Climate care and planet love inform the Vienna Biennale for Change 2021

STIR speaks with Elisabeth Falkensteiner and Baerbel Mueller, the curators for Ecologies and Politics of the Living at the Vienna Biennale that aims to inspire alternative imaginations.

by Aastha D.Published on : Jul 12, 2021

To speak of alternative futures begins with the imagination. To foster an imagination radically transformative of the status quo, is to examine and diagnose fractures and wounds. Treatment courses of the fractures have an ongoing trajectory of being symptomatic, nascent or worse, negligent. In the discourse of planetary imaginations, a methodology informed by histories, and anchored in the prescriptions of holistic care work, presents hope in a critically conceivable manner. Under the motto Planet Love, the Vienna Biennale For Change 2021 is dedicated to the mega challenge of the digital age: climate care.

Exhibition view of Climate Care: Reimagining Shared Planetary Futures at the Vienna Biennale | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Exhibition view of Climate Care: Reimagining Shared Planetary Futures at the Vienna Biennale Image: © Stefan Lux/MAK

The Vienna Biennale For Change 2021 aims to inspire our imagination, advance the vision of ecologically and socially sustainable societies and economies and offer innovative ideas and solutions: to mitigate the climate crisis, to restore and preserve ecosystems, to preserve biodiversity and to use digital technologies in favour of the climate and the environment. It not only encourages pausing and rethinking, but also demands that all socio-political forces and each individual act decisively in order to cope with the overall climate and ecological crisis.

(From the Mission Statement)

Exhibition view of Climate Care: Reimagining Shared Planetary Futures. In the front: Xandra van der Eijk, Retreat, 2018; in the back: f. l. t. r.: Ana Mendieta, Silueta Works in Iowa, 1978; Thomas Wrede, Rhonegletscher-Panorama II, 2018 | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Exhibition view of Climate Care: Reimagining Shared Planetary Futures. In the front: Xandra van der Eijk, Retreat, 2018; in the back: f. l. t. r.: Ana Mendieta, Silueta Works in Iowa, 1978; Thomas Wrede, Rhonegletscher-Panorama II, 2018 Image: © Stefan Lux/MAK

Collaborative spirit and interdisciplinarity work in tandem as the exhibitions and projects across art, design and architecture, reinvent our relationship with the planet in irresistible yet plausible ways. Reflecting this is Climate Care: Reimagining Shared Planetary Futures, the MAK's (Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna comprehensive, interdisciplinary main contribution. Centring the perspective of the ‘Global South’, the exhibition Ecologies and Politics of Living concerns itself with the interdependencies of the living and organic with the inorganic, specifically processes and conditions of temporality.

Here, STIR speaks with Elisabeth Falkensteiner and Baerbel Mueller of the curatorial trio of the exhibition Ecologies and Politics of the Living at the Angewandte Innovation Lab, as part of of the 'Vienna Biennale for Change 2021: Planet Love. Climate Care in the Digital Age'.

  • Ecologies and Politics of the Living | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
    Ecologies and Politics of the Living Image: © Ibrahim Mahama
  • Ecologies and Politics of the LIVING | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
    Ecologies and Politics of the Living Image: © Sarah Reynolds

Edited excerpts from the interview…

Aastha D. (AD): As the world grapples with finding non-invasive, equitable ways to move towards a future that addresses the climate crises, how did you collectively curate a set of salient verticals to address within the scope of this urgent concern? How were they prioritised?

Elisabeth Falkensteiner (EF): Our exhibition, Ecologies and Politics of the Living, at the Angewandte Innovation Lab of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, shows artistic works and research-based projects from the Global South to counteract the Eurocentric view. The question was how we as humans can achieve a different way of dealing with our environment if we look at and perceive everything that surrounds us differently. We were less concerned with a specific narrow definition of what climate care should mean, but rather we look at all that is able to remain alive and enter into new synergies despite the human contamination of the exploitative system, keeping the political and economic dimension of ecology as a part of this conversation.

AD: Could the steps and measures in your curatorial approach reveal strategies in pluralistic approaches to global ecological crises? How do the intersections in art, design and architecture reflect this?

Baerbel Mueller (BM): On a meta level we share the view that it is clearly through the arts (in a wider sense), that “other” futures can be imagined, dreamt of and claimed for - especially in the context of the Global South, where politics fail. We question whether technological and purely design-based solutions, or western perspectives, are enough to question, reflect on and react to the challenges of our time. Further, we have been interested in narratives beyond a human-centred perspective, in the discourse of decolonising nature, and Anna Tsing’s definition of third nature for example – where nature, ecology, capitalism and politics, but also the past, present and future are not at all separable. On a curatorial level, it was of interest to set the carefully selected artistic positions as kind of fragments in relation to each other, in a way that they would speak to each other, contaminate each other, and thereby open up new narratives as an assemblage.

