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Live coverage: The Current Convening: The Kula Ring, A Gifting Economy in Kingston, Jamaica


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The Current Convening: The Kula Ring, A Gifting Economy
Convening organized by TBA21, Vienna
March 16-17, 2016
at_space, West Kings House Road, Kingston, Jamaica

The Kula Ring, A Gifting Economy is the first iteration of TBA21’s The Current, a transdisciplinary expedition project merging scientific, environmental, and artistic research around ocean conservation and climate change.

The two-day event will include presentations, talks, and performances by Cyrill Gutsch (founder of Parley for the Oceans, USA); artist Lucy Orta, Oskar Mestavhat (physician, artist, environmentalist, Brazil); Lorena Garcia Castro and Lena Rossbach (graduate students, HfG Karlsruhe); artists and TBA21 The Current Fellows Armin Linke, Newell Harry, Laura Anderson Barbata, Jegan Vincent de Paul, and Tue Greenfort; curator and TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader Ute Meta Bauer; choreographer Chris Walker; performer Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition; TBA21 Chairperson and Founder Francesca von Habsburg; Justine Henzell, producer and director, Founder Calabash Literary Festival; Markus Reymann, Director, TBA21 The Current; oceanographer Patrick Heimbach (Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS),Massachusetts Institute of Technology); writer Annie Paul; Editor in Chief of art-agenda Filipa Ramos; experimental electronic musician Mika Vainio; and Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies Carolyn Cooper.

For a detailed schedule, click here for the Facebook invite.

Following the initial ten-day expedition to Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea of TBA21’s The Current, on board of the research vessel Dardanella, The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy and the Convening explore the possibilities to engage in forms of translocal exchanges, echoing the Kula gift rituals.

The first day of the Convening will focus on field trips, workshops, performative events, and presentation of materials, while on the second day there will be lectures, performances, screenings, roundtables and “Thematic Tables” shared between speakers and audience.

Writer and Editor in Chief of art-agenda Filipa Ramos will provide live coverage of the event for e-flux conversations March 16-17.

*Image: The Dardanella anchored at Dina’s beach, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, October 2015. Copyright TBA21.


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Good evening everyone, greetings from Kingston. The internet here is very moody so more than having constant updates on the individual sessions that compose the program, we’ll be posting punctual roundups that assemble various moments of this two-day event.

Hosted at _space, in Kingston, The Current Convening takes place at open air, in a large courtyard surrounded by trees and old Georgian houses, which becomes half auditorium half public square.

The evening session is opened by Cyril Gutsch, Founder of Parley for the Oceans (www.parley.tv), a forum that hosts individuals and organizations from various fields to discuss and engage in actions for the preservation and promotion of life-sustaining ecologies. Sharing his concerns and efforts in relation to climate change, pollution, and the ways in which ocean welfare is being drastically affected, Gutsch reflects about the exhaustion of natural resources and his concerns with the future of the sea, recalling how the year 2048 is foreseen to sign the moment in which all sea life as we known it is expected to have disappeared.

Gutsch introduces the aims of Parley, which more than hosting meetings and discussions around Climate Change and threatened ecologies, is dedicated to initiating practical forms of collaboration between different bodies that trigger concrete measures to reduce plastic pollution in places like Jamaica.

Gutsch refers to the ‘Plasticization’ of the planet and in particular of sea life, presenting a series of moving video excerpts which document the presence of plastic residues in sea bird colonies, and how this material is affecting the health and welfare of these animals. “Plastic is a design failure,” Gutsch sustains, “we have plastified the planet” he continues, quickly moving towards a proposal to reduce plastic pollution, which is based on a formula he has called A.I.R Strategy:

A for Avoid: “Avoid plastic whenever you can;” I for Intercept: “initiate a process of picking up waste and take care of trash, cleaning up coastal regions, dragging plastic debris out of the sea—namely “Ghostnets,” abandoned fishing nets, which Gutsch considers to be “mass murders”—and cut the production of new plastic;” and R for Redesign: Parley is pushing forward for the reinvention of other, recyclable materials that can replace plastic.”


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Gutsch is followed by artist Lucy Orta, who makes a detailed presentation of her work and overall practice, from the very beginning of her career as a fashion designer to her gradual move to the arts. She explains how the events of the early 1990s, namely the Gulf War, and its televised coverage, which brought the conflict to our homes, had a strong impact in her relation to her work. This led her to imagine possible ways to transfer apply her skills onto the constitution of portable habitats, single tents that further investigated the possibilities of wearable and mobile architecture.

Orta refers a founding moment in her career, the encounter with French militant thinker and urbanist Paul Virilio, whose writing was fundamental for the rethinking of her practice. In particular, his concerns about the dissolution of conventional familiar structures, led Orta to explore a series of possibilities of shelters for small groups and family units.

