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global dis:connect summer school 2022 – a connected view

david grillenberger
  From 2 to 5 of August 2022, 20 scholars – PhD students, organisers Anna Nübling & Nikolai Brandes and student assistants – gathered in Munich during a scorching heat wave for global dis:connect’s inaugural summer school. Our engaging discussions and presentations emitted as much energy as the sun itself. Titled Postcolonial interruptions? Decolonisation and global dis:connectivity, our very first summer school at global dis:connect focused on dis:connectivities in processes of decolonisation. The topic was apt, as decolonisation in itself is a very sudden (or sometimes very slow) interruption. It admits literal disconnects between former colonies and the empires that conquered them and simultaneously maintained connections to these empires. The process of decolonisation emphasises the colon in ‘dis:connectivity’ that, in this case, might represent the tension between independence and the continuation of relationships. After a (literally) warm welcome from co-director Prof. Christopher Balme and a get together in our garden on Tuesday (2. August), we gathered in global dis:connect’s library the next morning to hear the first master class by UCLA’s Ayala Levin. In her talk about Continuity vs. discontinuity from colonialism to postcolonialisms, Levin emphasised African actors’ agency, as, for example, when choosing Israel and China as partners for architectural projects. Both nations have framed themselves as former colonial subjects and ‘developing countries’ fit to help African nations’ ‘development’.
Ayala Levin's master class (Image: Annalena Labrenz & David Grillenberger)
Following Ayala’s master class and a short coffee break, Seung Hwan Ryu presented the first PhD project of the day, speaking on the relationship between North Korea and Tanzania. In his talk (Surviving the disconnection. North Korea’s social internationalism in Tanzania during the Cold War for a closer look, check out Seung Hwan’s post summarising the talk on our global dis:connect blog), Seung Hwan posed the question how North Korea was similar but different from other socialist globalisation projects. He emphasised ‘North Korea’s in-between geopolitical position’, between China and the USSR after the great disconnect that was the Sino-Soviet split. For some, Seung Hwan’s talk might have evoked memories of the fantastic Danish documentary The Mole, which features present-day North Korea and its dealings in Africa, which have attracted the UN’s attention in 2020. Next among the presentations was Lucas Rehnman, a Brazilian visual artist and curator, who presented his curatorial project. His project (Unfinished Museum of Peripheral Modernity) on postcolonial modernist architecture in Guinea-Bissau poses an interesting what-if question: what if Bissau-Guineans did not simply follow external influences in the context of ‘foreign aid’ and ‘technical cooperation’ but instead worked actively and creatively as architects, establishing an architectural legacy that deserves attention? After the lunch break, Adekunle Adeyemo presented his project on Israeli architect Arieh Sharon’s Obafemi Awolowo University Campus in Ile-Ife. Adekunle argued that the campus is a good example of modern architecture in Africa. He emphasised dis:connectivity when he argued that it was precisely the decolonial disconnect from the British empire that led Nigeria to look for new connections to Israel, as Ayala Levin also pointed out that morning. Adekunle framed the processes that led to Sharon’s designing the campus as a ‘Fanonian rupture’, as a crack in existing structures, which allows new things to fill the void. The last to present her project on our first full day together was Rahel Losier. Rahel spoke on the topic of ‘Sahrawi educational migration to Cuba from the 1970s to the present’. Chris Balme, one of the discussants, pointed out that the conflict in Western Sahara central to Rahel’s talk was one of our time’s ‘forgotten conflicts’ and that the relationship between Sahrawis and Cuba is a forgotten story. It is absent in history, one might say. And what could be more fitting than absences for the questions of global dis:connect? Rahel approached her research topic artistically as well and created a brilliantly unique comic out of the interviews she conducted for her project. The presentation of her first comic also initiated an interesting discussion on whether and how artistic practice could help to better formulate research questions. After an extended coffee break – much needed after engaging discussions and scholarly debates – Maurits van Bever Donker finished the day with a lecture, unintentionally representing the topic of ‘dis:connectivity’ in that he had to give his lecture remotely from South Africa. At 7:30 p.m., we all met for dinner and reflected on a long day of interesting projects and our new acquaintances. The next day, Thursday, 4 August, started with decolonisation and epistemology. First up was another master class, this time held by Prof. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni of Bayreuth University. He focused on three meta-topics: epistemology, decolonisation and dis:connectivity. Sabelo emphasised especially how knowledge itself could also be colonised and – referring to Dipesh Chakrabaty – suggested provincialising Europe in an institutional sense too, meaning that Western universities must reflect on the relationship between knowledge and power and how non-Western universities can get a more equal footing in global science. The perfect follow-up to Sabelo’s talk was Tibelius Amutuhaire, who spoke on The realities of higher education decolonisation: possibilities and challenges to decolonise university education in East Africa. Tibelius noted that, in most African universities, continuing eurocentrism is apparent in the exclusive use of Western (often foreign) languages to disseminate knowledge. Although, as Tibelius argued, African universities should lead the decolonisation efforts. In his master class, Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni also referred to the role of peer-reviewed journals, of which the most prestigious are still located in the West. Tibelius’s takeaway was that one of the main problems today is the continuous re-education of ‘false’ knowledge. It was not only African countries and peoples who were subjected to colonialism, but