Digital Symposium Histories of Ecology

with Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)

Wed, November 9, 2022, 3pm– 8.30pm

Free admission

Hulda Guzmán, Come Dance? Asked Nature Kindly, 2019-20, Collection MASP, gift Rose Setubal and Alfredo Setubal, in the context of the exhibition Histories of Dance, 2020
Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Berggruen
Hulda Guzmán, Come Dance? Asked Nature Kindly, 2019-20, Collection MASP, gift Rose Setubal and Alfredo Setubal, in the context of the exhibition Histories of Dance, 2020 Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Berggruen

Wed, November 9, 2022, 3pm– 8.30pm

Free admission

In Hulda Guzmán’s painting "Come Dance? Asked Nature Kindly" (2019–20) humans, animals, and plants come together to do just that: to dance. Alsatians join king vultures, and naked dancers mix with dancers wearing club outfits. An abundant landscape surrounds the motley crew. Geographically and individually distinct but nonetheless shared throughout the world, experiences of nature and ecology are at the centre of the event "Histories of Ecology".
Together with the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) the Lenbachhaus is holding a digital symposium dedicated to the question of what ecology can mean for museums and artists – in artistic, political, logistical, and art historical terms.
The plural noun “histories” is more open, heterogeneous, and less final than history in its singular form: It not only signifies historiography but also the spinning of tales, the evolution of mythologies, and the significance of personal experiences. With the participation of contributors from art, theory, political activism, and natural sciences, the two-day seminar aims to encourage debates and explorations of ecological questions in connection with humanities and sciences as well as artistic and curatorial practices.

Participants: Brigitte Baptiste, Chico Mandira, Filipa Ramos, Gabriel Mantelli, Jaime Vindel, Judy Chicago, Nego Bispo, Rachel O'Reilly, Stefanie Hessler, Steve Kurtz, Txai Suruí, Vandana Shiva.
Please find the short biographies of all participants on the MASP website.

Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director, MASP
André Mesquita, Curator, MASP
David Ribeiro, Curatorial Assistant, MASP
Isabella Rjeille, Curator, MASP
María Inés Rodríguez, Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, MASP
Stephanie Weber, Curator, Lenbachhaus.

The symposium will be broadcast live on the YouTube channel of the MASP. Simultaneous translation into German, English, Portuguese, and LIBRAS (Brazilian sign language). Click here for the corresponding live broadcasts:

November 9
Original (no simultaneous translation)

November 10
Original (no simultaneous translation)

November 9
3pm – 3.10pm
Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director, MASP
Matthias Mühling, Director, Lenbachhaus
3.10pm – 5pm
Nego Bispo
The boundaries between organic and synthetic knowledge

Guided by orality and traditional knowledge, Nego Bispo will present some conceptions that structure his epistemology and that seek to offer other ways of understanding the world around us.

Rachel O'Reilly
Filmmaking against the Anthro-ecological Image

To produce cinematic work in/through "North Australia" for an international audience is to be complicit in a racial eco-geographic repetition that has played a profoundly impactful role in setting up the model of human/nature of Enlightenment reason and the global color line of labor. Yet, in the context of repeating crises of capitalism as climate and ecological collapse, it was the Indigenous experience of entanglement with settler agriculture and extractivism which reconfigured planetarity for legibility beyond and within existent materialist cine-politics. If the filmmaker cannot fully escape the colonial infrastructures of their own artistic autonomy, then in the context of major Indigenous resurgences and refusals of extractivism in the South and settler colonies, non-Indigenous cultural work and cultural labor that otherwise explicitly attends to such infrastructure—including cultural industry infrastructures—escape ongoing colonization.

Steve Kurtz
Aesthetics, Necropolitics, and Environmental Struggle

In this presentation, Kurtz will lay out concerns over the poverty of language regarding environmental activism, which tends to focus on biopolitics, framed by a romantic aesthetic, while ignoring necropolitics (the organization of death). While easy to build consensus around the idea that the primary cause of accelerated environmental degeneration (an aestheticized phrase in itself) is human activity—or more simply said, humans themselves—, developing an idea of what to do about the "human problem" is far more difficult—precisely because there is no language to talk about this problem in a manner that does not sound absolutely monstrous. Implied in so many environmental solutions are the deaths of millions, if not billions, of people. Whether we like it or not, the value of human life and the value of the environment are in extreme conflict. Any attempt to resolve this contradiction will require an explicit acknowledgement of its massive necropolitical dimension, followed by the determination of a strategic policy that addresses the necropolitical dilemma. The question must be asked: are humans capable of such a task?

Mediation: Stephanie Weber, Curator, Lenbachhaus

6.30pm – 8.30 pm
Brigitte Baptiste

There have been many ways to understand ecology since the inception of the term at the end of the 19th century. The use of ecology as a heuristic device has produced a very rich field of interpretative approaches not just in biology, but for businesses and firms, institutions, laws and many other highly relational domains. Ecology has also helped to understand the role of diversity in evolution and innovation, which is the reason behind the cultural struggle to consider sex, gender and care strategies as key devices for adaptation and finally, to build sustainability. Transformative change, an emerging buzzword in environmental and social studies is becoming part of a shared vocabulary with transgender studies and queer ecologies, perhaps a surprising result of the human growing awareness as shapers of the world, a role which may also need to accept new identities and ways of being.

