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10.07, Art & Design

There Is No Nature: Extensive Show at Garage Envisions Ecology as New Politics

Author: Yulia Gromova

A recently opened exhibition at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow brings together the works of over 50 Russian and international artists in order to rethink the relationship between humans and nature.

The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100 is not a manual on how to save the planet, but rather a speculative forecast for the nearest future. It reflects on the reality already in the making, where our environmental predicament is pushed into the forefront of political agenda by movements like School Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion. But while politicians are struggling to provide any vision for humanity’s shared future and the environmentalists’ green rhetoric does not seem to be sufficient enough to make a real change, artists envision possible scenarios and invent new terms in which to talk about ecology and the world to come.

The exhibition follows a timeline marked by two widely speculative points in time: 2030 is suggested as the year when existing resources of oil will be exhausted, as predicted by American biologist Paul R. Ehrlich in 2002. Meanwhile, 2100 is the year that, according to predictions made by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in the 1960s, humans will gain immortality and leave the planet.

As long as these predictions are no longer considered accurate and the events to come remain uncertain, the exhibition suggests a “performative” understanding of the future as it is being constructed today and shaped by our activities in the present.

The tagline for the exhibition “There’s No Nature” references philosopher Timothy Morton’s idea that in order to override the limits of current ecological thinking we need to dismiss the idea of nature altogether. Morton believes that nature is an “anthopocentrically scaled concept, designed for humans, so it’s not strictly relevant to thinking about ecology.” The term nature, he argues, “gets in the way of properly ecological forms of culture, philosophy, politics, and art.”

Together Again—a work by Hayden Fowler which is one of the central pieces within the exhibition—is probably a perfect metaphor to illustrate Morton’s idea. During the performative part, a man and a wolf are locked in the same cage. The man wears a VR headset; he is immersed into a virtual wilderness environment, but not able to see the real wolf beside him. In Morton’s view, the concept of nature is like a set of VR glasses which prevents him from seeing and engaging with the ‘fascinating subject’ of nature itself.

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Hayden Fowler Together Again, 2017. Performance documentation. Photo: Joy Lai; VR designer: Andrew Yip. Courtesy of the artist

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Hayden Fowler Together Again, 2017. Still from virtual reality landscape. Photo: Joy Lai; VR designer: Andrew Yip. Courtesy of the artist.

The flickering visions of The Coming World occupy the entire space of the museum, spreading up to the rooftop and onto the building’s facade. They extend outdoors with a yellow carpet of Amarillo tree flowers covering the plaza in front of the Garage, in an installation by Puerto-Rican duo Allora & Calzadilla. The visions become an ambient roaring sound of Earth’s geothermal springs in a work by American sound artist Bill Fontana. They float by as a garbage island in a piece by Indonesian artist Tita Salina.

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Allora & Calzadilla Graft, 2019. Installation view, Garage Square, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. Photo: Ivan Erofeev © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

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Tita Salina 1001st Island – The Most Sustainable Island in the Archipelago, 2015. Video still. Courtesy of the artist

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Alexander Obrazumov  Un/recyclable. Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Lawrence Lek’s CGI fantasy Geomancer looks at a world run by posthuman intelligence. Telling the story of an environmental satellite that wishes to become an artist, set in Singapore in the year 2065, the London-based artist contemplates the growing geopolitical influence of the East and the cultural mutation of contemporary China.

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Lawrence Lek Geomancer, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London

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Lawrence Lek, Geomancer, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London

The film “is a reflection about the future of ‘Geomancy’ (i.e. Feng Shui in Chinese), which is the art of reading the environment, a kind of fortune-telling based on landscape and environmental factors,” says Lek. “So I’m trying to make a parallel between AI and the eternal attempt at making sense of the universe—how AI promises to be the science of prediction and yet falls short because of cognitive biases, cultural indoctrination, and the limits of technology.”

The coming world sparkles in a mesmerizing floating world created by German artist and researcher Sascha Pohflepp (1978-2019). Those Who is an imaginary extension of Moscow’s Darwin Museum that critically explores the questions of evolution and artificial intelligence. A world in which evolution would be driven not by natural selection or genetic drift, but by anthropogenic technology, where natural and unnatural evolution coexist and in fact might result in a beautiful world.

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Sascha Pohflepp Those Who, 2019. In collaboration with Matthew Lutz and Alessia Nigretti. Still from video

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Sascha Pohflepp, Those Who, 2019. In collaboration with Matthew Lutz and Alessia Nigretti. Still from video

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Sascha Pohflepp, Those Who, 2019. In collaboration with Matthew Lutz and Alessia Nigretti. Still from video

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Sascha Pohflepp, Those Who, 2019. In collaboration with Matthew Lutz and Alessia Nigretti. Still from video.

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Sascha Pohflepp, Those Who, 2019. In collaboration with Matthew Lutz and Alessia Nigretti. Installation.

The work is the last project of Sascha Pohflepp, who passed away in June before being able to finish it. It was produced in collaboration with computational biologist Matthew Lutz and machine learning specialist Alessia Nigretti. “We had no doubt that Sascha would want us to see the work through to completion. We have done our best to bring into the world a piece that we think fulfills Sascha’s (and all of our) vision. This has been a truly collaborative effort from the early conceptual stages, as Sascha was a project leader who deeply valued the expertise and input of everyone on the team, and so we feel confident in finishing the piece as a team in his name,’’ Lutz and Nigretti said.

Pohflepp was also a member of The New Normal community and a visiting lecturer at Strelka’s postgraduate educational program.

Shifting focus to the present day, the exhibition also presents projects that involve direct social action, such as Danish art collective Wooloo’s open community Human Hotel and works by the Amsterdam-based Studio Drift which invite us to take a closer look at our material reality.

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Studio Drift, Materialism, 2018. Photo: G.J. van Rooij. Courtesy of the artists

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Studio Drift Materialism, 2018. Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Studio Drift traces the materials which everyday objects are made from back to their source. For The Coming World, artists deconstructed a pencil, an iPhone, a plastic bag, and even AK-47 and M16 guns. They then measured and analyzed the proportions of the extracted elements and presented them as three-dimensional infographics.

“We don’t relate anymore to the things we have. If your iPhone is broken, you throw it away and buy a new one. We wanted to show in our work where all these materials, with which your iPhone is made, come from—they come from China, they come from Africa and all over the world. We need to be more aware of the things we buy and the things we do,” said Studio Drift manager Martino Bidotti.

The exhibition will run until December 1, 2019.

Cover image: Still from Purple (2017) by John Akomfrah. Courtesy Lisson Gallery