Despite Our Ruination

Despite Our Ruination

Adelita Husni-Bey / Hanne Lippard / Lu Pingyuan

Co-Curated by Jenny Chen, Giulia Colletti, Kate Davis, Thomas Laval and Viola Yip

SAFA Gallery, Shanghai Developed as part of the Shanghai Curators' Lab
2 - 13 December 2018

A constellation is made up of some stars that are nearer, others further away. It is only from our perspective, that of the here (and now), that they appear to take on a significant configuration.

Spencer Lloyd, ‘On Certain Difficulties with the Translation of 'On The Concept Of History’, 2000

Taking cue from Walter Benjamin’s critique, Despite Our Ruination is an exhibition that emanates from a constellation of objects. Displaying alphanumeric messages, a pager embodies the interdependency between humans and technology, which in our informational era is tinged with mysterious impulses. Within the constellation, these impulses are explored through the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text, using cleromancy to establish unexplored connections within the universe. Reimagining the rules that govern reality is a task also undertaken by science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler, whose seminal book Wild Seed explores power struggles, eugenics, and cyborg identities. The blurred edges of actuality and fiction are at stake even in The Real As Imaginary, a piece by Peter Ablinger consisting of the recitation of a text over white noise that completely envelopes the speech. The white noise is, in fact, a theoretical idealisation, assimilated to natural sounds such as the rain in a forest, which nurtures organic and inorganic species. In forests disturbed by humans, the matsutake grows. It is a mushroom utilised by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing as a trope to picture a post-Enlightenment natural world, one that can enable cohabitation in a time of unprecedented human destruction. These objects are assimilated into a nature-culture vision, aimed at re-establishing a synthesis of nature and culture in a time when the dualism of science and the humanities still prevails.

This constellation opens up to a series of artworks that challenge normative structures of thinking while stimulating critical paths. This interpretative exercise draws on artistic practices that deconstruct limitative visions on the environment, noise, and the future of human and non-human species. The invited artists' research spans visual to sound art to suggest further vanishing points that jeopardise Western normative accounts of measurability, language, and rationality. Adelita Husni-Bey’s video Story of the Heavens and Our Planet and Treesitting (2007-2008), lies somewhere between documentary practice and the surreal. The artist interviews activists occupying natural sites throughout England, and reflects on the possibility of the camps being prototypes for post-apocalyptic life. In Lostisms and Postisms (2011), Hanne Lippard’s rhythmic groupings of seemingly related words reveal the categorical limitations of western systems of knowledge. The spoken words shift and change, losing their original value to a humorous degree. Lu Pingyuan’s The Future that Didn’t Arrive (2017) critiques futurology through storytelling. Although communal knowledge has been held and passed on through stories for many thousands of years, western systems often discount this mode of knowledge transfer. Fostering an object-oriented approach that rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of non-human entities, Despite Our Ruination is an invitation to explore paths not yet defined. Photos: Cao Zilin