Jaime Vindel
The fossil aesthetic nation: industrial imaginaries, American colonialism, and Spanish modernity

This presentation will complement the narrative of Andreas Malm, for whom there is a direct relationship between the new forms of labor exploitation in factories and industries and the increasing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), which triggered the dynamics that cause climate change up to this day. I highlight the importance that the fossil imaginaries of industrial modernity had in this process: in my view, fossil culture is inseparable from the fossil economy. This will be done based on the Spanish context, with the aim of highlighting how these imaginaries are understandable only in the long term of colonial modernity, as well as in relation to the social tensions that happened in the history of Spain in the American and peninsular territories. For this, I take as a point of discussion the project of a monument to Columbus, created by the Basque engineer Alberto Palacio for the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in 1893, which reflected in images the idea of an "aesthetic fossil nation."

Txai Surui
We Are the Forest

Indigenous peoples believe they are part of the forest. "We are the forest" is a phrase Txai Surui has heard from Indigenous people of different ethnicities, including hers. The cosmology and the way of life of the Indigenous communities have made us be considered the forest’s best guardians, mainly because it escapes from capitalist logic and looks at the forest not just as a money sign. The environment and Indigenous peoples are linked themes, and the view of these communities is increasingly important to overcome the climate and humanitarian crises that the world is experiencing. However, in the history of ecology and the environment, this was not always the case. How can we value ancestral knowledge to save the future? How to listen to the forest?

Mediation: Daniela Rodrigues, Curatorial Assistant, MASP

November 10
3pm – 5pm
Vandana Shiva
Earth Democracy: Protecting our Common Future in times of extinction

We face an existential crisis as humanity. Indigenous people have been uprooted, displaced, and exterminated over 500 years of colonialism. The colonization of the land and people transformed Terra Madre, the Living Earth, into Terra Nullius, the empty land, inert raw material, and private property. This transformation and colonization continue, threatening the extinction of diverse species and diverse cultures. We are not separate from the Earth, we are a strand in the web of life, we are members of one Earth Family. Earth Democracy is based on Living Economies, Living Democracies, and Living Cultures woven through their diversity into the web of life. Each life form supports and sustains all others in mutuality and cooperation and harmony. Our society and economy should reflect this. In Earth Democracy, the economy is a subset of ecology based on the laws of Mother Earth. Earth Democracy creates the potential for a deeper interconnectedness between humans and other beings. It allows us to recognize that on an interconnected planet, the extinction emergency is one indivisible Extinction. Protecting other cultures and other species is protecting our common future.

Filipa Ramos
Ana Vaz's American Night

In the installation "É Noite na América" (It's Nighttime in America), Ana Vaz follows some animals in the Brasília Zoo with her video camera. Looking at them as individuals, unique in themselves, the artist reveals their stories of captivity and rescue, sharing their fascinating and terrifying lives. This work, at the same time a celebration and memento mori of the Cerrado’s wildlife, will be the starting point for a series of analyses on the potential of artistic and cinematographic creation in the sharing and creation of narratives about the past, present, and—above all—future of our changing world.

Chico Mandira
Mandira Quilombo and Extractive Reserve, an example of sustainability

Chico Mandira will talk about the formation of his community, located between the Vale do Ribeira region and the south coast of São Paulo state, and how they managed to adapt to the circumstances of a strict environmental policy and innovate through extractivist work and oyster management in the formation of an Extractive Reserve. The work of Chico and the people from Mandira has been guaranteeing income, preserving the environment, and making their community acknowledged nationally and internationally for combining social, racial, economic, and environmental approaches.

Mediation: David Ribeiro, Curatorial Assistant, MASP

6.30pm – 8.30pm
Stefanie Hessler
Ecological Erotics of Water

It was swimming in the Greek waters off the coast of Milos that Stefani Hessler first considered her relationship with the ocean to be erotic. It was poet and classicist Anne Carson who helped her find words to put to the feeling of bodily and psychic longing toward the ocean. She describes Eros as an issue of boundaries: Eros makes me want to dissolve the boundaries between herself and others, and at the same time, it hinges on these divides. But as water is pushing against her body, in the ocean, her edges blur. Thinking with queer and decolonial ecofeminists, in this talk, she asks if our current environmental crisis and its social intersections are entrenched in erotophobia—in fear of wanting to be close to nature, of acknowledging that we are of nature. Through the work of artists Katerina Teaiwa, Anne Duk Hee Jordan, and others in whose practice the intersection of nature, sexuality, and gender is increasingly pressing to the fore, she will propose an ecological erotica.

Gabriel Mantelli
Stories of temperatures: is decolonizing the climate warming up justice?

A single history of ecology is reckless as it does not reach the multiple human-non-human relationships built on our planet. More recently, in times of "modernity" and "science," the alliance of colonialism with the capitalist system made it difficult to "retell" the history of the culture/nature binomial as well as, in substantial terms, the physical, biological, and artificial support of what we conventionally call "life." There seems to be no room for postponing the end of the world. In a world where climate change prevails in global negotiations, shapes enterprises, and opens discursive spaces for "good" and "evil," themes such as climate justice, carbon colonialism, and environmental racism stress our fields of vision, establishing chasms in the very definition of "Law" and "Justice." The decolonization proposals, within the scope of these issues, trace virtuous paths and displace epistemologies while serving as a refined process of "greenwashing," in and out of an anthropological view of rights. In the argument of this speech, there is the urgency, in a world in a situation of climatic emergency, to decentralize the “temperatures” and to critically face the phenomenon of the decolonization of "warming."

Judy Chicago
Before It's Too Late

Judy Chicago will trace the development of environmental and ecological concerns in her work dating back to the 1960s. Chicago is an artist and she plans to present images across my career that deal with issues of environment, ecology, climate justice, and animal rights.

Mediation: Isabella Rjeille, Curator, MASP

In cooperation with Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)