also Asian countries like Pakistan, which was the focus of Talha Minas’ presentation. By focusing on the case study of Pakistan’s construction of its nationalist project, Talha discussed the theoretical and methodological challenges global history faces. He analysed the ‘master narrative’ of a Muslim claim to their own state in South Asia, especially in opposition to the British Empire. In the following discussion, gd:c co-director and one of this day’s discussants, Roland Wenzlhuemer argued that Talha’s topic could very well be a self-observational project that could tackle global history and its problems. The afternoon started with Hannah Goetze’s presentation. Her talk focused on weaving, whose own literal connectivity makes it all the more interesting from the perspective of disconnections. Hannah analysed two different subjects: Lubaina Himid’s artpiece cotton.com and Amalie Smith’s book Thread Ripper. Weaving, Hannah argued, is closely connected to the internet as well as history and the future of computers in both works. So, in a way, they are stories about networks, be they woven or digital. Up next was Flavia Elena Malusardi, whose research project aims to look at the cultural space Dar el Fan in Beirut and how women’s identities were shaped there between postcolonialism and cosmopolitanism. For example, the anti-establishment movements of the 1960s also resonated in Beirut and intersected with decolonisation and the Cold War. Founded in 1967 by Janine Rubeiz, Dar el Fan also promoted ideas of gender equality and visibility and offered women a space where they could enjoy extensive freedoms in an otherwise often still conservative society. The last of Thursday’s presentations focused on post-apartheid in South Africa. In his project, Brian Fulela analysed the novels of three different South African authors: K. Sello Duiker, Lgebetle Moele and Sifoso Mzobe. He examined the role and place of psychoanalysis in these novels and what psychoanalysis can bring to research on post-apartheid South Africa. Central to his project are feelings of trauma, loss and the subjectivity of post-apartheid, which are very much emotions and feelings of dis:connectivity. The next day, Friday, began at the Museum Fünf Kontinente in the centre of Munich. We were greeted by Stefan Eisenhofer and Karin Guggeis, who are responsible for the museum’s Africa and North America exhibitions. They showed us through the Africa exhibition and spoke on the difficulties of provenience research. Both also accompanied us back to global dis:connect to attend the remaining presentations.
The gd:c summer school takes a field trip to the Museum Fünf Kontinente. (Image: Annalena Labrenz & David Grillenberger)
The first presentation of the day came from Lucía Correa, who is researching the ethnographic collections of French-Swiss Anthropologist Alfred Metraux. Ethnographic museums, Lucía argues, were a new way of thinking about human history with an emphasis on material culture. Meanwhile, Latin America is in the process of deconstruction and working with native communities to decolonise museums and their collections, since the colonialist perspective that motivated the founding of ethnographic museums is no longer viable. Metraux considered his collections a way to ‘remember’ the indigenous populations, which he perceived to be rapidly disappearing as a result of Western expansion in the 1930s. It is easy to see how absences – one of the key concepts informing dis:connectivity – play an important role in Lucía’s research and the future of ethnographic museums in general. Next up was Claudia di Tosto’s talk on Austerity and muddled optimism: the impact of decolonisation on Britain’s participation at the 1948 Venice Biennale. Claudia spoke on the recontextualisation of Britain’s exhibition in the context of decolonisation after World War II. In her presentation, she focused on one case study, namely 1948 and two artists that were prominently featured at the exhibition: J.M.W. Turner – a 19th-century artist – and Henry Moore – a 20th-century artist and contemporary painter at the time of the Biennale. Claudia argued that Britain used its 1948 pavilion to project the image of a nation that was using humanism as a rhetorical tool to both cover the demise of the empire and still lay a claim of superiority over its former colonies. After our lunch break, Johanna Böttiger presented a very eloquently written essay in which she spoke on the topic of black dolls during the years of the Jim Crow laws in the USA. Children, argued Johanna, were an embodiment of coloniality and different stereotypes came with the colour of children’s skins – even in dolls, as black dolls were subjected to violence by white children. Certainly no child’s play, learned behavioural patterns like segregation or racism were also expressed in the form of children and dolls. The last presentation of our time together was testament to the breadth of backgrounds the participants brought with them. Franziska Fennert, a German artist living in Indonesia, presented her project Monumen Anthroposen as a film. The project consists of a ‘temple’, a monument complex, that is built in Indonesia and made from waste that is being transformed into a new product. Franziska’s aim was to redefine the relationship between humans, the planet and each other. In the long run, the ‘Anthropocene Monument’ should act as an infrastructure for upcycling that benefits its surrounding region. Franziska’s presentation concluded our time together in Munich – at least from a scholarly perspective – and heralded the beginning of a convivial get-together with some traditional Bavarian music, beer and Brezen (soft pretzels). The participants agreed that the concept of dis:connectivity informed their research, and their varied backgrounds made for an engaging discussion and a lot of valuable comments. It is almost staggering that a phenomenon such as decolonisation, which is so essentially dis:connective – the simultaneity of severing ties while still maintaining some and sometimes the stress they cause for the people involved – waited so long for the dis:connectivity treatment.
One, yet many (but not too many). (Image: Annalena Labrenz & David Grillenberger - the author in the back left with the snappy Hawaiian shirt)
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Looking back at global dis:connect’s first annual conference, 20-21 october 2022 (by hanni geiger & tom menger)

