Alternate Assembly: Environmental Impact in the Era of Pandemic

EXPO CHICAGO presented Alternate Assembly: Environmental Impact in the Era of Pandemic, a digital proxy for rigorous in-person discourse over three days (January 21–23, 2021) in the form of an engaging hybrid online event. This amalgamation featured a series of scheduled programs with leading curators, artists, and scholars to address how ideas in contemporary art can contribute to rethinking our environment within the era of pandemic.

Approaching the dual theme of environmental impact, as both a natural ecology and constructed institutional space, Alternate Assembly interrogated the future of our (art)world landscape. In response to our current moment, the thematic of this public program centered on artists and theorists that challenged us to think differently about our environment—from projects that explored water rights, to theories on viruses and virality, as well as notions of sustainable societies, and the multi-layered impacts felt from environmental racism.

As a complement to these live-streamed conversations, select film screenings by leading contemporary artists were shown, illustrating the new ways of thinking that artists have proposed about our environment, ranging from the poetic to the activist. Concentrating on these issues explored by contemporary artists alongside museum and non-profit leadership and art criticism published in THE SEEN, this program called upon EXPO CHICAGO’s commitment to the necessary discourse across commercial and non-commercial sectors in support of ongoing inquiry.

Alternate Assembly: Environmental Impact in the Era of Pandemic was presented in collaboration with the Malmö Art Museum and the exhibition Sustainable Societies for the Future.

Film Screening | Toril Johannesen & Marjolijn Dijkman

Saturday, January 23, 2021 | 1:00PM

Virtual Program 

Reclaiming Vision was live online from January 21-23, 2021.

Captured through a light microscope, ‘Reclaiming Vision’ features a diverse cast of microorganisms, sampled from the brackish waters of the inner Oslo Fjord, alongside algae, cultivated at the University of Oslo. The film reveals various processes in the water that are hidden to the naked human eye. By investigating the brackish water, its inhabitants, its properties, and the traces left by human activities, the film is a reflection upon the relationship we humans have with our surroundings, especially through what we cannot see. The film is inspired by real and historical events. The scenes have been staged by the artists, taking the presumption of reality that characterizes nature documentaries into the realm of fiction film. Any resemblance to scientific research is coincidental. Starting from the assertion that looking evolved from the sea – eyes, in fact, evolved from marine algae – ‘Reclaiming Vision’ takes the viewer on a journey through various ways of looking at, relating to and influencing nature. While ‘Reclaiming Vision’ reveals life on the smallest scale, its scope relates to global phenomena.

Image: Still from ‘Reclaiming Vision’, Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen, 2018

/Dialogues | Sustainable Societies for the Future

Saturday, January 23, 2021 | 11:00AM

Virtual Program 

In the face of challenges such as climate change, migration, and the world’s growing population, how can we accumulate change that inspires collectiveness and social engagement for a better future together? Director of the Malmö Art Museum Kirse Junge-Stevnsborg will speak to members from The Floating Museum and Hesselholdt & Mejlvang who are involved in the exhibition Sustainable Societies for the Future about how these collectives are approaching the comprehensive sustainability challenges of our time differently, and most importantly how we can learn from each other’s methods. 

With an introduction by Luise Faurschou (ART 2030)

Desert X Landscape by Lance Gerber

/Dialogues | Desert as Place and Idea: Planning Desert X 2021

Friday, January 22, 2021 | 3:00PM

Virtual Program 

The desert is a state of place, and a state of mind—and as such must be acknowledged beyond the privileged mythologies of desolate landscapes and boundless possibilities. The third edition of Desert X encourages connections between artworks and the specific realities of California’s Coachella Valley, the histories that forged its communities, and the social and environmental dynamics that guide our radically-changing world. Reflecting upon the forthcoming site-specific outdoor exhibition, Desert X artists and curators discuss how they’ve navigated these concerns in their projects.

/Dialogues | On Viruses — Critical Theories of Contagion

Friday, January 22, 2021 | 1:00PM

Virtual Program

Artists and writers discuss the implications of viruses as a metaphor and a reality in our current moment. How can we learn from the behavior of viral organisms (the microscopic) to rethink how we approach societal structures (the macroscopic)?

