Rivers as Agents of Change

Lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes,
Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, 4 March 2021

The great rivers of the world are transformed in practice and in the worldly imaginary from compliant subjects of developmentalist agendas of fluvial control to unruly agents of social and ecological change. As climate disruption makes natural forces more extreme and less predictable, rivers are testing the limits of technocratic schemes that since industrialisation have sought to subdue and harness their flows through course straightening and damming. They are also powerful reminders of the resilience of riparian worlds through the remarkable capacity of river ecosystems to recover when treated with care and respect, encapsulated by the vibrancy of the biodiverse delta of the anthropocene Danube. 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.

Unruly Elements: Ecologies of Post-Socialism

Lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes for Postsocialism & Art, 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. Art practices reveal the ways in which ideological projections onto nature have been remade in line with nationalist agendas, but also the extent to which the integration of the socialist world into the neo-colonial circuits of the global economy has led to an intensification of extractivist operations. Artists have at the same time pointed to the unruliness of natural elements and their capacity to evade ideological and horticultural regimentation, traced the roots of such rebelliousness in the ruderal histories of socialism and explored global decolonial parallels.

Uni / Multilateral: Curatorial Protocols for Diplomatic Exhibitions

Keynote lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes for the conference on Exhibiting Polish Art Abroad, 1918-2019, Curators, Festivals, Institutions, Krakow 10-11 December 2020
In those rare cases where diplomatic exhibitions have been the starting point for more deeply research inquiries that dig down into national myths, and are critical towards nationally-framed art histories, such shows have the potential to give voice to silenced constituencies and move towards a non-ethnic, non-unitary, inclusive and decolonising form of cultural diplomacy to advocate for polycentric, transnational and translocal visions of the world.

Floral Collectivism

A video presentation on South Eastern Plant Epistemologies in relation to Alexandra Pirici’s research project Describing in Movement, Observing through Embodiment. Taking as its starting point Raoul Heinrich Francé's The Germ of Mind in Plants (1905) and borrowing its title from Trofim Lysenko's proletarian farming experiments, 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.

Botanical Identities and the New Wild

Zoom presentation by Maja and Reuben Fowkes for the public programme Stay Together at Belvedere 21, Vienna, on 20 August 2020. The programme also included a film screening and talk with artists Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan on No Shelter from the Storm.

Art History in Climate Change

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.  The conference considered the role representation plays in our understanding of climate, addressing the work of artists based in Europe, North America, Australia, Africa and South East Asia, and consider the methodological implications of both artists and art historians in global warming. Our paper dealt with the demonization of invasive species in Cold War ecologies and in the contemporary era, as spurious distinctions between native plants and introduced species are mobilised by populist ideologues in opposition to economic globalisation.

Creative Time Summit

Presentation by Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Creative Time Summit Miami, November 2018

The Creative Time Summit is an annual convening for thinkers, dreamers, and doers working at the intersection of art and politics. The Summit brings together artists, activists, and other thought leaders engaging with today’s most pressing issues. Presenting a critical range of perspectives, The Summit provides strategies for social change in local and global contexts.)

Pluriversal Geoepistemologies of East European Art

Presentation by Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Theorizing the Geography of East-Central European Art
Poznań, 26–27 October 2018

The contested history of modernity, now increasingly understood as irrevocably entwined with that of colonialism, has specific implications for the region of East-Central Europe, which has experienced imperialist subjugation and neo-colonial exploitation, yet at the same time is heir to universalising Enlightenment beliefs and a co-participant in its unfolding. This paper sets out to situate East European art within a concomitant worldwide project to decolonise art institutions, art historical narratives and theory, as a precondition for the equitable reception of art practices across the globe.

Through Synthetic Wilderness

Nasuti Festival, Bratislava, September 2018
Guest lecture by Maja and Reuben Fowkes

Today a vortex of waste covers vast ocean surfaces with undulating fields of discarded plastic, which on breaking down continue their sea voyage to contaminate the remote waters of the arctic as microparticles, intruding into biological realms through the inside sof unwitting fish and birds, and fusing with volcanic rocks to form unearthly plastoglomerates that wash up on Pacific islands. 

Art and Ecology in Times of Deviant Democracy

 Along Ecological Lines: Symposium on Contemporary Art and Climate Change
ECAV Geneva, 26 March 2018

Responding to the agenda of today’s investigations on contemporary artistic engagements with climate change, we are going to discuss several complimentary artistic approaches that open up new perspectives on how to understand and respond to the current ecological crisis. Of relevance here is the extent to which artistic projects are informed by or correspond to the insights of contemporary thinking around the Anthropocene, Capitaloscene and Geoontopower, and what kind of social and political, participatory and autonomous formations they experiment with in their practice.

Challenging the Global

Five Questions
MoMA New York, November 2016

Post poses five questions to scholars, curators, artists, and art-world practitioners visiting MoMA as C-MAP guests. Budapest-based art historians and curators Maja and Reuben Fowkes comment on the breaking down of established art historical categories, the important role of museums in molding and revising canonical art histories, and the need for a more planetary, as opposed to global, model of art. Such a model would address artists' relationships not only with national and international art trends, but also nature and the urgent ecological issues our planet faces today.

De-Stressed Tree by Polonca Lovšin

Site specific installation curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes for
NASUTI Festival Bratislava September / October 2018
Lovšin’s project for NASUTI emphasises the fact that debris as an outcome of human undertakings does not only affect people, but equally other species with which we are intricately linked through a web of mutual dependencies. The hopeful messages exchanged with a rescued tree stand as a reminder that in a time of crisis cooperation is essential.

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