The Kula Ring: Thyssen Bornemisza Art’s first convening of The Current debuts in Kingston, Jamaica

Detailed programme and information about TBA21’s first Current Convening in Kingston, Jamaica and profile of Ute Meta Bauer.


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The week of March 13, 2016 is a momentous one for visual art and oceanographic research  in Kingston, Jamaica. March 16-17 will see the unfolding of the first convening of TBA21’s The Current, an ambitious cross-disciplinary venture marrying art and science in the service of ocean conservation.

The Current project and its ambit are described succinctly on TBA21’s website:

The ocean and its coastal communities provides a singular arena in which sociopolitical, economic, and environmental factors converge with the spirit of exploration. The Current seeks to redefine the culture of exploration, exchange of ideas and discovery in the 21st century.
Organized in three-year cycles, The Current is a multiphase fellowship program that gives artists, curators, scientists, marine biologists, anthropologists, and other cultural producers a platform to cultivate interdisciplinary thought and transfer of knowledge. Embracing the notion of the journey as a goal in itself, participants in The Current will join an annual expedition on the research vessel Dardanella. Avoiding the structures of conventional conferences, think tanks, and residencies, The Current reimagines knowledge production and the methods through which we present, understand, and exchange ideas.

The first voyage of this mission, headed by  distinguished curator, art educator and thinker Ute Meta Bauer (see my profile of Ute later in this post), having taken place already, Bauer and her team are in Kingston to share their experiences and ‘soundings’ with local audiences on March 16 and 17. After that, activities shift to Port Antonio where Francesca von Habsburg, patron of TBA21, is inaugurating her fish sanctuary at Alligator Head, the Thyssen estate where she spent many summers swimming and exploring the reefs. Her concern at experiencing the deterioration of the coast and reef in Portland between her happy childhood days and the present, instigated her to launch the far-reaching Current programme of research. It seems only appropriate therefore that the first Current convening should take place in Jamaica. The site of the convening is _Space Jamaica, Rachael Barrett’s equally ambitious Museum of Contemporary Art (10a West Kings House Road), a work in progress, but which people have a chance to acquaint themselves with this week. For a full programme of activities click here; for a schedule of the two days in Kingston see below:

TBA21 The Current Convening: The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy at _space, 10A West Kings House Road, Kingston, Jamaica: March 16 – 17, 2016

Announcement of the East Portland Fish Sanctuary and Inauguration of the Alligator Head Foundation Headquarters and the East Portland Sanctuary Information Center in Turtle Cove, Portland: March 18 – 20, 2016

The inaugural Convening of the TBA21 The Current introduces and discusses what has been discovered on an expedition to the Pacific archipelagos with the research vessel Dardanella. Titled The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy, the Convening in Kingston follows a ten-day journey to the remote littoral of Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. The Convening engages various formats of translocal exchange in the spirit of the kula including visual and sonic presentations, newly developed performances, film screenings (of existing films as well as new footage), structured conversations with invited experts, educational workshops, and “Thematic Tables” between presentations that allow smaller groups of shared interests to convene in a more intimate discussion setting. The experience of forming a collective body and exchanging knowledge is key not only for the expedition itself but also for these gatherings. The Current’s organizers, expedition leader, and fellows will be joined by a diverse group of environmentalists, oceanographers, artists, scholars, and activists from Jamaica and abroad. The Convening at _space will connect what has been discovered and experienced in the Southern Pacific to issues that are shared with Jamaica and other Caribbean nations.

The first day of the Convening will focus on fieldtrips, workshops, performative events, and presentations of materials, introducing creative practices as knowledge production in its own right. On the second day, formats will shift towards lectures, performances, screenings, roundtables and “Thematic Tables” that invite the audience to become active participants. Narrator Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition and performer, will introduce participants and speakers as a protagonist / persona in this Convening, and there will be interventions by the Brooklyn Jumbies. The evening will close with a live exchange of artistic and sonic material that will take place in the format of a concert/performance.

03/16 Wednesday

2:00 PM Public Workshop: Flying Fish Kites meet Robotics TBA21
The Current Fellow Tue Greenfort, Artist, Denmark; Marvin G. Hall, Educator, TED Fellow and Founder of Halls of Learning, Jamaica/USA; Julia Moritz, Education Curator, Switzerland

This workshop seeks to experiment with the practical and visionary idea to research local fish species and make them fly – by way of the kite, bridging global and local traditions and technologies of kite building. It will be a collaborative process that offers a playful introduction to Engineering and Computer Science. In a following conversation, we will discuss how creative and playful learning can be a tool to share knowledge and inculcate environmental awareness.

