Curatorial Development Exhibition Program

Evar Hussayni, "Xaltike Amira û pismamê min" from project "Kurdistanê", 2017

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Mays Albaik, Teleptompter (A Terranean Love Note), 2020. Produced with support from Tashkeel. Image Courtesy of Reed Ghunaim.

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Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Walled Unwalled, 2018.

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Evar Hussayni, "Xaltike Amira û pismamê min" from project "Kurdistanê", 2017

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BICAR has formed a Curatorial Development Exhibition Program with Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi. Too often, curators are caught in an indeterminate zone between artists and the institutions in which they show their work, whether in galleries, museums, biennials, or in non-profit spaces. Neither grounded in contemporary philosophy, nor art practice, nor art critical writing, curators are often pushed into the deep-end in order to learn to swim. 

 

Our annual program redresses this crisis in curating, putting out an open call to curators to propose a group exhibition in Warehouse421’s vast gallery space. The call includes a structured thematic through which curators and curatorial collectives must think conceptually and visually in their applications. 

 

The chosen curator/collective will receive a grant and participate in a weekly colloquium with senior artists, philosophers, and writers on the theme, while pursuing independent study with BICAR and Warehouse421 faculty and staff. The program runs from August to February (opening) each year and its goal is to work with curators to argue their exhibition through meaningful artist selection, crisp and cohesive wall and catalogue text, justified installation design, as well as a developed publication that builds upon the show.

 

Curators who are not selected for the exhibition and anyone from the humanities and social sciences interested in the topic may apply for participation in the colloquium.


Our previous Curatorial Development Exhibition Programs were Praxis: Art and Thought in the Global Contemporary (2020-2021) and Future Perfect: Catastrophe and the Contemporary (2021 – 2022).

Applications open until May 15, 2022

Program will start in September, 2022

Warehouse421 and the Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR) invite curators from the MENASA region to propose a group exhibition, public program, or publication on the theme: ‘Screening Screaming: (Human) Nature in Crisis’. 

Gordon Matta-Clark, Day’s End, 1975. [Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark]

The program will think critically about the Anthropocene and its presence in contemporary art, thought, and philosophy. Man-made ecological crisis has taken center stage in art today, depicting injustice not only between humans, but increasingly across species. At the same time, in philosophy, new realities emerge around the clock, premised on there being a Great Outdoors, a nature-in-itself independent of human beings. On these views, the universe should be a democracy of objects that includes inanimate and animate nature, human and nonhuman. But humans have failed to decolonize their relation to nature: they continue to impinge upon, crowd out, and destroy the earth in an apocalyptic present. 
 

We’ll begin to rethink this paradigm of contemporary Anthropocene discourse, considering how it tends to screen nature screaming, in a double sense: it projects ecological disaster anthropomorphically – through the eyes of humans grappling with their own history and experience of suffering – and thus obscures what may be wrong with how we redress not just interspecies relations in the universe, but also interhuman relations, since the two might be related, if not the same. 
 

Successful proposals will consider and redress a potential wrong with how contemporary Anthropocene art, philosophy, and politics are being conceived, exhibited, activated, and legislated, threatening the good intentions that motivate these practices in the first place.
 

Three curators will be selected to fine-tune proposals that tackle these questions, to launch their exhibition, public program or book in Fall 2023.

The program will include:
 

(1) a weekly colloquium/workshop of reading, discussion, and presentation with invited and selected philosophers, historians, artists, curators, critics, and creative writers working on the theme; and,
 

(2) independent collaboration with BICAR and Warehouse421 faculty and staff, as well as a mentor of the curator’s choosing, to hone the project for launch in Fall 2023.  

Screening Screaming: (Human) Nature in Crisis

Matta Clark Days End.jpeg
 

Screening Screaming: (Human) Nature in Crisis

Program Statement

Man-made ecological crisis – ‘The Anthropocene’ – has taken center stage in contemporary art, which has been incited to depict injustice not only between humans, but increasingly across species (humans against nature). At the same time, in philosophy, ‘new ontologies’ emerge around the clock, premised on there being a ‘Great Outdoors’, a nature-in-itself independent of human being. For ‘new materialists’, the universe should be a ‘democracy of objects’ that includes inanimate and animate nature, human and nonhuman. But, in their narcissistic claim to exceptionality, humans have failed to ‘decolonize’ their relation to nature: they continue to impinge upon, crowd out, and destroy the earth in an apocalyptic present we already inhabit.

What we might generically call ‘Anthropocene Art’, in all its current diversity and proliferation, shares much contemporary philosophy’s aim to get humans to see they are only one ‘species-object’ among others in the universe. This visual effort translates well-intentioned ethical injunctions, laws, and policies premised on the human recognition and care of nature, an accounting for environmental security when we conceive and execute our endeavors. One should be hard pressed to contest this contemporary concern for nature. Indeed, climate change and the ongoing destruction of the biosphere are very real and demand urgent attention; for this, Warehouse421 and BICAR call on curators to propose an exhibit, public program, and publication commensurate to the gravity of The Anthropocene, nature in crisis.

Yet successful proposals will consider and redress a potential blindspot in how contemporary Anthropocene art, philosophy, and politics are being conceived, exhibited, activated, and legislated, threatening the good intentions that motivate these practices in the first place. Paradoxically, given its rejection of anthropomorphism, Anthropocene discourse projects the human model of liberal democracy onto the universe at large. Like human individuals, ‘species-objects’ share an animistic vitality, a ‘will to life’, and ought to respect one another’s different ways of ensuring their survival. Isiah Berlin called this ‘negative liberty’, the freedom (of humans, plants, animals, rocks) to act without being constrained by others’ actions.