Ecologies and Politics of the Living, “That things that are left hanging in the air like a rumor”, 2021 | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Ecologies and Politics of the Living, “That things that are left hanging in the air like a rumor”, 2021 Image: Eric Gyamfi, Ausstellungsansicht

EF: We were looking for contributions that were situated in the intersection of visual arts, research, design, politics and architecture. Artist Tracy Naa Koshie Thompson’s and photographer Eric Gyamfi’s works revolve around the interplay between biological and chemical processes, with Gyamfi experimenting with plant-based emulsions to develop analogue photographs and Thompson presenting bioplastic objects by processing industrially produced and processed food. Architect and material scientist Mae-ling Lokko’s work recalls memories of tropical agriculture systems and explores the agrarian-cultural potential of Ghana through upcycling processes of agricultural waste and biopolymer sculptures. And in Uriel Orlow’s film trilogy, plants are witnesses to history and become political actors, with the botanical world as a spectacle of knowledge regimes, nationalisms and power relations from the colonial past. Artist and co-curator, Ibrahim Mahama, looks at materials and the architecture of production sites from a historical as well as future-oriented perspective and questions the extension of life beyond the human into archival materials from post-independent Ghana. New-Territories (s/he_f.Roche) sets the stage for hybrid scenarios, fictions and speculative architecture generated by the symbiotic entanglements of gender, animals, humans and machines. Susanne Wenger's interventions and sculptures, built in the Sacred Grove of Osun Osogobo in Nigeria between 1956 and 1990, epitomise a holistic and visionary understanding of the universe and a spiritual coexistence between humans and their environment.

Sculpture of Obàtálá greeting on the footpath to Ojubo Oshogbo, 1991 | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Ecologies and Politics of the Living; Susanne Wenger, Sculpture of Obàtálá greeting on the footpath to Ojubo Oshogbo, 1991 Image: © Wolfgang Denk

The following exhibitions, events, sculpture and conferences respond to the general theme for the Vienna Biennale which is on till October 3, 2021.

Collective Action Viewer

Artists Verena Tscherner and Joerg Auzinger make the effects of the global climate catastrophe visible and thus understandable for the viewer through literal binoculars. A three-dimensional reality of floods, storm and catastrophe is shown in reverse to end on a note of hope, and the possibility of prevention. 

Local craftsmen along with development organisations from the global south were involved in the production of living rooms for company staff | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Local craftsmen along with development organisations from the Global South were involved in the production of living rooms for company staff. Anna Heringer, Omicron Living Rooms, Vorarlberg, Austria, 2015 Image: Stefano Mori

Ines Doujak: Landscape painting

For her landscape painting exhibition project, the Austrian artist Ines Doujak works with collected and archived nature from the regions of Vienna and Lower Austria: dried plants, mushrooms, seeds, ground flowers, leaves, berries, wood, ashes, clay, stones and sand.

Eat Love: Tomorrow’s Food and Food Spaces

A joint project by the Vienna Business Agency and the MAK, it deals with food and dining rooms of the future and discusses creative and innovative potential for the future of nutrition and eating culture, the transformation of our food and forms of nutrition, new production methods and the places where we consume. An urban laboratory takes over the streets of Vienna and invites the public to participate in knowledge productions about food to harvest rich ideas.

Viennese Caviar goes Vegan, 2021 | EAT LOVE Tomorrow’s Food and Food Spaces |Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Viennese Caviar goes Vegan, 2021; EAT LOVE Tomorrow’s Food and Food Spaces Image: © Anastasia Eggers and Ottonie von Roeder

Invocation for Hope: A New Commission by Superflux

In this immersive installation, Superflux takes visitors into the vision of a post-anthropocentric future that is no longer determined by humans alone.

Climate Pandemics. Dark euphoria

Two artists - Kerstin von Gabain, Ivan Pérard – take science fiction literature, especially climate fiction, as a starting point for artistic reflection.

Climate Pandemics: Dark Euphoria | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Climate Pandemics: Dark Euphoria Image: © kunst-dokumentation.com/MAK

Digital & Circular. Towards a circular society

The focus is on a spectacular research project initiated by the internationally recognised social ecologist Prof. Helmut Haberl and which analyses the material stocks in Austria with unprecedented accuracy.

Getting Wet

The relationship between technology and nature is largely based on a logic of extraction made possible by colonial legal mechanisms and late capitalism.

Digital & Circular: Towards a Circular Society | Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 | STIRworld
Digital & Circular: Towards a Circular Society Image: © Mona Heiß/MAK

Space for kids. Footprints in the sea of data

An innovative and interactive exhibition format that is geared towards the needs and perspectives of children, but at the same time offers adults an exciting and participatory frame of reference.

Planet Matters: A conference at the Az W - Architekturzentrum Wien

A new attitude towards the planet and all of its species requires the cooperation of the most diverse areas of knowledge. The panels are themed: Eat Love, Natural Technology, Land Matters, and Circular Society. The two keynotes of the conference are held by the internationally renowned architect Anna Heringer - “Architecture is a tool to improve lives” - and the scientist Holly Jean Buck - “Can we reverse climate change?”.

The building, which is built of clay and bamboo, houses a centre for people with special needs in combination with a studio for the production of fair trade fabrics (Dipdii Textiles) | Anna Heringer, Anandaloy, Rudrapur, Bangladesh, 2020| Vienna Biennale for Change 2021| STIRworld
The building, which is built of clay and bamboo, houses a centre for people with special needs in combination with a studio for the production of fair trade fabrics (Dipdii Textiles). Anna Heringer, Anandaloy, Rudrapur, Bangladesh, 2020 Image: © Stefano Mori

Planet Love means a fundamentally new relationship between people and the earth, which, instead of maximising the exploitation of resources, aims at humility, respect and appreciation for biological diversity and beauty. Subverting and disrupting tendencies of extraction, or even the human saviour complex, this multi-pronged approach to a planetary discourse, ignites hopeful and critical conversations in the Anthropocene.

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