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by Martin Guinard

Discussion between Bruno Latour, Eva Lin, and Martin Guinard

Could you please describe the driving thought behind the biennial you are involved in?
In a recent article in The Guardian, Latour said “Trump and Thunberg inhabit different planets—his has no limits, hers trembles.”[1] In the age of the New Climate Regime,[2] it seems that we can no longer really agree on what a habitable Earth means. And this to such an extent that we seem to be living on different planets, which, of course, implies major political differences.

It is not the same thing for all of us to live in the space promised by modernity (global planet), which would require six or seven planets from which to draw its resources, and to live inside the critical zone, the thin, one-kilometer envelope on the surface of the Earth, which is fragile and reactive to our actions. The contrast is just as flagrant between those who literally want to change planets by fleeing to Mars (planet escape), and those who, feeling betrayed by globalization, take refuge in populist currents that promise to protect their identity (planet security). These examples stand in sharp contrast to Aboriginal cosmologies that approach questions of composition and the potential end of the world in completely different ways. We have in mind the example of certain Amazonian tribes for whom each action implies a retroaction as shown in the work of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski.[3]

In geo-politics, there is geo (which means Earth). The latter acts as a preposition: changing the conception of Earth will for sure generate a completely different politics. As Latour reminds us: “The climate question is not one aspect of politics among others, but that which defines the political order from beginning to end, forcing all of us to redefine the older questions of social justice along with those of identity, subsistence, and attachment to place.”[4]

Could you please discuss the following shifts: politicization and depoliticization, de- and re-centering of the West, the art-theory interface, and mediation strategies.
Before acting in politics, first orient yourself. When we hear politicization or depoliticization, we instantly think of the problem of the deep disorientation into which the current situation is plunging us. And by this we do not mean COVID-19, which had the capacity to put a big stop to the world economy, but the New Climate Regime, in the face of which mobilizations remain modest.

Talking about a plurality of planets is one way of approaching this problem of disorientation, talking about different attitudes that seem to be particularly noticeable at the moment. The questions of divisiveness are such that it seems preferable to assume them, to stage them, to map them, in order to know with a little more precision how to position oneself in these conflicts.

The advantage of the term "planet" over the term "world" is that it does not simply point to "visions" or "perceptions" of the world, but it directs us more towards the material composition of the latter, whether it be the gases that make up its atmosphere, the density of the rocks, the quantity of water on its surface, or any of a great many other characteristics.

“Planet” helps to talk about a multiplicity of ways of articulating social and material order. In this sense, it could quite easily be interchanged with "cosmology." And on this point, it is clear there is a cosmology of neoliberalism (yes, in our opinion neoliberalism is a cosmology). The promise of this state of the world could have been formulated as follows: "As long as you are democratic from a political point of view, and liberal from an economic point of view, you will have access to development." Although this promise, of course, concealed all forms of hypocrisy, neo-colonialism, and hegemony, the promise of development remained intact. What can we say when we now see that to reach the state of abundance of the American way of life, six or seven planets would be needed?

The reactions to the problems posed to us by ecological change are such that it seems necessary to open the breach, and to study the contrasts between cosmologies that approach the questions of future change in different ways. Obviously, the artists with whom we work register these differences. For example, Aruwai Kaumakan’s practice is characteristic of what Latour calls the Terrestrial Planet. As a former jewelry maker, she decided in 2008, after a violent typhoon devastated her village, to “upscale” her productions so that she could work collaboratively with members of her community, using weaving as a resilient and social fabric. This “grounded approach” presents a sharp contrast with the “off-shore” and limitless space of the Global Planet, depicted by artists such as Antonio Vega Macotela. The latter has initiated a fairly unusual collaboration between a textile atelier (Marisol Centeno Studio), the local craftsmen, and hackers. Together they encrypted within the mesh of large tapestries information related to tax evaders, whose capital flows across borders and escapes the tax systems put in place within the boundaries of their nation-states.

Regarding the centering and “de-centering of the West,” it is obvious that we cannot avoid the question of "who" speaks in the stating of this biennial’s title. In this case, two Europeans from a country with a colonial history. We are, of course, aware of this, and there are two important points for us that condition the success or otherwise of this edition.

First of all, the aim is not to impose a fixed narrative, but to propose a thought experiment through the format of an exhibition. The precepts have, of course, evolved between the first intuition and the current configuration. For example, following a conversation with the curator of the museum, Sharleen Yu, it appeared important to include the planet’s "alternative gravity," which is interested in astrology and invisible and vibratory substances that would affect the world according to principles that escape modern sciences. Chin Yinju draws astrological charts, which are like snapshots of the configurations of the stars at the beginning of five massacres in recent Asian history, “questioning whether such actions by humanity are inevitable under the predetermined and inexorable laws of the universe, whether these laws constitute a form of cosmic force majeure.”[5]

The second point that is important for us is to use the biennial as a platform that allows us to make experiments, exercises and especially to respond to the framework that we propose. The collaboration with the curator Eva Lin is a major asset for setting up more relevant devices (such as the theater of negotiations, which we will talk about below). As she says, the workshops are not parallel but central to the biennial. In addition, the advisers we work with help us to get in touch with local NGOs, artists and above all to reflect on the context in which we operate.

So, if we come back to the question of "hegemonic machines," yes, of course, biennials can be tools of homogenization (characterized by the term “biennial fatigue” that describes similarities between international exhibitions despite their geographical differences). What we hope to do, however, is to take advantage of the opportunity to generate forms of exchange and knowledge with visitors who wish to deepen these exchanges. What interests us is not to illustrate a Eurocentric theory, but rather to test it. To test it through the workshops but also through all the contradictory messages that the works provide us.