Within her presentation, the actual relations between the exhibition context of Studio Orta’s work and the concrete impact of their research in the situations they want to tackle—refugee contexts, water pollution, environmental degradation—is left unanswered, as the Orta’s investigations and field of action appears to be very much framed by contemporary art contexts.Yet she is optimistic: “shows are means to convey messages,” Orta sustains, and the “poetic structures” devised by the works open a possibility for effective actions.


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Various presentation modes are experimented throughout the convening, which expand the speculative areas of lecturing towards the performative as the session is pursued with a concert/spoken word performance organized by artist and The Current Fellow Laura Anderson Barbata, who has collaborated with The Brooklyn Jumbies (Trinidad and Tobago/Barbados/USA); choreographer Chris Walker; the dancers from the National Dance Theater Company of Jamaica; Ewan Simpson & NDTC Music; and with Jamaican performer and oral traditions activist Amina Blackwood Meeks for the presentation of What-Lives-Beneath.

Combining dance, singing and spoken work, What-Lives-Beneath departs from the reading of extracts of International Conventions and Declarations related to climate change initiatives and measures. The concerns, and goals set by these declarations, and the gap between their aims and their lack of enforcement becomes visible in the repetition of similar goals and reports. Moving amid the audience, Amina Blackwood Meeks embodies these texts while the figures of outlandish stilt-walking dancers, wearing iridescent attires, become ghostly presences in the night.


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The second day of The Current Convening, which will be guided by Amina Blackwood Meeks, is about to start.
It will feature The Current Fellow artist Armin Linke, who will present a screening and lecture performance focused on the Anthropocene Observatory Project (a collaboration with John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog [Territorial Agency], and Anselm Franke [Haus der Kulturen der Welt]), and Deep Time, a research project also focused on his investigation on the Anthropocene. Link will be followed by a presentation by Oceanographer Patrick Heimbach, from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will present his research on how the changes to ocean circulation currents impact both polar and tropical climates and ecospheres. Artist and academic Nabil Ahmed will share his current researches on ecocide and environmental self-determination in the militarized areas of West Papua, on the northeaster eastern edge on the Ring of Fire.

The afternoon sessions will host a Thematic Table on the gift economy and the Kula Ring between Ute Meta Bauer, Jamaican academic Annie Paul, and artist Laura Anderson Barbata (moderated by myself), followed by a gradual transition towards aural sessions. Musician Mika Vaino will present “From Ska to Rocksteady” and Jamaican academic Carolyn Cooper (Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies) will host Sound Clash Part I: ‘Slackness’ Versus ‘Culture’ in the Dancehall, investigating identity and gender politics at stake in Jamaican dancehall cultures. In Sound Clash Part II there will be performances by Jamaican reggae musician Stephen “Cat” Coore and Rastafarian poet and dub musician Alla Hope, better known as Mutabaruka, alongside Mika Vainio.


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Orchestrated throughout the day by Amina Blackwood Meeks’s words and punctual interventions, The Current’s Second Day Convening has been shaped around less formal lecture modes, and is assuming the configuration of a sequence of open talks in which the diverse participants share their individual and collective researches in diverse sharing modes. In an early morning session, The Current initiator Francesca von Habsburg comments on her personal engagement in initiating a project that is materializing itself through the unstable balance between art and science, which she refers to as the relation between oil and water “when you shake mix them they stay together, but only for a while.”

This sense of simultaneous togetherness and differences is clearly visible and explored throughout the day, becoming particularly relevant in the way it is structured across the three morning presentations: Armin Linke’s report on the Anthropocene Observatory Project and Deep Time; Patrick Heimbach’s presentation focused on the Ocean as a Frywheel of Global Change; and Nabil Ahmed’s sharing of his research on Ecocide and Environmental Self-determination in the West Papua area.


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Armin Linke initiated his presentation by referring the impact of his visit to the International Seabed Authority, which is based Jamaica, and whose main activity is the regulation of deep seabed mining, ensuring that the global marine environment is protected from the harmful effects of mining exploration. He referred to the importance of the encounter with the Authority’s outstanding photographic archive of the seabed, relating it to his own work with archival images that address landscape change and environmental loss, namely his recent project The Appearance of That Which Cannot be Seen. First presented at the ZKM in Karlsruhe in 2015, it gathered scientists and theorists, who were invited to engage with Linke’s photographic archive and to collaborate with him in the translation of the archive into a spatial installation that dialogues with the format of the exhibition.

Linke subsequently introduced his collaboration with John Palmesino and Anselm Franke on the Anthropocene Observatory, a research platform hosted by the HKW which departed from Paul Crutzen’s concept of the Anthropocene, and its assumption that the humans became the major geological force in our planet. Inquiring upon the possibility of conceiving an image as a geological trace which is also composed by strata, Linke questioned the practices that were embedded within the production of images, and the modes in which they could be used, integrated, and brought out with different narrative modes. Can an exhibition be a mode to speak out different narratives beyond the visual? Can a show become a landscape which can be navigated as a cruise ship in the sea, through a journey of encounter with layers of images, but also of sound that change, mutate, and add various meanings to the visual elements encountered? These were some of the questions that shaped Linke and Palmesino’s shared project at HKW, and which permeate his overall artistic and research practices.

