by Manu SharmaSep 27, 2022
The Otolith Group, the London-based artist collective founded in 2002 by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun, is presenting an exhibition titled Xenogenesis at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, Ireland. The Xenogenesis Trilogy, Octavia Butler's title for her science fiction novels, inspires the title of the exhibition, which features a cross-section of works produced by The Otolith Group between 2011 and 2018. The focus of the works directly reflects the artists' ongoing commitment to creating what they call "a science fiction of the present". The experimental works by The Otolith Group include post-cinematic essayist films, videos and multiple screen installations. They address contemporary social and planetary concerns, the disruptions of neo/colonialism, the impact of humans on earth and new technology's effect on human consciousness.
To mention, the exhibition originated at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, and toured to Buxton Contemporary in Melbourne; Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, Canada; the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkove in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In an interview with STIR, the curator of the exhibition, Annie Fletcher, Director of IMMA, talks about the curatorial strategies applied to let an array of work, created over a period of seven years, draw the curiosity of the current audience. "Well, I thought terms of a large scale solo show; something a museum can do at scale. I felt that a constellation of many of their projects, no matter when they were made, were always going to be extraordinary - they have been working consistently and ambitiously for the last 20 years and each project as you can see has a significant research background and is very specific so we were very conscious of trying to understand what it might mean to read these projects together. We then invited the very talented exhibition architect Diogo Passarahino to create a scenario in which the audience could experience this complex practice in terms of an experience - so as the exhibition travelled, he adjusted the design in each space," says Fletcher.
The Group has been an experimentalist in the discipline of documentary and film essays. As the leading voice in the field, the artist-duo under the name of The Otolith Collective has consistently aided the art of exploring a variety of film-oriented practices by programming as well as by conceptualising discursive events. The Otolith Group with these projects questions the white dominant modernist practice of artistic production. Towards this end, it expands the global art viewership. Kernel to their work is the engagement with the formal methodologies of the essay film, which serves as a fecund site to lead experimentation with spaces and times – extended by sonic and visual assemblies. The final work is an amalgamation of the performance, science fiction, postcolonial histories, experimental music, philosophies and sciences to talk about the historically situated political afterlives and futurities of the 20th and current century.
The film O Horizon, researched, filmed, and recorded on the Visva-Bharati campus at Santiniketan in West Bengal, India, is a take on environmental pedagogy put forward by the founder of the institute, Rabindranath Tagore. The many art forms practised by the artist Tagore are in sync with the artistic experiments performed by the Group. Moreover, the lyrical poetry punctuated with creative imagination whether in the form of literary or artistic work by Tagore was cognizant of the dire state of our environment. Touting it as "Tagorean cosmopolitics", the Otolith Group informs us it is a “concept for understanding the way in which the multiple aesthetico-pedagogic practices pioneered by Rabindranath Tagore can be understood as having been animated by the desire to build and sustain and reproduce a pan-Asian cosmos that could begin the work of repairing the colonial orders of knowledge imposed by the British occupation.”
Since visual imagery, voices, sonic images, sounds and performance are part of the large works produced by the Group, Fletcher digs deeper into the making of the exhibition, a way to thread these various mediums and formats together, "I have worked with the artists over many years and I simply love that they challenge what to communicate and how they are packaged and consumed by the voracious art world and art media who simplify their practice. So very quickly we understood that we wanted to create a cross-section of work that was allowed to exist in its complexity. Each work was a complete and extraordinary journey. The other thing these artists do is champion and think through important figures of the black avant-garde in the 20th century and so the overarching theme came from Octavia Butler who in her trilogy Xenogenesis indeed understood the complexity of who owns time, how to blow up boring and overarching often white modernist notions of how the world works and how we understand the past of that same world. So leaning into her legacy gave us the title - her kind of complicated thinking seems a great point of departure which both the exhibition designer Diogo Passarahino and the book designer Luca Frei understood.”
As part of the outreach programming, The Otolith Group and their longstanding curatorial platform The Otolith Collective are scheduled to enact the Department of Xenogenesis (DXG) at IMMA, a time-space for convening public online and offline discussions, performances, screenings and exhibitions with artists, filmmakers, theorists and musicians. The DXG builds upon the exhibition and has developed throughout the tour.
The art exhibition The Otolith Group: Xenogenesis is on view at Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin until February 12, 2023.