July 14, 2015

The Water Knows All My Secrets

Pratt Manhattan Gallery
Ursula Biemann, Subatlantic (video still), 2015. Single channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

Curated by Ceren Erdem

Life started in water. Though no longer a natural habitat for humans, it is the source of life—yet we care for it very poorly. The extreme and often destructive consequences of rapid urbanization and climate change have now become a day-to-day reality, causing rising sea levels, increasing rainfall and flooding, and draught and dangerous water shortages. Already a billion people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water, whereas countries at northern latitudes and at sea level (such as Britain) have started to drown. The Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse. Wars over water, formerly the stuff of sci-fi movies, may soon become a reality. In light of these facts, The Water Knows All My Secrets looks at situations where life and possibilities perish in water. The artists question our engagement with water, whether as a barrier, a threatening force of nature, or a resource at risk. Through wide-ranging works that draw upon scientific facts and personal experiences, loss and disappearance of life, land, memories, access and rights are brought to the surface.

With her research-oriented approach to global migration and the planetary ecology of resources, Ursula Biemann presents instrumental observations about a changing environment around the glacial melts with her video essay Subatlantic (2015). Müge Yilmaz‘s installation Surrounded (2010) proposes a series of images of oceanic islands in the Pacific Ocean that are either formed from coral reefs or emerge from underwater eruptions. Halil Altindere addresses a longstanding environmental battle between the Turkish government and Kurdish villages in his video Oracle (2010): starting in Halfeti, a village that was flooded in 1990s together with its Greek and Roman architectural treasures, and then taking us to Harran, a 5000-year-old city in the same region, Oracle draws our attention to the government’s polices of erasing the traditions, cultural diversity, and thousands-year-old history with an agenda of development.

Didem Özbek and Osman Bozkurt‘s Breaking the Waves (2009) captures the moment in 2008 when a boat full of migrants was detected by the authorities around Lampedusa before they could reach the shores of Italy. Also bringing attention to the countless people losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to reach Europe, Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen began his work End of Dreams (2014) by submerging 48 concrete-canvas sculptures off the coast of South Italy. Reminiscent of body bags, these structures were scattered across the seabed and onto nearby beaches when an unanticipated storm ravaged the raft that was holding them in place.

With The Sea is a Stereo (2007–ongoing), Mounira Al Solh introduces us to a group of men in Beirut who swim every day, no matter what the circumstances: rain, wind or war. Their struggle for normality takes a sudden twist when the artist quite literally speaks for them, using her own voice to expose the vulnerability of the men’s practice and as a shortcut for showing the fiction of “normality.” On the other hand, Didem Özbek chooses to swim in waters that have been mostly abandoned due to pollution: the Bosphorus, Istanbul. In Özbek’s Lodos (2014), we witness how the artist was left grasping for air when faced with fears she thought she had already overcome.

Jethro Brice‘s drawings bring together findings from field and studio research to evoke the turbulent and tidal past of the River Avon in Bristol, exploring how a time-rich perspective can inform our appreciation of a changeable landscape. And at once behind and in front of the camera in her photographs, Janaina Tschäpe is the “anti-subject” of her landscapes.


The Water Knows All My Secrets at Pratt Manhattan Gallery

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