughts and actions for response.

Session Reaction is co-curated by Juan Canela (Barcelona), Tess Maunder (Brisbane), Grace Samboh and Ismal Muntaha (Jogja), and Mi You (Beijing/Cologne).

Session Violence proposes to look into the particularities of violence within the regime of development and integration. Interspersed with video programs organized by curators from Turkey, Germany and South Africa, the session constellates with the research work of Filipino geographer Kristian Saguin on aquaculture in Laguna Lake, small-scale fisheries in Batangas Bay, and fish markets in Metro Manila. The session culminates with a polemical discussion, provoked by the question: Can we still talk about violence with(in) the Anthropocene?

Session Violence is co-curated by Kevser Guler (Istanbul), Vera Mey (Singapore), and Sofia Lemos (Berlin).

The initial phase of the project will unfold in November 11-13 at Sining Makiling Gallery, University of the Philippines-Los Banos. Comprehensive program and necessary details of each session will be released soon.

Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene will be expounded as a long-term curatorial and research project from 2016 to 2017 in various sites in Southeast Asia.



Working group and session curators  David Ayala-Alfonso, Tess Maunder, Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi, Grace Samboh and Ismal Muntaha, Juan Canela, Kevser Guler, Jewel Maranan, Sofia Lemos, Vera Mey, Mi You, and Mahardika Yudha, and Christian Tablazon.

Participating artists and researchers (partial list) Jan Patrick Pineda, Christian Illi, Kristian Saguin, Alexandra Navratil, Archie Moore, Arie Syarifuddin, Basim Magdy, Carolina Caycedo, Carlos Guzmán, David Ferrando Girault, Felipe Steinberg, Hafiz Rancajale, Hanyaterra, Irwan Ahmett, Ismal Muntaha, Irwan Ahmett & Tita Salina, Jatiwangi art Factory, Jatiwangi Kids, Julian Abraham ‘Togar’, Mareike Bernien and Kerstin Schroedinger, Pak Camat Band feat. Rizal Abdulhadi & Ahmad Thian Vultan, Taneuh Beureum, Tarling Padi, Yopie Nugraha, The Dangdans, The Nutrisi Besar, Yuliati Shalihat, Meiro Koizumi, Tith Kanitha, Than Minh Duc, and Sok Chanrado.

Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene is conceived and initiated by Renan Laru-an in cooperation with the Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts-UPLB (OICA), College of Arts and Science-Arts and Science Fusion Program of UPLB, and SYNAPSE – The International Curators’ Network at HKW.

Venue partners

Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, Sining Makiling Art Gallery at the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB), Museum of Natural History at College of Forestry in UPLB, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and MASIPAG Office. Cover image: Some of the senior staff of IRRI photographed in 1960. Image: Screenshot of the photograph (p. 30) from An Adventure in Applied Science: A History of International Rice Research Institute (Chandler, 1992), published by IRRI. Read the article with photographs here:

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