Marvels & Catastrophes – an interdisciplinary artist collective
Project rooms, Färgfabriken
The group Marvels & Catastrophes are participants in and contributors to the Listen project, but their work will also be represented in the the Symbiosis-exhibition. Through the artist group, Listen is integrated into the Symbios project, which creates synergies between the two processes.
Marvels & Catastrophes is an interdisciplinary artist collective that was launched in 2018 as an act of defiance, in the hope of creating an alternative set of creative strategies capable of addressing the increasing disastrous effects of climate change. The premise was, and remains, simple: there is a body of unassailable science, concerning human agency and climate change, that clearly is not gaining the kind of broad consensus that is urgently needed to bring humanity together in common cause. Marvels and Catastrophes was established to examine not just the science, but to go further by exploring how earlier historic precedents and generational narratives worked to bind together populations and their cultures in the past. History shows that science and myth have always coexisted. Convincing the world population to work together on such a grand scale needs more than communicating the science. We also need to invent ways to fuel our imagination to act in concert. Our strategy then is to imagine, toy, and develop ideas, designs and concepts that can pull us out of this most difficult quagmire.
Unfortunately, we are now in the second year of the Covid19 global pandemic, where it would seem that the tragic evidence of what unchecked human activity can bring about on itself is undeniable. And yet conspiracy theories, false science, unregulated capital, bad politics and a shockingly weak social contract continues to undermine collective action. Marvels and Catastrophes, as a work collective, hopes to counter these widely held myths with a more critically constructive set of propositions that would work on more positive outcomes. The virus, a symbol of when the last vestiges of the wild encroached upon and overrun by human negligence, can also be a sort of diagram for resistance.
/Peter Lang, founder of Marvels & Catastrophes
Ana Barata Martins (Lisbon) is a visual artist based in Stockholm whose practice is focused in essay-films, site-specific installations, textile printings and field research. The main interests that inform her work are diverse such as post-colonial social phenomena, local folklore and vernacular knowledge, and the concept of the herbarium as a method to rethink narratives and behaviours that romanticise nature.
Cristina Ferreira (Lisbon) lives and works in Poznań, Poland and has a B.A in painting by the Faculty of Fine Arts of Lisbon and M.F.A in Painting by the University of Fine Arts of Poznań. She works on the themes of displacement and alienation mainly through performances, installations and participatory projects. She has performed in both theatre and museum contexts.
In the video work Calyx, Ana Barata Martins and Christina Ferreira, by the practice of making and preserving an herbarium is visually explored through the language of earlier experimental collage films. The herbarium as a practice can be a powerful method to rethink narratives that romanticize nature. This work pays an homage to the ones that process confined solitude through collecting plants and reflecting how much they can teach humans about resilience.
Sofia Larsson is a landscape architect based in Stockholm. In the expansion of her professional role she uses artistic and conceptual methods to explore materializations of power and values in the built environment.
Demolition Desires (2020) by Sofia Larsson delves into the psychology of demolition. Apart from seemingly objective driving forces like housing shortage and property value, demolition is subject to highly personal preferences embedded within the planning process. Through maps showing the demolition executed between the 1960s and today in Stockholm and Skellefteå, juxtaposed to a series of dreamy collages, the work aims at exploring the different feelings, ideas and values that motivates these actions, as well as exhibiting their consequences. (Audio: Erik Hatzipetros)
Vesna Salamon is a Croatian artist based in Stockholm and Zagreb, whose work bridges the realms of environmental science and cultural history. The focus of her work also addresses environmental issues by hinting at the danger of the human impact on nature. Her objects are communicating with contemporary issues such as pollution, consummation and Anthropocene and showing both the strength and fragility of humanity.
In Phantom Pain Vesna Salamon portraits the city of Zagreb and through it displays its complicated infrastructural layers and the state of the society comprising it, the pieces of the collective which become nothing more than mere cracks and ruins exposed by the clash of natural impulses that are above human control.
Åsa Agerstam is a designer and interior architect based in Stockholm. Agerstam understands her work as objects with their own dramaturgy. She often works with systems of thoughts or a family of objects rather than within singularities and has an ongoing love affair with materiality.
In her work ”Thank you for any comfort you have to offer” Åsa Agerstam deals with her own experience of feeling that her own body is invaded and in need of comfort. During a healing process, thoughts of cutting and stitching recurred, and a research project began. To deal with these thoughts, she studied anatomical images of skin and watched Youtube tutorials where different suture techniques were demonstrated. Doing the same, sewing stitches and tying knots became a craft ritual and a coping strategy.
