by Dilpreet BhullarSep 08, 2022
As the art world gears up for a tactile experience around the physical exhibition space when the waves of the pandemic are seemingly retreating, the pertinent urgency to reassess the relationship between humans and ecology is heightened, once more. The sixth edition of the Sea Art Festival 2021, titled Non-/Human Assemblages, with the UK-based curator Ritika Biswas as the Artistic Director, emulates the essence of the fluid state i.e., constantly being in flux and precarious to address the complexities of bonds that define the human and non-human bodies. The 22 site-specific projects by local and international artists at Ilgwang Beach in Gijang county of Busan oversee the flow of liquid as a source of “friction, resonance, and kinship”, in a bid to chart the connections among both human and nonhuman assemblages.
Organised by the Busan Biennale Organising Committee, the Sea Art Festival holds the presence of the ocean nearby, as a key to draw the attention of the public towards the sensitivities of the natural sciences. Since its inception in 1987 as a prelude to the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the festival continues to identify itself as a crucial narrative on the labyrinth of networks between land, sea, and humans.
Talking about the curatorial approach of the Festival, which has an array of works from sculptures, installations, text works to outdoor projections and indoor sites from a variety of geographical locations, Biswas mentions, “While geographic diversity across artists and works was indubitably important since my curatorial practice is quite lateral and engages various socio-political realms, it was important to also make sure there were resonant frequencies across the disparate flows of histories and imaginaries embedded within the artworks. The histories of water and its currents can be traced across the corporeal and non-corporeal assemblages visualised and held within each of these works, and the most important strategy was to ensure every work was porous in its concept— that there was no insular or absolute boundary to its potential for interpretation, rendering these boundaries between the works, and thus the Festival site, permeable. I wanted to illuminate not only the resonances across these works but also constructive frictions and tensions, since these are crucial to the dynamics and interrelations among human and non-human ecologies.”
Single-channel video Glasshouse Deep by the India-based multimedia artist Rohini Devasher is a large projection of sub-microscopic oceanic algae retrieved from the East Sea onto Ilgwang Beach, which could be misconstrued for an illuminated sky. In an effort to manipulate human perception, the genesis of the chimeral creatures lies in the art of Devasher’s video feedback process. The work commissioned by the Busan Biennale Organising Committee is in tandem with the artist’s practice to relook and redesign the world of nature with a deft focus on the science of our natural world.
To disturb the matrix of received knowledge on place, histories, and language stands the large, nomadic tapestry-map, AnthropoPangaea by the UK-based artist, Shezad Dawood. As a departure from the popular Pangaea-centric map, the inverted map by Dawood foregrounds the superocean Panthalassa as textured territories. To mention, the title of the work AnthropoPangaea is a “conflation” of the term Pangea with the anthropological term Anthropophagia, meaning cannibalism. The work leads the audience to view the world from the perspective of non-humans in order to speculate about the many possibilities of a future: non-dependent on the logic of coloniality.
Multiple mediums such as video, photography, sound, performance, installation and text define the practice of the artist Ru Kim, who has travelled to Germany, Cyprus, Korea, Canada, France and Brazil. The installation Strategies of Dissolution by Kim is inspired by the idea of Hydrofeminism propounded by Astrida Neimanis. The installation oversees the fluid nature of water as an extension to redefine the national borders of modernity. In doing so, the colonial logic of knowledge production which is dominated by the masculine ideas of domination and superiority is subverted.
Even when the wave of the pandemic is waning, the past one and a half years, witness to the ebb and flow of emotions, could not be repudiated. Cognizant of the labyrinth of the visceral effect the pandemic had on individuals and communities, Biswas explains, “Sea Art Festival 2021, and in particular, the concept this year, reckons with the anxiety, joy, and precarity of this unknown and destabilised terrain, the fluidity of this uncertainty. Through the artworks, public and academic programmes, and the engagement with local and international communities, this year’s festival hopes to create a space for people to contend with all of these intensities, while also becoming a place for escape into individual and collective planes of wild re-imaginings and speculation of how to re-think our positions and contributions to a more sustainable and empathetic shared non-/human ecology. By drawing on the deep-sea ecologies of our interconnected water bodies, we enter not only these invisible worlds of cephalopods, algae, and benthic creatures, but also the non-human and human zones of cyberpunk, late-stage capitalism, and science-fiction.”
Like the fluidity of water, the Festival refrains from exuding a single meaning but lends a kaleidoscopic perspective to the world around us. “The visitors will come away slightly unsettled, more porous, and less myopic about their humanness,” Biswas says, “as well as their shared wateriness with those they previously perceived to be alien to them, or those about whom they were entirely unaware or apathetic, be it tiny microscopic creatures or immense networks of non-human and human bodies.”
Sea Art Festival 2021 runs at Ilgwang Beach, Busan until November 14, 2021.