Solidarity with the non-human

Climate change and the co-existence of species are the main themes when Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman and artist duo nabbteeri take over the Nordic pavilion in Venice 2019.

Left to right: artists Ane Graff, Maria Teeri, Janne Nabb and Ingela Ihrman, curators Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen, Venice 2018. Photo: Kansallisgalleria / Pirje Mykkänen.

The climate crisis and the ongoing threat of mass extinction of species on Earth will form the backdrop of the exhibition presented in the Nordic Pavilion during next year’s Venice Biennial. Opening on 11 May, the exhibition Weather Report: Forecasting Future will be curated by Leevi Haapala, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki, and Pia Oksanen, curator at the same museum.

As in 2017, this will be a pan-Nordic exhibition featuring artists associated with the three countries who jointly run the pavilion. The artists chosen are the duo nabbteeri (Janne Nabb and Maria Teeri) from Finland, Ane Graff from Norway and Ingela Ihrman from Sweden.

Nabb and Teeri have worked together since 2008, creating ephemeral installations that often incorporate local and recycled materials. Ingela Ihrman’s humorous installations and performances frequently include large plant sculptures and animal costumes. And Ane Graff’s sculptural installations of minerals and melted metal have, among other things, investigated the raw materials that underpin digital technology.

Ane Graff, Untitled, 2018, detail.

The press material issued by Kiasma states that “[w]hile investigating difficult climate issues, the exhibition stresses the idea of coexistence of humans and non-humans”.

– All of the artists involved take a multi-disciplinary approach, combining perspectives from the realms of art, the humanities and the natural sciences, says Leevi Haapala to Kunstkritikk.

Co-curator Piia Oksanen adds that the Nordic pavilion will focus on how different species are connected and on the vulnerability of these relationships:

– nabbterri calls attention to the tiniest lifeforms and species that co-exist with us. Ane Graff visualises how the human body is exposed to other organisms with individual agency, such as bacteria. Ingela Ihrman addresses the human perspective on the non-human, for example via the discussions on so-called ‘invasive species’ and questions of belonging, says Oksanen.

Ingela Ihrman, The Passion Flower, 2017, installation view, The Inner Ocean, der Tank, Basel, 2017. Photo: Brigham Baker.

The title Weather Report: Forecasting Future suggests that the idea of art as omen, gauge or prognosis will hold a central position in the exhibition. In the press release, the curators state that artists have their own way of forecasting the future.

How do artists’ scenarios for the future differ from those of other disciplines that make predictions? And why is art’s involvement important when seeking to understand complex issues such as climate change?

– We often want to predict events within areas where accurate predictions are difficult to make, for example as regards economic fluctuations, the outcomes of political campaigns or climate change. We need prognoses and forecasts to feel safe. However, art offers a different kind of forecast. For centuries, artists have anticipated the future by creating environmental, technological and political utopias and dystopias – some of which have turned out to come true. Contemporary art offers scope for uncertainties and for the potential inherent in changes and processes. We have also invited media theorist Jussi Parikka to explore the idea of possible futures in the catalogue, considering the theme in light of toxic ecologies, replies Haapala.

– We have invited these artists to think about the future. We do not yet know what their responses will be; they are still in the process of developing their works. But speaking in general terms, we believe that we need a plethora of perspectives in order to envision the future; we cannot simply leave all reflection to the scientists and politicians. Art offers a way of producing knowledge that offers scope for uncertainties; a place where questions can be asked without having to present firm answers. One way of thinking about the future is to focus on inter-species relationships and conditions. To feel a sense of responsibility, to show solidarity with the non-human, to accept that we live in a multi-species world, says Oksanen.

nabbteeri, Tampereen taidemuseo, 2014. Photo: Jari Kuusenaho.