@Annalena Labrenz & David Grillenberger

The first annual conference of global dis:connect, entitled Dis:connectivity in processes of globalisation: theories, methodologies and explorations, took place in Munich on 20-21 October. As the title indicated, the conference aimed to ground the vast field of research on global dis:connectivity by probing what theories and methodologies might be fruitful. The conference sought to start the discussion rather than to formulate definitive answers, laying the groundwork for further reflections on these issues over the coming years in conversation with our current and future fellows at the centre. This international conference brought together different disciplines: historians, art historians, theatre scholars and others in conjunction with creative professionals from the arts, including architecture, design and theatre. The dialogue between theory and practice, each with its own distinctive approaches, induced productive friction. Artistic and philosophical approaches showed their potential to offer new modes of studying a phenomenon as complex as global dis:connectivity. The conference featured three panels: interruptions, absences and detours. The presentations revealed how researching these modes of dis:connectivity can mean very different things. Such research can mean asking about tradition and modernity and their relation to globalisation; it meant looking at the interplay of nationalism and globalisation in societies marked by stringent national, ethnic and religious demarcations; it meant searching for connections and disconnections simultaneously in such bounded contexts such as the global interactions of the Cold War era. Many papers also looked at how individuals negotiate global connections and disconnections in their own personal biographies, revealing the affective attributions, emotions and ideological influences that make globalisation processes significant in the first place. Such research also entails recovering the agents and groups that were effaced by later hegemonic narratives. Some participants even sought to understand experiences of  dis:connectivity beyond our conventional Western understandings of linear time and Euclidian space in ways that might enable more personalised modes of dealing with forced or trauma-induced immobility.

@Ben Kamis

Dis:connectivity is an expansive research object and always threatens to elude us. The papers and unconventional presentations of this conference emphasised both the need to refine the term and the extent to which unconventional methodologies and theories allow us to approach dis:connectivity. The complexity of globalisation processes that the conference sought to explore affect our present in dramatic ways. As was highlighted in the conference’s wrap-up, seeking to better understand this complexity can tangibly affect society. The original announcement and the full programme of the conference can be found here. Continue Reading

Mohamed: portrait of a Sahrawi exile

rahel losier
[Rahel Losier participated in our first annual summer school in August 2022. Her artistic approach to scholarship and scholarly approach to art in thinking about global dis:connection is precisely our raison d'être at global dis:connect. For more of Rahel's comics, check out her personal blog. - Ed note.]
citation information:
Losier, Rahel. ‘Mohamed: Portrait of a Sahrawi Exile’. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 13 December 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/12/13/mohamed-portrait-of-a-sahrawi-exile/.
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Yolanda Gutiérrez joins global dis:connect

Yolanda Gutiérrez

A warm welcome to our new fellow Yolanda Gutiérrez who joins global dis:connect in early November. Born in Mexico City and living in Hamburg, Yolanda Gutiérrez is a choreographer, video artist, curator and producer whose projects have appeared in a number of international festivals. She has worked with dancers, actors, wrestlers, musicians, DJs, composers, laypeople, children, costume designers and set designers throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America, the USA and Africa. Since 2017, she has choreographed the URBAN BODIES PROJECT and DECOLONYCITIES, consisting of decolonising audio walks with dance interventions. Continuing her investigations into the connections between colonial pasts, architecture and the body, her work at global dis:connect, comprises three modules: a research phase, a period of reflection and a concluding project in Munich. Gutiérrez is looking forward to having the time to reflect and write about her five-year journey of dance interventions in urban spaces.       Continue Reading

Mapping the wounds of the world: dis:connectivities of global representation at the 12th Berlin Biennale

