Friday, November 12
10:10am-12:10pm HKT (GMT+8)
This panel brings together presentations of four researchers-creative practitioners, whose artistic research and work focus on global climatic, ecological, and geopolitical issues. Each presenter will address how these issues take shape in specific geographical locations and socio-cultural fabrics of Tibet, Singapore, Japan, and Canada. The panel also attempts to discuss advantages, possibilities, and disadvantages of using artistic expressions, particularly storytelling/re-storytelling, as ways to approach these issues, include diverse more-than-human voices, and convey them to others.
Register to join the panel here.
Practice of Imagining Future Forests and Vegetation through an Ancient Buried Forest and Knowing the World by Committing to a Fixed Geographical Locality by Aki Nagasaka
This presentation centers on one of my artworks, Remaining Here Quietly, We Think of Our Drifting Forest (2020).
The Japanese archipelago is one of the major places on the earth where buried forests exist because of both natural and human-created causes. The frequent-occurring geological and meteorological catastrophes, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides caused by typhoons, have buried forests. And land developments such as dam constructions have uncovered them. As one of the biggest among them, the Dekishima Coast Last Glacial Period Buried Forest which exists in the Tohoku Region was a part of the vast coniferous forest that spread in the region about 28000 years ago. Taking the Dekishima buried forest as the main subject, the work tells an imaginary story where a scientist and an artist have a conversation on the hill where the ancient forest is buried underneath. In the conversation, the two visit the ancient forest, the faunal-floral society that existed there, the incidents which caused the forest to be buried and disappear from the region, and current whereabouts of the tree species which used to form the forest.
In the presentation, I will talk about the key questions I dealt with in the work, the collaborative working process with different scientific fields’ specialists, and use of factual-fictive storytelling and non-object-based media, such as voices, projected drawings and images in the work.
The key questions include:
How to approach the global issues of climate change, environmental change, species distinction, etc. from a fixed geographical locality and a personal viewpoint.
How to bring the viewer’s attention to imagine possible future events and their influences on them while the work talks about the past events.
What is an effective way to illustrate the intelligence and mobility of forests and trees?How can I present the earth ecosystem from a non-human centric perspective; attempt to present its scale, resilience, and fragility?
How can I approach the concepts of “rooting” and “migration” from the forest and tree perspectives?
Online viewing of Remaining Here Quietly, We Think of Our Drifting Forest, 2020: https://vimeo.com/563663440
Aki Nagasaka is an artist and PhD candidate at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. Her art practice-based PhD research investigates the multispecies relationships and situated ecology in Hokkaido.
Nagasaka starts her practice and research through chance encounters with living beings, objects, and events in her daily life. Using multi-faceted research, physical activity, and storytelling as her main methodologies, she creates stories that connect seemingly independently existing matters, reveals undercurrents in society, and present marginalized viewpoints. She uncovers inequalities existing between different people and species by giving voices to silent beings and tries to build biotic relationships with other beings.
Her artistic activities include exhibitions: Times of Crisis (Museum of Modern Art, Bologna, MAMbo, 2021), To Our Beginnings: Time Traveling through Algae (The Hokkaido University Museum, 2021), ARTS & ROUTES (Akita Modern Museum of Art, 2020), Foreshadows (Tokyo Arts and Space Hongo, 2019), Quatro Elementos (Galeria Municipal do Porto, 2017), Material and Mechanism (Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, 2014), and Signs Taken in Wonder (The MAK, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, 2013).