A lot of current art, philosophy, and politics exist in the service of nature’s negative freedom, advocating an ‘invisible hand of the planet’ that will allow nature to flourish independently of human development. Even stronger human screenings of nature correct the Anthropocene with Berlin’s formulation of ‘positive liberty’, an obligation to provide the weakest ‘members’ of the universe the means to exercise their ontological will to survive. For the sake of a poor human and/or target of discrimination, this ‘welfare state’ model of the universe paradoxically asks humans to intervene in nature – ecological improvement, renewable energies, recycling, slow food, etc. – to protect it from the devastating consequences of human intervention.

Aren’t these two approaches to the planet mirror images of how world politics has dealt with capitalism’s production of inter-human inequality, at least since the end of the second World War?: (1) neoliberalism: the fundamentals of the capitalist social link are sound and the ‘invisible hand of the market’, left alone, will sort out inequalities, or (2) liberalism: the fundamentals of capitalism are sound but require government regulation to, at best, prevent and to, at worst, manage crises when they emerge. The Anthropocene screens nature screaming in a double sense: it projects ecological disaster anthropomorphically – through the eyes of humans grappling with their ‘own’ history and experience – only to obscure what may be wrong with how we redress not just interspecies relations in the universe, but also interhuman relations, since the two might be related, if not the same.

Planetary animists/multiculturalists like Dipesh Chakrabarty connect all ‘objects’ in the universe (animism) only to differentiate them completely (multiculturalism): humans and nature share an ontological instinct to survive that appears in radically different ways. Precisely because humans and nature share an animist essence, our different paths should not impinge one another: indeed, Chakrabarty expects a compassionate response when he asks us to imagine the devastation to nature if every human being were to own a washing machine and cellular telephone. But is this view tenable? 

The Palestinian artist Jumana Manna’s recent work questions Anthropocenic tendencies to separate interspecies and interhuman injustice, exposing how Israel ‘green-washes’ its ongoing land-grab and displacement of native inhabitants in Palestine. In the name of ecological conservation, Israel criminalizes foraging foodstuffs central to traditional Palestinian agriculture and cuisine, particularly when these crops grow on land Israelis seek to settle. What’s more, Israel’s cynical green policies divorce centuries of indigenous knowledge about crop care from the crops themselves, thereby exposing the latter to ecological devastation.

Manna’s writing, sculpture, and film seeks to connect human injustice (settler-colonialism) to the Anthropocene (man-made ecological devastation). However, she reinserts the very separation between humans and nature that her (art)work begins to overcome when she treats their relation as contingent rather than necessary. For Manna, the Anthropocene is only one tactic among others (guns, steel, money) Zionism has employed to settle the land and people of historic Palestine. We can not only imagine but historically document how Zionist exploitation of Palestine has taken place without any stated concern for ecology. As such, one gets the sense that, for Manna, humans may or may not exploit nature to facilitate their exploitation of other human beings: the relationship between interhuman injustice and the Anthropocene is optional rather than essential. And, ultimately, her ‘decolonial’ matching of indigenous human and ecological life repeats Chakrabarty’s animist/multicultural approach to thinking about the relation between humans and nature: the indigenous, like nature, should be left alone to police the boundary between themselves and others. 

 

A more radical, non-anthropomorphic undermining of this Anthropocenic, ‘separate but equal’ take on the planet comes from our ordinary language use: aren’t humans (also?) ‘natural’? The commonplace expression human nature alone questions any easy separation between human and other natural ‘objects’. Nature is in the human as much as the human is in nature, like a matryoshka doll, but these two registers meet in (non)relation to one another. Humans may have biological, instinctual needs – hunger, thirst, procreation – but our lives are irreducible to a seamless fulfillment of these needs: after all, we often refuse food when we’re hungry, we sabotage our love lives, which anyhow are not necessarily procreative, we build cities and make art. This is because human nature is always already caught up with others (inanimate and animate, human and nonhuman) through whom we mediate our demands with language: images, gestures, sounds, symbols, speech. 

Psychoanalysis has taught us that language is representational and not instinctual: no language can communicate our demands to others without loss and thus, we always end up saying too much or too little. This gap in our presumed instinct (animist or otherwise) is a real void, a canvas that drives our desire to act ethically and to make the world ex nihilo. Nature comes from a gap, a void. It is only through a shared thinking, acting, and creating from the ontological gap in nature that we can save nature, ourselves and others. Perhaps the uneasy (non)relation between human culture and its nature can tell us something about how to create interspecies and interhuman justice at once. Instead of searching for a radically separate ‘Great Outdoors’ of nature, the problem might have been in front of us all along, hidden in plain sight. 

The ‘Great Outdoors’ is a screen, a fantasy that shields us from the screams of injustice that are inside and between us and others, including (our and others’) nature. Haven’t these agitated images and noisy sounds comprised good modern and contemporary art?: David’s ‘Death of Marat’, Bacon’s ‘Screaming Pope’, Soutine’s ‘fatty carnality’, Sherman’s ‘Unfinished Film Stills’, Kiorastami’s Taste of Cherry, Anne Teresa De Kiersmaeker’s Fase, Steven Reich’s sound, Kara Walker’s silhouettes….