ayşe güngör
  The title of this year's Berlin Biennale, Still Present!, reflected its objective to examine the consequences of the collective trauma caused by colonialism, structural violence and, more generally, the crimes of modern capitalism through a current perspective. Kader Attia, curator of the Biennale, and the curatorial team[1] expand on their approach, namely, to make the crimes of colonialism apparent through the agency of art. Repairing this trauma and the ‘wounds accumulated throughout the history of Western modernity’[2] – as Attia refers to it – the reparation process appears as both a question and a tool throughout the works presented in the Biennale. In this context, the Biennale's global artistic scope will be my focus, which connects as well as disconnects through a range of artistic approaches in its curatorial agenda. Throughout the course of the Biennale, the artistic and curatorial decisions were broadened with numerous decolonial perspectives from various regions, pluralising the global representation. Parallel to the ideas of Bilbao, ‘most discourses and narratives that account for the Biennale’s globality rely almost entirely on visibility’,[3] which is reflected in the curatorial agenda of the recent Berlin Biennale in terms of an approach to globalisation that accentuates unseen local issues in various regions. The issue at hand, as Ndikung points out, is:
Where is the local, especially in this postcolonial era and context, in the crafting of the concept of global museum? And this local cannot be simplified but analyzed in its complexity that goes beyond national or racial categories and that takes into consideration historical and geographical entanglements as much as geopolitical and social intricacies.[4]
Entanglements are occasionally emphasised in the framework of the Biennale, which emphasises broadening the perspectives it represents. This framework, which seeks to account for the ‘global’ by combining cases from diverse peripheries, also risks reducing a multifaceted globality to the dichotomies of ‘the West and the rest’ or ‘colonisers vs. colonised’. Recalling the part that situatedness plays in the logic of liberal capitalism, the general intention of global art discourse is to dissolve these dichotomies. As Jacob Birken addresses, the discourse ‘might not solve anything — just make [these dichotomies] easier to swallow’.[5] When examining the Biennale as a larger phenomenon, a pluralising strategy emerges as the prevailing tool to maintain its position in the global art world. Therefore, the Biennale is often taken as a microcosm of the globalisation of the arts. The curatorial approach of the recent Biennale reflects the general tendency to portray the globe, with its objective of interconnecting the stories of many cultural spheres. In this regard, the 2022 Berlin Biennale fits the general narrative of Biennale-making in a transcultural context, since it seeks to present a comprehensive picture of the globe by focusing on the shared meanings of those affected by oppression and violence. The globally interconnected histories reflected in the artworks navigate distinctive modalities of artistic production. Specifically, archival practices and the ‘field of emotions’ that Attia illustrates are a frequent tool artists implement to confront the legacies of colonial racism. Here, a ‘field of emotions’ helps to reclaim our present, which no longer belongs to us since it has been ‘colonized 24/7 by computational governance and capitalism’.[6] Attia proposes that the agency of art provides us with the freedom to be in the present. In a similar vein, the framing of art in this context evokes an artistic manifesto. When it comes to seeing the globe through a range of artistic practices, thinking broadly about these methodologies raises the question of what connects us and disconnects us. To this end, I would like to gain a clearer sense of what Attia means when he refers to ‘the field of emotions’. One could refer to Dewey’s concept of ‘aesthetic emotion’ through the agency of art experience. This principle describes how, as the artist works with their raw materials, they transform the raw feelings into artistic emotions. Based on the premise that there is no fundamental difference between everyday life and art, but simply a difference in the degree of differentiation and integration, aesthetic emotion is therefore well-structured.[7] Since aesthetic experience is made possible by reshaping materials on purpose until a sensitivity to the characteristics of objects can be realised, this process makes it an aesthetic experience rather than simply an experience. Aesthetic experience gives us a chance to engage with our emotions in this artistic playground. These works not only generate a field of emotions, but also produce for the audience a space in which they are able to pause, think and reflect. This space provides the means to identify with the subject at hand and, as a result, engage with it as it's being recognised. For instance, Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi’s work incorporates elements such as a bluescreen, a hospital bed, a boat, an oxygen mask, a portrait, and a fire-resistant plant into an installation that tells multi-layered stories independent of a specific time or place. Using a blend of real and fictitious elements, the film follows a woman as she travels from Vietnam to Thailand and then to Germany in the aftermath of the American war in Vietnam. The elements of the installation metaphorically set the ground for an imaginary journey and enables the audience to identify with the subject and the story in a womb-like setting, symbolised here by the boat and the operating table. Similarly, using natural and synthetic materials like metal, sugar, charcoal and latex, Christine Safatly's paintings and sculptures depart from the artist's personal history and local setting to probe social constructions of gender and other forms of alienation. Using allegorical narration and juxtaposition, her works encourage the viewer to relate to subjects of physiological suffering and everyday experiences with authoritarian regimes in Lebanon and beyond. This allegorical storytelling is not limited to this, in many cases, the emotional field presented invites viewers to think and reflect.
Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi, THIS UNDREAMT OF SAIL IS WATERED BY THE WHITE WIND OF THE ABYSS, 2022, video installation, mixed media, dimensions variable, research image, Photo by the author

Christine Safatly, PIECE 1, 2019, from the series THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KETCHUP AND RIPE TOMATOES, 2019-20, fabric pierced with nails and pins, Photo by the author
  Archival research and documentary modes of representation also recur throughout the Biennale. Most of archival art's potential is due to its frequent reproductions of alternative historical perspectives, primarily depicting the unrepresented in official histories to challenge power relations and authority. However, archival practices have also attracted criticism for their representation politics and institutional critique. For instance, Hal Foster criticised the lack of critical engagement, ‘representational wholeness,’ and ‘institutional integrity’ in archival art. In his article Archival Impulse, he adds:
The work in question is archival since it not only draws on informal archives but produces them as well and does so in a way that underscores the nature of all archival materials as found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private. Further, it often arranges these materials according to a quasi-archival logic, a matrix of citation and juxtaposition, and presents them in a quasi-archival architecture, a complex of texts and objects.[8]
Artistic approaches to archives cannot be limited to these critical approaches since they also enable alternative forms of representation by challenging the normative historical narratives or reinterpreting them. Archival artistic practices reflect unstructured information that is neither inherently linear nor connected, and they admit a wide variety of formats. Many instances of archival art appear in the Biennale, including the work of Azoulay, who assembled texts and images shot in Berlin right after World War II with some quotations of women who lived in Berlin in 1945. By interspersing these historical documents with her comments, modifications, and substitutions, so she uncovers the existence of these women who were excluded from official historical archives. Similarly, research agency Forensic Architecture's Cloud Studies (2022) investigates how the air we breathe can be weaponised through herbicidal warfare, tear gas, forest fires, oil and gas pollution and bomb attacks from Palestine to Beirut, London to Indonesia, and around the United States–Mexico border.  
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, THE NATURAL HISTORY OF RAPE (detail), 2017/2022, vintage photographs, prints, untaken b/w photographs, books, essay, magazines, drawings, dimensions variable, Photo by the author
 