Andres Villarreal is a Swedish-Colombian artist, filmmaker and writer who lives and works between Stockholm and Berlin. Villarreal’s practice often explores the relationship between representation and production of reality; and deals with questions relating to time, narration and memory. The work,using film, photography, installation and text, is often situated in the borderland between fact and fiction.
Dealing with the lockdown in New York City, the artwork builds on deep contrasts between the banality and tranquility of empty streets, rarefied happenings, and the contrasting news reports regarding the ongoing covid pandemic, as well as the sudden outburst of massive Black Lives Matter protests, occupations and political actions that were to spread from street to street in the city, ultimately dominating city life completely. There are contrasting messages and images, with the ordinary scenes and the puzzlement from overseas family and friends who witnessed the events via media from afar. Villarreal draws out the uneasy relationship between the city in the midst of a covid crisis, and the deepening sense of gloom and doom as a form of perceptualized tragedy. The work stresses both the importance of lived subjective experience as well as hard objective facts.
Andres Villareal co-founder with Peter Lang of Marvels & Catastrophes-group.
Jérôme Malpel / Iris Lacoudre / Grégoire Deberdt / Antoine Plouzen Morvan
Three architects and a filmmaker get together to explore the narratives of architecture. They formed an artistic collective in Paris after studying and working in various countries (Japan, India, Brasil, Argentina, Sweden). By combining the practices of architecture and documentary filmmaking, the group is portraying the way our lives shape the spaces we live in.
This work started as a research project on domestic spaces in the city of Cergy-Pontoise and the rural park of Vexin outside of Paris. Interviews were made with people observing their surroundings through the windows of their home. When the covid-19 pandemic struck in the spring of 2020, the work took another turn. As France went into a severe lockdown, the subject of this investigation became a living reality for many: when locked inside, how do we see the world from the same static point? How does the window become inhabited? The interviews raise the question of how to reflect on difficult times in order to find alternative viewpoints for coming pandemics and life-threatening disasters. “Windows” becomes a time capsule from a special moment in our lives, defined by motionlessness.
Bo Pilo is an interior architect based in Stockholm. Pilo obtained his Master Degree in interior architecture and furniture design at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm in 2014. Together with architect Gerda Persson, Pilo founded the architectural office Persson Pilo Arkitektkontor in 2020.
In A Thousand Billion New Trees Bo Pilo explore the fantastical sides of landscape imagery and its counter relationship to domesticity. By drawing parallels between the years 2020 and 2021 – a period of repetitive introspection coupled with an increased presence of landscape imagery in art, news and advertisement, with two early 20th century tone poems: Symphonia Domestica (1903) and the succeeding Eine Alpensinfonie (1915) by Richard Strauss Bo is creating a visual and musical timeline that describes the past year but also a stalemate in the visual language of crisis.
Gerda Persson is an architect, living and working in Stockholm. For Marvels and Catastrophes, Persson researches the old industrial area of Lövholmen, a piece of land that tells a story of the massive and constant human activity of reshaping our environment.
Gröndalsträdgården’s historical museum by Gerda Persson is a temporary museum that tells the story of a place spanning 220 years. Time and space are scaled down and the period 1800-2021 takes place in models between 15 May and 6 June 2021. A day in the model corresponds to ten years in reality and one cm in the model corresponds to 365 cm in reality.
Florence Taché is an architect based in Paris. Her work investigates possible frictions between architecture and contemporary environmental uncertainties. Current research explores how shifting paradigms and narratives in our relationship with nature are questioning the ways in which we design and inhabit our built environments.
10 Million Ways of Being Alive is a film about how lockdown forced an alternative perspective that we as humans have almost entirely lost sight of, that is of the animal world inhabiting the spaces that were recently seemingly devoted to only human activities. Stuck from inside their domestic spaces, humans have made the shocking discovery that our world is also their world. We come out of lockdown still wanting to hear birdsongs. Just how do pandemics and disasters make us reevaluate the way we understand ourselves not as unique beings, but as a union of countless consciousnesses?
Gustav Karlsson is a planning architect based in Stockholm. He’s the founder of Scapeous arkitekter, a spatial planning studio exploring the borderlands of perceived spatial transition.
Ivö Beyond – The Island as Method (Documents, texts, slide show, sound and video.