/Dialogues | Practices of Conservation — Exhibition and Environmental Impact

Friday, January 22, 2021 | 11:00AM

Virtual Program

As the pandemic has forced institutions, galleries, and artists to reconsider their methods of operation, in October 2020 The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles announced the creation of an Environmental Council, the first for a major art museum in the United States. A range of arts-based resources, councils, and coalitions have continued to develop throughout the past year, advancing their focus on sustainable, climate-aware practices of artists and institutions, advocacy for carbon neutrality and reduction, and environmental justice-oriented programming and exhibitions within the cultural sector. In this panel, artists and co-founders of MOCA’s Environmental Council, Art into Acres, Art+Climate Action, Galleries Commit, and Art to Zero will discuss specific aims, such as reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement and adoption of zero-waste practices. How can the art world reduce emissions and engage more sustainable methods in an adaptive manner that supports engagement from across the art world? This panel is designed to connect the audience with considerations and resources for sustainable practices at a studio, exhibition, and institutional level.

Photo: Courtesy of MOCA

Learn more about:

MOCA Environmental Council

Art + Climate Action

Galleries Commit

Art to Zero

Curatorial Forum Presents | Weathering Regional Landscapes

Thursday, January 21, 2021 | 3:00PM

Virtual Program

Focusing on several recent curatorial and artistic projects anchored in the Gulf Coast—home to some of the fastest disappearing land masses in the world—this conversation considers how art can encourage new forms of environmental awareness, and invite new thinking about culture and community. How can art shed light on urgent local issues, while also looking beyond region, nation and country to show us the way that climate connects us all? How can art inspire us to think about the very idea of environment differently, dissolving the boundaries between local and global, between center and periphery, to locate new sources of solidarity and strength?

Image: Regina Agu, Passage, 2019, Digital Print on Fabric, Installation view at New Orleans Museum of Art (November 22, 2019 – February 9, 2020), Photography by Seth Boonchai © Regina Agu

Film Screening | Carolina Caycedo—Thanks For Hosting Us, We Are Healing our Broken Bodies / Gracias por hospedarnos. Estamos sanando nuestros cuerpos rotos

Thursday, January 21, 2021 | 1:00PM

Virtual Program

Thanks For Hosting Us, We Are Healing our Broken Bodies / Gracias por hospedarnos. Estamos sanando nuestros cuerpos rotos was live online on January 21-23, 2021.

Human bodies appear incomplete, divided and fractured by water and fabrics as a way to address the cementing, impoundment, and fragmenting of local streams and rivers. The body parts search for each other in an attempt to reconstitute as a collective body. Towards the end of the film a complete human body is revealed, suggesting that if we dismantle infrastructure that divides and splinter bodies of water, riparian ecosystems might stand a chance to become whole again. Filmed on location in the San Gabriel River and the Wanaawna (Santa Ana) river mouth, this inaugural and site specific activation of the Water Portraits series is the first step towards building a healing relationship with the land and the waters of the unceded Tongva and Acjachemen territories, known by many as Orange County. We are grateful to our human and natural indigenous hosts who have sustained us, despite being submitted to violent processes of colonization and extraction. Commissioned by the Orange County Museum of Art.

Introduction by Carla Acevedo-Yates

/Dialogues | Perspectives on Water: Land Rights, Accessibility, and Histories

Thursday, January 21, 2021 | 11:00AM

Virtual Program 

This panel invites artists who have initiated further investigations into the histories of water in terms of land rights and clean water accessibility in lakes, rivers, and oceans, to explore the cultural ways in which water bridges communities both locally and globally. Highlighting the often-unseen political history that water and its major infrastructures has, this discussion will question how different sociopolitical backgrounds affect one’s relationship to sustainability. The conversation, moderated by past Curatorial Forum participant Srimoyee Mitra, will address the long lineage art has played within narratives surrounding environmental activism.

Correction: The Mahad Agitation led by Dr. Ambedkar occurred in 1927, not 1921 as mentioned by Shuddhabrata Sengupta in this panel.