by Sukanya GargJul 26, 2019
Taipei Biennial 2020, titled You and I don’t live on the same planet— New Diplomatic Encounters, focusses on the environmental issues and climate change, and it could not have resonated more firmly with the audience than the current times when the large part of the world is still grappling with the consequences of the pandemic. The biennial, running from November 11, 2020 to March 14, 2021, at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan, is an opportune moment to relook at the past year(s). Importantly to question how and why we reach the stage of pandemic crisis - putting the entire world onto hold for a significant quantum of time. Not a smooth pause to be cushioned against, but the reverberation of this sudden jolt would be felt in the ensuing years.
Taking a step forward from the 2018 edition of the Taipei Biennial, Post-Nature, that talked about the ecological issues, latest edition curated by Bruno Latour and Martin Guinard is an attempt to have insightful conversations on the dynamics and diplomatic tactics between human and non-human worlds. Talking about the title of the latest biennial, the curators mentioned in their statement, “The expression ‘you and I don’t share the same vision of the world’ is a frequent figure of speech in political debates, whether in an official or informal setting. But the point is that today it is not merely a difference of ‘visions’ about a space that would be the same for everyone, but a question of ‘the material nature’ of the very world that we are talking about”.
The modernity with the clouds of “development, efficiency and wealth” shadowed the salient features of modernisation – “protection and identity”. The differences between the two social conditions opened a chasm that dawned a realisation, “how divided the different people of the Earth are as to what is the exact nature of their planet. It is clear, for instance, that Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg don’t live on the same planet! In the world imagined by Donald Trump, CO2 emissions are not an existing threat to the environment, greenhouse emissions are a mere belief, and business as usual must go on with American interests at its centre. Obviously, those who support such a view don’t live on the same land as those who are suffering from a deep ecological crisis”.
Harking on the recognition of the deep lines of division when it comes to the issues of ecology - the oppositions that could be traced back to the era of British Empire in the Indian subcontinent - is the work Seeds Shall Set Us Free II by Munem Wasif. During the colonial era, the Bengal rice production was reduced to nil in an effort to produce the market- favourable products - indigo and jute. The famine of 1944 in Bengal was the result of this minimised production and hoarding practice of the British. The artist collaborated with the research-based organisation, Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona (UBINIG) in Dhaka, which restores the traditional ways of agricultural production sans synthetic way of farming. The work calls upon the viewers to reimagine the spaces that may stand at a distance from the regular life, yet contributes towards making us lead a normal life.
If the cyanotype work by Wasif traces the history of ecological imbalance to the late 20th century, then the work Frame of Reference by the artist Su Yu-Hsin documents the current day practices to track the movement of the internal structure of Earth. At the site of Taroko Gorge in Taiwan, the geologists have placed real-time monitoring tools to check how weather determines the movement of the landslides, and if it bears a result on climate change. Both the physical reality of the human body and human ability to gauge the geological changes have been swapped by the cameras, seismometers, and weather stations. With video installation Frame of Reference, Su Yu-Hsin “addresses the question of formatting scalar relations between the field, laboratory and database”.
The on-site installation Exomind, Deep Water, with a beehive on the head of the sculpture of a woman, by Pierre Huyghe, underlines the need of “self-organising” and “co-evolving”. Placed outside in the garden of the museum, the work made of organic material has the human mind visible to the audience. The artist likes to see it as an exoplanet that is “growing by pollinating other living symbols”. The emphasis is not on the unique identity of the matter but highlights the need to draw the threads of connections between each of the elements present in the universe.
Central to the idea of modernity and modernisation are the terms: land and territory. Often overlapped to “present political situation not only as a clash of visions but also as a clash about what the earth is really made of”. Citing ecological issues as a continuation of political struggles, the museum transmutes into a space where “a new form of diplomacy between the various positions is depicted by each planet”. The questions curators seek to explore through the biennale - “Where to land; On what planet are we living” - are pivotal to the discussions termed as the “new climatic regime”. The geopolitical framework of the questions, curators are hopeful, shall give impetus to what they like to call the “new diplomatic encounters”.
(Taipei Biennial 2020 is on view until March 15, 2021, at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan.)