By Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Thames & Hudson, April 2022
A timely introduction to the fields of environmental art, art and ecology, art and climate change, art and activism, and art in the Anthropocene. Global awareness of climate change is increasing, and the scientific evidence is incontrovertible: an environmental crisis is upon us. Art and Climate Change presents an overview of ecologically conscious contemporary art that addresses the climate emergency, as artists across the world call for an active, collective engagement with the planet, and illuminate some of the structures that threaten humanity's survival. Across five chapters, curators Maja and Reuben Fowkes examine artworks that respond to the Anthropocene and its detrimental impact on our world, from scenes of nature decimated by ongoing extinction events and landscapes turned to waste by extraction, to art from marginalized communities most affected by the injustice of climate change. What guides the artists gathered together here is an ardent concern for the living, breathing subject of the Earth and all fellow terrestrials caught up in this fast-moving climate drama.
This is the first large-scale interdisciplinary research project that institutes the Socialist Anthropocene as a new field of study within the critical corpus concerned with challenging and decentring the West-centric discourses of the Anthropocene, asserting the constitutive role of the twentieth century environmental histories of Socialism in the formation of the new geological age. The research is organised around five thematic streams through which the distinctiveness, epistemologies, relationalities and potentialities of the Socialist Anthropocene will be analysed, namely: the socialist praxis of extractivism, infrastructures of the socialist system, transformation of the countryside, species under socialism and cultures of the Socialist Anthropocene.
The programme is supported with a Horizon Europe ERC Consolidator Grant / UK Research and Innovation Grant awarded to Dr. Maja Fowkes and will run at the Institute of Advanced Studies UCL until 2027.
A chapter by Maja and Reuben Fowkes in the edited book Universal – International – Global: Art Historiographies of Socialist Eastern Europe (2023)
The narrative of the unfolding of experimental art practices in Eastern Europe during the socialist period has frequently been attributed to instances of individual travel and in particular the physical transport of catalogues and other publications dealing with international art trends across the Iron Curtain. Faith in the efficacy of the suitcase model to explain patterns of cross-border artistic exchange is widespread and rarely challenged in art historical, critical and curatorial accounts of artistic developments in the region.
An interview with art historians Maja and Reuben Fowkes by Santa Remere in the online journal Arterritory on 31 January 2023.
Maja and Reuben Fowkes are London-based curators, critics and art historians specialising in East European art history and contemporary art and ecology. On January 10, at Riga Art Space, they presented the talk ‘System Change not Climate Change’ in which they analysed the Socialist Anthropocene and its relation to the natural world, ecology and climate change, and how a decolonial ecological perspective, especially one rooted in the non-capitalist histories of actually existing socialism, could sharpen the critique of green capitalist proposals for incremental adaptation to climate change.
20 August - 31 October 2021
Curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Participating artists: Melanie Bonajo, Gerard Ortin Castellví, Anetta Mona Chişa, Annalee Davis, Ferenc Gróf with Jean-Baptiste Naudy, Oto Hudec, Marzia Migliora, MyVillages, Ilona Németh, Uriel Orlow, Prabhakar Pachpute, Alicja Rogalska
Potential Agrarianisms sets out to diversify agriculture and pluralise its histories, recovering suppressed peasant pasts and activating their unrealised possibilities, destabilising urban-rural dichotomies, repairing the disconnect with the natural world and restoring caring and reciprocal relationships to the soils and plants that nourish us.
In this path-breaking new history, Maja and Reuben Fowkes introduce outstanding artworks and major figures from across central and eastern Europe to reveal the movements, theories and styles that have shaped artistic practice since 1950. They emphasize the particularly rich and varied art scenes of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia, extending their gaze at intervals to East Germany, Romania, the Baltic states and the rest of the Balkans. While politics in the region have been marked by unstable geography and dramatic transitions, artists have forged a path of persistent experiment and innovation. This generously illustrated overview explores the richness of their singular contribution to recent art history.
Edited by Maja and Reuben Fowkes
(Sternberg Press - February 2021)
Through critical texts, conversations, and artistic interventions, Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar restores complexity to the history of the rapid decline of the Slovak sugar industry, and by extension the wider social and economic infrastructure of transition in Central Europe, while at the same time opening up planetary trajectories for postcapitalist alternatives. Contributors: Edit András, Fedor Blaščák and Rado Baťo, Johanna Bockman, Kathrin Böhm, Anetta Mona Chișa, Cooking Sections, Annalee Davis, Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Ferenc Gróf, Dušan Janíček, Edit Molnár, Ilona Németh, Michael Niblett, Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, Joanna Sokołowska, Imre Szeman, Raluca Voinea.
