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SYNAPSE Workshop 2015 | June 30 – July 4, 2015

Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene—scenes of burden

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

Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene
First Sessions: Intervention, Reaction and Violence
November 11-13, 2015
University of the Philippines – Los Banos

The series of sessions loosely grouped into Intervention, Reaction and Violence contend the discursive architecture folded in material and intangible infrastructures of development and integration. The terminal location—a point of definitive order—that intervention, reaction, and violence evoke shares a kinship with the recuperative articulation of the Anthropocene and with various techno-geopolitical engagements with the space called “South East Asia”. Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene disintegrates in the same nomenclature to map out modes of access determined by the network of development and integration in order to reconstruct the sites of action into scenes to be contaminated.

The compilation of artistic registers and creative impulses curated by David Ayala-Alfonso, Grace Samboh with Ismal Muntaha, Juan Canela, Mahardika Yudha, Mi You, Sofia Lemos and Tess Maunder estimates the strength and vulnerability of ideologies, imagination and consciousness penetrating and embodied in the expanded system of development and the caustic logic of integration.  Seven screening programs present a diverse format of moving images, video works, documentation, and making films from 24 artists, artist collectives, and citizens that converge into a promise of resistance, autonomy and emancipation. They reconfigure their tenuous relations from polarization to ambivalence in action and thought, nostalgia and optimism, cohesion and fragmentation, cynicism and opportunism, and/or critical reflection and self-defeating essentialism. As the tension grows and overlaps across the surfaces of the projected media, the body of works assembled with their contextual framing locates an anxious visual reappraisal and an insecure position towards things that can be seen yet cannot be known or things that can be known and can be seen but cannot be acted upon—things usually rendered as knowable.

Alternating the display and viewing of an exhibition and cinema, Intervention, Reaction and Violence begin in a stubborn assertion: the paradox of taming and gathering things together in Cologne-based curator and academic Mi You’s Found Internet Resources featuring videos culled from Youtube and other online domains. It “deals with subjects of (re)action to the implications of Anthropocene in the context of modern China and beyond.” Annexing three stages within the tripartite program, Found Internet Resources stages a negotiation in a historical and political continuum through the image and structure of China in its political modernization, political management, and economic hegemony with palpable tone of decolonization and survival in the postcolonial world. The abruptness and coarseness of the materials anticipate the moments of transgression to be compiled and collapsed in succeeding programs.

The visible gaps pronounced by the transition of an article of visual stimuli into another group of associations can be occupied with Hind Spectrum, the lone screening program to discuss the particularities of violence. Curated by Berlin-based researcher and curator Sofia Lemos, Hind Spectrum acts as an adhesive that shows the intimacy of intervention and reaction. Here, the works of Alexandra Navratil and Mareike Bernien and Kerstin Schroedinger “probe the penalties of colored celluloid in the film industry beyond its chemical composition. Exposing the relationship between social and material concerns, the films complicate the particularities of violence within regimes of development.” As Hind Spectrum’s vectors attach themselves into other nodes, the films bring up some urgent questions: “How may we interrogate the representation of violence? What are the aesthetics of conflict?”

Data, information and material evidence accounting for facts and truths have been regarded as the reliable documentation of histories and memories. They are verifiable, and like what the positivism of scientific method promotes, they are claims and clues in achieving replicability. What happens when documents are corrupted? Whose memories are we living in or contesting to? How do we disrupt the custody of evidence? In Mahardika Yudha’s contribution titled Impairing a Memories, he follows two Indonesian artists’ (Irwan Ahmett and Hafiz Rancajale) process of displacing the confidence and sufficiency of represented and manifested truths in New Order’s illusions and fantasies. The notion of intervention as documentation flows into an interface where images and their potentiality are both seductive tools in breaking away from oppression and in naturalizing (via memorializing and monumentalizing) oppression.

In The Reflection of the Mineral, The (Re)Action of the Image, Alexandra Navratil, Basim Magdy, Carolina Caycedo and David Ferrando Giraut have inverted the anthropocentric narrative and remembering consigned in subjects of action. Curated by Barcelona-based Juan Canela, the images flashing one after another are temporarily cured from the dominance of human’s knowledge system in order to animate other things, to let things speak to us. The imposed inertia to the so-called non-living objects are made to “reflect about [their] own nature through form and content, swiveling between past and future as a possibility for movement.” While the set of works constitutes a practice of looking away, it critically shows the complicated construction of agency and position in a field of relations inhabited by living and non-living objects, and the esoteric that lies in between or around the edges.

Contra the sanitized gesture of criticality, the confrontational antagonism of Archie Moore’s works produces the necessary abrasion to the “neutral ground” staged for an overdetermined theatricality of “meeting a resolution,” “negotiating compromises,” and “hearing all parties involved.” The co-opted terms of engagement are exposed in the artist’s two works, together with the risky truth-telling that the complicit conviviality demands from subjects of violence. Aided by Brisbane-based curator and writer Tess Maunder, Archie Moore’s works appear in a constellation of Session Reaction arguing that while bodies always resist, the same bodies can be appropriated and instrumentalized. Consequently, these works intensify the strategic essentialism that the notion of reactionary elicits, suggesting another radical position within a networked corruption of action.

Outsourced from an ongoing project in West Java, Indonesia, Can You Hear the Owl Howl? finds resonance on the ground of a neighboring South East Asian country undergoing similar processes of development and integration through a curios-based interpretation of tanah (land/soil/mud/clay). Curated by Jogja-based curator Grace Samboh with Jatiwangi art factory co-founder Ismal Muntaha, Can You Hear the Owl Howl? is composed of various video materials produced by ‘makers’ (artists, citizens, or government workers) in the town of Jatiwangi in the past five years. Operating in a form of political pragmatism and opportunism, it collocates with the question of place (or perhaps, originary placement or future situation) of development by figuring out and clearing practical and direct registers of engagement. As it rejects the individualistic cynicism, 21 materials are collated as if to show a collective desire that commits to realize a communal action against “massive changes”.

When intervention is conflated into translation and mediation, how do actions form the public or how do these actions form relations between conscious and unconscious participants in a public realm? The contribution of artist-curator David Ayala-Alfonso lends some provocations through the works of Carlos Guzmán and Felipe Steinberg. The eventual fragmentation of consolidated actions (or inactions) erodes the differentiation of participation and intervention suggesting a rethinking of organization, solidarity, collectivity, and individual agency.

The formation of Intervention, Reaction and Violence as the dialectical instantiation of Herding Islands, Rats and the Anthropocene perversely communicates the burden of wrestling with the subjects of development and integration through a curatorial that is both personal and communal; in drafting a way of paralyzing the dominant discursive formation, the artworks initially cope with the epistemological trauma by inducting an architecture of introgression where moving images self-contaminate, cross-pollinate, and recuperate. Ultimately, with the intermittent navel-gazing and reflexive promiscuity of knowledges in either artistic or curatorial faculties, the first sessions ask: can “herded images” be grafted onto another stem, or do we “eat” them to become the ghosts or specters of development and integration?

Artists: 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, and Yuliati Shalihat.

Session Curators: David Ayala-Alfonso, Grace Samboh with Ismal Muntaha, Jewel Maranan, Juan Canela, Kevser Guler, Mahardika Yudha, Mi You, Sofia Lemos, Tess Maunder and Vera Mey.

Parallel program curators: Christian Tablazon, Romeo dela Cruz Jr. and Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi.

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, Riceworld Museum of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and MASIPAG Office.

Image cover: Still of Carolina Caycedo’s Spaniards Named Her Magdalena, But Natives Call Her Yuma (2013),  27 min. Sound and color. 

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