Eco-mediating the 1991 Khawa Karpo Mountaineering Incident: Visualizing Climate Change in the Tibetan Sacred Mountain by Zimu Zhang
The year 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese joint mountaineering incident in 1991 on the snow mountain Khawa Karpo in Yunnan province in China. All seventeen climbers died of an enormous avalanche one night before their planned summit attempt. Apart from being one of the most deadly incidents in mountaineering history, this tragic event also manifests multiple implications on indigenous knowledge, sacred sites, conservation policy, as well as climate change. While the avalanche was traced back to extreme meteorological snowfall on the mountain, a phenomenon which had been occuring more and more frequently in the region due to climate change in the past decades, Tibetan villagers around the Mt. Khawa Karpo perceived the issue differently. They ascribed the incident as retribution by the mountain deity, punishing humans’ intrusion into his sacred realm, as the Mt. Khawa Karpo is one of the primary sacred mountains that dwells a mountain deity worshiped by local Tibetans. In Tibetan cosmology — a constellation of ancient animism, Tibetan Buddhism and an everyday lived experience closely entangled with wildness and more-than-human beings — humans are in a contractual relationship with the spiritual deities and all other living and animated entities that interdwell in the deities’ land (Guo, 2012; Litzinger, 2004; Studley & Jikmed, 2016). Thus, Tibetan villagers practice a historically inherited set of rules, behaviors and rituals to keep the boundary and equilibrium among the villagers, deities, animals, plants and other various forces in check.
Departing from the mountaineering incident and its aftermath over the past 30 years, I will engage with Tibetan cosmology and ecocritical theories to further discuss the incident as an eco-media event (Cubitt, 2005, 2016; Litzinger &Yang, 2020), which visualizes and materializes climate change in an affective, moral and spiritual manner (Byg & Salick, 2009) beyond Western and Chinese socialist scientism. I will also utilize and mediate the anthropological writing and filmmaking conducted in the Khawa Karpo region from the Yunnan anthropologist Guo Jing, the journey and photographs made by the Japanese mountaineer Naoyuki Kobayashi, who has devoted the past 25 years recovering the dead climbers’ remains to “clean” the sacred mountain and glacier, as well as local Tibetan villagers’ films documenting their eco-cosmological daily life under the sacred mountain. I argue that mediating these entangled stories of the sacred mountain with a diverse worlding of our endangered ecological system could shed light on an alternative visualization of climate change, as well as the urgent and intricate issues of how to live, how to grieve and how to die in the disastrous Anthropocene.
Byg, Anja, & Salick, Jan. (2009). Local perspectives on a global phenomenon—climate change in Eastern Tibetanvillages. Global Environmental Change, 19(2), 156-166.
Cubitt, Sean. (2005). EcoMedia: Rodopi.
Cubitt, Sean. (2016). Finite media: Duke University Press.
Guo, Jing 郭淨. (2012). Tales from the White Snow Mountain 雪山之書: Yunnan renmin chu ban she.
Litzinger, Ralph. (2004). The Mobilization of “Nature”: Perspectives from North-west Yunnan. The China
Quarterly, 178(178), 488-504. doi:10.1017/S030574100400027X
Litzinger, Ralph, & Yang, Fan. (2020). Eco-Media Events in China: From Yellow Eco-Peril to Media Materialism.
Environmental Humanities, 12(1), 1-22.
Studley, John, & Jikmed, Awang. (2016). Creating new discursive terrain for the custodians of the Tibetan spiritscapes of North West Yunnan. In Asian sacred natural sites (pp. 281-295): Routledge.
Zimu Zhang is a researcher and moving image practitioner. She is currently conducting her PhD research at School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. She is one of the awarded researchers of the 2022 Landhaus fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. Her research focuses on the conjunction of visual culture, society of control and the Anthropocene. She is also active in filmmaking, curating and socially engaged art practices. Her films and art projects have been featured in international film festivals and art events including European Media Art Festival, Doclisboa, Visible Evidence, Video Vortex, China Independent Film Festival, etc. Starting in 2021, she co-curates a screening project named “Black Tent Theatre” with curator Zhang Hanlu to feature multicultural and ecological films in the Guangdong Times Museum.
Eating Soil and Moving Earth: Lessons on Worldmaking Practices, Threshold Crossing, Archival Fragments and Working with Non-Human Collaborators by Zarina Muhammad
This presentation will draw from key ideas and artistic processes and methodologies underpinning <earth, land, sky and sea as palimpsest>, a long term collaborative research and artistic project looking into environmental histories, infrastructures overlaid on spirit paths, interspecies ecologies, extractive capitalist urbanization, archival fragments, moving, shapeshifting walking paths through human built landscapes alongside what lies below and above these trails and coordinates.
