T.J. Demos is director of the Center for Creative Ecologies. Please see the website for further information on current and past projects.
Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas, Nottingham Contemporary (UK), January-March, 2015 (curated by T.J. Demos, Alex Farquharson and Irene Aristizábal)
Runaway global warming, environmental destruction and mass species extinction are all consequences of our fraught relationship with nature. Earth has been seen as an infinite supply of natural resources to be freely exploited for profit. Climate change caused by human behaviour has placed all life on the planet at risk – including our own.
The artists in this exhibition reflect on our current environmental crisis – economic, political and cultural, as well as ecological. The rights of nature to flourish free from human destruction are increasingly recognised in new environmental laws. Bolivia and Ecuador have recently enshrined the rights of Mother Earth in their legal systems.
North and South America, in particular, are sites of intense activity, linking ecologically-concerned artists, political activists and indigenous people to new legal initiatives. Recent philosophical developments are also rethinking the relationship between human and non-human life. Rights of Nature is a journey across the Americas, through the work of twenty artists, across all four of Nottingham Contemporary’s galleries. The Amazon, the Andes, the Artic and the Gulf of Mexico are among the ecological regions explored.
Specters: A Cinema of Haunting, Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid, Spain), November-December 2014 (curated by T.J. Demos)
Specters: A Ciné-politics of Haunting gathers a selection of recent international film and video that conjures the hauntings of our collective cultural imaginary. Some phantoms arise from past injustices and political traumas, some apparitions, of catastrophic times to come. Still others speak to the unfulfilled promises of the past that continue to live on, dormant in our present. The inclusions, diverse and necessarily incomplete, represent powerful examples that join poignant aesthetic formulation to inspiring political commitment, and have been drawn from a range of geographical contexts that reference history, culture, and politics in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
The series borrows its title from the recent film Spectres of Sven Augustijnen (2011), examining the disquieting presences from times outside of the contemporary, it offers less an iconography of otherworldly beings than a conjuring of haunting disturbances existing at the edges of representation. At the same time, the program alludes to the history of militant cinema, what the Argentine Octavio Getino, a film-maker and theorist of Third Cinema, would call ciné-politics, a popular and radical image that embodied the critical legacy of Avant-garde movements.
To be sure, most of the films in this series bear little resemblance to the collective revolt of militant cinema; yet they do advance the erstwhile commitment to documenting violence, struggling against repression, refusing to forget, and striving for a better world. As such, this series offers a ciné-politics of decolonization that offers a critical antidote to pervasive amnesia, and a space where the post-militant image can be revisited. This coming-into-being, however, is no exorcism or redemptive return-to-forgetting, but, to reanimate Derrida’s words, presents an ethico-political imperative: to “learn to live with ghosts, more justly.”
Uneven Geographies: Art and Globalisation, Nottingham Contemporary, May-July 2010 (curated by T.J. Demos and Alex Farquharson)
Globalisation is the name given to the new integrated world economy, where money, products and people all move between countries faster than ever before. It is an economic system so complicated that it is almost unaccountable. Who makes the things we buy? Where do they do it? And who takes the financial decisions that affect our jobs, housing and public services?
The media often struggles to explain relationships that are so removed from the consumer. How can we ensure that no child labour is used in the goods we buy, for instance, when our branded products pass through a whole series of outsourced companies? And why is it that war and natural disaster now offer yet more opportunities for hyper capitalism?
The artists in Uneven Geographies all depart from the conventional methods of current affairs journalism. They do not pretend to be completely objective, and they aim to represent the fabric of lives affected by global flows, rather than capturing the instant, sensational image. Whether using film, installation or sculpture – or experimenting with maps, flow-charts and diagrams – all aim to make the networks of power, profit and exploitation very visible. In the process they are helping to devise a new language to confront globalisation.
Zones of Conflict, Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York, November 2008-February 2009 (curated by T.J. Demos)
“Zones of Conflict” presents multiple artistic approaches, including those that document experiences of conflict that fall below the radar of the mass media. The exhibition explores work by contemporary artists who have challenged and recalculated documentary conventions in critical and creative ways, such as by blurring the boundaries between truth and fiction, giving expression to traumatic situations, and raising discord to the surface of representational structures. The result is not only a displacement of photography’s erstwhile mission as the objective and neutral transmission of fact, but also an imaginative recalibration of the documentary mode in order to generate new models of “truth.”
The exhibition, guest-curated by T. J. Demos, features work by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (Iraq), Sam Durant (U.S.A.), Andrea Geyer (Germany) and Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Nation – U.S.A.), Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon), Thomas Hirschhorn (Switzerland), Emily Jacir (Palestine), Lamia Joreige (Lebanon), An-My Lê (U.S.A.), Walid Raad (Lebanon/U.S.A.), Ahlam Shibli (Palestine), Sean Snyder (U.S.A.), Hito Steyerl (Germany), and Guy Tillim (South Africa).
“With the U.S. engaged in a ‘war on terror’ now more than seven years old, it is urgent to look back on and examine recent artistic approaches to geopolitical conflict, approaches largely made through the innovative reinvention of the documentary mediums of photography and video,” said guest curator Demos.