text RAM

In the second instalment of Bobrikova & de Carmen’s “Living in the beginning of times, 59.923885, 10.758991 / 10.17”, this time at Galleri RAM in Oslo, the multi-temporal experimentation with site-specificity that they introduced in Skien returns, but with some added insights and strategies.1 Specifically, they take on the temporality of plastic and its embeddedness in already existing human and non-human ecosystems. With the material’s slow rate of deterioration, it accumulates and pollutes not just the surface of the earth; through ingestion, it enters into living beings, humans and animals alike, and it is also deeply set in the ground we step on and from which plants grow. With a starting point that already considers plastic as eternally embedded in nature, Bobrikova & de Carmen critically examine and imagine its role in the future. They set in motion an immanent scenario that rests ambiguously between dystopia and utopia, where plastic is lethal, abundant and beyond control, yet also a material that needs to be put to use and re-use, as shelter, in social space and as “photogenic objects”.

The three parts of this exhibition re-imagine the past, present and future simultaneously and as such do not subscribe to linear time. In museum display cabinets situated in the back of the gallery room, the fragmented remains from the now considered distant age of the industrial revolution serve as objects of curiosity. The setup imagines that in the future, our ecologically disastrous capitalist activities, human infrastructures and exploitation of resources will be looked back at with shame, as “The remain of the traces of an unmentionable time.” The three pieces installed here – chunks of welded wire reinforcement – were also part of the previous edition of this project in Skien, presented in situ next to other ruins. At Galleri Ram, however, it is as if they have been excavated and put on display.

Another work in the exhibition unfolds itself in real-time, inextricably tied to the present while re-negotiating the future and past. “PostIsotype” consists of a series of wall-hung LCD screens, a digital synthesizer, sound elements and a pile of paper. Isotypes based on Otto Naurath and Gerd Arntz’s Vienna Method are portrayed on the screens and paper, while a rhythmic, industrial sound emerges from the speakers. Via the synthesizer, the figures on the screens are made into moving images which wobble with the sound pulse. This effect dissolves the clear cut categories that these Isotypes represent, merging and bending the boundaries between constructed binary or exclusive categories such gender (male/female), ethnicity (white/black), class (workers/middle-class/ upper-class), and in an extended sense also the boundary between the human and non-human. The constructed categories of human subjects are scrutinized and questioned, giving way to a future of blurred boundaries. It exemplifies what the philosopher, Rosi Braidotti calls a nomadic exercise or a “nomadic subject”, which she explains as a way of thinking through and moving across “… established categories and levels of experience: blurring boundaries without blurring experience.”2

The monumental construction which is made of the green plastic bags Oslo residents recycle their food in serves as the centrepiece of the exhibition. Dubbed “Photogeny of a contextualization for a new revolution,” it provides creative proposals for a possible future that can arise from the ruins and ecological problems of our past. The lack of human presence is noticeable, opening up for doubt weather this construction emerged spontaneously, by other non-human self-organized means, or if it represents an involuntary and self-inflicted human-plastic relationship by which humans now have to fuse old garbage bags to create shelter because other construction materials are scarce. Regardless, this doubt and ambiguity is productive, because all options present the human exceptionalism and “bounded individualism” we are so used to as unthinkable options. This serves to illustrate one of Donna Haraway’s questions from her recent text, “Tentacular Thinking”:

What happens when human exceptionalism and bounded individualism, those old saws of Western philosophy and political economics, become unthinkable in the best sciences, whether natural or social? Seriously unthinkable: not able to think with.3

Rather than preserving the the anthropocentric idea of the human as the destroyer of the earth, this installation exemplifies how plastic – although a human product – not only outlives us, but also transforms with the natural environment into unintentional figures. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a hoard of plastic debris which is larger than Texas in the North Pacific Ocean, is an example of this. As an imagined future, the installation considers the more likely alternative in which the earth will adapt after the fall of civilisations and human infrastructure, with or without support for human existence. The robotic voice which emanates from speaker elements in this construction may in that case be a trace of our less mortal digital creations, even connoting – as post-apocalyptic works often do – the persistence of artificial intelligence. It could therefore also be seen as an argument for our present time and all its transformations, following Haraway, that the future is forever unfinished, rather than defined by the so-called “age of Anthropocene” as the final epoch.

Text by Liv Brissach

1 The first installment of “Living in the Beginning of Times” took place in Ibsenhuset in Skien, Norway during Greenlightdistrict, 11-14.05.17

2 Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, (Columbia University Press, 1994), 4.

3 Donna Haraway, ”Tentacular Thinking: Antropocene, Capitalocene, Chtuhulucene,” e-flux Journal #75 (September 2016): http://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene- chthulucene/ accessed 05.06.17