Art is the medium of the masses, the ability to express, connect, give context and reflect. Art is also the core of the freshest forms of resistance to the ecosystem degradation that seems to be a foundation of our modern Earth Society. This ‘creative resistance’, action-art that lives on the frontline in defence of Nature and affirmation of Life, was central to the non violent actions in Paris during COP21. A single part of this rising tide was our art exhibition/exposition/experience called Foreign Exchange.
On Monday 07 December, a conversation between artivists from across the globe extending back to COP17 in Durban, unravelled itself as Foreign Exchange, hosted at the old Paris Electrical Distribution Center, known now as La Générale. Our host Emmanuel (group photo -bottom right), was perhaps the most integral character in this event coming together, facilitating behind the scene and screens. Our eternal thanks go to him and his team.
Under the umbrella of the Eroles Project and with support from GGG, many activists, artists and social movement activists from India, Bolivia, Peru, Sri Lanka and South Africa merged forces under the challenging set of circumstances that was post-Bataclan Paris, to create this immersive exhibit-experience by creating an environment that we, as People of the South, resonated with. The objective was to present our stories of resistance and projects in pursuit of Climate Justice, through a series of media, projects, art actions, installations and performances, not in an exhibitionist format for anthropological dissemination, but rather to say to our northern Justice allies , ‘We are here too, with many of the solutions already in practice and part of our cultures. Listen to us’
“Unlike the Latin American left, the pathetic European version has lost all sense of what it means to do politics. It does not try to propose concrete solutions to problems, and is only able to take moral stances, in particular denouncing dictators and human rights violations in grandiloquent tones. The social democratic left follows the right with at best a few years delay and has no ideas of its own. The “radical” left often manages both to denounce Western governments in every possible way and to demand that those same governments intervene militarily around the globe to defend democracy. Their lack of political reflection makes them highly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns and to becoming passive cheerleaders of US-NATO wars. That left has no coherent program and would not know what to do even if a god put them into power.” – Jean Bricmont
The original concept for this event was drawn from Omer Shamir’s ‘North/South/East/West’ exhibition, an audio-visual exhibition that documented Omer’s experiences in COP20, held in 2014 in Lima. We wanted to duplicate this immersive installation as one of the central pieces of Foreign Exchange, using the concept of Four Directions within La Generale’. This however did not happen despite many people collaborating, and instead, the central space was shared by all the exhibiting artists and used as theater for visual projections.
Within the ground floor of La Générale, each artist curated their own space, using the space to platform and present the work they do, in a format that made sense to each artist. Separate spaces/zones were allocated for each artist/project. The entire event was in fact a space, with people wandering, meeting and talking to the artists (most artists were present). The evening opened with a projection of Kai Losgott’s ‘Letters from the Sky’, expanded to become a free space to discover the presented projects and for ideas and connections to flow, before the closing performances and a very special resistance-dance from Ecuador.
By gathering these people, projects and art actions under a single banner, we were hoping to share some of the unique ways that the South is dealing with climate change and the systemic failure/oppression of capitalism, while maintaining the thread of post Copenhagen COPs (and the associated storyworlds and narratives developed through this time). The connection to Lima’s COP20 and the Latin American solution toolbox in general, was highlighted, in the absence of the work mentioned above,through the international premier of Valie’s documentary, alnay , produced specifically for this event.
The Lima connection was strengthened with TierrActiva, the core host collective from COP20’s alternative space (CasActiva) presenting two of their community houses as examples of solutions. Community is a key component in figuring out how to solve our (global) communal challenges. How we live together, treat each other and by extension ourselves, what we eat, why we gather and how we resolve our differences, are all key levers that were beautifully presented in the Casa Corner, where Casa Muyo (chochabamba ) and Casa de Los Ningunos (La Paz) created a wonderful representation of their spaces in Boliva. Norka Paz, mural artist from Bolivia, created a display area and the wonderful Love Bombs installation while Sri Lankan artist Deneth stepped in at the last minute to share her amazing art.
One of the key art-actions that took place in Paris the day before this event was ‘Faith in Paris’, another project produced through the assistance of the G.G.G. Indian artists Shweta Batthad and Lalit v ,duplicated their Faith art action by burying Shweta in a custom designed coffin for three hours, to raise awareness over farmer suicides in India. During the Foreign Exchange event, footage of the burial action was broadcast to many farmers in India, as part of the Global South link-up this event provided. Footage of the burial and the book Shweta wrote in while being under ground were displayed, between Antropocene Radio and the Beehive Collectives’ installations.
Kai Losgott, South African artist who was in residency in Paris during this time, and whose COP17 documentary was screened, collaborated with Angus Joseph to produce the money-making table, an installation that asked people to consider value and what they thought was valuable and of course, tied the Foreign Exchange concept perfectly together.
The evening’s musical performance was curtousy of the incredible Aqua Libre (and friends), with the Yasunido’s completing the Lima connection with a rousing participatory performance of Zapatea, a circular dance ritual strongly linked to the defense of the Yasuni National Park
(Disclaimer>> As citizens of the EarthShip, North and South are pretty directionless concepts. We are however, in the aspiringly transitioning world/Paris we have inherited, so these terms are being used to highlight that a global concern such as the degrading ecosystems and natural heritage can only be solved by All Citizens contributing, conversing and co-creating, as equal sovereign beings)