Newell Harry of South African and Mauritian descent, has for over a decade drawn from an intimate web of recurring travels and connections across Oceania and the wider Asia-Pacific, to South Africa’s Western Cape Province, where the artist’s extended family continues to reside. From Pidgin and Creole languages to modes of exchange in the “gift economies” of the South Pacific, Harry’s interests often culminate in culturally “entangled” installations. Selected exhibitions include Tidalectics, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art 21, Vienna (2017); Endless Circulation: Tarrawarra Biennial, curated Victoria Lynn & Helen Hughes, Tarrawarra, Victoria (2016); The 56th Venice Biennale: All the Worlds Futures (2015);Suspended Histories, Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam (2013); Rendez Vous 11 & 12, Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villebanne (2011) and South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2012); Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial) (2011); The 17th Biennale of Sydney: The Beauty of Distance, Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age (2010); and The Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Before and After Science (2010).
Between February and April 2015, Harry was Artist-in-Residence at NTU CCA Singapore where he looked into the under-presented colonial connections between the Cape Malay of South Africa and the Straits Settlements.
The artistic practice of Claudia Losi (b.1971, Italy) explores social interactions, the entanglements of human sensibilities, and the complexities of natural phenomena through scientific, ethnographic, and anthropological research methodologies. Spanning participatory projects and performances as well as drawings, photography, and sculpture, her work has recently been presented in the solo exhibition How do I imagine being there?, Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy (2016) and in numerous international group shows including the Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art, China (2016); MAGASIN, Grenoble, France (2010); Sharjah Biennale 8, United Arab Emirates (2007).
The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 can perhaps be considered the last grandiose natural disaster before the advent of moving images. For Casas, the historical eruption is an active producer of multiple narratives and imaginaries. Fascinated by its sublime stature and by the unique visual, sonic, and meteorological phenomena occurred in the aftermath of the eruption, the artist aims to investigate its socio-symbolic entanglements with Indonesia’s colonial history while also continuing his longstanding meditation on how natural disasters affect our understanding of nature and of our position on the planet. Through archival research and on-site shooting, the artist will collect historical, optical, and sonic data from various research stations and archives in Singapore and Indonesia in preparation for a new work.
This ongoing research project is inspired by Amar Kanwar’s The Sovereign Forest. Referencing Kanwar’s artistic approach, The Haze: An Inquiry brought together people from different disciplines in a focus group that takes the haze situation in Southeast Asia as the main topic for investigation.
How do we bridge the gap from the banal to the sensual, the tactical and visceral? What steps of inquiry leads us from the scientific to the notion of immediacy? How do we define abstract terms such as “crime” – Is the haze a crime? What is a crime against society? Different perspectives are offered in this process by participants from diverse backgrounds, including a research scientist, theatre director, community leader, writer, tech consultant, co-founder of a hackerspace, activist, designer and curator, geographer, architect, and postgraduate student.
A core group of specialists from varied fields of law, natural and social sciences, literature, art and architecture, media and theatre, is brought together in a series of workshops and discussions to explore the haze situation as an environmental, human, and legal challenge, given its transnational impact. The aim is to create a collection of “evidence” and to investigate the potential of the haze to be considered a “crime”. This collecting which include factual information and data, compilation of ancestral knowledge, media clippings, commentaries, unrecorded oral knowledge, as well as writings, photographs, and films will be gathered in the space amidst working notes of the core group. Using these “evidences”, participants will uncover social and environmental impacts beyond the haze, and deliberate on questions of social justice, corporate environmental responsibilities, agronomy cultures in industrial developments, amongst others. Each participant brings to the discussion individual responses that stem from their respective interests and disciplines. This research platform aims to assemble a diversity of viewpoints to provoke alternative ways of looking at and talking with a wider public about contemporary situations of urgency.
In addition to the series of closed and public workshops, discussions, and presentations participants in the core group is engaged in, they are also encouraged to invite guests who will make further inquiries into the “evidences” in The Lab and to look into collaborative working methods of shared agency.
“To live and die well together in a thick present,” quotes the seminal text Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulhucene by Donna Haraway. In this text, Haraway responds to the rising sense of alarm surrounding ecological discourses on the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene. The book is a proposal to move instead towards the discursive framework of the Cthulhucene—an ecological epoch that, for Haraway, “eschews futurism” and remains resolutely with the present and all its problems; one that stays with the trouble and finds kin within it.
