VAEFE | Walk-in cinema program
Still image from Aerocene as Commons
by Laura Denning, 2021
23. – 25.09
7 – 11 pm
millonaliu (Klodiana Millona & Yuan Chun Liu) and Endi Tupja (NL/AL), Eva Joy Lawrence (UK), Georgie Brinkman (UK), Ananda Serné (NL), Shreya de Souza & Mylou Oord (PT/IN/NL), Scott Wiese (DE/CA), Alisi Telengut (CA), Xaviera Hardjopawiro (NL), Madyha Leghari (PK), Jack Thomson (UK), Márcio Cruz (BR), Mohamed Abdelkarim (EG), Jean-Michel Rolland (FR), George Finlay Ramsay (SC), Dave Lim (SG), Laura Denning (UK), Salvador Miranda (CA), Alyona Larionova (UK/RU), Darice Polo (US/PR), Sethembile Msezane (SA), Bokyung Jun (KR) and GWENBA (UK)
The Commons is a realm that is neither public nor private, floating between and through spaces we organise our lives in. For instance, natural resources, but also knowledge and culture belong to the Commons. The Commons belong to everybody and nobody at the same time. As a result, it is constantly urging us to redefine our space and values, and what can and cannot be claimed and why. It often relies on self-governance and social control. Especially because of this aspect, the Commons can be compared to a meta-ideology that offers utopian and dystopian perspectives, as it is stated by the editors of Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real (2018), Nico Dockx and Pascal Gielen.
As Commons seems to remain alien to most of us, we tend to have forgotten what the Commons exactly is. ‘If we want to reactivate the common, we will have to start from its absence.’ The practice of commoning offers different types of resilient, just and green futures, and an alternative political economy based on abundance, not scarcity and greed. Due to the growing urgency to recognize the global ecological crisis, spreading awareness on this topic is crucial. Only by joining forces can we tackle the global ecological crisis. In a world where individualism is prominent, how can we achieve this?
The collaborative process associated with the Commons, commoning, is sustained by cooperation and collaborative action. It supports the development of social and ecological values and strengthens global solidarity. Historian Peter Linebaugh popularized the term ‘commoning’. He argues that people have the right to use the Commons to meet their basic needs. He uses the term “commoning” to establish a verb for Commons: “I want to portray it as an activity, not just an idea or a material resource.” Commoning means negotiating, cooperating and communicating for shared purposes and collective benefit. As the practice of commoning, SEA Foundation prepared a walk-in cinema in our vitrine, facing the street to claim the space in between and give a voice to artists via their video art. SEA Foundation invites passers-by to join the dialogue regarding what Commons is or what it could be.
The first edition of Video Art and Experimental Film Event (VAEFE) is a fact. This three-day open-air film event for video art and experimental films brings a fascinating selection of short films to Tilburg that highlights the theme ‘Commons and Commoning’. On three consecutive evenings we will show short inspiring, entertaining and critical video works and films by young and renowned international artists and filmmakers.
From the Open Call distributed on various platforms and from over 600 submitted films, the SEA Foundation has selected 22 videos that respond to the theme in a critical or playful way. The chosen films and video works do not explicitly discuss the ideal of the Commons. Instead, they leave us with the broad interpretation of the concept, and suggest why the discussion of the Commons is still urgent in politics, art, and in everyday life. They come from the need to change social life and as a response to a transmutation of the world that is happening under the veil of progress. They address various issues, such as (claiming) ownership of land, man’s alienation from nature, or the importance of indigenous knowledge without appropriating it for the benefit of the Western world. They range from short documentaries, fictional worlds, and storytelling, to recorded interventions in public space, but they all have a certain sense of reinterpreting and longing for something else in common.
Lands / ownerships / resources in commons
There are multiple films in the selection that discuss how much we are willing to shift and sieve the Earth for the sake of growth. The short video This is My Land… by Salvador Miranda examines the ideas of home, communities and utopia in relation to multiple interpretations of modern development. Earthmovers, a short film made by artist duo millonaliu in collaboration with Endi Tupja, also brings forward the exploitative character of progress when communities or nations are trying to keep up the tempo with the Western ideals of modernity.
Through the collage video SOSLand, made by Xaviera Hardjopawiro, we can see that it is deeply rooted in the desire of a modern man to own a piece of land, to have their bite from a cake. Despite understanding the ridiculousness of claiming ownership over a piece of nature, there is a growing appropriation and privatization of the Commons because many people assume that resource degradation can only be combated by converting common property into private property or through government regulation. But what happens when the private companies are claiming more for the sake of profit or are even unable to handle their responsibilities when they get into financial difficulties? The future monuments abandoned by private corporations and the ethics of the privately accessible lands are questioned by the video work Monuments of Decadence and Depravity by Canadian artist Scott Wiese. At the same time, resources held in common are highly vulnerable to overexploitation, and relying on accountability or good intentions of subjects dealing with common resources has not always proved to be successful. Another featured short video work Aerocene as Commons by Laura Denning brings attention to the invisible Commons that require our care.
Relationship / experience in commons
Moreover, what if we take into consideration that the common resources are not here to be useful for humans at all? What if the human’s exceptionalism is once disregarded and the more-than-human species become the entities possessing their rights? Rethinking the status of natural resources such as the ocean and establishing new human-ocean relationships through storytelling, is the essence of the short video All Was Ocean! All Was Joy! (Or, How the Humans Broke the Ocean’s Heart) by Georgie Brinkman. Without any script, Brinkman guided her filming decisions by the environment, thus claiming that ‘the film is not made about, but with the North Sea’. The main character of the video Affordance by Jean-Michel Rolland is an old grown tree with momentous branches. A man adapts himself to the tree. Instead of making the tree useful for himself, he tries to lay down, sit and use it differently, in such a way that mutual comfort is achieved for both of them. ‘The tree stays a tree’.