CCA Laznia, Bozar Brussels and CCC Cluj, February-August 2022
Curators Maja & Reuben Fowkes
In the age of the Anthropocene the boundaries between the sciences and the arts are unsettled, as the spiral of ecological breakdown derails not just the biogeochemical processes of the planet, but also the epistemic structures of carbon modernity. The resulting intermingling of scientific and artistic territories gives rise to a productive clash of methodologies and a lively friction between worldviews, heralding the expansion of terrestrial knowledge systems to encompass indigenous, traditional and alternative epistemologies.
A panel discussion with artist Alexandra Pirici and members of Woods - Community for Cultivation, Theory and Art, Edith Jeřábková and Tereza Porybná, with responses by Ashley Dawson (Professor of Postcolonial Studies CUNY Graduate Center) and Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll (Professor of Global Art University of Birmingham). Moderated and introduced by Maja and Reuben Fowkes (Postsocialist Art Centre UCL).
Article by Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Springerin issue 3 2021
When approached not as a succession of technological milestones, but rather as inseparable from the gearing up of economic globalisation and acceleration of climate change from the mid-1980s, the short history of the digital era is disclosed as contingent and circumscribed by larger forces. Explored here is how in contemporary art a far-reaching critique of so-called digital space is emerging, revealing the dependence of techno-futurism on fossil fuel energy and the mining of rare earth minerals, as well as making visible the interconnections of technological modernity with histories of colonialism and extractivism.
Maja and Reuben Fowkes interviewed for the exhibition Slow Life at Ludwig Museum - Museum of Contemporary art Budapest, summer 2021
The exhibition Slow Life: Radical Practices of the Everyday aimed to highlight the environmental impacts and exploitative practices that have led to the current global environmental, economic and social problems. The other main objective was to provide a broader platform for artistic positions that emphasize sustainability and offer alternative lifestyles. Maja and Reuben Fowkes were invited to give the opening speech at the vernissage.
Guest lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes at the University of the Arts, London, 24 March 2021. At the height of Stalinism, as its representation in socialist realist art also suggests, nature was considered not only as an unlimited resource for extracting the future of socialism, but also as a class enemy that needed to be kept under strict control. This presentation considers how attitudes and practices towards the natural world formed during the era of the socialist anthropocene were transformed over the course of the post-communist transition.
Guest lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, 4 March 2021. . Unlearning industrial modernity’s domineering attitude towards nature, joining campaigns for fluvial rights to the social struggles of rural, urban, migrant and indigenous communities living along riverbanks and celebrating the resurgence of hidden waterways within the city, artists articulate the common demand to stop seeing rivers as moving parts in the capitalist machine and recognise them instead as legal persons, spiritual beings and hydrological agents with the ability to shape histories and environments.
Chapter by Maja and Reuben Fowkes in The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change edited by T. J. Demos, Emily Eliza Scott, Subhankar Banerjee (February 2021). Intervening in the entangled domains of politics, science, and ecology, artists have challenged the demonization of so-called invasive species, uncovered complex histories of their redistribution and engendered collaborative scenarios in which the agency of non-native pioneers is released to restore and revivify devastated post-industrial environments.
Paper by Maja and Reuben Fowkes on Climate Migration: Invasive Species in the Political Imaginary at the Online Conference on Art History in Climate Change at Courtauld Institute of Art London 25-6 June 2020 considering the demonization of invasive species in Cold War ecologies and in the contemporary era,
An online seminar hosted by IAS UCL to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Points East conference on East European art. In December 1990 the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow brought together 138 artists, curators, critics, art historians, museum directors and officials from the UK and Eastern Europe for an ambitious conference to consider the implications for the arts of the dramatic political and economic changes brought by the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Text by Maja and Reuben Fowkes published in Barricading the Ice Sheets. Artists and Climate Action in the Age of Irreversible Decision (Vienna: Camera Austria, 2020), considering the extent to which artistic engagement with ecological activism should also be seen as part of a wider transformation of the artworld, in which curatorial and institutional innovations also play an essential part..
Video presentation on South Eastern Plant Epistemologies in relation to Alexandra Pirici’s research project Describing in Movement, Observing through Embodiment. This talk addresses the importance of symbiotic relationships in nature and how to translate the complexity of plant ways of being into a form that is accessible within the limited spectrum of human perception.