2020-2021) is a project exploring how a small island surrounded by a small lake in the region of Skåne can be valorized as a lost utopia, with living characteristics that go beyond current ideas and understandings of how one can design for “sustainable” lifestyles. Drawing upon the notion of the post-antropocene, the project takes an eclectic and geological view of spatial transformations and excavates in what ways it is possible to rewire current planning ideals that despite their good intentions, are taking us closer and closer into disaster. The project therefore attempts to instigate a debate on what an island is, both as a living entity and idea, and what implications this has for understanding how spatial transformations are coupled to the ongoing climate disaster.
Alexander Paulsson (PhD.) is based in Malmo, Sweden and teaches and writes about political economy, the politics of ecology, and the making and consequences of science and technology. Being trained in the fields of history, politics and business, Paulsson combines the study of the urban environment, administrative devices and ecological processes with the history of economic and political concepts.
Our Lives Undone
By Peter Lang
Few of us could have anticipated that an unusually lethal sickness that once seemed so remote would turn the entire world upside down within a short span of a year. As we would all discover, the foreboding Corona virus was neither so remote, nor so unusual. It’s impact, nonetheless, has had very everyday consequences. The most familiar things changed in very big ways, if for no other reason that we lost our basic routines, we could not even count on completing the most banal of daily chores. No school, no cinemas or museums, no travel, no escape. We felt trapped, while we were cut off from family and friends. Our lives were coming undone.
As things began to sink in, the shock of Covid-19 turned instead into a kind of dire premonition: the pandemic was not a singular event, but a part of a chain reaction set off by more than a century’s worth of reckless human activities, reaching the kind of hapless crescendo where we find ourselves today. Climate change is having an unquestionable impact on our lives, and we are literally going from “out of the frying pan into the fire,” a highly appropriate metaphor if there ever has been one.
By now many consider the changes in our everyday lives to make up this thing we call the “new normal,” a condition that means we are no longer comfortable in whatever situation we find ourselves. Many populations across the globe have been already deeply impacted by climate change, well before this pandemic, and the massive numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, migrant victims attest to the scale of the global crisis. But in becoming universal, the condition becomes undeniable. The invisibility of the virus, its silent ability to move across borders and territorial confines, is the absolute proof that “man” is not in charge of his destiny, but rather he is the subject of a much greater force, nature.
So is there the possibility of picking up the pieces and going back to some altered kind of basics? It’s all a matter of how we can imagine ourselves in this kind of future.
Every child knows it is dangerous to venture into the dark forest. Timeless fables and fairy tales from across the world remind children to be careful. Today’s young kids, who shouldn’t be much different from the Hansels and Gretels of lore, simply don’t have the same opportunities to get lost anymore. There are fewer and fewer truly dark forests left. The great continental woodlands are gradually being cleared away, or are being brought down by fire or tempest, leaving large swaths of deep forest landscapes unrecognizable. One can only wonder where children can go with their imagination, if there are no uncharted worlds out there anymore. What is it like to wander aimlessly into the unknown?
“…we will take the children early in the
morning into the forest, where it is
thickest; we will make them a fire, and
we will give each of them a piece of
bread, then we will go to our work and
leave them alone; they will never find
the way home again, and we shall be
quit of them.”
Grimm Brothers, Hansel and Gretel, 1812.
The coming-of-age message is no longer about the fear of getting lost, but instead it is about the inability to get lost. As humans push past the last natural frontiers they do more than just damage precious ecosystems, they remove vital spaces for our human imagination. Robert Pogue Harrison, a professor at Stanford, wrote about forests under threat back in 1992, arguing that forests play an important role in forming the human cultural tradition: “how many untold memories, ancient fears and dreams, popular traditions, and more recent myths and symbols are going up in the fires of deforestation ?”*
The old growth forests are living cultural depositories for the whole of humanity, but as they shrink away, where will these bio-archives end up? Will they simply vanish from our collective consciousness? Or it may be that we will not be able to recognize ourselves in these old stories at all, leaving us strangely diminished.
Where would the demons hide in this altered landscape anyway? Would they become invisible, like the Corona virus that is now upon us? We have come to define the pandemic in terms of an ongoing war against a stealthful enemy, but the condition people are now facing is nothing like a war zone. Covid-19 is a global pandemic linked to a particularly insidious collateral effect that is all too human, the persistent and unrestrained conquest of nature. We as humans should have known better, but then again, that’s the “human” part of human nature. Now we are really feeling the sting, and we are forced to take notice in a big way.
We were not good at connecting the dots, we continued to ignore how serious the human dimension to this crisis would become, how environmental disasters and climate change would push populations to the brink of collapse. Behind these unsettling events are undoubtedly the human transgressions into the remote hinterlands, the extensive destruction of rainforests, wetlands, permafrost and tundra for human exploitation and profit that are bringing our species into every more direct contact with what once was considered wild–the wilderness.
