Island Thinking at MAH / Angra do Heroísmo, Portugal

Island Thinking / curated by Irene Campolmi and Àngels Miralda

Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Regina de Miguel, Paul Rosero Contreras

28 September 2019 - 26 January 2020

MAH Museu Angra do Heroísmo
Ladeira de São Francisco
9700-181 Angra do Heroísmo
Azores Islands - Portugal

Island Thinking

Is the concept that relates this exhibition in Museu de Angra do Heroísmo to a two-week residency with Re_Act Contemporary. The residency invited two curators, Irene Campolmi (Denmark/Italy) and Àngels Miralda (Catalonia/USA), to work with artists who investigate themes of nature and technology relevant to the unique location and resources of the Azores region.

The exhibition presents existing works by three internationally renowned artists – Jakob Kudsk Steensen (Denmark/USA), Paul Rosero Contreras (Ecuador) and Regina de Miguel (Spain/Germany). The artists present their previous projects in the main exhibition hall alongside a lab that shows the beginning stages of new projects, research, and work relevant to the islands. The residency served as a means to explore and investigate aspects related to their common research interests including technology, politics, and ethics about natural ecosystems; de-colonial thought and society of the Azores Islands; preservation of underwater species of plants and animals currently threatened by violent and repeated actions from extractivism.

Sala A. Dacosta Main Hall, works left to right:

Jakob Kudsk Steensen, RE-WILDLING, 2018. 11’56”
Rewilding is a film about extinction and preservation based on the case of an extinct crow on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Hawaiian Crow (locally known as Alalā) is part of local mythologies and an important part of the ecosystem. After being declared extinct in the wild in 2005, the region when through negative ecological changes since its largest predatory bird was gone. Scientists bred the birds in captivity for an eventual re-introduction of the species in 2017. The film traces the environment of the crow starting from the ground into a eco-mythological scene where trees grow feathers and the bird’s presence is felt through a glowing orb of light. The presence of species is felt long after their existence and RE-WILDLING introduces this liquid cohabitation of our ecological reality.

Paul Rosero Contreras, Purple Haze, 2018. 11’53”
Purple Haze is a film about microbes and the evolutionary path of species in changing environments. The increasing amounts of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere have created a feedback process of acidifying the earth’s oceans. This causes countless problems for marine life which relies on stable PH systems. Rosero Contreras’ docu-science-fiction presents alternative forms of life who have adapted to acid water conditions over millennia, specifically a type of coral that grows in the volcanic fumaroles around the Galapagos islands. The corals have developed resistance to the acid fumes by growing a microbial skin that protects them from volcanic excretions, like on the Azores, the diversity of toxic resistance offers hope from a lifeless future scenario. Connecting to Kudsk Steensen’s film, Purple Haze scans the environment where these small creatures live in a search for the keys to future survival.

A sculpture leading into the lab is part of the series Ensayo Sobre la Ceguera (2017). The work is a proposal for a mutant scheme in which industrial waste collected from beaches around the world is transformed into underwater habitats for marine species. The shape of the sculpture’s shadow thrown by a spotlight recalls that of an island.

Regina de Miguel, Deception, 2017. 28’17”
Deception is a speculative fiction in which an immense outside is likened to the human condition. Filmed on Deception island on Antarctica, the narrative is one of post-abyssal thinking after the philosophy of Boaventura de Souza who argues that Western thought is based on the division between the human and the sub-human species. Taking off from philosophical positions, horror genres, literature, and time spent with scientists on Antarctic bases, the film protagonises “extremophile” creatures found in the furthest Southern point of the planet - those who love extreme habitats. Buried beneath glaciers or in toxic volcanic plumes, these creatures thrive in environments that to humans, would be a living inferno. From the coldest to the hottest places on earth, these life forms appear monstrous and alien living in one of earth’s most analogous regions to planet Mars. Yet, de Miguel brings a personal and empathetic narrative that connects our life cycles to these distant relatives whose fervent drive for survival has seen them outlive the extreme phases of our planet’s history as ice-ball and fire-ball earth, and eventually led to human evolution. The film is an homage to philosophical and literary figures such as Verne, Lovecraft, and Clarice Lispector.
It is because I dove into the abyss that I am beginning to love the abyss I am made of.
Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H., 1964.

Sala A. Dacosta Lab: In the back room, the research that the artists conducted in the Azores Islands is presented along with older works whose focus on environmental ecology and ‘Island Thinking’ resonates with the works in progress that each is compiling. From the 16th to the 30th of September all three artists had an introduction to the region, interviewed scientists, and did field research for ongoing work. Jakob Kudsk Steensen presents a previous video work called Primal Tourism that recreates an island based on concepts from the imagination. Regina de Miguel has selected a small collection of reference books from her time spent researching in Angra do Heroísmo’s archive alongside images of her recent work in the Canary islands and a sound piece in collaboration with Lucrecia Dalt about isolation. Paul Rosero Contreras presents video and audio footage from Pico island, the youngest island in the Azores region.

The metaphor of the island has been a fecund source of inspiration across many domains, from More’s Utopia to Darwin’s evolutionary theory. The title ‘Island Thinking’ proposes a reflection on the pulse of keeping natural ecosystems alive in their uniqueness of being entirely ‘isolated' from the continental mainland. The enriching environmental diversity of the Azores is a fertile territory in which to explore personal inquiries just as the soil and diverse mineral composition has also generated different cultivations, cultures, economies, and societies on each island. The Azores region is an organ lying between the European, North American, and African tectonic plates which questions divisions and boundaries in favour of a global ecosystem of codependency. This ignites reflections on the idea of the limit and the barrier - if the ocean represents a threshold for those who see it from the mainland, it constitutes a route of transit and communication for someone who is constantly surrounded by it. ‘Island Thinking’ is a notion of the unbounded - a connection which exists above and below, through and between, an inter-species and inter-continental link that brings us closer to each other, and nearer to a universal understanding.

Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Paul Rosero Contreras, Regina de Miguel
Curated by Irene Campolmi and Àngels Miralda

Re_Act Contemporary: Paulo Arraiano, Paulo Ávila
Thanks to the support of DRAC, Azores / Institut Ramon Llull
Museu de Angra do Heroísmo