Pursuing a similar method of raising questions, Linke offered a testimony of his experience at the Kula Ring expedition, mentioning how it was fundamental to find ways to work together. How to comprehend the way to setup a set of rules for a game, which are free enough to concede space for each individual to come with their own tools and methods, and yet that also allow for a final outcome that is multiform but still coherent?—He asked.

A large part of his research on board of the Dardanella was grounded on the observation of two fundamental moments that shape most scientific and cultural operations and their translation onto concrete gestures and events. These were the processes of collecting, presenting, and displaying data, and the situations of decision-making within the ecology of the boat, which mirrored wider mechanisms of sampling and decision making that are constantly at the root of the agreements between science and politics. Linke’s challenge was that of trying to comprehend how to make such investigation visible, and by doing so, how to introduce an additional critical layer towards the ways in which science and politics agendas coexist.


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Oceanographer Patrick Heimbach gave a presentation entitled The Ocean—Flywheel of Global Change, in which he introduced his current work with creating simulations and visuals that will support intergovernmental debates on climate change for the next years. What current computerized animations are demonstrating is the global connectedness of complex climacteric systems, whose effects traverse the entire planet.

Considering how ocean currents redistribute heat, tracers, and organisms (from microbes to large marine mammals) Heimbach, supported by a series of videos and graphics, reflected on how the melting polar ice is having severe repercussions onto littoral tropical communities, and likewise, how the changes to the tropical ocean circulation is having a direct impact on ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica, whose waters are being warmer due to the contact with the warm water of subtropical regions. Such considerations disrupt notions of locality and attest the deeply interconnection between latitudes, global Norths and Souths being united by the same unstoppable chain of heat ocean currents.


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In The Ring of Fire: Ecocide and Environmental Self-determination in West Papua, researcher and academic Nabil Ahmed introduced his collaboration with the Forensic Architecture group and its research onto the methods of spatial analysis and gradual transition from an era of human witness to an era of technological witness of the planet.

In an attempt to surpass the current eco-concerns that shape so much of the humanities, Ahmed is aimed at investigating the connections between geopolitics, art, and architecture, and in installing possible legal and political forums that achieve concrete measures and enforce the application of law.

Moving towards a reflection on toxic ecologies, and the way they interact with political forces, Ahmed refers to a court case in which the British Geological Society was taken to court by a village due to arsenic contamination of their waters, the only case of a trial involving a British team of geologists that concerns the multiple cases of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh, with have been occurring since the 1990s. Arsenic, Ahmed, sustains, is a substance that escapes the phenomenology of the visible due to its invisibility, and lack of odor.

How to comprehend contexts of conflicts, and how to conceive cartographies that map territories, alongside their sites of violence, combining physical with political geographies? Using his own attempts to deal with mapping and with different layers of information that appear combined, Ahmed reflects about his own militant research, in particular that developed in the West side of Papua New Guinea. Sharing fragments of his gathered material around the figure of West Papuan cultural leader, anthropologist and musician Arnold Ap (1946-1984)—whose songs Ahmed broadcasts for the first time in Jamaica—he considers the important of aural traces of resistance and fight, which, like in the arsenic case, escape visibility.

“From a Bard of Paradise to a Bird of Paradise,” Ahmed introduces the stunning Wilson’s bird-of-paradise, whose scientific name, Cicinnurus respublica, was given by Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew and republican sympathizer, commenting on the historical entanglement between natural history and politics through the politicizing of taxonomy.

Such case features in his current project of drafting diagrams for a narrative of the Pacific Ring of Fire—a powerful tectonic force, a site of encounter between multiple languages, ethnic and natural diversities, mineral frontier between the ocean and the land that finds itself entangled between nature-culture and land-rights fights.


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After a series of Thematic Tables, in which participants are invited to gather around small groups that pursue the discussions around the specific presentations of the two days, there is a round table conversation between curator Ute Meta Bauer, academic Annie Paul, and The Current Fellow Laura Anderson Barbata, moderated by myself and focused on symbolic exchange systems, functioning as a moment to reflect about the departure concept for the whole expedition, that of the Kula Ring Ritual between the inhabitants of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea.

How can a collective experience be exchangeable and translatable onto a different context, both mirroring the individual specificities of its participants, and a coherent group vision and impressions? How create a field of resonance that serves as a feedback loop? What kind of knowledge is produced under such particular circumstances like an expedition, and how can this knowledge be made productive and be exchanged within a wider group? What is required to establish a community of shared interests across cultures and local specificities?

Such were the questions discussed during this panel, which opened way to a series of aural moments and sonic exchanges, seeing Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio, spoken word poet Mutabaruka, and “Cat” Coore performing in the open square of _space.