Ecologies of the Ghost Landscape at tranzit / Bratislava
Ecologies of the Ghost Landscape. The Word for World is Forest
Maria Thereza Alves, Petra Feriancová, Oto Hudec, Gerard Ortín, Hanna Rullmann & Faiza Ahmad Khan, Petr Štembera
Curator Borbála Soós
11 June –1 August 2020
811 05 Staré Mesto
underlying condition in which this exhibition came about is a global emergency,
one which is emerging out of an unfolding ecological crisis and can be
attributed to the violent process of rampant deforestation, which constitutes a
continuation of imperial methods of territorial control. This massive reshaping
of the land, together with the shifting baselines regarding what kind of green
deserts we are willing to accept as forests, might be seen as a symptom of our
Anthropocene epoch. The show conjures up the ghosts of lost or near- extinct
species, forests and sensations.
ongoing colonial and capitalist expansion has been ending worlds for as long as
they have been in existence, and is the main driver of the deforestation and
species loss which local habitats fall victim to. The displacement of
communities and the severing of complex entanglements follow in their wake.
These processes interrupt our long relationship with the ontological
multiplicity of the forest that is teeming with connections, temporalities and
perspectives, a relationship that has defined cultures and even language.
this exhibition the forest is understood as an ecology
including human and non-human be- ings, as well as the cultivation, social and
cultural practices, politics, tensions and wars it entails.
and natural are culturally constructed terms that bear many historical and
social connotations and contradictions. They have been used to render exclusion
and oppression, and against which certain groups of people were defined.
Similarly, the concept of the
was created by a colonial imaginary to reject both the Other and Other spaces
as being outside of its system. Further to this, the opposition of forest and
city, much like the opposition of wilderness and control, have been
long-standing paradigms that perpetuate a distancing between these systems and
aid the exploitation of valuable resources.
this exhibition, ideas around rewilding and renaturing feature as propositions
with vary- ing aims and interests. On the one hand, rewilding is a visionary
ecosystem management strategy involving the re-introduction of certain keystone
species in habitats depleted in biodiversity (due to human interference). It
kick-starts processes that give rise once again to rich ecologies of
multi-species entanglements. Without necessarily romanticising the past,
rewilding has the potential to create rich, dynamic and resilient ecologies.
Rewilding can be understood in an expanded social, political and activist
sense, with the potential to help recuperate the voices of the erased,
including the subjugated and oppressed, the in- digenous and endemic, the human
and non-human. The place ‘where wild things are’ rep- resents the
anti-hegemonic, where disorder and disobedience interrupt neat narratives, and
where new kinds of structures can arise.
and renaturing are also controversial terms. They claim multi-species relations
but remain a human-centred directive (man as saviour). Whilst they have great
practical propositions to counter global warming and diversity loss, the same
prob- lems remain with their implementation regarding who controls the
territories, borders and the rules of engagement, and what they expect to gain
from such processes. The exhibition probes this problematic as the artworks
build on situated knowledges of ecologies from diverse geopolitical areas and
*The subtitle references sci-fi writer Ursula
K. Le Guin’s novella ‘The Word for World is Forest’, written in response to the
Vietnam War in 1972. She examines colonisation, chau- vinism, racism and
ecological disaster as intertwined forces. In her story a Terran military
logging colony sets up on planet Athshe at a time when wood has become more
valuable than gold. The non-aggressive native Athsheans are enslaved, the
planet and its people suffer much violence as the planet is ‘cleared up and
cleaned out’ or ‘un-worlded’. Even- tually one of them, after the death of his
wife, leads a revolt against the Terrans, and succeeds in getting them to leave
the planet. The novella takes a strong anti-colonial and anti-militaristic
position and explores themes of sensitivity to the environment, and the
connections between environment, language and culture.
Petra Feriancová (b.
1977, Czechoslovakia) lives and works in Bratislava. She uses a vari- ety of
media, including photography, sculpture and installation, while she also
creates books. In her practice she contrasts imagery of nature, materials and
photographs of her personal experiences, with knowledge specific to newspapers,
books and encyclopedias. She loses and regains her identity as she interprets
and re-organises them in a non-linear manner in the pursuit of finding
alternative structures for how meaning and matter are constructed and
piece “Found and Given (The Petrified
Forest)”, 2016, consists of archival images first collected most probably
in the 1970s by a person well-versed in geology. A couple of dozen envelopes
containing small black and white photographs were found on a street in
Budapest, chucked out as if after the death of their owner nobody could decode
or look after them anymore. They were sent to the artist by a friend.