This performance lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes revisits Points East from the distance of a generation, reconstructing the original exchanges to provoke contemporary reflections and debate on a little known but critical moment in artistic, cultural and political history.
The assemblage of natural and human histories that constitute the Debrisphere did not emerge as a symbiotic growing together of living and non-living matter but rather through the force of a violent collision. Text for artists Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan's Debrisphere: Landscape as an Extension of the Military Imagination (2019
Panel discussion exploring artistic interventions in a plasticised world with Amanda Boetzkes and Diana Lelonek.How have artists utilised the materiality of plastics to investigate the breakdown of the division between the synthetic and the natural, the emergence of hybrid forms and the extent of the adaptability of living organisms to plasticised environments?
An collective blog of the first three meetings of Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History, which took place in Zagreb and Ljubljana in March 2019, in Prague, Brno and Bratislava in September 2019, and Warsaw and Lodz in February 2020.
Text by Maja and Reuben Fowkes for Along Ecological Lines: Contemporary Art and Climate Crisis (2019), an edited volume that brings together essays, interviews and case studies examining the work and ideas of a range of environmentally engaged artists working in Europe today.
Text by Maja and Reuben Fowkes published in the Hungarian art history journal Ars Hungarica, examining the processes of the colonisation and decolonisation of nature as they are present in the art history and contemporary art of Central Europe. It takes as a case study the exhibition histories of curatorial engagements with nature themes at the Budapest Kunsthalle from the 1950s to today.
Text for the publication of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award exhibition 2019 on homegrown civic movements that raised environmental protest to the level of systemic social change in response to the urgency of climate chaos.
This program investigates the entangled histories of East European art through a series of itinerant symposia held at pertinent locations across and beyond the region. By staging encounters between contrasting aesthetic and critical positions and creating conditions for comparative insights to crystallise, these sessions aim to instigate more rigorous and integrated accounts of East European art history. Acknowledging the singularity of individual practices, the multi-directional flow of artistic exchange and the generative effects of local circumstances, this transnational initiative is a contribution to an emergent global history of art from the Second World War till today.
This special issue of Third Text on Actually Existing Artworlds of Socialism is an attempt to delineate the characteristic features of the art scenes of Eastern Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. It is premised on the idea that artistic life in Eastern Europe was profoundly shaped by the structures, conventions and workings of the overarching system, with artists and critics compelled to negotiate the often productive contradictions of actually existing socialism. With an introduction by Maja and Reuben Fowkes and contributions from Hana Buddeus, Daniel Grúň, Candice Hamelin, Marko Ilić, Raino Isto, Zsuzsa László, Armin Medosch, Tomáš Pospiszyl, Alina Șerban, Sonja Simonyi, Tomasz Załuski.
Presentation of artist Ilona Németh's Eastern Sugar project on the post-communist decline of the Slovak sugar beet industry, with interventions by spatial practitioners Cooking Sections (Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe) and art historian Leon Wainwright (Open University), moderated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes (Translocal Institute / PACT UCL).
Main stage presentation and breakout session at the Creative Time Summit in Miami, November 2018. Our ten minutes in the limelight focused on the Danube River School, with a longer session on Plant Patriotism at the Pérez Art Museum the following day.
Chapter based on a keynote lecture on ‘Feeling the Curve of the Earth: Deviant Democracies and Ecological Uncertainties,’ in Mutating Ecologies in Contemporary Art published by the University of Barcelona in 2019.
Catalogue text entitled 'Intentionally Contemporary: Expanded Horizons of the Hungarian Neo-Avant-Garde' for Bookmarks: Revisiting Hungarian Art of the 1960s and 1970s (Koenig Books, 2019). offering a comprehensive panorama of a two-decade period of Hungarian art.
Experimental Reading Room for Arts Catalyst London's Test Sites: Assembly programme, looking at fluviocentric texts and artworks that explore sensual approaches to the river to connect with its non-human agency, histories and ecologies.
The Experimental Reading Room creates a space to interact, experiment, learn and dream our way to a new orientation towards ecological awareness in contemporary art and society. Based around a parallel program of degrowth lectures by prominent international thinkers and thematic study circles, the project is designed to engender the self-production of socially-embedded, theoretically-informed and practically-oriented knowledge in the vital field of art and ecology. Iterations included a two-year programme at Translocal Institute and guest events curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes in Vienna, Glasgow and London.
