A walk through time: reflecting on ecology & action during Sonic Acts biennial exhibition, one sun after another

, 31 October 2022

An encounter with time envelopes one sun after another, the Sonic Acts 2022 Biennial exhibition that took place at W139 in Amsterdam from September 30 to October 23. Best understood through Timothy Morton’s writings on hyperobjects, the exhibition offers an interpretation of the cyclical nature of ecology and the interrelationships between events that happen at different points throughout history. For Morton, these are nonlocality and temporal undulation – albeit lofty terms that aim to describe the massive, time-spanning scale of hyperobjects comprised of seemingly disconnected events. While they’re certainly related to one sun after another, the exhibition makes these ideas much more palpable in practice.

The exhibition opens with ‘Gauge’, a timelapse video by Danny Osborne, Patrick Thompson, Alexa Hatanaka, Sarah McNair-Landry, Eric McNair-Landry, Erik Boomer, and Raven Chacon. The footage shows ice glaciers unearthing facial graffiti, with each design slowly rising across W139’s corridor, illustrating for the audience seated on the opposing benches the pace and range at which the artic changes. The work initiates an accelerated perception of time that’s intended to connect each following to the exhibition’s broader thesis on ecology. Seline Buttner’s ‘Meiospore’, a tactile-visual installation, both physically follows and visually responds to the speed of ecological change imposed by ‘Gauge’, extending its ideas into a forest-like domain where moss-like projections recede upon the sensing of human footsteps. The work is respondent in its direct implication of the exhibition’s attendees as agents of change— that each step taken results in a shift within the surrounding environment. While ‘Gauge’ observes time and ecology, ‘Meiospore’ situates human action as a causal force. This detail becomes more evident upon the exit of Buttner’s installation into Maryam Monalisa Gharavi and Sam Lavigne’s ‘Oil News 1989-2020’.

‘Gauge’ (2022). Photo courtesy AQNB.

While the range of human-ecological interference is undoubtedly imperceivable, Gharavi and Lavigne’s ‘OBIT’ attempts to offer a semblance of its scale, mainly in the vastness of the American oil industry. In a previous interview with AQNB on the work, Gharavi said, “it points to that totality that was never meant to be totalized,” a claim evident in the work’s installation as a rotating series of 305,065 headlines on disbanded oil wells in the United States. Next to the installation sits the artist’s complimentary book, ‘Oil News 1989-2020’, a dense compilation of all American headlines on the oil industry that spans thousands of pages. The works point, not only to a totality of human-ecological intervention but ultimately to the vast impact of industry on the environment, compounded by the sensation of time illustrated earlier in the group exhibition; they suggest the only perceivable things are the traces of industry’s aftermath.

The compression of immediate time, action, and ecology feels poignant in the exhibition’s opening. However, it also puts forth visions of possible futures, including Félix Blume and Julian Charrière’s works. On the far corner, Blume’s ‘Swarm’ simulates the sounds of bees— an insect population reportedly reduced by 13% since the 1990s— in a looming installation of wired speakers hanging from the venue ceiling. Field recordings play softly from the sprawl of electronics in the corner of W139. There’s an unintended melancholy about this installation, a feeling of a corpse or something that no longer exists. Similarly, Charrière’s ‘Eneman III and Enyu I’ and ‘Pacific Fiction’ offer a vision of environmental transformation in a post-nuclear era. Upstairs from the W139’s main floor in a small room, a monument of grey coconuts sits eerily alongside photographs of a jungle bunker covered in nuclear residue. There’s a hazardous yet endemic quality to Charrière’s work, suggesting an almost end state in which industry subsumes ecology, leaving no untainted remnant. Together, these works represent a more speculative angle to the exhibition on industrial violence accumulation of possible future outcomes.

Seline Buttner, ‘Meiospore’ (2022). Photo courtesy AQNB.

These nuclear futures fall back onto a reference made in the exhibition text to J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist credited for his role in creating the modern atomic bomb. At the first detonation of the bomb, Oppenheimer quoted a line from the Bhagavad-Gita’s scripture, saying, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” – a quote that should be taken as a twofold parting thought for one sun after another. First, what Oppenheimer was alluding to— according to scholars— is in part the visual of a thousand suns exploding simultaneously: in other words, a collapse of all possible times catalyzed in the wake of industrial achievement. Second, it refers to an interpretation of the scene surrounding this line. At this point, in the Bhagavad-Gita, prince Arjuna witnesses the emergence of Krishna’s god-like form. Readings suggest that since Arjuna is a soldier, he is still committed to duty despite having no determination of his outcome. One could say this in part the thesis of the exhibition: that in the advent of insurmountable ecological violence, it’s imperative to persist towards restorative change.**

Sonic Acts’ 2022 Biennial exhibition, one sun after another, ran from September 30 to October 23 at W139 in Amsterdam.