Subsequently, Feri- ancová took care of this strange, unknown collection by
re-ordering and framing the mate- rials to create a display. The images depict
strange, circular stones, most of which can be read as cross sections of
petrified wood, while others feel like frozen moments or memen- tos of
multi-species coexistence. Feriancová’s work talks of a forest that isn’t any
that is forgotten, extinct. Only a couple of obsessive collectors could attempt
piece together the cryptic remains, and
even so, it will forever remain a fragment…
Maria Thereza Alves (b.
1961, São Paulo, Brazil) has worked and exhibited internationally since the
1980s, investigating the histories and circumstances of particular localities
witness to silenced histories. Her research-based projects develop in response
to local needs, and facilitate dialogue between material and environmental
realities, and social circumstances. While aware of Western binaries of nature
- culture, art - politics, or art - daily life, she chooses instead to create
spaces of agency and visibility for oppressed cul- tures through relational
practices of collaboration that require constant movement across all of these
“To See the Forest
Standing”, 2017 is presented here as a 4 channel
video installation (total 183’). Alves interviewed 34 agroforestry agents
participating at the Centro de For- mação dos Povos da Floresta in Rio Branco,
Acre in Brazil. This represents a place for ex- perimentation, as well as the
exchange of ideas and techniques, enabling more efficient agro-forestry methods
on indigenous lands, particularly for areas which have been heavily deforested
and destroyed, usually for cattle ranching, by the non-indigenous. The partici-
pants are community leaders, who come from various reservations throughout the
state of Acre, and represent various indigenous peoples, such as the Huni Kuin,
Shanenawa, Asháninka, Shãwãdawa, Yawanawá, Katukina, Nukini and Poyanawá peoples.
All have sur- vived genocidal campaigns, first by the Portuguese and then the
Brazilians. They are re- sponsible through community consensus for managing
reforestation, sustenance farming, overseeing animal life, protection of water
sources, environmental education programs and protecting the land from
destruction. Some of the reservations, particularly those where major highways
were planned to deliberately divide up reservations lands, have on-
problems with gold miners, cattle ranchers, hunters, loggers and settlers. The
forest agents are not recognized by the Brazilian government, and receive no
regular income for their labor, yet they are the front line in ensuring the
possibility that Brazil and the wider world might have a future. As Poá
Katukina, the newly elected president of AMAAIAC (Asso- ciation of the Movement
of Indigenous Agroforestry Agents of Acre) says, "We have dedicat- ed
ourselves to seeing that the forest stands”.
See the Forest Standing” was commissioned for "Disappearing Legacies: The
World as a Forest" at the Cenak Hamburg, Germany (Center of Natural
History at the University of Hamburg).
Hanna Rullman is
a London-based researcher and designer, developing a practice around questions
of conservation, environmental policy, border ecologies and legal/political
pro- duction of natures. Faiza Ahmad
Khan is an award-winning Indian documentary filmmaker and activist based in
Mumbai. They both graduated with an MA from the Centre for Re- search
Architecture at Goldsmiths College in 2018.
and Khan produced the short film “Habitat
2190” (16') in 2019, following the con- struction of the nature reserve
Fort Vert at the site of former migrant camp “The Jungle”
Calais, France. The project addresses the ways in which an imagination of
nature is weaponised in the governing of borders, interrogating the
intersecting mobilities, rights and co-existence of human and non-human life.
It charts complex discussions around how nature and the protection of rare
species is regarded as an opportunity to make claims over a territory, and
juxtaposes the value placed in the protection of other species against the lack
of care for certain groups of humans in vulnerable positions.
2190” was commissioned by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) as
part of the exhibition “Fragile Earth: seeds, weeds, plastic crust”, 2019.
Supported by the Elephant Trust.
Petr Štembera (b.
1945, Pilsen) is one of the most important figures of 1970s Czech per- formance
and conceptual art. He had a focus on interventions in the natural environment,
and later he became known for performing extreme, physically and mentally
demanding interventions using his own body. He documented his actions with
black and white pho-
tographs and simple one line descriptions.