The River School was a series of study days, workshops, symposia and exhibitions conceived to engage with the Danube as a transforming natural environment with a long history of human intervention, a route of transnational flows and migrations, a focus for ecological concern that spills over into civic action, and a magnet for diverse artistic and cultural reflections. Curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes, this two-year project was realised within the framework of the Green Art Lab Alliance (GALA) with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union, and resulted also in a number of publications and presentations.
Text on the 'Post-National in East European Art: From Socialist Internationalism to Transnational Communities,' in Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe: A Critical Anthology, published by MoMA New York, 2018.
Chapter entitled 'Liberty Controlled: Institutional Settings of the East European Neo-avant-garde,’ in Doublespeech: Hungarian Art of the 1960s and 1970s published by Thames & Hudson in 2018.
The Experimental Reading Room was a three-day participatory seminar space at Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), London as part of In formation's orientation towards the future and new forms of commonality.
A two-day intensive exploring the polyvalent theoretical and practical facets of the feral through art, politics and ecology organized by the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative (EAH) at Central European University, Budapest.
Paper on 'The Primeval Cosmic River and its Ecological Realities: On the curatorial project Danube River School in Geohumanities. Uncovering the environmental history of the Danube, featuring river-centered artistic practices, and investigating the potential for an integrated ecological future were at the core of this interdisciplinary curatorial project.
Chapter on Re-Enactment as a Critical Strategy in Contemporary East European Art' published in Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere by Routledge in 2018.
This Experimental Reading took as its focus attempts within both environmental thought and contemporary art to imagine the ecological future. These range from visualisations of technocratic dystopias in which all the worst predications of environmental disaster come true, to the wished for emergence of sustainable communities thriving in a new age of planetary consciousness.
Challenging anthropocentric conventions that seek to harness the river for economic, cultural and political purposes, River Ecologies places the complex ecological materiality of the Danube at the centre of artistic and scholarly attention.
The Environmental arts and Humanities Initiative aims to create a common platform for academic researchers, artists, and ecological activists creatively negotiating planetary issues at the intersection between scientific and humanities-based approaches to the environment. Based at Central European University and co-founded by Maja and Reuben Fowkes, its programme includes conferences, workshops, film screenings, presentations and a team-taught Environmental Arts and Humanities course.
Rather than mere passive bystanders to history, plants act as agents, mediating relations both among people and between people and their environments, knowledge, markets, and politics, as well as serving as go betweens in non-human spheres. This conference explores the response of artists, writers and theorists to manifestations of plant agency considered through vegetal non-cognitive thought and non-representational memory, plant ethics and rights, and the relationship of humans and plants in the Anthropocene.
Workshop and Panel Discussion led by Maja and Reuben Fowkes at Tendepixel London conveived as an afternoon of botanic interactions on the ecological realities of travelling plants and the emotional reactions that vegetal migration provokes in zealous circles.
Lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes at NASUTI Festival
Bratislava, a two day event in September 2018 at the Nova Cvernovka complex designed to create a platform for initiatives operating in the field of art, culture, ecology and sustainability.
Seminar for the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative on the Reflexive Ecologies of Post-Internet Art with Joana Moll, Inga Lāce and Áron Fenyvesi, introduced by Maja and Reuben Fowkes.
One of two interviews with Maja and Reuben Fowkes published in Mezosfera focusing on the post- and de-colonial dimensions of East European art and history.
Maja Fowkes's text on 'Working with Trouble: the Reassembled Landscapes of History and Nature' for the catalogue of Natural Histories at MUMOK Vienna.
To walk in the landscape today is to do so with awareness of the anthropogenic transformation of the natural world, while walking in the urban environment synchronises the rhythm of our steps with the great acceleration of the high-tech city.
A group exhibition investigating intricate questions around the changing human relationship to the natural world, the channelling of environmental awareness and its political dimensions.
Based on active collaboration with institutes of art history across Europe and the involvement of prominent academics, curators and artists, SocialEast is an internationally-recognised generator of innovative research into the contemporary art history of Eastern Europe.
On East European Art: Positions We Can Stand Behind and Speak From is the title of one of two interviews with Maja and Reuben Fowkes published in the journal Mezosfera and deals with the post-colonial legacies and de-colonizing potential of East European art.
A multi-year programme of interdisciplinary symposia, exhibitions and workshops engaging with sustainability issues at Central European University.
Text by Maja and Reuben Fowkes in Afterall arguing that despite its reputation as the decade of the ‘return of painting’, the overriding characteristic of the art of the East European eighties was its pluralism.
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