The preliminary explorations of this project have been described as “invitations and invocations to see with skin, hear with our feet, feel our way through spatial interruptions and somatically attend to sound at points of transit, change and threshold-crossing”. For the first iteration of this work, my collaborators and I were responding to the prompt of how the pandemic had reframed the forest and multi-species entanglements, if it did at all? While we can argue that computation systems have enabled forests and ecologies to be made legible in new ways, we had unanswered questions on the unofficial uses and memories of green spaces within an island city state like Singapore, and the multiple and broad breadth of intelligences that mark and shape these spaces?
Through this work, we were keen to engage more closely with worldmaking practices, practices framed as traditional knowledge as well as accessing embodied memory as archive. Through this work, we were paid attention to the sound of ants, the sacred meanings of earth mounds, relooking soil as a system of burrows and tunnels, trees as vessels and nodes, terra as palimpsest and delving into (exhumed) chthonic worlds. This work has also examined ways to experience space/site in polysensorial ways. In exploring ways the senses may be differentially and culturally conceived, how does this present expanded and divergent modes of relating to the vast ecologies of selves that attempt to thrive and survive in any given space? How do we make sense of the ever expansive realms, worlds, layers of accumulated data, information that is beyond human comprehension? How perceptible are we to these energy flows, both quantifiable and instinctively, intuitively, viscerally felt and sensed through our ecosystems, machines, selves and spaces? How do we imagine these future worlds we would like to breathe into and walk with? How can we continue to sustain and create practices of care for, remember, echo-locate, distance-sense, give attention to and speak with the myriad forms, shapes, guises of non-human worlds, the spirit loci, tutelary spirits, the creatures and trees that are older than our buildings? When we’re walking through compacted earth paths, how are we learning to enter, pass through, inhabit and share spaces with the whole body listening?
Zarina Muhammad is an artist, educator and researcher whose practice is deeply entwined with a critical re-examination of oral histories, ethnographic literature and other historiographic accounts about Southeast Asia. Working at the intersections of performance, installation, text, ritual, sound, moving image and participatory practice, she is interested in the broader contexts of ecocultural and ecological histories, myth-making, haunted historiographies, water cosmologies and chthonic realms. Her work has largely explored the role of the artist as “cultural ventriloquist” who lends polyphonic voices to data-driven systems and shapeshifting worlds. She has been working on a long-term interdisciplinary project on Southeast Asia’s transmutating relationship to spectrality, ritual magic, polysensoriality and the immaterial against the dynamics of global modernity, the social production of rationality and transcultural exchanges of knowledge.
Currently she is developing another long-term collaborative project on archival and speculative readings of the earth, land, sky and sea as palimpsest. Forthcoming iterations of this audio-visual and text-based project will be presented in 2022.
In addition to presenting recent incarnations of her projects, performances and installations at Singapore Art Museum (Singapore), ArtScience Museum (Singapore), Indonesia Contemporary Art Network (Indonesia) and Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (Taiwan,) she has also presented her work and been involved in projects across Asia Pacific and Europe.
She lives and works in Singapore.
Reading from Our Sands (a Climate-Crisis Novel) by Professor Darryl Whetter, Université Sainte-Anne, Canada
Canadian literature loves landscape novels but until Dr. Whetter’s novel Our Sands it was curiously, collusively silent about what is arguably its most quintessential Canadian landscape, the tar sands of Alberta. The contentious tar sands have had scant manifestation in some Canadian fringe theatre but lack attention in fiction, the country’s most popular literary genre. Canadian fiction is shockingly perhaps collusively silent on the tar sands, while celebrated Canadian landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky rose to international renown partly through his images of them (Burtynsky “CV”). Far worse than a blind spot in Canada’s national literature, this absence of any meaningful treatment in Canadian fiction of what Noam Chomsky and Laray Polk conclude is “the dirtiest oil on the planet” (160) risks contributing to the “cultural genocide” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, as well as scholars and Indigenous citizens and stakeholders, decry as synonymous with Canadian history and governance. The disproportionately high incidence of cancer found in contemporary Indigenous peoples downriver from the effluents of the tar sands comprises a chillingly physical manifestation of the Canadian Indigenous genocide alternately described as both cultural and physical (Mako 191; Woolford & Benvenuto, 374; Bolen).