/ “Štěpování”, 1975
a manner customary in fruit-farming, I grafted a branch taken from a shrub to
extreme performance was conducted with Jan Mlčoch’s assistance in a deserted
home on Kosárkovo Embankment, Prague in April 1975. Stembera inserted a twig
into his right forearm and left it joined to his body for the whole afternoon,
until eventually he ended up in the emergency room with blood poisoning.
Oto Hudec (b.1981,
Kosiče, Slovakia) is based in Kosiče, while he has recently worked and
exhibited in Slovakia, Austria, South Korea, Cabo Verde, Portugal and the USA.
Using multi- ple media he creates installations, sculptures, murals, videos,
animations and works for public spaces, addressing the impact of globalisation
on the environment. His projects of- ten involve utopian perspectives as a way
to shed light on food production, industrial land- scapes or the decline of bee
populations. Instead of searching for new scientific solutions for
sustainability, food production and ecological living, he considers nomadic and
indige- nous traditions to have achieved these. He often cooperates on projects
with children and youth from disadvantaged communities.
“This is how it started:
insects disappeared first. If you went out on a meadow in summer, it was as if
something was missing there. At first, no one would have guessed what. It was
just somehow quieter. The flowers were also low. Winters were shorter and
stranger, summer dry and hot. Everything came gradually, little by little, and
people always got used to it..”
“We are the
Garden!” 2020 is part of a larger
narrative that exists across a mosaic of written forms, objects, paintings,
drawings and video that together portray life in a dystopian future, where
previous reasons for living (contributing to society and the larger community,
hoping and dreaming about a better future) ceased to exist. For this exhibi-
tion, Hudec developed a greenhouse model based on an actual structure he built
next to a wooden hut in Kosiče. Taking this key element from his climate
fiction set in a post-apoca- lyptic scenario where temperatures soar, winds
become extreme and cities are flooded by the rising sea, a lone hero decides to
leave society, later living with his adopted daughter, and become
self-sufficient. In this situation, the ability to grow a small garden in a
green- house is of especially high value, both for food and survival and for a
connection to a world that is gone.
Gerard Ortín Castellví (b.
1988, Barcelona, Spain) is a London-based artist and filmmaker, currently an
Mphil/PhD candidate in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College. His projects problema-
tise the idea of nature and its imagery, often looking at human and
more-than-human rela- tions. He reflects this interest in films, sound
installations and walking performances. “Of- ten the boundaries surrounding a
forest, a mountain, a field or even a nature reserve are permeable and
contingent, much like the terminology we use to designate them. Despite their
contingency, these not always evident boundaries mark a distinction between
what is one place and what is another. They determine what lies inside and what
is left outside of
delimitation, defining spaces which – given their nature or their distinct way
of oper- ating – behave to a greater or lesser degree as islands, despite not
being physically isolat- ed. They are often ecosystems that are threatened by
the impact of human activity and that require assistance or intervention –
ironically, also human – to conserve them and pre- serve their purity.”
video “Reserve”, 2019 (27’) is
linked to the drastic reduction of the wolf popula- tion in Araba (Basque
Country, Northern Spain) in recent decades. The wolf no longer in- habits the
land that once formed part of its territory, and only through its outlines can
we get closer to it: remnants of wolf traps, predator urine imported from the
US, a dung-hill used to feed scavenger birds and archers that shoot at replicas
of animals. Based on the observation of these phenomena, the film explores the
meaning of the boundaries that humans set in order to counter the harmful
effects of their activity on certain natural envi- ronments.
Borbála Soós (b.
1984, Budapest, Hungary) is a London-based curator. In 2012 she obtained an MA
in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, London, and in 2009
an MA in Film Studies and an MA in Art History at Eötvös Loránd University,
and 2019 she was director and curator of Tenderpixel, a contemporary art
London. Throughout this period and to this day she maintains an independent
cura- torial, writing and teaching practice, whilst she has also been an active
advocate, partici- pant and organiser of artistic, curatorial and ecological
research. She is regularly invited to give lectures, run workshops and teach,
by universities such as Goldsmiths College, the Royal College of Art and
Central Saint Martins. She is currently a Research Associate at CCA
Derry-Londonderry, and leads a Peer Forum around ecologies of rewilding in
collaboration with Artquest and the Horniman Museum and Gardens, London.
Borbála’s recent research focuses on the development of structures found in
nature, and explores how these relate
social organisation. Her curatorial practice responds to, disrupts and enriches
environ- mental thinking and related social and political urgencies.
ERSTE Foundation is the
main partner of tranzit. Supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council.