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In Exchange With The Oceanic

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In Exchange With The Oceanic
Newell Harry, Kula canoe. Oyabia, Kiriwana Lagoon, 2015, documentation. Courtesy the artist. "The Oceanic"

The NTU Centre For Contemporary Art Singapore shows “The Oceanic” from 9 December 2017 – 4 March 2018. Curated by Ute Meta Bauer, the Founding Director of the CCA, the exhibition showcases the works and research of twelve artists. Those are Fellows under “The Current”, an initiative and three-year practice and research program by the TBA21-Academy (Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy, founded by Francesca von Habsburg and directed by Markus Reymann).

Kula canoe boat parts. "The Oceanic"

Visiting the exhibition might feel like diving, through a surreal familiarity of dreams dipped in blue, between boats and beach, and emerging at a salt-crusted shore of sun-dried rites and dances of exchange of stories, knowledge, and goods.

Exploring ocean-relating subjects of art, science, environment, social policy, anthropology, ethics, and conservation, Bauer was invited to lead the first cycle of explorative endeavours and international expeditions between 2015 and 2017. The focus of artists and researchers expanded into projects across Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, and Fiji. Oceania was waiting.

"Oceans" by Armin Linke

"Oceans" by Armin Linke

Visiting the exhibition might feel like diving, through a surreal familiarity of dreams dipped in blue, between boats and beach, and emerging at a salt-crusted shore of sun-dried rites and dances of exchange of stories, knowledge, and goods.

The first hall of the show is devoted to the substance of water, the submerged world, and the attempt to map, document, and address it across video and audio installations, animation and video stills, projections, maps, item display, and live installation. Key pieces here are the video installation Oceans by Armin Linke, and the living jellyfish display Tamoya Ohboya by Tue Greenfort.

Linke had participated in all of the three expeditions across Oceania. His video installation, which he edited and sourced from archive, spreads across four screens and emphasizes life and motion in the layer between ocean floor and surface. The screens and edit arrange the footage shot with a Remote Sensing Vehicle as a choreographed perspective of observer and visitor. The big screen arrangements counteract the delicacy and distance of the filmed underwater particles and lifeforms. The height of the screens invites an immersive gaze into the vastness of the ocean, whereas the scale of the installation seems to correlate to human interaction with the biosphere. Our gaze might be genuine, but our technological interference is clumsy, our effort maximised, and our gained data often minimal in relation to what the world below the surface holds.

"Tamoya Ohboya" by Tue Greenfort

The understanding of the world of the ocean, the co-existence of all beings, and the culture of exchange mark the foundation of Oceania’s communities in the Trobriand Islands. The materialisation of this culture is emblematic of the Kula Ring, a ceremonial and ritualistic exchange system with items (shells) instead of money – gifts, traditions, and myths as a currency.

Greenfort looks even closer at the lifeform as such. Tamoya Ohboya is the Latin name for a type of 500 million-years-old jellyfish organism. Here, jellyfish are displayed in an aquarium with a circular water movement, accompanied by a projector that shows a close-up of the sea creature; emphasizing the technological effort it takes to imitate an environment. The attempt to display and study ocean lifeforms is quite established, yet little is known about jellyfish, even though they are some of the oldest lifeforms on earth that we are commonly aware of. These jellyfish are beautiful and the subtle arrangement of the installation is highly immersive. Further ethical and methodological questions remain open about our dealing with nature and ocean environments, and even about the responsibility of the artist and the culture of contemporary art reception.

If you display an organism that doesn’t belong in our world in an aesthetic manner, will the raising of awareness excuse the organism’s extraction? Will the organism remain the entertainment it has become, or re-gain its agency at the mercy of its display’s discussion?
In serenity, we float. The beauty of the installation pierces the surface of the subject sharply.

Works by Harry (left/right) and Anderson (centre) at "The Oceanic"

Entering the second part of the exhibition, warm earth tones dominate the space. At the heart of the land-based pieces lies the core of the exhibition: The relationship between existence and exchange. As the sea organisms exist below the surface, and the people across the lands, the space of the water is discussed as transit, border, and road. The understanding of the world of the ocean, the co-existence of all beings, and the culture of exchange mark the foundation of Oceania’s communities in the Trobriand Islands. The materialisation of this culture is emblematic of the Kula Ring, a ceremonial and ritualistic exchange system with items (shells) instead of money – gifts, traditions, and myths as a currency. The photography series by Newell Harry appears like an anthropological study of touch, mind, and spirit. With a combination of black and white photography and poetic diary entries, Harry addresses the objectification of ideas of currency and monetary value, and discusses mythology and reality. His work shows examples of the exchange practice, which is referred to as a “game”, and the cultural clash between the artists and locals.

Documentation by Newell Harry

Documentation by Newell Harry

The artists and researchers of “The Oceanic” pose profound questions about society’s exchange with environment within a network of organisms and cultural heritage that isn’t fully grasped, yet, but – as Bauer states – treated as stable, whilst being constantly shifting, and constantly affected.

In the artist’s own words, his works are “small vignettes of experiences that circle around [the subject]”. His series is accompanied by wall banners of anagrams and objects, pointing to the flexible ways in which societies give meaning to objects. Next to Harry’s work are costume arrangements by Laura Anderson, who designed for the multi-disciplinary performance Ocean Calling at the TBA21-Academy’s World Ocean Day.

"Tepoto Sud Morph Mururoa" by Atif Akin

“The Oceanic” is a highlight exhibition in terms of Singapore’s multi-cultural setting and in terms of the CCA’s own history of sea-related investigations and research trajectory in Southeast Asia and its global context (e.g. “Sea State”, 2016 by Charles Lim Yi Yong). The artists and researchers of “The Oceanic” pose profound questions about society’s exchange with environment within a network of organisms and cultural heritage that isn’t fully grasped, yet, but – as Bauer states – treated as stable, whilst being constantly shifting, and constantly affected. Reymann describes the ocean as “a bridge between families”.

"Tepoto Sud Morph Mururoa" by Atif Akin

Harry remarks that Kula “changes in terms of your perception of it.” His work makes explicit the discussion of “The Oceanic”: The significance of language and magic in Oceania’s communities, the discussion of dream and epic vs. geographical mapping by Western standards, and an opposition of the imaginary and the topological that puts the mobility of all organisms, life within the ocean environment, and exchange at the centre of sociological navigation of spaces and selves, amidst nature.

 


The CCA holds talks, tours, and educational events throughout the exhibition period, and presents with TBA21-Academy “The Current: Convening #3 Tabu/Tapu” from 25 – 27 January 2018 during the Singapore Art Week.


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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