The Straits of Singapore have long been a hotspot for seafaring banditry. Throughout its cultural history, the notion of “pirate” has remained negatively connoted by its ancient definition as “common enemy of mankind”. Kin Chui plans to expand his ongoing research on concepts and practices of piracy in the Southeast Asian archipelago in order to articulate a speculative framework for a decolonised artistic praxis. By unravelling its multiplicity of meanings and manifestations—ranging from sea banditry to unauthorized reproductions, from illegal taxi services to unlicensed broadcasts—and the semantic shift from unlawful practice to mode of resistance, the artist will delve into the intersections between art and activism, subversive disruptions of colonial regimes and global capitalism, and issues of privatisation of the commons. Specifically, he plans to articulate a lexicon of resistance based on the glossary of piracy and conduct anthropological research into both digital pirate initiatives and counter-piracy measures implemented in the region.

In the context of her research project related to TBA21–Academy, during the residency Hessler aims to develop new collaborations in preparation for the next edition of The Current Convening to be held at NTU CCA Singapore in January 2018.

As part of her time in Singapore Joselina Cruz will connect with the current NTU CCA Singapore exhibition, Charles Lim Yi Yong: SEA STATE and with the artist, understanding his practice and process. Cruz will also connect with local artists and institutions and explore the Singapore art scene in connection to the larger region of Southeast Asia and The Philippines.

Born into a family of seafarers, Martha Atienza’s fascination with the maritime is nurtured by her deep-seated connection with the water and modes of living that unfold at sea. During the residency, Atienza aims to explore Singapore’s relationship with water and its geopolitical role in shaping connections and contrasts with neighboring countries. Using the studio as a space for experimentation, she will also further develop her methods of working with water.

Margarida Mendes is a writer, curator, and educator. In 2009 she founded the project space The Barber Shop in Lisbon, where she hosts a programme of seminars and residencies dedicated to artistic and philosophical research. Exploring the overlap between cybernetics, philosophy, sciences, and experimental film, her personal research investigates the dynamic transformations of materialism and their impact on societal structures and cultural production. She is interested in exploring alternative modes of education and political resilience through her collaborative practice, programming and activism. Margarida Mendes has curated projects in various institutions, among them Flat Time House, London; KIM? Contemporary Art Centre, Liga; Berardo Museum, Lisbon; Spike Island Centre of Contemporary Art & Design, Bristol; 98 Weeks, Beirut; and Serralves Museum, Porto.

Margarida holds an MA in Aural and Visual Culture from Goldsmiths College of London, and in 2013 she was part of the Synapse Curatorial Research Group included in the Anthropocene Project at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, with writing in the volume Textures of the Anthropocene: Grain Vapor Ray, published by MIT Press (2004). From 2017 on she will be based in Madrid where she will co-run Escuelita, an informal school at Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo.

Charles Lim explores issues such as the environment, territorial borders and de-territorialisation. Lim researches the notions of borders, histories and everyday life and how these may be generated through our perceptions of the sea to create SEA STATE, recalling the excursions of the Land Art movement of the 1970s. His project scrutinises both natural and man-made systems, opening extraordinary new perspectives on our everyday surroundings, from unseen and alien landscapes, arbitrary borders and disappearing islands, to the imaginary boundaries of a future landmass.

Dennis Tan went to an arts college in Singapore and graduated with a diploma in Painting. Tan subsequently took on an MA in Architecture, however this course of study was peppered with interruptions and took over a decade to obtain his degree. During his studies, he took on the role of a nomad and a bricoleur, of thinking while making. Tan cites the turning point of his practice when he first encountered Alan Kaprow’s, The blurring of Art and Life and sees this and Tom Marioni’s, The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art as a pivotal influence on his practice. Tan’s practice suspends conceptualism, tinkers with found objects and the environment as a gestural structure upon which the loop closes with the behaviour of its recipients. To date, this inclination sets the tone of his evolving practice.

Between February to June 2016, Tan was Artist-in-Residence at NTU CCA Singapore. During his residency, he continued his research on the fast-disappearing knowledge of marine craft in the region, working with oral histories in the Riau Archipelago to reconstruct a traditional Kolek sailboat.

By inhabitants in collaboration with Margarida Mendes

Deep sea mining is a new frontier of resource extraction located on the ocean seabed. It is set to begin in the next few years, as the technology is currently under development. Mining companies are, at present, leasing areas for exploitation in national and international waters in order to assess the potential to extract minerals and metals such as manganese, cobalt, gold, copper, iron, and other rare earth elements. The main geological sites targeted are areas rich in polymetallic nodules, seamounts, and hydrothermal vents; areas typically found where tectonic plates meet. The areas to be mined could cover parts of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean in international waters, and national waters off the islands of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Japan, and the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Assessment of the impact on deep sea ecosystems is underway, though their cumulative effects remain difficult to comprehend given the unprecedented variety and expanse of the mining sites targeted. At the same time, local and indigenous communities living in these regions are not being adequately consulted.

The prospects of this form of mining re-actualise a colonial, frontier mentality and are redefining extractivist economies for the twenty-first century. What is Deep Sea Mining? addresses both knowledge of the deep sea and ocean governance, but also efforts to defend a sustained ocean literacy beyond the United Nations’ “blue economy” at a time when the deep ocean, its species, and its resources remain largely unmapped and understudied.

Episode 1, Tools for Ocean Literacy, is historical and geographical introduction to deep sea mining, playing with Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 film Powers of Ten.

Episode 2, Deep Frontiers, tells a story about knowledge of the seabed and its alien life, written by anthropologist Stefan Helmreich.

Episode 3, The Azore Case, focuses on the Portuguese Azores nine island archipelago, following European Union plans to mine in the region, based on a series of interviews with marine biologists and politicians conducted in the islands.

Episode 4, A Glossary on Mining, offers a brief glossary of terms that can be used to better tackle the issue of mining reserves and monopolies on land, which in turn may lead to the potential threat of deep sea mining.

Episode 5, The Papua New Guinea Case, addresses the plans to mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea as well as the long activist struggle by local communities across the Pacific against deep sea mining. Episode 5 will be premiered at NTU CCA Singapore, simultaneously in the Lab space and online on social media and the websites of NTU CCA Singapore’s website, the funding and partner institution TBA21 – Academy’s website, and inhabitants-tv.

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