Thu | Aug 16, 2018

The Current: Where art washes upon the shores of science for sustainable development

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Photo by Craig de Wit Francesca Habsburg diving a B-17 World War 2 bomber called Black Jackat 47 metres underwater at Boga-Boga Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Francesca Habsburg Copyright TBA21 Sunset with the Dardanella and dugouts.
A dugout in the foreground with Daganella anchored off the waters of Papua New Guinea.
Artist Tue Greenfort launching a kite he constructed aboard the Dardanella in Boga Bogua, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Craig DeWitt Night dive in the waters of Papua New Guinea.
TBA21 The Current director Markus Reymann filming underwater on a dive site called Black and Silver near Tuboa Island, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.
A kite on the shores of Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Jegan Vincent Laura Anderson Barbata (right) with a local in Papua New Guinea.
Amitabh Sharma

"The sea," according to explorer and conservationalist Jacques Cousteau, "once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. This spell in the case of The Current, might be an unusual but a pertinent confluence - of art and science. Here, concepts and ideas come together for a creative approach to sustainable development, conservation, and preservation - the focus is to protect the oceans.

"The Current was conceived in 2015 with the objective of placing art and creativity at the centre of all our social and environmental explorations," informed Markus Reymann, director, TBA21-Academy.

"Its aim," Reymann said, "is to actively build communities through cultural engagement, not only by raising awareness of climate change - one of today's most pressing issues - but also to work together to implement change."

The Current, he said, evolved from their experience with the TBA21 Academy, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) - founded by the Austrian art collector Francesca von Habsburg in 2002 in Vienna, Austria.

"In 2015, the foundation, led by von Habsburg, intensified its focus on the urgent need to protect our natural resources, in particular, the oceans, by creating The Current," Reymann said.

This initiative, a three-year exploratory fellowship programme, has offered artists, curators, scientists, marine biologists, anthropologists, and other cultural producers, a platform to generate interdisciplinary thought and knowledge.

Habsburg, in her statement at the launch of The Current, in Paris, said: "Art can be a powerful weapon if used well, by challenging us to reconsider the way we think, feel, and live instead of just conforming to the rules of the growing art market.

"After all," she added, "the next 10 years are going to be the most important in the next 10,000."

The initiative, is that of integration, ease of understanding the concepts, and communicating them to the target audience, marrying science with art.

"We work with artists who have a research-driven approach to their practice," Reymann said. "As a result, they have an understanding of scientific research methods."

This combination, according to him, enables the artists to communicate easily with scientists. "Artists are so important," he said, "as they can help us feel what science tries to make us understand."

To get to the meat of the matter, the processes goes through their metamorphosis. "The general response from the artist is excitement and lots of expectations," Reymann, who is a trained actor, said. "There is also a considerable amount of anxiety, since we are taking them out to very wild and remote places that not many have visited."

The expedition leaders, he said, are chosen through an initial proposal. Scientists, whose expertise complement the mission's investigations, and artists, whose practices are well-suited to engage with the places and communities they visit are brought together. "So far," he said, "every community we have encountered has been extremely generous, open, and welcoming and we try respond in the same way."

The Current, according to him, is intended to be a permanent exploration through conversation and an exchange of ideas - with those on board the expedition, and the communities they visit.

Reymann worked in the theatre for nine years, where he came to the arts through a performance where he worked with Lebanon-born contemporary media artist, Walid Raad.

This encounter changed his perception of creativity and his perspective of life around him. "I strongly believe that we will only overcome our global challenges through a radical change of perspective - and art and creativity can help us find these unconventional solutions," he said.

In the Caribbean, The Current has travelled to Papua New Guinea with curator Ute Meta Bauer, where they examined the idea of collective experience and knowledge in the context of protecting the environment.

"The Convening in Kingston is the inauguration of the Alligator Head Foundation in Portland," Reymann informed. The two-day programme, which was held on March 16 and 17, explored possibilities of partnerships to address ecological challenges.

The ideas gathered from their interactions in Kingston, he said, would be put into action in the East Portland Fish Sanctuary. "This wonderful institution," Reymann said, "is based on a grassroots conservation model from Cabo Pulmo, Mexico."

A community-driven approach, the fish sanctuary seeks to create alternative forms of income for the local fishing community. "Its success," he said, "relies on the full support of the community."

The Current sails to French Polynesia, and the group is planning their next convening in India.

"Using The Current," he said, "we would like to inspire people by engaging them creatively, rather than simply distributing facts and painting scenarios of apocalyptic horrors.

"I believe," Reymann added, "people react to inspiration, poetics and narratives. Art is the communicator, the inspirer and the empowerer."