NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore is pleased to present The Oceanic, an exhibition focusing on large-scale human interventions in oceanic ecospheres with contributions by 12 artists, filmmakers, composers, and researchers who engage with both the long cultural histories of Pacific Ocean archipelagos and their current conditions. As part of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary–Academy’s (TBA21–Academy) The Current, an ongoing research initiative into pressing environmental, economic, and socio-political concerns, NTU CCA Singapore’s Founding Director Professor Ute Meta Bauer was invited to lead the project’s first cycle of expeditions from 2015–17. The featured contributors in The Oceanic are The Current Fellows who joined the expeditions on TBA21–Academy’s vessel Dardanella to Papua New Guinea (2015), French Polynesia (2016), and Fiji (2017).

The expedition to Papua New Guinea, with Laura Anderson Barbata (Mexico/United States), Tue Greenfort (Denmark/Germany), Newell Harry (Australia), and Jegan Vincent de Paul (Sri Lanka/Canada), took as a starting point the concept of the Kula Ring, a ceremonial exchange system practiced in the Trobriand Islands. The second excursion, to French Polynesia, titled Tuamotus, the Tahitian name for distant islands, included Nabil Ahmed (Bangladesh/United Kingdom), Atif Akin (Turkey/United States), PerMagnus Lindborg (Sweden/Singapore), and Filipa Ramos (Portugal/United Kingdom). The atolls Mururoa and Fangataufa were the sites for 193 nuclear tests between 1966 and 1996, despite being declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1977. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first atomic weapons test on Mururoa, then considered a French colony in Polynesia, this expedition discussed the still neglected long-term impact of nuclear experiments in the Pacific on the populations and the environment. On the third and last expedition of this cycle, the Fijian practice of the Tabu/Tapu, where a community chief demarcates something as “sacred,” or “forbidden,” continued the enquiry on the Polynesian Rahui—a traditional rule system that in recent times became significant for marine conservation and resource management. This journey to the Fijian Lau Islands was joined by The Current Fellows Guigone Camus (France), Lisa Rave (United Kingdom/Germany), and Kristy H. A. Kang (United States/Singapore). Participating in all three expeditions was Armin Linke (Italy/Germany), who not only documented these journeys with his camera, but also questioned the role of image production in such unique yet loaded encounters.

Stemming from this cycle of expeditions, the exhibition addresses various ecological urgencies affecting the ocean and its littorals as a habitat for humans, fauna, and flora, as well as particular aspects of sea governance. Questions addressed in the show include: Who are the regulators of global oceans? Why should communities who only contribute one per cent of the global carbon footprint be among the first ones to be fatally affected by the rise of sea levels caused by global warming? Is the economic benefit of land- and seabed mining evenly shared with the impacted communities? What are the long-term effects of such industries? Who owns the ocean?

The interest in exposing the technology behind the human infrastructures is present in Armin Linke’s video installation OCEANS – Dialogues between ocean floor and water column (2017) while Tue Greenfort explores complex ecosystems and scientific production practices, challenging human understanding of and relationship with nature and culture.

Inspired by the materials used for gift exchanges such as the Kula Ring, Newell Harry documents this practice in his black-and-white photo series (Untitled) Nimoa and Me: Kiriwina Notes (2015–16), and also creates (Untitled) Anagrams and Objects for RU & RU (2015) with text on tapa, a cloth made from softened bark. Likewise incorporating items by artisans from Milne Bay Province, Laura Anderson Barbata produced striking costumes for the performative piece Ocean Calling (2017), created as part of TBA21–Academy’s intervention on World Ocean Day 2017 at the plaza in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Addressing the exploitation of finite resources, Nabil Ahmed collaborates with other researchers to call for an Inter-Pacific Ring Tribunal (INTERPRT) (2016–ongoing), a long-term investigation into environmental justice in the Pacific region. Lisa Rave’s film Europium (2014) investigates this rare eponymous mineral that has become one of the allures of deep-sea mining—the new gold rush spreading across the global oceans. In Europium, Rave also draws the often-invisible connections between colonialism, ecology, and currencies.

The exhibition will also include a sound component by PerMagnus Lindborg who recorded the land and underwater soundscapes of the Tuamotus in French Polynesia, as well as a film programme selected by Filipa Ramos and other The Current Fellows. Jegan Vincent de Paul will expand his research on socio-economic networks into the Pacific region. In The Lab, the Centre’s project space, anthropologist Guigone Camus will display documentation from the Fiji expedition, as well as diverse materials from her extensive research in Kiribati, while Kristy H. A. Kang will reflect on her experience in Fiji through an iterative installation and research process that will explore vernacular forms of mapping cultural memory and spatial narrative.

The Oceanic marks the start of NTU CCA Singapore’s new overarching research topic Climates.Habitats.Environments., which will inform and connect the Centre’s various activities—ranging from research to residencies and exhibitions—for the next three years. This is the third exhibition by the Centre, following Allan Sekula’s Fish Story, to be continued (2015) and Charles Lim Yi Yong’s SEA STATE (2016), to feature long-term, critical enquiries by artists about the radical changes for communities whose livelihoods are inseparable from the sea, the precarious labour at sea, and the irreversible impact of technologically driven human interventions on one of the Earth’s most precious resources, the oceans.

