The Oceanic Exhibition Report

“The Oceanic Exhibition” focuses on large-scale human interventions in oceanic ecospheres featuring contributions by 12 artists, filmmakers, composers, and researchers who engage with both the long cultural histories of Pacific Ocean archipelagos and their current conditions. They went on three expeditions: Papua New Guinea(2015), French Polynesia(2016) and Fiji(2017).


Kula Canoe Boat Parts + The Kula Ring Description

Newell Harry – (Untitled) Nimoa and Me: Kiriwina Notes (2015-2016)

Laura Anderson Barbata’s – Ocean Calling (2017)

I was really drawn to the works from artists that went on the expedition to Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea where they engaged with the history of the Kula Ring, a ceremonial exchange system practised in the Trobriand Islands. In this area of the exhibition, works from Laura Anderson Barbata and Newell Harry were co-exhibited and it was really interesting to see how both works support and empower each other’s different messages to be brought across instead conflicting it.

Costume 1

Costume 2

Laura Anderson’s Barbata’s Ocean Calling (2017), is a work commissioned by TBA21-Academy for World Ocean Day 2017 where she made striking costumes with incorporated items by artisans from Milne Bay Province for a performative piece that was showcased in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The work charts the physical and emotional relationship to life in our ocean and the urgent need for collective transformation. It also highlights the importance of the Declaration signed by Pacific Island Countries and Territories to significantly improve Ocean governance, which was drafted during the Pacific Regional Platform for Partnerships and Action on Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) meeting, which took place in 2017 in Suva, Fiji.

In “The Oceanic Exhibition”, this work is displayed as a static piece where only certain costumes that she was produced are being shown to the public. It can seen that a lot of work and thought has been put into making all the intricate designs, patterns and incorporated items. Even when unmoving, the costumes itself are already very eye-catching and very telling of certain motifs and elements from the sea, which makes it a compelling piece for me. It was almost as if they had a life of its own even when its “dead”.

Through more research on the work, I found out that Ocean Calling consists of a storied performance that combines spoken word, dance, improvisation, stilt dancing, ritual, procession, costuming and music. It is inspired by all the forms of aqua-organisms, as well as communities that have lived in close relationship with the ocean. The work also unfolds in an urban environment highly dependent on the health of the oceans, even though it may not be overtly obvious to our urban communities which is a point I found interesting as well.

“The understanding of the world of the ocean, the co-existence of all beings, and the culture of exchange mark the foundation of Oceania’s communities in the Trobriand Islands.The materialisation of this culture is emblematic of the Kula Ring, a ceremonial and ritualistic exchange system with items (shells) instead of money – gifts, traditions, and myths as a currency.”

As mentioned also during the lecture the idea of relationships, especially the relationship between existence and exchange is very important and key. In the performance, performances don the costumes and bring their “character” to live together with the flow of the music and also other performers. They affect and influence one another just like that in the ocean where every thing affects and influence each other too. The elements of shells and other things that came from the sea also helps to set the mood and atmosphere. In this work, the movements, visuals really resemble and reenact the ocean, and in place that seems far from the ocean seems to be transformed into an “ocean”. Hence, I think she was quite successfully in reenacting all the crucial keys that was needed to be captured from the Papua New Guinea. All these while, she would read the the agreement that was signed.

It is also interesting that she choose to perform the piece that is open only to the delegates and not to public even though she really wanted to because her piece encompasses an important message that was crucial that is being got across to the delegates since they are the ones signing and going into the meetings.

Tue Greenfort’s multimedia installation, Tamoya Ohboya(2017) includes an aquarium with live jellyfish, an organism that has lived for 500 million years up till date. The title is the Latin name for a box jellyfish species, where through this work, he references ways in which jellyfish have migrated into new geographical waters due to the warming of ocean temperatures. The work is also accompanied by a projector that shows a close-up of the sea creature which also emphasises and explores the amount of technological effort it takes to replicate their environment and sustain these life forms.

The jellyfish move through the tank with a circular water movement. By displaying them to the public, viewers can study and observe these lifeforms yet at the same time so little is still known about these jellyfish even when they are some of the oldest lifeforms on earth.

What attracted me first to the work was the aesthetics of the work and then presence of the jellyfish itself and to be up close with an organism that was brought from the island was simply so compelling. What only came after was the realisation of all the technology and equipment that was needed to support this lifeforms which also raises some question about how we deal with nature and ocean environments but also the responsibility of the artist.

While watching the jellyfishes, I also noticed how some seem to be unmoving which prompt to wonder if they were sleeping or…if they were even still alive. This raised a question where if after extraction, would they still be able to live “normally” or die? Will the “raising of awareness” excuse the organisms extraction? Would the intended message be less effective or accurate if another way was approached to depict it?

It was also interesting how the display kind of resemble that of a household fish tank so could it also be implying something about how this extraction sort of makes the jellyfish a “pet” now? It also made me wonder if the organism has become like an “entertainment” or does it still retain its “true purpose”?

From both works what struck me was how an exhibit that was unmoving can seem so alive yet another exhibit that has moving seem at times somewhat “dead”.

During the lecture given on Saturday, it was also mentioned that they hold an important role in choosing what to reveal and they also had to be be careful of what they say because they are speaking and representing for so many voiceless people so they have to accurate portray that for them. Indeed the sentence deems to be very true and important because there are so many things that could go wrong/or right just depending on where the sources is coming from. It is also not an easy task because how do we decide for so many others that this is the “accurate truth”?


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