From October 1, 2020 to February 14, 2021, the GAMeC presents In The Forest, Even The Air Breathes, a project by the Indian curator Abhijan Toto nominated winner of the tenth edition of the Premio Lorenzo Bonaldi per l’Arte – EnterPrize in June 2019.
The jury—headed by Lorenzo Giusti, Director of the GAMeC, and made up of Caroline Bourgeois, art conservationist, Pinault Collection, Venice; Nicola Ricciardi, Artistic Director, OGR, Turin; and Li Zhenhua, independent curator, Berlin/Zurich—decided to award the Prize to Abhijan Toto’s project, nominated by Sebastian Cichocki, Head Curator of the Museum of Modern Art of Warsaw, for the way in which he managed to develop a theoretical reflection around nature, viewed here as a new form of transcultural cosmology, with an experimental and collective curatorial approach.
In The Forest, Even The Air Breathes draws on the research relative to the “Forest Curriculum”: a philosophy of the Earth which promotes the need for a localized cosmo-political image of our current ecological era. A vision that offers an alternative to the principle of “planetarity” intrinsic to the concept of the Anthropocene, to which the idea is generally associated of a universality of the Western model of the “human,” one which has historically favored the exploitation and impoverishment of any territories considered peripheral by this outlook.
In particular, the exhibition focuses on the cosmological systems of Zomia, the forest belt that stretches from North-East India, through the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, the state of Shan, the Isan heartland in Thailand, the tropical forests of the Malay Peninsula and into the Cordilleras of the Philippines
The exhibition—split into three sections that bring together the works of seven international artists—sets out to imagine what forms of politics and pedagogy might be invented in order to make man’s relationship with the lands he lives on more intimate.
The projects of the artists thus investigate the relationship between human and non-human worlds within various contexts and landscapes of Zomia.
Nguyen Trinh Thi and Robert Zhao Renhui, in coming to terms with places in which complex narratives have been swallowed up or canceled, rethink the principle of observation in order to devise new models of investigation with a view to identifying new relations of colonialism as well as natural, human, and identitary histories.
Investigating stories of war and ongoing occupations throughout the region, Sung Tieu, Karl Castro, and Joydeb Roaja examine the link between the military-industrial-forestry system and popular resistance movements. Their works focus on the links between stories of violence, be it perpetrated by imperialist, neocolonial, or postcolonial nation states, and on the interplay between the violence itself and nature.
Focusing on the relationship between tales of the spirit and the world of humans, and on how they become codependent, the works of Khvay Samnang and Soe Yu Nwe present personal and political visions of the existence between worlds. Their works focus on the ability to change form, central to the construction of identity in Zomia, where even the spirits need to mutate in the face of the political reality, while borders that harden into nations can instead transform once more in the magical space of the forest, where the notion of state dissolves among the leaves.
In direct dialogue with the works on show, five publications edited by artists and researchers—Christian Tablazon, Pujita Guha, Huiying Ng, Wong Bing Hao, and Chairat Polmuk; produced in collaboration with RAReditions—illustrate how to relate to Zomia as a field of study.