Forensic Architecture, CLOUD STUDIES, 2022, 2-channel video installation, colour, sound, 26′08′′, Photo by the author
While these documentary and investigative practices intertwine in many instances, mergers of art and documentation sometimes collapse the separation between the emotional field and documentary practices. Such works often combine political and poetic voices, such as in Exile Is a Hard Job (1983/2022) by Nil Yalter, which involves experimenting with photographs, transcriptions, quotes, and videos to explore lives immigrant women and families from Portugal and Turkey. These practices of documenting, drawing, and collecting involve an open-ended process of tracing and moving with the experience itself, implicating several challenging modalities of artistic production that exist between art and anthropology. Archival modes of representation employ particular narratives to reflect upon historical realities. They, on the other hand, do not leave enough room for interpretation or engagement with the subject and instead present the audience with the narratives that have already been transcribed. After getting involved in a great deal of documentation procedures throughout the Biennale, one may, in the end, realise that they are drowning in an excessive amount of information that might be hard to engage. I believe that the more room they give for the audience to interpret the subject, the more possibilities for connection they generate. This most likely corresponds to the ‘emotional field’ that the curatorial team intended to yield with this selection of works in this context. What can the Biennale accomplish with these practices? What connects and disconnects us globally and interpersonally is rooted in the space provided for viewers to think rather than inundating them with information. Since any dichotomous division does not represent the complexity of the world, such global representation fails to question the narratives that have shaped the world. Given the diversity of the art world, it is difficult to identify a single world centre or global narrative that might include all the forms of transformation.[9]  To achieve a decolonised representation of art, one must refrain from making geographical generalisations when selecting which parts of history are — or are not — included in narratives. Instead of constraining viewers to a certain time and location or overloading them with information while engaging in documentary practices, the space opened by the poetic core of the aesthetic experience transcends both. That space enables the viewer to connect with their thoughts and feelings while experiencing this artistic playground. Mapping colonial wounds would not be reduced to geography but may be opened to the exchanges, circulations, entanglements, conflicts, and disconnections of the global context.   [1] Kader Attia, curator of the 2022 Berlin Biennale, has assembled a five-member team to assist him, including Ana Teixeira Pinto, Đỗ Tường Linh, Marie Helene Pereira, Noam Segal and Rasha Salti. [2] Kader Attia, ‘Introduction’, in 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (11.6. -18.9.2022), Catalogue (Germany, n.d.), 22. [3] Ana Bilbao, ‘From the Global to the Local (and Back)’, Third Text 33, no. 2 (4 March 2019): 179–94. [4] Soh Bejeng Ndikung Bonaventure, In a While Or Two We Will Find the Tone: Essays and Proposals, Curatorial Concepts, and Critiques (Berlin: Archive Books, 2020), 186. [5] Jakob Birken, ‘Spectres of 1989: On Some Misconceptions of the “Globality” in and of Contemporary Art’, in Situating Global Art, ed. Sara Dornhof et al. (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2018), 49. [6] Attia, ‘Introduction’, 34. [7] H. Hohr, ‘Aesthetic Emotion: An Ambiguous Concept in John Dewey’s Aesthetics’, Ethics and Education 5, no. 3 (1 November 2010): 247–61. [8] Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse’, October 110 (2004): 3–22. [9] Christian Morgner, ‘Diversity and (In)Equality in the Global Art World: Global Development and Structure of Field-Configuring Events’, New Global Studies 11, no. 3 (2017): 165–96.
Bibliography
Attia, Kader. ‘Introduction’. In 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (11.6. -18.9.2022), Catalogue. Germany, n.d. Bilbao, Ana. ‘From the Global to the Local (and Back)’. Third Text 33, no. 2 (4 March 2019): 179–94. Birken, Jakob. ‘Spectres of 1989: On Some Misconceptions of the “Globality” in and of Contemporary Art’. In Situating Global Art, edited by Sara Dornhof, Nanne Buurman, Birgit Hopfener, and Barbara Lutz, 35–52. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2018. Bonaventure, Soh Bejeng Ndikung. In a While Or Two We Will Find the Tone: Essays and Proposals, Curatorial Concepts, and Critiques. Berlin: Archive Books, 2020. Foster, Hal. ‘An Archival Impulse’. October 110 (2004): 3–22. Hohr, H. ‘Aesthetic Emotion: An Ambiguous Concept in John Dewey’s Aesthetics’. Ethics and Education 5, no. 3 (1 November 2010): 247–61. Morgner, Christian. ‘Diversity and (In)Equality in the Global Art World: Global Development and Structure of Field-Configuring Events’. New Global Studies 11, no. 3 (2017): 165–96.  
citation information:
Güngör, Ayşe. ‘Mapping the Wounds of the World: Dis:Connectivities of Global Representation at the 12th Berlin Biennale’, 15 November 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/11/15/mapping-the-wounds-of-the-world-disconnectivities-of-global-representation-at-the-12th-berlin-biennale/?lang=en.
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Lachlan Fleetwood joins global dis:connect

Lachlan Fleetwood

A warm welcome to our new guest Lachlan Fleetwood who joins global dis:connect in early November.

Lachlan Fleetwood is historian of science, empire, geography and the environment. He completed a PhD at Cambridge and subsequently held fellowships at University College Dublin and Yale. He comes to LMU as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow. His work focuses on the uneven imposition of ostensibly global environmental categories by empires in the long nineteenth century. His research also investigates how geographical features like mountains and deserts can serve as scales for new global histories of science, empire and labour. His first book, Science on the Roof of the World: Empire and the Remaking of the Himalaya, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2022.