With the tar sands constituting one of Canada’s major contributions, and a conscious one, to global warming, the genocidal aspects of Canada’s tar sands, which may well be the least sustainable project on the planet, are not only domestic but also international. Canada’s sustained government and social support for a tar-sands industry with intense expenditures of carbon, energy, water, public subsidy and Indigenous health risks contributing to the global genocides of climate change inflicted on youth, the globally coastal, the climate vulnerable and what the Pentagon, not simply bloggers, regard as impending “climate refugees” (Hartmann 239). Like Our Sands, Canadian Indigenous Anishinaabe author Winona LaDuke calls the Alberta tar-sands industry “the ecological equivalent of Auschwitz” (Hanson 7).
Professor Whetter will introduce and read from his 2020 novel Our Sands (published by Penguin Random House).
Bolen, Michael. “UN Urged To Declare Canada’s Treatment Of Aboriginals ‘Genocide’.” The Huffington Post Canada, 12 Dec. 2012. <https://www.huf- fingtonpost.ca/2013/10/18/genocide-first-nations-aboriginals-canada-un_ n_4123112.html>. Accessed 22 Sept. 2018.
Burtynsky, Edward. “CV.” Edward Burtynsky. <https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/about/ cv/>.
Chomsky, Noam and Laray Polk. Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe. Seven Stories Press, 2013.
Cosh, Colby. “Don’t Call Them ‘Tar Sands.’” MacLean’s. 3 Apr. 2012. <www. macleans.ca/news/canada/oil-by-any-other-name/>. Accessed 3 Jan. 2018.
Grescoe, Taras. “Big Mac.” The Walrus, 16 Nov. 2003. <thewalrus.ca/big-mac/>. Accessed 22 Oct. 2017.
Hanson, Matt. “Tales from the Tar Sands.” THIS Magazine. Sept./Oct. 2013.
Hartmann, Betsy. “Rethinking Climate Refugees and Climate Conflict: Rhetoric, Reality and the Politics of Policy Discourse.” Journal of International Development, 22 (2010): 233–46.
Mako, Shamiran. “Cultural Genocide and Key International Instruments: Framing the Indigenous Experience.” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 19.2 (2012): 175–94.
Woolford, Andrew, and Jeff Benvenuto. “Canada and Colonial Genocide.” Journal of Genocide Research, 17.4 (2015): 373–90.
 Even their name is contentious with, generally, those promoting the in- dustry calling them “oil sands” and everyone else, including many workers, calling them “tar sands” (Cosh; Grescoe).
Professor Darryl Whetter was the inaugural director of the first taught Creative Writing master’s degree in Singapore and Southeast Asia (at LASALLE College of the Arts). He is the author of four books of fiction and two poetry collections, including, most recently, the climate-crisis novel Our Sands (2020 from Penguin Random House). His other novels include the bicycle odyssey The Push & the Pull and the multi-generational smuggling epic Keeping Things Whole. In his native Canada, he regularly reviewed books on national CBC Radio, and nearly 100 of his reviews have appeared in The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, The National Post, Detroit’s Metro Times, etc. His essays on contemporary literature and Creative Writing pedagogy have been published by Routledge, Oxford University Press, the National Poetry Foundation (USA), Les Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, etc. His latest book is the anthology Teaching Creative Writing in Asia, out from Routledge in 2021. He is currently editing Best Asian Short Stories 2022 for Singapore’s Kitaab Publishing. www.darrylwhetter.ca