Which curatorial formats are necessary to propose a space of radical democracy?
There is a need to think about what we mean with the term “radical.” Since the term etymologically implies a “return to the roots,” we are a bit wary about the tabula rasa that it implies, this eternal Modernist revolutionary gesture. What seems to be needed more than ever is to multiply each of the steps and mediations necessary to develop a discussion.

Let’s say that, when talking about the ecological mutation, there are two absolute opposites: less democracy, through dictatorship of experts; on the other hand, more democracy.

We are, of course, trying to promote the second aspect through devices that try to bring together agents/stakeholders/people who don’t necessarily agree. For example, the Theater of Negotiations is a format between that of a role play and a performance. This project starts from an exhaustive study of some controversies present in Taiwanese society, whether they concern air pollutants, reproductive technologies, or the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several science and technology studies scholars will train the participants to study who the stakeholders of the controversy are and what their agenda is. Then the participants will reenact the controversy by playing the role of the various stakeholders, and “negotiate” together.

The point here is not to be moralists, but to really understand what the “nodes” are in a controversial situation. It is more interesting for us to allow a marine biologist to get into the “shoes” of the CEO of the company that destroys the corals that the biologist studies than to preach to the choir a message of which they would already be convinced. And the museum is an excellent place to imagine these kinds of formats.

Bruno Latour is a Professor at Sciences Po Paris, scientific director of medialab Sciences Po and the founder of SPEAP program for experimentation in arts and politics. From 1982 to 2006 he was professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (CSI) at the École nationale supérieure des Mines in Paris and, for various periods, visiting professor at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology, and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management. He has published various books and articles, including: Laboratory Life. The Construction of Scientific Facts (1986), Science in Action (1987), The Pasteurization of France (1988), Pandora’s Hope. Essays in the Reality of Science Studies (1999), We Have Never Been Modern (1993), Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (2005), On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods (2010), An inquiry into modes of existence: an anthropology of the moderns (2013), Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (2015), and Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (2018). Together with Peter Weibel he curated the major exhibitions Iconoclash. Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion and Art (2002) and Making Things Public. The Atmospheres of Democracy (2005) at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. In 2013 he received the Holberg Prize.

Eva Lin's practice is questioning reality and its perception with interdisciplinary practice. She stirs up intuitive experience to awake spectators’ bodily sensation and imagination toward the space. She recently curated Parallax 2017: Damage Control, The Hidden South (2018), The Upcoming Past (2019), Ryoji Ikeda Solo co-curator Taipei Fine Art Museum 2019, Taiwan International Video Art Festival Anima (2020). She is now the director of mt.project where she works closely with creators, hunters, craftsmen, indigenous communities and other professionals to connect the relationship between human and nature by revealing the cultural spirits and wild knowledges endangered from the rational reality in the modern society.

Martin Guinard is an independent curator based in Paris, with a background in visual arts and art history. He has worked on several interdisciplinary projects dealing with the topic of ecological mutation. He has collaborated with Bruno Latour on four international projects over the last four years, including Reset Modernity! at ZKM in 2016 as well as a reiteration of the project through two workshop platforms in different geographical contexts: the first in China, Reset Modernity! Shanghai Perspective as part of the 2016 Shanghai Project; the second in Iran, Reset Modernity! Tehran Perspective curated with Reza Haeri at the Pejman Foundation and the Institute of History of Science of Tehran University. He is now a guest curator at ZKM working on Critical Zones, Observatory for Earthly Politics. Other projects include the co-curation of a section of the Socle du Monde Biennial in Herning, Denmark.


[1] Andrew Todd, “Bruno Latour: 'Trump and Thunberg inhabit different planets – his has no limits, hers trembles,'” The Guardian, February 4, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/feb/04/bruno-latour-moving-earths-theatre-science-climate-crisis.

[2]Term used by Latour to designate the impact of human activity on the Earth System, while avoiding the inability to register inequalities fostered by the term “Anthropocene.”

[3Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Ends of the World (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2016).

[4] Bruno Latour, “We don’t seem to live on the same planet…” — a fictional planetarium for the exhibition catalogue Designs for Different Futures, edited by Kathryn B. Hiesinger and Michelle Millar, Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Art History of Chicago (initially given as the Loeb Lecture, Harvard, Graduate School of Design) 2019, 193-199.

[5]Chen Yinjue, Liquidation Maps, 2014, http://www.yinjuchen.com/installation.html

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Issue 46 / June 2020

Contemporary Art Biennales – Our Hegemonic Machines in Times of Emergency

by Ronald Kolb, Shwetal A. Patel, Dorothee Richter

by Daniel Knorr

by Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv

by Delia Popa

by Diana Dulgheru

by Daniel Knorr

by Farid Rakun

by Raqs Media Collective

by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala

by Ekaterina Degot

by Yung Ma

by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk

by Raluca Voinea

by Răzvan Ion

by Daniel Knorr

by Lara van Meeteren and Bart Wissink

by Raqs Media Collective

by Robert E. D’Souza

By Manifesta 12 Creative Mediators: Bregtje van der Haak, Andrés Jaque, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Mirjam Varadinis

WHW in conversation with Omar Kholeif

by Henk Slager

by Vasyl Cherepanyn

by Ksenija Orelj

by Catherine David

by Okwui Enwezor

by Sabeth Buchmann and Ilse Lafer

by Julia Bethwaite and Anni Kangas

by Federica Martini

by Vittoria Martini