This opportunity has led to a Memorandum of Understanding between TBA21 and the Nanyang Technological University in developing academic and scientific relationships.

From 25 – 27 January 2018, on the occasion of the exhibition and coinciding with Singapore Art Week 2018, The Current Convening #3, conceived by Professor Bauer, Markus Reymann, Director of TBA21–Academy, and Stefanie Hessler, Curator of TBA21–Academy, will take place at the Centre, featuring conversations, roundtables, workshops, performances, and screenings. The event will focus on modalities of exchange and shared responsibilities, while addressing the rights of nature and cultures.

The Oceanic public programmes
The Current Convening #3 conference

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore is pleased to present Arus Balik – From below the wind to above the wind and back again, an exhibition project that initiated from a conversation between Belgian curator Philippe Pirotte and Jakarta-based artist Ade Darmawan. Reconsidering Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s epic book Arus Balik (1995), which could be translated into English as a “turning of the tide,” the eponymous exhibition takes the novel as a starting point to reflect on perspectival shifts in geopolitical, cultural, social, religious, and natural spheres.

In his fictional account, Pramoedya elaborates on the weakening of the maritime culture of Javanese kingdoms in the early 16th century, the progressive Islamisation, and the beginning of Portuguese occupation on parts of the now Malay and Indonesian peninsula and archipelago. Important is that Pramoeda’s reversal of perspective as a meta-geographical impulse is comparable to the notion of the “inverted telescope” Benedict Anderson advances in his seminal book Spectre of Comparisons (1998): as a non-Eurocentric method of comparison in which for example Portugal is viewed from the standpoint of Southeast Asia, as through an inverted telescope, which causes a kind of vertigo. Pramoedya suggests that the final decline of the Majapahit empire, and the “change from traditional independence to colonial possession,” was largely caused by the different Javanese kingdoms having gradually turned their backs to the sea.

The participating artists expand on this prompt through installations, sculptures, films, performances, and texts, both existing works as well as new commissions. Ade Darmawan re-read Arus Balik with a special focus on how protagonists use natural resources, and will create a distilling dispositive with alkaline water from the straits, recalling that all the scrambling for the control of the archipelago was about the extraction of ore and goods. ila questions what it means to be Boyanese, Buginese, Minangkabau, or Javanese through encounters with Singapore residents now conflated as Malay. Their testimonies will be written on her body and wither, while exposed to salty water and weather on reclaimed areas of Singapore island. Paradise Blueprint (2017), a wallpaper designed by Zac Langdon-Pole, based on a cyanotype photogram of the removed legs of a so-called “Bird of Paradise,” addresses the history of cultural exchange and mythology surrounding the birds native to Papua New Guinea. Lucy Raven creates silk paintings or monoprints, made by imprint of sedimentation in erosion tables, as scrim backdrops she uses for a forthcoming film-production, called Kongkreto, inspired by the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines that finally chased off the Americans from Clark Airbase. Book-aficionado, artist, and writer Shubigi Rao delves into the stories related to the difficult conditions, but also extraordinary examples of solidarity Pramoedya faced on prison island Buru while writing Arus Balik. A new video-installation by Melati Suryodarmo, Dancing under the Black Sky (2019), traces the history behind Reog performances, an art form of resistance and criticism of Ponorogo people of East Java towards Bhre Kertabhumi, a Majapahit king who slowly lost his authority in the 15th century, before Islam became a major force in Demak and controlled the coastal region of Java.

The exhibition Arus Balik aims to imagine the implication of histories and politics in processes of transition, such as colonisation and decolonisation, or shifts in maritime power for people and ports below (the straits of Malacca, South China Sea, Java Sea, and further east) and above (the Indian Ocean and further West) the wind. Have the multiple colonisations in Southeast Asia alienated the people from the sea coast? Is it possible to attempt a return? The reversal of the colonial fact, the promise of reversal of a geo-political, -cultural, and social systems, initially embodied by the Bandung conference in 1955, caused Afro-American author Richard Wright to write that “it smacked of tidal waves, of natural forces.”

The accompanying public programmes further investigate the topics raised, including a conversation on Saturday, March 23, around the book Arus Balik and the reception of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s oeuvre. On Saturday, May 25, another conversation will focus on living with the sea and the history of the straits.

Arus Balik – From below the wind to above the wind and back again is NTU CCA Singapore’s response and contribution to this year’s nation-wide bicentennial commemorations that reflect on Singapore’s history since the arrival of the British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, considered the founder of modern Singapore.

Guest curated by Philippe Pirotte, Rector, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule, and Director, Portikus, Frankfurt, and Visiting Professor (2018/19), MA Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices, School of Art, Design and Media, NTU.

Arus Balik – From below the wind to above the wind and back again public programmes