CCA  Center for Contemporary Art and Ecology 

08 May – 26 June 2022

Underland Chapter 1


Book Tickets

Participating artists:
Ursula Biemann, Carolina Caycedo, Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen, Xandra van der Eijk, Denise Ferreira da Silva & Arjuna Neuman, Sami Hammana, Lukas Marxt, Josèfa Ntjam, Alice dos Reis, Himali Singh Soin, Riikka Tauriainen & Paloma Ayala & Anne-Laure Franchette, Susanne M. Winterling / The Kalpana, Müge Yilmaz 

EMOTIONS ARE OCEANS is the opening exhibition of RADIUS as a center for contemporary art and ecology and presents the work of nineteen artists around the subject of global water crises.

Water, despite being a fundamental, life-bearing element that intertwines all living organisms on Earth, is subject to increasing scarcity. Water sources dry up due to rising temperatures and melting glaciers make sea levels raise up, causing floods and threatening the availability and quality of water. Likewise, contamination of waters by toxic chemical substances further reduces safe water accessibility. Yet scarcity is not only a matter of the current climate regime’s harshness: its uneven distribution triggers major inequalities. Water distribution is not necessarily a matter of how much freshwater there is, but rather of how poorly it is allocated as a result of corporate misappropriation and political corruption. Such unsustainable and unjust water managements not only affect human beings, but also countless of other species that either inhabit aquatic ecosystems or equally require water to subsist. The first act of Underland departs from the acknowledgement of human-driven water crises and the pressing need for different modes of thinking and behaving. How can we tackle the incompatibility of destructive anthropocentric tendencies on aquatic bodies and ecosystems despite our absolute reliance on water to exist? How can we build an encompassing and sensitive awareness of the life-bearing networks of watery exchange in the face of ecological breakdown? 

High tide flood in Venice, Italy, 2018. © Claudia Manzo

Bodies of water—such as seas, oceans, lakes, and glaciers—harbour invisible yet crucial organisms that allow for survival on Earth, and they are increasingly subject to imbalances and undesired stagnancy. For instance, the release of freshwater from melting ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland increase acidity, alter saline levels, and negatively influence oceanic currents, all of which is destructing to microorganisms responsible for fifty to eighty-five per cent of the world’s oxygen production and CO2 storage. The ever-so-rapid pace in which technology is advanced impacts water ecosystems too. A new smartphone announcement implies that damage to the sea soil has been made, as an ever-increasing demand for minerals such as cobalt, copper, or manganese to produce high-tech applications—including wind turbines and solar panels as well—requires deep sea mining. This practice originates disturbances on the seafloor that leads to loss of endemic species, sediment plumes that smother animals, sound and light pollution, and potential leaks and spills of fuel and other toxic products.

In the era of advanced capitalism, the seafloor has become subject to financialization to supply the technosphere of the Earth. Yet pervasive geopolitics of water have been the state of affairs for long, with the unsustainable exploitation of freshwater sources that profits from vulnerable lands and communities to supply water in plastic bottles that ultimately end up polluting said water sources. Nestlé, the world’s largest producer of bottled water, is the epitome of water commodification, spending tons of money in lobbying to take over freshwater sources with disingenuous claims of creating jobs in the local communities. Chairman and former CEO of Nestlé Peter Brabeck even claimed that considering water as a basic right is an "extreme" view, and since the world will run out of freshwater before oil, "privatisation is the answer". As professor Jamie Linton argues, the "modern" concept of water is derivative to the dominant Western European and Northern American ways of knowing and relating to water: for water to become a commodity, it is first deterritorialised, rendered 'placeless', and afterwards objectified so that it can be traded liberally.

Former Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck speaking about water as a food product (link).

When we reflect on the subject water, we inevitably reflect on ourselves, and ourselves in connection to many others that dwell on Earth. From oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes, to rainclouds, filtration tanks, fish, and humans: these are all interconnected bodies of water. Watery embodiment is always constituted by a hybrid assemblage. That is, a grouping of human, animal, vegetable, bacterial, and other planetary bodies coursing through one another. It also challenges our canonical definitions and cartographies of space, time, and species, and calls attention to the fact that as bodies of water we are both different and in common. All the same, an advocacy for common grounds as watery bodies ought to be nuanced: even though "we" are implicated in grappling with the ecological deterioration, "we" are not all the same, nor are we "in it" in the same way.

As professor Astrida Neimanis phrases it, “water is an archive of meaning and matter”. What we were and what we will become are concurrently returned and projected to and from us in an interdependent ebb and flow, in a simultaneous acknowledgement that a rich alterity of water bodies flows through us in an ongoing cycle. The first act of Underland merges the circular spaces of RADIUS, once a body of water itself, in artistic proposals for ways of existentially flowing in a jeopardised landscape of abundance and scarcity, of financial speculation and risk, of emergence and devastation. Reckoning ourselves as bodies of water underlines a rich set of assemblages that demand compromised responses at the present time. In what ways can we establish sustainable blueprints for equitable water cycles? How can thinking about ourselves as watery bodies in connection to other species entangle us in productive ways? How can we move away from anthropocentric water sovereignty by embracing an inter-species consciousness, and what systems of distribution and relating may emerge from it?  

Download exhibition brochure

  1. "Corruption in drinking water and sanitation emerges at every point along the water delivery chain; from policy design and budgeting to building, maintaining, and operating water networks. It drains investment from the sector, increases prices and decreases water supplies. One result is that poor households in Jakarta, Lima, Nairobi, or Manila spend more on water than residents of New York City, London or Rome. (...) In China, for example, corruption has weakened the enforcement of environmental regulations, abetting the pollution of aquifers in 90 percent of cities and making over 75 per cent of urban rivers unsuitable for drinking or fishing." (link)
  2. "Increasing stability decreases ocean productivity, reduces carbon burial." (link)
  3. "Arctic Ocean acidifying at 'unprecedented levels' as sea ice melts." (link)
  4. Jamie Linton, What Is Water? The History of a Modern Abstraction. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.
  5. Astrida Neimanis, 'Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water', in Undutiful Daughters: New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practice, ed. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni, and Fanny Söderbäck. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.

Curated by Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk, assisted by Sergi Pera Rusca.

EMOTIONS ARE OCEANS is made possible with support from Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Mondriaan Fund, Municipality of Delft, FONDS21, The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, BNG Cultuurfonds, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Stichting Zabawas, ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Institut français des Pays-Bas, OCA (Office for Contemporary Art Norway), FRAME Contemporary Art Finland.

The participation of Riikka Tauriainen, Paloma Ayala and Anne-Laure Franchette is additionally supported by the Ernst and Olga Gubler-Hablützel Stiftung and The Association for Friends of Switzerland in Finland (SVFF).