4:00 PM Recycling and Revitalizing for Ocean Conservation
Presentation: Ocean Plastic
Cyrill Gutsch
, Founder of Parley for the Oceans, USA

Cyrill Gutsch is presenting the Parley A.I.R Strategy – a formula that can end ocean plastic pollution. Plastic is a design failure. Once produced, it never dies but keeps poisoning our planet. We can only end its crusade by inventing new materials. In the meantime we save marine wildlife by cleaning up coastal regions, dragging plastic debris out of the sea and cutting into the production of new, virgin plastic by making recycling material a mega trend and working on closed-loop systems.

5:00 PM Presentation and Conversations: Agents of Change, Part 1

Clouds, Orta Water and Antarctica Lucy Orta, Professor and UAL Chair of Art in the Environment, University of the Arts London and artist, France/UK

This presentation introduces three ongoing projects by Studio Orta – Clouds, Orta Water and Antartica – that intersect issues of water paucity and pollution, climate change and its effects on migration.


Oskar Mestavhat, physician, artist, environmentalist, Brazil

The artwork Interfaces marks a transitory moment in Oskar Metsavaht’s life. Conceived during an artistic residency at Inhotim, it allowed him for the very first time to combine his different perspectives – or interfaces – of being a physician, designer and artist, and to live up to their full potential. Interfaces I – man//art//nature thus carries this new awareness. In his talk, he proposes a reflection about this “imaginary layer” aiming at defying the boundaries between the human body and nature.

Lucy Orta
and Oskar Mestavhat

This conversation will introduce creative engagement addressing urgent questions that touch on the changing condition of our environment.

7:00 PM Opening Ceremony

Francesca von Habsburg, TBA21, Chairperson and Founder, Jamaica/Austria; Rachael Barrett, _space, Founding Chair, Jamaica

Talking Materials with TBA21 The Current Fellows Laura Anderson Barbata, artist, Mexico/USA; Armin Linke, filmmaker, artist, and professor at HfG Karlsruhe, Germany and TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Germany/Singapore

The Kula Ring – Collective Body and Knowledge Exchange Lorena Garcia Castro and Lena Rossbach, graduate students, HfG Karlsruhe, Germany

A presentation of 60 photographs that are part of a collective visual database accumulated by the TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader and Fellows during their ten-day expedition to Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea from September 30 – October 9, 2015.

Kula Exchanges
TBA21 The Current Fellow Newell Harry, artist, Australia

Through an examination of the tradition of the kula and its modes of exchange and circulation, Harry’s installation of selected materials that he collected during his visits to Pacific Islands questions the way materials and objects accrue economic and social value and significance in the Pacific, and against the wider sphere of global trade.

From the (Kula) Ring to the Belt (& Road)
TBA21 The Current Fellow Jegan Vincent de Paul, architect and artist, NTU PhD candidate, Canada/Singapore

The presented books are part of a collection of materials and ongoing research that Jegan Vincent de Paul has undertaken to examine (un)official perspectives on Chinese State-led infrastructure construction across the Indian Ocean littoral, attempting to reveal the political fallouts of the routes and its general social, cultural and economic effects in a society.

8:00 PM Performance: What-Lives-Beneath
TBA21 The Current Fellow Laura Anderson Barbata, artist, Mexico/USA; The Brooklyn Jumbies, Trinidad and Tobago/Barbados/USA; Chris Walker, choreographer, Jamaica/USA; Dancers from the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica; Ewan Simpson & NDTC Music, Jamaica; Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition and performer, Jamaica

What-Lives-Beneath is an original cross-disciplinary performance, combining dance, spoken word, stilt dancing, costuming and music. Based on first-hand experiences, research and ancient wisdom, it charts the physical and emotional relationship maintained with the ocean and the urgent need for collective transformation. The Moving Mas works created by Laura Anderson Barbata in collaboration with Chris Walker incorporate traditional handcrafts from Papua New Guinea collected during the expedition and other recycled materials.