At global dis:connect, Lachlan is completing a project titled Imperial science and the habitability of Central Asia and Mesopotamia, 1815-1914: a history of the societal consequences of changing limits. This history of environmental sciences examines ideas of habitability, uninhabitability and climatic determinism in relation to empire, and it traces their postcolonial legacies in the age of climate crisis.

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Breaking water: the dilemmas of dis:connection in the global-South city

sujit sivasundaram
  In this blog, I investigate the work that went into the making of  breakwaters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, around 1900 as a way of meditating on the relations between the environment, urban change, labour and politics in a global-South city.[1]

Arms stretching to sea

After the opening of the Suez Canal, Colombo became the second-most-used port in British Asia. By 1910, it was slightly behind Hong Kong and the seventh-busiest of the world’s ports by tonnage, easily ahead, for instance, of Calcutta/Kolkata or Bombay/Mumbai. At the heart of this transformation were infrastructural arms stretching out to sea, taming the winds and waves, and allowing steamer ships to dock in calm water for re-coaling. These arms were the breakwaters of Colombo. A south-west breakwater was constructed by 1885, followed by a further bout of infrastructural consolidation in the late 1890s and early 1900s and the building of a north-east and north-west breakwater. More recently, when I returned to Colombo in 2021, after being stuck in Britain over the course of the early pandemic, it was a shock to see another new arm stretching out to sea from Galle Face Green. This is Colombo’s $15 billion dollar Port City Development Project, an attempt to make it compete with megacities such as Singapore and Hong Kong and financed by China.[2] Meanwhile, Galle Face Green, on the seafront, was first formally laid out by the British as a parading and sporting ground in the mid-nineteenth century. One tradition is that the Dutch, who preceded the British, needed this level lawn to aim their cannon at the Portuguese. The new port city development project that faces this lawn has proceeded regardless of protests from environmental groups, fishing communities and from those concerned with the huge debt-burden to China which it will create. It is also at Galle Face Green that the wide-scale protests against the Sri Lankan government, in the midst of a pandemic-inflected economic crisis, arose. ‘Gotagohome village’, calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, became a permanent site of protest on Galle Face Green in 2022.[3]  

Image: Dhammika Heenpella

Staging connections and the reality of disconnection

The breakwaters of the past and the Chinese-financed project of the present are attempts to make Colombo a connected node of global capitalist trade and politics. If so, thinking with the underside of this infrastructure, meaning the work that goes into its making and the way it changes the environment, takes us in turn to the interrupted dynamics of projects like this. It also takes us to why the sea face of Colombo continues to be a place where politics is appropriately staged and performed even in our present. The projected connections of capitalism lead into both the realities of disconnection and the generative possibilities that follow for political movements and resistance. In arguing like this I develop my claims in a book, Islanded, which came out about a decade ago, where I argued that disconnection and connection lie at the heart of the contradictory origins of the Sri Lankan state as an island set apart but linked with a mainland. I ended that book with this line:
a connection is a disconnection when viewed from another direction.[4]  
In what follows, I juxtapose a series of vignettes, firstly related to the interventionist power of the breakwaters, over nature, people and disease; secondly, I attend to resistance and consequences of various kinds, environmental and social included, which came from these infrastructural interventions. And then, at the end, I return to the contemporary moment.

A breakwater in the sea

In the late-nineteenth century, the work of making a breakwater was hard, and it also required work beneath the sea. The nature of the work changed according to whether the monsoon was in force or not. During the monsoon, stones and blocks and quantities of sand could be washed away unexpectedly. Additionally, the nature of the waves changed dramatically. The importance of keeping an eye on the sea in making plans for breakwater-making was especially evident in how records were kept on this seafront on wave heights, wave periods and winds. It was supposed at first that nine feet was the greatest height of waves at Colombo, but subsequent measurements determined that where the breakwater was being built waves rose to twelve feet and fifteen feet.

Image: KHK global dis:connect collection
 

Line of control

The breakwater is a line, a line of attempted control between sea and land. But it also served this purpose for the control of disease.[5] In the 1890s a large number of vessels were put under quarantine as fears of plague spread. By 1905 disinfection was undertaken ‘at the root of the breakwater’ with ‘an Equifex disinfector [a boiler and three disinfecting chambers]’[6] which was erected at that point alongside an immigration depot. The Bombay steamer was a particular target: all Bombay water was emptied off the ship rather carefully. Each individual on the Bombay steamer was allegedly inspected; their temperature taken, and ‘the state of the glands of his (sic.) neck, groins and armpits’ were examined; while ‘[f]emales are examined by a female examiner.’[7]

Beach reorganisation

The growing harbour of Colombo would not have expanded the way it did without the new breakwaters. For this was not a site with a significant natural harbour; the breakwaters made it possible for Colombo to become a site of trans-shipment at the centre of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, their construction and the resulting expansion of the city saw urban reorganisation. For instance, the harbour was emptied of ‘native vessels’[8], used by fishermen and a separate fishery harbour arose to the north of the main port in 1902. But once again, like in the assault of the waves on those who were building the breakwaters, this programme of managing the sea-face did not work. Fishing communities were incensed by their relocation. In one petition of 1906 with 11 signatures, for instance, they wrote against how their boats were forbidden to fish in the harbour area where they had traditionally done so. ‘True it is the Government have provided for us outside the Colombo Harbour, a place called ‘Fisher’s Harbour’... during the SW Monsoon the entrance of the harbour is not safe and the room for the accommodation of our fishing boats …  is quite insufficient’[9]. Various catamarans, fishing boats, that sought to continue operating in the harbour were seized by the harbour police. Meanwhile, the beach that was allocated to fishing communities was divided up so that different groups, demarcated by place of worship, had access to different stretches of the shore.

