Is A Post-Anthropocentric World the Answer to Climate Change? Singapore Attempts to Answer

John Akomfrah, Purple, 2017, film still. Image courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery. Photography. by Justin Piperger.
Animali Domestici, Bangkok Opportunistic Ecologies (detail), 2019, printed synthetic fabric canvas, embroidery, 300 x 300 cm. Image courtesy of the artists.
Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (Human Mask), 2014, film still. Image courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Hauser & Wirth, London; Esther Schipper, Berlin; and Anna Lena Films, Paris.
John Akomfrah, Purple, 2017. Image courtesy of Marina Bay Sands.
Finbarr Fallon, Subtarranean Singapore 2065, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
Rimini Protokoll, Win win , 2017. Image courtesy of CCCB 2017 and Martí E. Berenguer.
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THE 2020 SOVEREIGN ASIAN ART PRIZE

In Singapore, two vastly different exhibitions focus on the most gripping global topic today; one with the proposition of a post-Anthropocentric world where humanity is no longer at its centre while the other suggest quite the opposite.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

John Akomfrah, Purple, 2017, film still. Image courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery. Photography. by Justin Piperger.

 

Netflix and chill took on an eerie turn for me last Friday night. I watched American screenwriter and producer Dean Devlin’s 2017 directorial debut Geostorm—a sci-fi thriller that screamed like a giant, flashing warning sign. The movie opens with a series of catastrophic natural disasters plaguing the world in 2019, only to be saved by climate-controlling satellites designed by an American scientist that restores order (and saves the world). Fast forward to 2022, the satellites are deliberately manipulated to malfunction, bringing on disasters of cataclysmic proportions across the world, amalgamating into a colossal geostorm that threatens to destroy most of civilisation and giving its antagonist ultimate political power.

Undoubtedly the film is a fictional and hyperbolic narrative, yet it presents disastrous scenarios of climate change and global demise ignited by human choices, greed and lust for power. Does this sound familiar? In recent years, we have seen a spike in extreme weather conditions and an exponential increase in carbon emissions around the world. Trade wars and power struggles between countries and regions divide humanity making any cooperative efforts to combat climate change further challenging. None of this is new, but the severity is on a staggeringly sharp rise.

In Geostorm, the world is ultimately saved by the restoration of the satellites while an international committee oversees its administration. Its message is clear: the future of the planet and the continuation of humanity comes when the world cooperates and selfishness is left at the door. Each and every one of us is guilty of contributing to climate change—particularly us, city dwellers—and the responsibility for finding solutions to combat this crisis is a shared responsibility. Perhaps, we can only grasp this idea of cooperative and collaborative efforts on a planetary level when we take ourselves out of the centre of the equation.

 

Animali Domestici, Bangkok Opportunistic Ecologies (detail), 2019, printed synthetic fabric canvas, embroidery, 300 x 300 cm. Image courtesy of the artists.

 

Moving Away From Anthropocentrism

“The Posthuman City. Climates. Habitats. Environments.” at Singapore’s NTU Centre for Contemporary Art is a perplexing exhibition that curates a series of nine propositions contemplating an existence that displaces humans from being the (selfish) centre.

Animali Domestici’s tapestry Bangkok Opportunistic Ecologies (2019) imagines the buzzing city from the perspective of a python slithering through its streets. With meticulous details, the rich tapestry taps into a dystopic scenario, its paths littered by plastic trash bags, snakes and rats while billboards remind people to clean up the streets and avoid harming snakes and a counter for rats shows a population of 16 million. An existence beyond humanity is explored in Pierre Huyghe’s exquisite video, Untitled (Human Mask) (2014). For an unsettling 19 minutes, we follow a monkey—whose real name is Fuku-chan—through an empty house and restaurant, as the creature fumbles and searches tirelessly for comprehension of this post-apocalypse, all the while donning a wig, dress and a mask. Never are we able to fully grasp the monkey’s emotions, but as it moves between graceful gestures and sudden, animalistic movements, a sense of frustration, loneliness and confusion prevails.

At the heart of “The Posthuman City” is this very shift in perspective that co-existence and symbiosis may very well be an answer to the survival crisis facing our near future, yet another concurrent exhibition suggests quite the opposite.

 

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (Human Mask), 2014, film still. Image courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Hauser & Wirth, London; Esther Schipper, Berlin; and Anna Lena Films, Paris.

 

Looking Into The Crystal Ball

In contrary to the open-ended propositions of “The Posthuman City,” ArtScience Museum’s exhibition “2219: Futures Imagined” broaches the topic of climate change and a deteriorating world by postulating the future of Singapore through a narrative broken into five acts, each envisioning a period between 2019 and 2219. Part of Singapore’s bicentenary celebratory programme, the exhibition is well executed and digestible for a non-art industry audience. The exhibition opens with British artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah’s stunning six-channel video Purple (2017). Combining archival footage and newly shot film from far corners of the Earth with poignant audio, Akomfrah presents a richly stitched montage of birth, life and death, of natural beauty and destructive forces.

 

John Akomfrah, Purple, 2017. Image courtesy of Marina Bay Sands.

 

While Act II examines the decades following 2019 through the lens of homogenization and a blurring of national boundaries, by Act III, or 2060, the exhibition imagines a world where the Earth’s surface is no longer habitable and society seeks to live underground. But not all goes according to plan. In a gripping 7-min video titled Subterranean Singapore 2065 (2016), Finbarr Fallon tells a cautionary tale of a society too eager to develop a future underwater. In a climatic moment, an explosion occurs, malfunctions take place, and like the movie Geostorm, technology fails to future-proof humanity.

 

Finbarr Fallon, Subtarranean Singapore 2065, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

By Act IV, or 2119, humanity has returned to the surface but rising sea levels drown many coastal cities. A haunting interactive installation by documentary theatre group Rimini Protokoll proposes jellyfish as the ultimate survivor, a species that has largely remained unchanged through evolutionary history, and which seemingly thrives on all the negative environmental impacts that is harmful to every species, human and animal alike.

From current climate issues to the struggles of adaption and efforts of survival, the journey culminates in an era after the demise of humanity where the regeneration of the Earth brings life back to the surface and the past is remembered through archaeological artefacts. Critics might say it’s a very Singapore-focused show, and indeed its narrative is formulated as such, but the broader topics and scenarios postulated are applicable universally and communicated in a simple, comprehensible manner.

 

Rimini Protokoll, Win win , 2017. Image courtesy of CCCB 2017 and Martí E. Berenguer.

 

So Who Holds the Answer?

While one exhibition delineated the future of civilisation through the end of the Anthropocene, welcoming peaceful co-existence and sharing of resources with other species, another exhibition suggested (sometimes futile) attempts by mankind to fail-proof and prepare for the future.

There is perhaps no real concrete way to know which will be the correct way forward. But one thing does remain certain; division and war is not the way forward. Cooperation on a planetary level will bring far greater benefits to survival. We may hold different views, lead different lives and even exist as different species, but our habitat is shared and therefore our responsibility towards the climate crisis is one we must face together.

 

 


 

Denise Tsui is the Managing Editor for CoBo Social. A Hong Kong-born Aussie with an addiction to coffee, her research interests are primarily in the study of exhibition models and curatorial practices and art from the Southeast Asia Region. Previously she was an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and curator for a private collection of Australian and New Zealand art. A condensed version of her postgraduate curatorial thesis on contemporary Indonesian art was published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2015.

 

 

 
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