To consider the global ecosystem as a network of entangled and interconnected life-forces, the ecological imminence is also an imminence of existence. It begins with disappearance—of water, of trees, of entire habitats and species—all turned to vapour and thin air. And yet thin air in a thick present takes vapour as a beginning, too: vapour cycles through time, becoming cloud, becoming rainfall, becoming water-body again. Taking the Earth’s hydrologic cycle—that is, the sequence of processes detailing the cyclical movement of water on and off the Earth’s surface—as its entry-point, Vapour Islands: to live and die well together in a thick present* is an archipelago of thematic “islands,” in which each island corresponds to one of the four main stages of the hydrologic cycle: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and percolation. Interacting with books and research materials from the Centre’s Public Resource Platform while thinking through the cycle of water, this presentation moves through and between loss and regain, release and redistribution, to consider the ways in which thin air can be transformed into a present thick with possibility.
James Jack is an artist and Assistant Professor of Visual Art, Yale-NUS College, Singapore. His practice is concerned with rejuvenating fragile connections that exist in the world, making artworks in direct relationship to a place and the people that live there. Between February and April 2015, Jack was Artist-in-Residence at NTU CCA Singapore, where he expanded his artistic research on the project Stories of Khayalan Island (2013–ongoing).
Jegan Vincent de Paul (Sri Lanka, Canada/ Singapore) is a PhD candidate at the NTU ADM and NTU CCA Singapore. His dissertation considers the role of research- based artistic production in creating new understandings of contemporary geopolitical events; his thesis critically examines China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its impact on the ethnic conflicts of Burma, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Vincent de Paul has a Master of Architecture from the University of Toronto (2007) and completed his Master of Science in Visual Studies at the MIT Visual Arts Program (2009). He has worked as a researcher and designer with artists and cultural organisations, including Ai Weiwei (Beijing), LOT-EK (New York), and the MIT Museum (Boston). He was a research fellow and lecturer at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (2011–12), where he researched the intersec- tion of energy and society, and taught courses on creative responses to conflict and crises.
He has collaborated with NTU CCA Singapore on several occasions, one of which was an Exhibition (de)Tour in May 2016 as part of Charles Lim Yi Yong’s exhibition SEA STATE.
Currently, more than half of the world’s human population lives in urban areas. Urban growth poses challenges to the various city dwellers, and creates material demands that cause lasting damage to the wider environment. The climate crisis is already announcing threatening scenarios particularly for coastal regions and megacities located at coastlines. Global urbanisation and the exploitation of resources happen on the expense of human and other species alike. The Posthuman City features artists who propose a shift in perspective.
Taking NTU CCA Singapore’s overarching research topic Climates.Habitats.Environments. as point of departure, the exhibition The Posthuman City considers the possibilities of a conscious sharing of resources, and a respectful and mindful coexistence between humans and other species. Through imaginative propositions at the intersection of art, design, and architecture, the selected artists engage questions addressing issues of sustainability, water scarcity, invisible communities, nature as a form of culture, and suggest the implementation of lived indigenous knowledges. Examining the urban fabric in its condition as a habitat for a diversity of life forms, the featured works range from installations to time-based media.
Stressing the vital importance of clean water and the challenges of its scarcity around the world, the artist and design duo Lucy + Jorge Orta have developed a long-term project on water collection, purification, and distribution. OrtaWater focuses on the general issues surrounding clean water and the privatisation and corporate control effecting access to it. Starting from a rigorous analysis of this crucial resource through visual and textual research and collaborative workshops with engineers, Lucy + Jorge Orta create sculptures, large-scale installations, and public artworks, that are both artefacts and functional design. One angle of their research—low-cost water purification devices enabling filthy water to be pumped and filtered directly from local sources—is translated into Portable Water Fountain (2005) and Mobile Intervention Unit (2007). These devices have been used to purify and distribute water from the Venice’s Canal Grande (2005) and the Huang Pu River in Shanghai (2012), among others, and now from the creek that runs through Gillman Barracks.
Similarly combating water pollution, Irene Agrivina’s Soya C(o)u(l)ture is a mixed media installation that demonstrates how to transform wastewater from tofu and tempeh production into usable biomaterials, such as fuel, fertiliser, and leather-like fabrics. Soya C(o)u(l)ture was developed in collaboration with XXLab, an all-female transdisciplinary collective that Agrivina co-founded. Usually, large amounts of wastewater pollute the water in the rivers surrounding the plants, which in turn causes cholera and skin and bowel diseases in humans. Soya C(o)u(l)ture intends to divert this wastewater from tofu factories and put it in a homegrown starter culture medium to create useful products. A biological process using various bacteria and cell cultures, for instance Acetobacter xylinum, generates alternative energy sources, foodstuffs, and biological material. This process creates cellulose sheets that can either be used for consumption—nata de coco, a variant made of coconut water, is a popular snack food—or further processed (pressed, dried, enhanced with colouring and coating) to make clothing and craft materials. This biological procedure can be reproduced in any household using normal kitchen utensils in combination with open-source software and simple hardware. In this way, the project could provide women in poverty-stricken regions with opportunities to increase their income.