Resistance

In late 1894, when the railway line was being laid along this stretch of shore, there were ‘disturbances’ at St. John’s Beach, and the accusation that some men had incited ‘a riot’ and turned on government officials.[10] This resistance was not only human; it was natural too. A fishermen’s petition from 1901–  from a group who had beached their boats close to Mutwal and the mouth of the Kelani River since ‘immemorial’ times – complained of all the functions occurring on their beach. The result was that:
[The] flow of water in the river is greatly obstructed by the large number of timber lying in the bed of the river and fever is spreading amongst the poor families of the fishermen who use the river for bathing purposes, the water being stagnant, the mud at the bottom has become putrid and the smell very offensive. [11]  
By 1912, the problems of space had affected fishing communities to the extent that one Sinhalese group, taken to be the majority ethnic community in the island today, asked that ‘Tamil’ fishermen be ousted from Colombo, on the basis that Tamils ‘are not residents of Ceylon’ and also since these fishermen were using types of nets prohibited by the state.[12] Modes of attempted management, to allow the port to connect, allowed inter-community relations in turn to deteriorate to ethnic tussles.

The stage of dis:connection

To move from the early twentieth century to the present and the sustained protests on this stretch of beach, there are various geopolitical reasons for their emergence. Grand schemes by the Chinese and Indians and others, including the Japanese, dictate the present and future of Colombo as well as the whole island. The pandemic and the loss of tourist and migrant labour incomes, for instance in the Middle East, have played a role too. In addition to this, it is also about the hold of an older generation of corrupt male politicians, who adopted supposedly populist tax cuts and new fertiliser policy for agriculture. If these reasons can be taken to indicate de-globalisation, strikingly, the protests of our moment have been led by the young and by those who did not grow up in the midst of the island’s civil war, between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority. The protests have crossed ethnic boundaries and seen the rise of new forms of solidarity. Muslims, one of the most discriminated communities, have broken fast in the midst of the protests. I want to end simply by stressing that these protests have also occurred on a stage facing the ocean. This is a lawn that repeated governments have struggled to keep green and struggled to convert into an iconic landscape of nationalism. It is fitting also that the protesters who stormed the president’s residence were seen swimming in a pool of water. It was this recording, together with others of the protests movement on the stretch of shoreline, that went viral when the news first broke.[13] Going into the water was a way of bringing a political movement to its sweet result: Colombo is a specific ecology, which has faced connection and disconnection, over centuries and not only at the hands of the British, but also the Portuguese and the Dutch and now various other superpowers. It is in the gap between connection and disconnection that Colombo has given rise to new political forms. The breakwater or indeed the lawn or harbour, have been effective places from which to rethink the political in a global South city. Meanwhile the performative possibilities of sites facing water carry on apace.   [1] This blog returns to an earlier article while bringing in lots of new dimensions: Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Towards a Critical History of Connection: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical “Circuit,” and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism, ca. 1880–1914’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 2 (2017): 346–84. [2] For an excellent introduction to the story see: Kanchana Ruwanpura, Benjamin Brown, and Loritta Chan, ‘(Dis) Connecting Colombo: Situating the Megapolis in Postwar Sri Lanka’, The Professional Geographer 72, no. 1 (2020): 165–79. [3] For some recent commentary on the protests and their causes, see for instance: J. Uyangoda, ‘The #GotaGoHome Protest Movement: Significance, Potential, and Challenges’, Social Scientists’ Association, 2022, http://ssalanka.org/gotagohome-protest-movement-significance-potential-challenges-jayadeva-uyangoda/; and: Shamara Wettimuny, ‘Protests in Sri Lanka: A Historical Perspective’, Medium, 10 April 2022, https://shamara-wettimuny.medium.com/protests-in-sri-lanka-a-historical-perspective-289e58908c5a. [4] See: Sujit Sivasundaram, Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka, and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); See also: Zoltán Biedermann, ‘(Dis)Connected History and the Multiple Narratives of Global Early Modernity’, Modern Philology 119, no. 1 (2021): 13–32, https://doi.org/10.1086/714972. [5] For references to the primary material in this paragraph and that following, please see: Sivasundaram, ‘Towards a Critical History of Connection: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical “Circuit,” and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism, ca. 1880–1914’. [6] Sivasundaram, 'Towards a Critical History'. [7] Sivasundaram, 'Towards a Critical History'. [8] Sivasundaram, 'Towards a Critical History'. [9] ‘Petition to the Hon’ble Government Agent of the Western Province’, 25 October 1906, Lot 33/3964, Sri Lanka National Archives. [10] ‘Documents’, n.d., Lot 33/3961, Sri Lanka National Archives Colombo. [11] ‘Petition’, 3 December 1901, Lot 33/3481, Sri Lanka National Archives. [12] ‘Petition to the Master Attendant from Signatories Who Sign in Sinhala’, 27 March 1912, Lot 33/3976, Sri Lanka National Archives. [13] ‘Sri Lanka Crisis: Protesters Swim in President’s Pool’, BBC, 9 July 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-62105698.