9:00 PM Conversation: Agents of Change, Part II
TBA21 The Current Fellow Tue Greenfort, artist, Denmark; Cyrill Gutsch, Founder of Parley for the Oceans, USA; Francesca von Habsburg, TBA21, Chairperson and founder, Jamaica/Austria; Justine Henzell, producer and director, daughter of Perry Henzell, Jamaica;  Oskar Mestavhat, physician, artist, environmentalist, Brazil;  Lucy Orta, Professor and UAL Chair of Art in the Environment, University of the Arts London and artist, France/UK; Moderated by Markus Reymann, Director, TBA21 The Current, Germany/USA; This conversation discusses artistic and creative practices in support of environmental awareness.

10:00 PM Film Screening: The Harder They Come
Director Perry Henzell, 1972, 120 min, Jamaica

“Possibly the most influential of Jamaican films and one of the most important films from the Caribbean,” the film starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff is famous for its reggae soundtrack that is said to have “brought reggae to the world.”

Q & A: Justine Henzell, producer and director, daughter of Perry Henzell, Jamaica


03/17 Thursday

Narrator Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition and performer, will guide throughout the day.

10:00 AM Lecture and Film Screening: The Current, an Energy field, an Ocean Phenomenon, and a Sense of Now, Markus Reymann, Director of TBA21 Academy and TBA21 The Current, Germany/USA

The Current is the exploratory soul of TBA21. Imagined and implemented by Francesca von Habsburg and Markus Reymann, it is a ground-breaking new program that takes artists and other cultural producers, architects, scientists, philosophers, and environmentalists into the South Pacific. Based on the research vessel Dardanella, The Current is the offspring of TBA21 Academy. In his talk, Markus Reymann addresses the results of the first two expeditions and proposes an outlook on how the art world and the cultural sector in alliance with science can creatively engage with today’s most pressing issues of climate change to conceive imaginative solutions.

11:00 AM Screening and Lecture Performance: Anthropocene Observatory Project
and Deep Time
TBA21 The Current Fellow Armin Linke, filmmaker, artist, and professor at HfG Karlsruhe, Germany

Excerpts from the Anthropocene Observatory Project, a collaboration by Armin Linke with John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog (Territorial Agency) and Anselm Franke (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin). The Anthropocene Observatory depicts the work of international agencies, organizations and scientific researchers in a series of short films, interviews and documentary materials.

Unpublished footage of a research project titled Deep Time by Armin Linke
discusses the thesis of the Anthropocene as the epoch defined by the actions of humans.

12:00 PM Presentations

The Ocean—Flywheel of Global Change
Patrick Heimbach
, oceanographer, Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Associate Professor, the University of Texas, Austin, USA

The animated visuals that were collected through various satellites underscores the global connectedness of the coupled climate system at large, and the far-reaching effect that regional changes can have. In the same way that polar ice sheet melt influences tropical communities living near the coast, changes to the tropical atmosphere-ocean circulation will impact polar climate. As we convene to witness changes to the local environment, we will do so against the backdrop of global changes.

Ring of Fire: Ecocide and Environmental Self-determination in West Papua
Nabil Ahmed
, researcher and lecturer, Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass), London Metropolitan University, UK

Investigating the intersection of contemporary eco-politics, art and architecture at multiple scales and in the making of new legal and political forums, this presentation explores an ongoing geopolitical investigation of ecocide and environmental self-determination in West Papua, a militarized territory on the northeaster eastern edge on the Ring of Fire.

1:30 PM Thematic Tables

The audience is invited to join the presenters in smaller, intimate groups for discussions. Topics include “Our ocean’s now – Our ocean’s future?”, “Agents of change – responsible philanthropy”, “Vernacular knowledge and material archives”, “Collective body and transcultural exchange”, “What is this – the epoch of the Anthropocene?” and “Undoing education / learning by doing”.

3:00 PM Conversation: The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy
Annie Paul
, writer and critic, Head of Publication section, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, University of the West Indies, Jamaica; TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Germany/Singapore; TBA21 The Current Fellow Laura Anderson Barbata, artist, Mexico/USA. Moderated by Filipa Ramos, art writer and Editor-in-Chief, art-agenda, UK

This conversation will discuss if a collective experience of a very particular locale is translatable to another locale, and how can one create a field of resonance that serves as a feedback loop? What kind of knowledge is produced under such particular circumstances like an expedition and how can this knowledge be made productive and be exchanged within a wider group? What is required to establish a community of shared interests across cultures and local specificities?