Something happening on a global scale like this should rather have been the stuff of science fiction: like facing annihilation under a brutal alien invasion, or extinction from a colossal meteorite strike. Burning, mining, damming, dumping and everything else we do to maintain our material culture doesn’t look like a Hollywood spectacle or play like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. But banal as it seems, our actions and inactions are leading to an unhappy ending all the same. We need to surrender some of our most cherished habits in order to gain back a more sustainable way of life.
It should have been plain to see the planet’s vital signs were rapidly worsening. But somehow most everyone thought we had more time to get our heads around the problem, keep the discussions rolling, or introduce some simple alternative energy schemes. Instead, it appears things have already gone too far. Have we naively crossed the climate Rubicon? The author Ian McEwan sees this debilitating pandemic as a kind of inauspicious prologue: “Covid is our mass tutorial, our dress rehearsal for all the depredations as well as tragedies that the climate emergency could bring.”**
Not unexpectedly, the seriousness of climate change, much like the devastating impact of Coronavirus hasn’t convinced everyone to come together and rally to save the planet. Rather, highly improbable speculations and baseless alarmist ideas are circulating everywhere. Anything from basic conspiracy theories to doomsday predictions are competing head-to-head on social media with non-flourished straightforward science. Whatever reasonable voices are out there have to deal with these much louder and loonier perspectives.
We know the planet has been much hotter before, and we have a decent picture of what the planet’s transformations over the eons would have looked like. Peter Brannen, author of The Ends of the World, takes the very long view on climate change. Brannen, looking over millions of years of earth’s history, considers the short spectrum during which humans have been around as a climatically comfortable period: “All of recorded human history—at only a few thousand years, a mere eyeblink in geologic time—has played out in perhaps the most stable climate window of the past 650,000 years. That was then, but this is now, and Brannen sees a radical change: “…humanity’s ongoing chemistry experiment on our planet could push the climate well beyond those slim historical parameters, into a state it hasn’t seen in tens of millions of years, a world for which Homo sapiens did not evolve. *** So, this time around, the planet might again be heating up, but the only caveat is the human species never was subjected to these conditions in the past, and it is unlikely that with these rapid changes taking place now we would be able to adapt to them before it will be already too late.
The more our lives have come undone, the more we yearn for the kind of cooperation that could help us make sense of all these uncertain developments. But it’s not enough to consider a fact a universal truth if half your audience remains incredulous. Marvels and Catastrophes is a program that attempts to reconcile rationalism with superstition, science fiction with fantasy, through new kinds of creative and critical processes. The human species has faced crises throughout its evolutionary history and has responded with both intellectual vigor and artistic vision. Pompeii offers us a curious documented precedent: when the Vesuvius erupted people fled with their families, took their keys with them, brought along their dogs, gathered good luck charms, while a fleet of powerful naval boats came to the rescue. If you think about it, not much about the way we behave has changed in the interim.
Marvels and Catastrophes is about critically thinking and critically making a future rich with new possibilities. Under lockdown, walking the pet dog became more significant than ever. We took all sorts of strange protective measures, scoured the markets for miraculous disinfectants, decorated our masks, carried around bottles of hand wash, resorted to bumping our elbows. Meanwhile legions of scientists from within their laboratories laboured to produce an elixir in record time. But we face much greater challenges ahead, climate change is bearing down on us. The more we can stimulate our creative minds, the more we can gain consensus and gather together our strengths. Will it be possible to write an alternative kind of fairy tale with a much better ending? What kind of new adventures await today’s Hansels and Gretels?
* Forests, the Shadow of Civilisation, Robert Pogue Harrison
** Ian McEwan on the Pandemic Year: Good Government Is the Only Solution, Wall Street Journal, Updated March 19, 2021 https://www.wsj.com/articles/ian-mcewan-on-the-pandemic-year-good-government-is-the-only-solution-11616173369
*** Peter Brennen, The Terrifying Warning Lurking in the Earth’s Ancient Rock Record, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/03/extreme-climate-change-history/617793/ This article was published online on February 3, 2021.
Representatives from the group will collaborate with and exhibit works at Skellefteå Konsthall within the project Listen during spring 2021.
In autumn 2021 representatives from the group will exhibit at Virserums Konsthall within the project Listen.
In autumn 2021 they will also be represented in the exhibition Symbiosis at Färgfabriken.