Indigenous peoples of various territories around the world, with deep historical and cultural ties to their land, have preserved sustainable ways of living that respect the limits of the planet’s resources. The artist and architect Marjetica Potrč’s Earth Drawings refer to these unique indigenous cosmogonies and their essential knowledges, based on research done over the past 15 years, centred on indigenous communities, such as the Asháninkas (in the Brazilian state of Acre in Amazonia), the Aboriginal (in Australian), and the Sami (in northern Norway), The Earth Drawings, a series on paper, point to the growing alliances between indigenous groups and bottom-up initiatives in the effort to ensure a more resilient future, beyond the social and economic agreement of the neoliberal order. Potrč stresses that the world’s diverse societies, taken together, form an intelligent organism: when necessary, they self-generate new models of existence and coexistence—a precondition for human resilience on Earth. Sharing life experiences is, after all, a basic human condition. Coexistence on Earth requires new foundations that foreground collective ownership of the land and a socially-conscious individualism.
Planetary coexistence of species acknowledges the presence and agency of diverse forms of intelligence. The artist Nicholas Mangan is inspired by termites and their capacity to build sophisticated and dynamic architectures that provide a model for decentralised social and economic organisation. The starting point of Termite Economies (Phase 1) was the anecdote that Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) researched termite behaviour in the hope that the insects might one day lead humans to gold deposits; a proposal to exploit the natural activity of termite colonies for economic gain. Mangan, on the contrary, proposes that the termites’ way of living in colonies might suggest other complex and global-scale systems for people to live and work together, better regulating and metabolising human consumption, production, and digestion. Termite Economies combines footage Mangan filmed on locations in Western Australia, alongside archival video and table-mounted sculptures, to speculate on the use of termites as miners and ruminating on how capitalism puts nature to work. The 3D-printed models reference existing infrastructures, for instance an underground tunnelling system for Tindals Mining Centre, a gold mine in Western Australia. The idea was to produce a 1:100 scale model to train termites.
In Bangkok Opportunistic Ecologies, the design practice Animali Domestici studied the urbanity of Bangkok from a non-anthropocentric perspective, focusing on the presence of pythons. Mapping the city through a snake’s experience, the resulting tapestry puts multiple beings of different species at the centre, displacing the human from its exceptionalism. The graphic realisation is freely inspired by the representation techniques, colour palettes, and composition of Thai traditional mural paintings. Their work process translates research and statistics on the Thai capital into multiple encapsulated narratives, including such elements as sewerage, canals, water swamps, and rain water “cracked” pipes—typical spots used by snakes, according to fire department experts—, as well as folkloric cultural practices like the numerology and superstitions connected to the shape and location of the animals.
In Untitled (Human Mask), the artist Pierre Huyghe films a monkey, Fuku-chan, who in real life has a work permit as a “waitress” in a traditional sake house in Tokyo. In the film, the animal is wearing a dress and a wig, as well as a white, human-like mask created by Huyghe. Made of resin, the mask is inspired by traditional Japanese Noh theatre masks, where only the main actor wears a mask, meant to show the essential traits of the character. The film’s first images are drone shots of a devastated landscape, that of Fukushima in 2011, after the earthquake-triggered tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear plant reactors. It then shifts to an empty restaurant and house, where we follow Fuku-chan moving around in the dark. Fuku-chan is seen acting, and seems to be waiting, shaking her leg, looking at her nails, playing with her hair. A cat appears, and we see close-ups of insects and cockroaches. Raising questions about the essence of human nature and of non-human forms of intelligence and communication, the work points at the prevailing relationship of domination between humans and other species.
Ghostpopulations, a series of collages by the artist Ines Doujak, combines ill human bodies with flora and fauna, transforming drawings from 19th-century medical textbooks into provocative assemblages that investigate desperation as an economic force. Doujak points out that entire populations uproot and flee in the direction of the faintest glimmer of hope, only to find themselves in the worst of predicaments: abandoned and deported, sold, abused or stigmatised forever, circulating as extremely cheap and disposable commodities. While she is giving visibility to such marginalised, abused, and displaced populations, these collages draw a dystopian mirage, reminding us of the pending threat of pandemic illnesses.
Death, from a post-humanist perspective, is not only inevitable and part of life, but is an event that is already in our past. The artist and entrepreneur Jae Rhim Lee developed a burial suit as an environmentally-conscious alternative to conventional funerary processes, shifting the negative narratives around death. The presented Infinity Burial Suit, a handcrafted garment that is worn by the deceased, is completely biodegradable, and co-created with zero waste fashion designer Daniel Silverstein. In addition, the Forever Spot Pet Shroud is featured, also consisting of a built in biomix of mushrooms and other microorganisms that together do three things: aid in decomposition, work to neutralise toxins found in dead bodies, and transfer nutrients to plant life, enriching the earth and fostering new life. Highlighting the importance of decompiculture—the cultivation of waste-decomposing organisms—, this project also suggests a strong link between human resistance to mortality and climate change denial. She advocates for a post-mortem responsibility towards the natural world and a direct engagement with our own mortality, making funerals new beginnings instead of endpoints, becoming more emotionally and socially accessible.
