Mobilizing Materialities: An Introduction

The world we inhabit is expanding. Global population growth, increased mobility, accelerated contacts, rising levels of production and consumption, and the expansion of natural resource extraction have had significant impacts in environmental, social and psychological terms. The research conducted by the artists, theorists, and photojournalists involved in World of Matter—a multiyear, transnational art and media platform which will take the form of an exhibition and series of programs here, at the University of Minnesota, in fall 2017—coheres around a sensitive reconsideration of the planet’s “resources,” as traders call them. The artworks included in the exhibition (September – December 2017 at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery) adopt a variety of formats and strategies to delve into relations between humans and the world, in some cases by way of historical narratives, in others, through scientific laboratory research, community collaboration, visualization technologies, or activist organization. Many projects have furthermore involved intensive, multiyear fieldwork in sites of heightened material significance, often in collaboration with indigenous communities, who are experts in sustainable coexistence and for whom the world is not merely a resource for human consumption that needs to be controlled. These investigative experiments animate an emergent notion of artistic global citizenship, breaking up well-worn patterns of representation by embracing a plethora of aesthetic, conceptual and interventionist engagements with “matter.”

In Minneapolis, our attention will focus on the ways that specific material(itie)s in the ground mobilize multi-scale (geo-)politics as well as transnational movements—all this set against the immediate backdrop of the Great Lakes region, a historical and contemporary hub of heavy industry, transport, and intensive extraction. Beginning with a film screening,  exhibition opening and artist talks on Thursday, September 14, a four-day series of events will take place: on Sept. 15-16, interdisciplinary faculty from the University of Minnesota will lead a participatory field excursion to Minnesota’s Iron Range based on their shared research and teaching into resilient landscapes, dredge ecologies, collective landscape memory, and the like; on Sunday, Sept. 17, an all-day symposium will explore the expanded role of the geo- (as in Earth-based, geological, Earth systems related) in current artistic and scholarly research as well as the importance of collective, cross-disciplinary investigation in elucidating and actively responding to emergent geo-social/-political realities/scrutinize zones of geopolitical-ecological upheaval. One aim of the entire program is, indeed, to support and extend existing dialogues and action along these lines within the greater Great Lakes region, reaching to the Alberta Tar sands and Bakken oil fields.

World of Matter: Mobilizing Materialities is organized in collaboration with World of Matter, an international art and media project investigating primary materials (fossil, mineral, agrarian, maritime) and the complex ecologies of which they are a part. Initiated by an interdisciplinary group of artists and scholars, the project responds to the urgent need for new forms of representation that shift resource-related debates from a market driven domain to open platforms for engaged public discourse. The multimedia platform, launched in Brussels in 2013, is the backbone of the collaborative project, providing an open access archive that connects different files, actors, territories and ideas. Its content is the result of extensive field research and media production in situations of heightened material significance, including: the extractive Amazon basin, Indian cotton farmers, water ecologies of the Nile, fisheries in the Dutch polders, mining culture in the Brazilian Minas Gerais, and the rush for arable land in Ethiopia. The platform includes material from the World of Matter core group as well as a number of additional, related art and media projects. The core group includes Mabe Bethonico, Ursula Biemann, Uwe H. Martin, Helge Mooshammer and Peter Mörtenböck, Emily Eliza Scott, Paulo Tavares, Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan. The World of Matter online multimedia platform is funded by the Zurich University for the Arts and the George Foundation.

The Minneapolis event is funded by the University of Minnesota’s Imagine Chair in the Arts, Design and Humanities, the Department of Landscape Architecture and the School of Architecture. As the primary sponsor of the event, the Imagine Fund is an initiative of the University of Minnesota’s Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost and is used to support the university’s finest scholars and creative artists.  In addition, the event has secured sponsorship from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the Department of Art as well as the Center for Changing Landscapes. Partner sponsors include the Department of Architecture and the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH Zürich, the Swiss Arts Council (Prohelvetia) and the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

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