Bibliography

Biedermann, Zoltán. ‘(Dis)Connected History and the Multiple Narratives of Global Early Modernity’. Modern Philology 119, no. 1 (2021): 13–32. https://doi.org/10.1086/714972. ‘Documents’, n.d. Lot 33/3961. Sri Lanka National Archives Colombo. ‘Petition’, 3 December 1901. Lot 33/3481. Sri Lanka National Archives. ‘Petition to the Hon’ble Government Agent of the Western Province’, 25 October 1906. Lot 33/3964. Sri Lanka National Archives. ‘Petition to the Master Attendant from Signatories Who Sign in Sinhala’, 27 March 1912. Lot 33/3976. Sri Lanka National Archives. Ruwanpura, Kanchana, Benjamin Brown, and Loritta Chan. ‘(Dis) Connecting Colombo: Situating the Megapolis in Postwar Sri Lanka’. The Professional Geographer 72, no. 1 (2020): 165–79. Sivasundaram, Sujit. Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka, and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. ———. ‘Towards a Critical History of Connection: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical “Circuit,” and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism, ca. 1880–1914’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 2 (2017): 346–84. BBC. ‘Sri Lanka Crisis: Protesters Swim in President’s Pool’, 9 July 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-62105698. Uyangoda, J. ‘The #GotaGoHome Protest Movement: Significance, Potential, and Challenges’. Social Scientists’ Association, 2022. http://ssalanka.org/gotagohome-protest-movement-significance-potential-challenges-jayadeva-uyangoda/. Wettimuny, Shamara. ‘Protests in Sri Lanka: A Historical Perspective’. Medium, 10 April 2022. https://shamara-wettimuny.medium.com/protests-in-sri-lanka-a-historical-perspective-289e58908c5a.  
citation information:
Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Breaking Water: The Dilemmas of Dis:Connection in a Global-South City’, 2 November 2022, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/11/02/breaking-water-the-dilemmas-of-disconnection-in-the-global-south-city/?lang=en.
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Franziska Windolf joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new fellow Franziska Windolf who recently joined global dis:connect.

Franziska Windolf is a visual artist currently exploring the performative potential of patchwork. She deconstructs the patchwork into ‘patch’ and ‘work’, understanding these terms as fragments and action in public or gallery spaces. For her, the artwork is a catalyst, a method of investigation, a means of connecting to people and a way to explore exile and commemoration. By contesting prevalent relationships and hierarchies, and by reassembling research findings, Franziska conceives the artwork as inconsistent, absurd and yet within reach.

While at global dis:connect, Franziska is working with diverse portable sculptures, whose forms emerge through encounters in public spaces. She creates an imaginary space of remembrance and reflection in which fragmented memories of exiled artists in the city as well as history of Munich find a poetic presence.   Continue Reading

Martin Puchner joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new guest Martin Puchner who joins the Kolleg until late spring 2023. Martin Puchner has worked on such disparate topics as modernist closet dramas, revolutionary manifestos, Platonic dialogues, a history of world literature, environmental storytelling and Rotwelsch, the secret language of Central Europe. Having studied at the universities of Konstanz and Bologna, he pursued these topics at Columbia and Harvard, with shorter stints at Cornell, the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study, the New York Public Library and the American Academy. He occasionally attempts to bring the humanities to the attention of a larger public with op-eds, book reviews, essays, anthologies and open online courses.   At global dis:connect, Martin will expand his forthcoming history of culture, entitled Culture: the story of us, from cave art to K-pop, into a textbook introduction to the arts and humanities. The work focuses on mechanisms of transmission, with particular emphasis on interruption, misreading, appropriation and — of course — global dis:connections.     Continue Reading

Anna Grasskamp joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new fellow Anna Grasskamp who joins the Kolleg until late summer 2023. Anna Grasskamp is a lecturer in art history at the University of St Andrews. She has authored Art and Ocean Objects of Early Modern Eurasia. Shells, Bodies, and Materiality (Amsterdam University Press, 2021) and Objects in Frames: Displaying Foreign Collectibles in Early Modern China and Europe (Reimer, 2019). Her articles have appeared in Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, Renaissance Studies and other journals. Anna is a subject editor at the review journal SEHEPUNKTE and a member of the editorial boards of the book series Global Epistemics and the Journal for the History of Knowledge.   Project: Trash as treasure: value disconnections and the recycling of Chinese matter in art and design, 1500–2020 Recycling materials ‘made in China’ has a short history in the daily practices of middle-class households, but a long history in global art and design. Chinese natural resources, such as rare-earth metals used in digital devices and commodities like porcelain made of Chinese clay, have been pivotal to material, technological and artistic exchanges between Europe and Asia since early modernity. This project investigates art and design as fields of pioneering research in which strategies to reuse Chinese matter were developed centuries before the term ‘recycling’ – as we use it today – was adopted. It researches material flows of garbage in relation to disrupted material value systems associated with trash. Disruptions take place across cultural boundaries that allow for radical changes in systems of material evaluation (e.g. enabling the perception of ‘trash as treasure’) and through transcultural artistic research, which reuses and re-evaluates seemingly ‘meaningless’ garbage by turning it into multi-million-dollar art installations and prized design innovations. The project offers a non-hegemonic history of art and design, which researches urban hubs and rural ecologies, the works of artists and artisans, as well as the products of craftsmen and factory workers across social, historic and cultural divides.     Continue Reading