A parable on economic crashes, financial trading, mixed martial arts, and general contemporary culture, artist and writer Hito Steyerl’s large-scale architectural environment features Liquidity Inc., a single-screen projection that uses water and liquidity as guiding tropes. Opening with the quote “be water, my friend” by martial arts legend and actor Bruce Lee, the film comments on the circulation of digital images, big data, information, financial assets, labour, and weather systems. The installation consists of a double-sided projection screen in front of a blue, wave-like ramp, where the viewers find themselves in “troubled water.” Steyerl merges CGI and green screen scenes with an assortment of embedded videos, swipes, clips, scrolls, and pop-up windows, that include the story of Jacob Wood, a former financial analyst who lost his job during the 2008 economic recession and decided to turn his mixed martial arts hobby into a new career. The intricate mesh of late capitalism structures needs to be hijacked in order to allow space for new ecological and sustainable policies that value people and life over profit.
The Posthuman City, through artistic propositions, intends to open a discussion about the imbalanced relationship between an anthropocentric thinking that puts the human at the centre, and the fact that the urban environment is a habitat for many life forms. In her book The Posthuman (2013), Rosi Braidotti calls for resilience, stating that “sustainability does assume faith in a future, and also a sense of responsibility for ‘passing on’ to future generations a world that is liveable and worth living in. A present that endures is a sustainable model of the future.”
Curated by Ute Meta Bauer, Professor, NTU ADM, and Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore, and Laura Miotto, Associate Professor, NTU ADM
The accompanying public programmes include seminars addressing techno-optimism and eco-hacktivism on 23 November 2019, and biodiver-city and urban futurism on 18 January 2020, deepening the discussion around posthumanism and the urban condition.
Hito Steyerl is a German filmmaker, artist and writer whose work explores the complexities of the digital world, art, capitalism, and the implications of Artificial Intelligence for society. Steyerl studied cinematography and documentary filmmaking at the Academy of Visual Arts in Tokyo, the University of Television and Film in Munich, and holds a Ph.D in philosophy from the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. The most formative parts of her education, however, include working as a stunt-girl and bouncer.
Hito Steyerl is interested in the proliferation and circulation of images in our globalized world. She often works with the format of the video essay, combining a heterogeneous range of material, including interviews, found footage, fictional dramatizations, pop-music sound tracks, and first-person voiceovers. Her work focuses on the intersection of media technology, political violence, and desire by using humor, charm, and reduced gravity as political means of expression. Her sources range from appropriated low-fi clips and sounds to mostly misquoted philosophical fittings. These elements are condensed in rambling essayistic speculation in both text and imagery. Through her oversensitivity to analogies, Steyerl both collects and creates stories describing realities that are stranger than fiction and reflected upon in galloping thought experiments. Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions including documenta 12, Taipei Biennial 2010, and 7th Shanghai Biennial. Her written essays have proliferated more on- than offline in journals such as e-flux and eipcp. She has published filmic and written essays centred around questions of globalization, urbanism, racism and nationalism. She is also involved in the movement of feminist migrants and women of colour in Germany.
Steyerl teaches New Media Art at University of the Arts in Berlin. As well as being a visiting professor for Cultural and Gender Studies, at University of Arts, Berlin, she has lectured at Goldsmith’s College, London and at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, among other institutions. A collection of her essays was published in The Wretched of the Screen (2012).
Nicholas Mangan is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Melbourne. He is senior lecturer at Monash University. Through a practice bridging drawing, sculpture, film, and installation, Mangan creates politically astute and disconcerting assemblages that address some of the most galvanising issues of our time; the ongoing impacts of colonialism, humanity’s fraught relationship with the natural environment, and the complex and evolving dynamics of the global political economy. His recent solo exhibitions include Limits to Growth, Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne, the Institute of Modern Art (IMA), Brisbane, Kunst-Werke Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin, Dowse Art Museum, Wellington (2016); Ancient Lights, Chisenhale Gallery, London, (2015); Some Kinds of Duration, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, (2012). His work has been included in major international exhibitions including Biennale of Sydney (2018); Let’s Talk About the Weather: Art and Ecology in A Time of Crisis, Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou (2018); 74 million million million tons, Sculpture Center, New York (2018); The National 2017: new Australian art, AGNSW, Sydney (2017); 4.543 BILLION. The Matter of matter, CAPC, Bordeaux, (2017); New Museum Triennial: Surround Audience, New York (2015); 9th Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Alegre (2013); and the 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013).