4:00 PM From Ska to Rocksteady
A sonic presentation by Mika Vainio, experimental electronic musician, Finland/Norway

4:30 PM Sound Clash Part I: ‘Slackness’ Versus ‘Culture’ in the Dancehall
Carolyn Cooper, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Jamaican dancehall culture celebrates the dance as a mode of theatrical self-disclosure in which the body speaks eloquently of its capacity to endure and transcend material deprivation.  Furthermore, the politics of the dancehall is decidedly gendered:  it is the body of the woman that is invested with absolute authority as men pay homage to the female principle.

5:00 PM Conversation: Spatializing Reggae – Sonic Exchanges

Carolyn Cooper, Cat Coore, Annie Paul, Mutabaruka and Mika Vainio, Moderated by Ute Meta Bauer

11:00 PM Sonic Exchanges Part II
Performances by Cat Coore and Mutabaruka, Kingston, Jamaica; Mika Vainio, experimental electronic musician, Finland/Norway

1:00 AM From Townhall to Dancehall: Visit to Music sites in Kingston

And here is my profile of Ute Meta Bauer, whom I have known since 2000 and last met in person in 2002 at Documenta11’s platform in St Lucia. Over the years we have kept in touch; it is a great pleasure to collaborate with her 14 years later on this convening. Please come out in your numbers, you won’t be disappointed.

UTE META BAUER: The Force behind the Scenes

UTE META BAUER is not a household name and likely never will be. Although the stage is a passion for her you will never see her on a red carpet in the glare of a zillion flashlights or hotfooting it from an army of fans; no paparazzi will ever hunt her through the tunnels of Paris or anywhere else.

Why should we be interested in her then you ask? Simple. Alongside the celebrity culture and money-driven economies we occupy in this neoliberal epoch, there are social economies at work, trying to imagine and realize more creative and equitable systems of co-existence. Can art have social functions beyond being storehouses of monetized value tailor-made for buying and selling? What role can/should artists play in the design of more humane, less number-driven societies? How can we institute the ability to explore, to experiment and to improvise, to work and think in unconventional ways? How can we engineer an automatically innovative, self-reinventing social system? Such questions have animated the work of Ute Meta Bauer over the arc of her career inciting her to operate at the frontiers of research into new thinking about art, art education and performance.

Thus subjects like cultural, social and media theory, gender, cultural and critical postcolonial studies, curatorial studies and methods of presentation, cultural policy, the study of transcultural and, popular-cultural issues have all been grist for Ute’s mill. Her unconventional but productive approach to knowledge and knowledge-building has attracted the attention of institutions at the forefront of education in art and technology and her curatorial practice has encompassed a wide range from contemporary art, film, video to sound installations.

After trying to shake things up at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, as a Professor of Theory and Practice of Contemporary Art (1996-2006) Ute went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she was director of the Visual Arts Program for several years and Founding Director of the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). In both places Bauer tried to revolutionize the curricula, arguing for more interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary research, and occasionally even an anti-disciplinary programme of studies.

“Why not regard students as competent partners capable of cooperating and being actively involved in the design of their learning environment?” she asks. In her own student days in Hamburg, Germany, Ute, along with other students, had formed a group devoted to extracting and moulding the kind of educational structures they wanted and needed from the programmes of study they were offered.

“We developed projects — exhibitions, events, performances — and made videos. We set our own context. We saw professors as resources, more as coaches, not people we waited on for instruction. When I became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1996, I was stunned by the antiquated notion of the Master Schools, and that the “professor as master” model was still in place. I was then the only female professor, since Erika Billeter, a predecessor, had left. The last female professor before her led the textiles class during World War II. To enter into a context is to understand its mechanisms and the inherent power relations it operates under. Changing structures requires changing politics, which has been critical to my approach.”

Inevitably Ute’s determination to change the politics of art and the structures within which it operates, has brought her into the ambit of art professionals such as the highly acclaimed Okwui Enwezor, another curator with similar ambitions. In 2002 she became part of Enwezor’s Documenta11 curatorial team, widely acknowledged to be the most paradigm-shifting of any Documenta in the weighty exhibition’s 60 year old history. Curating the 3rd Berlin Biennale for contemporary art in 2004 and several other ground-breaking exhibitions, since 2013 Bauer has been the Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, a national research centre of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Her mandate is to merge various streams of programmes into a cross-disciplinary platform. Just a little after two years into the operation they are well on their way.


For the Portland section of the programme see below:

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The programme also includes exciting performances and musical events:

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