Sea Creature
Studium Generale 2021-2022 Rietveld Academie

Stefanie Hessler, Undercurrents: A Journey Across Water, Soil, Bodies, Spirits, Technologies, and Time

‘The stone had skidded arc’d and bloomed into islands’ – writes poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite in ‘Calypso’ (1973) – as it skipped through radiant calypso-coloured water, in the spray of its wake appeared Jamaica, Guadeloupe and Grenada. In his seaborne world-view, steady land and static certainties are abandoned for the incessant movement of the tides whose swaying back and forth defines past, present and futures.

This day dives into the Caribbean roots and routes across the Atlantic, considering the ocean as that which connects rather than that which divides. The contributing artists and scholars reflect on the unevenness of those connections against the abstract flows of global capital. They draw links between the urgent ecological present and colonial reverberations affecting human and nonhuman bodies. They invite us to engage the senses as we swim with history and art, sound and poetry, spirituality and technology.

In her keynote lecture, environmental and critical ocean scholar Elizabeth DeLoughrey engages Caribbean thought in relation to the oceans. As she discusses recent refugee experiences and the effects of the climate disaster on islands as a consequence of ongoing imperialism, she draws the outlines of the emerging field of critical ocean studies, while engaging the embodied fluidity of identity. Artist Julien Creuzet’s animated video mon corps carcasse… (2019) centers on pesticides used in banana plantations in Martinique and Guadalupe that still today, three decades after they were banned, affect ground water, marine life, and people’s health and livelihoods. Alexis Pauline Gumbs draws on her research for her forthcoming biography The Eternal Life of Audre Lorde to share about Lorde’s philosophy of the storm connections between West Africa and the Caribbean archipelago. Artists Josèfa Ntjam and Hugo Mir-Valette plunge us into a spiritual-technological aquatic journey inspired by West African mythologies, where divides between humans and non-humans, past and futures, and other boundaries dissolve.

Stefanie Hessler is a curator, writer and editor. Her work focusses on ecologies and technology from intersectional feminist and queer perspectives. She is the director of Kunsthall Trondheim in Norway, and project co-leader for the research-based transdisciplinary exhibition Sex Ecologies in collaboration with The Seed Box environmental humanities collaboratory, as well as editing the accompanying compendium on queer ecologies, sexuality and care in more-than-human worlds (MIT Press, 2021). From 2020–22 Hessler is visiting research scholar at the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media at Westminster University in London. She is curator of the 17th MOMENTA | Biennale de l’image, titled Sensing Nature in Montreal (2021). She is the author of Prospecting Ocean (MIT Press, 2019), and has edited books like Life Itself (Koenig Books and Moderna Museet, 2016) and Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art and Science (MIT Press, 2018).