Redefinition of the space through somatic experience is also a method playfully examined through the short video by Dave Lim called My Waters. Through the performance in public space recorded by the cctv camera of the same-called app that takes images every 2 minutes in the areas susceptible to flooding, the artist examines the nature of policing in the public realm but also self-importance of a human-being as we tend to think that all cameras are installed to surveill us.
Collective in commons
Commoning is also akin to the grassroots movement, a movement that relies on self-organization and encourages members of a community to play their part by taking responsibility for their community. The short documentary Playuela by Darice Polo, shows local activism against commercial development in Puerto Rico, where the community is experiencing an excessiveness of illegal building that is destroying the landscape en masse. This is similar to the concept of the humorous yet critical video Venting in Ryebank by Eva Joy Lawrence, that discusses the protection of a piece of public green space under threat from ‘executive property’.
Active participation seems to be critical in commoning. And that is not only within one community, but also through bridging the discussion across its imagined borders. A short moving image by Jack Thomson, We Are Ready Now, presents a constant flux between individual and collective bodies navigating between the state of collaboration that is being achieved and always seems to fail again. The collective efforts to work together and bridge the gaps between diverse communities through resistance, queering and creation are motives of the short documentary QC-20 made by artist Shreya de Souza and Mylou Oord. Here the makers unfold ‘the brave spaces’ by bringing the queer choir to places that have historicly been averse to the queer community. Another short documentary in the selection The Call of the Drums introduced the educational and cultural association Ilu Obá de Min that is voicing the stories related to the history of Afro-Brazilian women. Márcio Cruz followed the women during the 2019 São Paulo carnival. Through dance and music, ‘the woman’s body is united with her instrument’ and brings the message further to the crowd.
Stavros Stavrides, in conversation for e-flux, points out that the concept of the Commons does not focus on things we have in common but on differences between people and groups that are able to meet on common ground via negotiation and discussion. That is also the reason why the commons is constantly in motion, never finalised. In the short essay film Choose Your Own Father by Madyha Leghari that is building up on the archival research of John Latham (British artist), his father and Leghari’s own father, filmmaker questions the myths of origin and suggests that ‘collective knowledge is not a monolithic and static category but it is constantly in construction and revision’.
World-building in commons
World-building narratives that are evident in some of the featured films ventures into imagining the futures and wonder about the human relationships with the more-than-human. They take on a speculative character, for instance, such as in Gazing…Unseeing by Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Abdelkarim. His film is ‘a long-term project that imagines a history that we missed and speculates a future we didn’t attend yet’. The performance and a language-play that can be observed in shorts Echoists of the Takase River by Ananda Serné and Zeros: Operation Error by Bokyung Jun, is leaving us to re-think human-nature or human-technology ‘landscapes’ that we certainly co-habit and co-influence.
The revival of fair relationships with the more-than-human is one of the active commoning practices. One way of connecting is through animism and listening to the indigenous wisdom. The film The Fourfold by Alisi Telengut is based on the ancient animistic beliefs and shamanic rituals in Mongolia and Siberia and stresses the importance of including indigenous knowledge when building up the common world. If our common efforts become almost too heavy to bear, artist Sethembile Msezane in the film ISIMO is, via the ancestral matriarchal figure, reminding us that through any difficulties we need ‘to continue to exist in that which is fulfilling in connecting with the land’.
Last but not least, a few films selected for the screening directly or indirectly refer to feminist thinkers Donna Haraway or Anna L. Tsing. As opposed to the Anthropocene, Haraway suggests ‘the tentacular thinking’ through multiplicities and becoming-with. She calls the current epoch Chthulucene and reminds us how important it is to make kin with the more-than-human world. The core of the short film CASTOROCENE is to learn from animal world-building, namely beavers, who are ‘the great commonors’ providing habitat for multiple species. The film was directed by George Finlay Ramsay and includes 16mm shots by Alexander Hetherington. Cardiff-based artist GWENBA takes us on a journey through MyCelium Systems, intersecting ‘the ectomycorrhizal fungi [the internet of nature] and our own forms of communication online’. Furthermore, the film Staying With The Trouble by artist Alyona Larionova, turns to the shared sense of touch. As Larionova claims, it is ‘the one we depend on the most and talk about the least’.
Read more on commons here
De Cauter, L. (2015). Commonplaces on the (Spatial) Commons, in Interrupting the City: Artistic Constitutions of the Public Sphere, S. Bax, P. Gielen, B. Ieven (eds.). Amsterdam: Valiz
Van Gerven, R. (2021). Fold #2 on Commons. Retrieved on 2 September 2021 from https://www.seafoundation.eu/sustainability-fold-commons-research-art/
An Architektur, (2010). On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides, in e-flux journal #17 (June, 2010). Available at: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/17/67351/on-the-commons-a-public-interview-with-massimo-de-angelis-and-stavros-stavrides/
Standing, G. (2019). Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth. London: Pelican Books
Berkes, F., Feeny, D., McCay, B.J., and Acheson, J.M. (1989). The benefits of the commons.’ NATURE vol. 340 (13 July, 1989). 91-93. DOI: 10.1038/340091a0
Dockx, N. & Gielen, P. (2018). Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real. Amsterdam: Valiz
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press
Tsing, A. L.. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press