Spread over three days and two sites, this series of interdisciplinary talks brought together scholars, artists, poets, and legal and conservation experts to speculate on sea-level rise as an opportunity to destabilize colonial-era infrastructures that once seemed immovable and advance other epistemologies and ontologies. How might a watery submergence allow for the possibility of expanding outside of the present time, of thinking of land lost to the ocean as something other than a catastrophe? How might our rapidly shifting shorelines reveal and restore the presences and relations lost, or almost lost, to colonial forms of dispossession?

The first day of “Unmoored, Adrift, Ashore” was spent on the Indigenous xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) reserve, where speakers were hosted by Alec Dan, who introduced us to the nation’s history, as well as contemporary cultural and community initiatives related to land and water stewardship, the resurgence of ancestral customs, and the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language.

Organizers Denise Ryner (Or Gallery), Jordan Wilson (New York University), Anselm Franke (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), and Jamie Hilder (Emily Carr University) then convened participants on the campus of Emily Carr University, located on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, also known as Vancouver, Canada. Should the predictive models be accurate, the university is forecasted to be one of the many low-lying coastal sites to be submerged by the Pacific Ocean in eighty years’ time.

Throughout two days of panels, local respondents Renisa Mawani (University of British Columbia), Rita Wong (Emily Carr University), Ayasha Guerin (University of British Columbia) and Geoff Mann (Simon Fraser University) reflected on the presentations from within their respective research, artistic, and academic disciplines.

Denise Ryner is an independent curator and writer based in Vancouver and Berlin. From 2017 through 2022 she was director and curator at Or Gallery. In 2019, in collaboration with Yaniya Lee, she convened “Bodies, Borders, Fields” to examine Blackness as both an invisible and hypervisible context for contemporary art histories. Other curatorial projects include “Common Cause: before and beyond the global,” Mercer Union, Toronto (2018); “Bodies of Fact: The Archive from Witness to Voice,” Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2017); and “Harbour/Haven,” in collaboration with Tonel, VIVO Media Arts, Vancouver (2016). She has written for Canadian Art, Blackflash, C Mag, and FUSE and guest co-edited the Canadian art special issue of Chroma with Yaniya Lee. Alongside Anselm Franke, Elisa Giuliano, Claire Tancons, and Zairong Xiang, she is currently working on the exhibition, symposium, and publication project “Ceremony (Burial of an undead world)” to be presented in fall 2022 at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.

Jamie Hilder is an interdisciplinary artist and critic who lives on the unceded territories of the Tsleil’waututh, Musqueam, and Squamish peoples. His book Designed Words for a Designed World examines the International Concrete Poetry Movement alongside the emergence of various globalizing technologies in the mid-twentieth century. An assistant professor of critical and cultural studies at Emily Carr University, he has exhibited and published work internationally and actively maintains a dormant research collaboration with sound artist Brady Cranfield.

Anselm Franke is a curator and writer. He is the head of the Department of Visual Arts and Film at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, where he co-curated the multiyear programs “The Anthropocene Project” (2013–14) and “Kanon-Fragen” (2016–19), and conceived numerous exhibitions such as, recently, “Neolithic Childhood: Art in a False Present ca. 1930,” together with Tom Holert, and “Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War,” with Paz Guevara, Nida Ghouse, and Antonia Majaca. Publications include 2 or 3 Tigers (with Hyunjin Kim, 2017), Forensis (with Eyal Weizman et. al., 2015) and Animism (2010). Franke received his doctorate from Goldsmiths, University of London.

Jordan Wilson is an emerging curator and scholar who is currently pursuing a PhD in anthropology at New York University. He is a member of the Musqueam First Nation, in what is now Vancouver, British Columbia, and holds an MA in anthropology and a BA in Indigenous studies, both obtained at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Prior to starting graduate studies, Wilson was a curatorial intern at UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery (2017–18), where he contributed to the exhibition “Beginning with the Seventies: Collective Acts” (2018). Wilson’s current research examines the politics of Indigenous language revitalization, the legacies of anthropological collecting, and the practices of collecting institutions, as well as questions concerning Indigenous sovereignty and settler-colonialism. His curatorial practice often involves considering the forms of relationships contemporary Indigenous peoples maintain with their ancestral art, material culture, and immaterial heritage currently held by colonial institutions, and the potential of Indigenous art in the public realm. This work is informed by desires for structural change in institutions with regard to Indigenous representation and engagement, as well as a commitment to the well-being of his home community. Wilson was a co-curator of “c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city” (2015), an exhibition developed collaboratively with Musqueam; and the long-term exhibition “In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art” (2017) at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. His writing has appeared in Inuit Art Quarterly, The Capilano Review, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, and Museum Worlds. He is also a writer and co-editor of the forthcoming book Where the Power Is: Indigenous Perspectives on Northwest Coast Art (2022).

Preview image: Jane Jin Kaisen, An Offering (still), 2021. Film. Courtesy of the artist.

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