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Digital initiative

Messy Studio: Frozen reserves, brown clouds, and dissolving wet deltas

Ecosystems in transformation along the Indian Ocean Gyre



On Ocean Archive and on Ocean Space and TBA21–Academy Facebook pages

The trajectory delineated by Territorial Agency charts the changing ecologies along the Indian Ocean Gyre via a north-south axis. This analysis considers the impact of the disappearance of Earth’s cryosphere, from the “third pole” of the Tibetan plateau to the ice sheet of Antarctica, and the entanglements with the meteorological system of the monsoons. The trajectory also cuts across the world’s oldest transcontinental seafaring trading system operated through networks connecting China, Indonesia, the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Peninsula, East and South Africa, and beyond. Long before the arrival of European merchants in this multiethnic trading space, innovative technologies of navigation and water management were being developed in the region, among other crucial inventions.

Bridging artistic, activists, and scientific positions, the Messy Studio will problematize the deep connections between the Anthropocene and the histories of capitalism, ecological imperialism, and colonialism, echoing Indian writer Amitav Ghosh’s assessment that the climate crisis—which he calls the Great Derangement—is the result of an epistemological crisis born at the same time as the “accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere was rewriting the destiny of the earth.”1

Reflecting on the proximities and interdependence between the Indian Ocean and the melting cryosphere, artist and writer Himali Singh Soin addresses concepts of ecological loss, alienation, seeking shelter and forms of intimacy through performance, texts, audio-visual, and immersive works. In “we are opposite like that,” a research-based body of work begun in 2017, Singh Soin explores the uninhabited parts of the Arctic and Antarctic circles, in a multitude of forms merging fiction and reality. Reflecting on the notion of the North as a lens through which to read the transformations in the ecologies of the Indian region, she looks at North-South interlinks and the resonance of the melting cryosphere in the tropics.

Filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam researched the geopolitical transformations on the Tibetan plateau for many years, filming and collecting footage of the resistance movements against China’s occupation of Tibet, the epic crossings of fugitives across the high mountains to India, and the CIA’s support and betrayal of the Tibetan freedom fighters during the Cold War. In their works, the mountains of the Tibetan plateau are both a majestic backdrop and a spiritual homeland overshadowed by warfare, escape, and clandestine resistance in a place that continues to resonate today as a vital and unfinished freedom project.

Artist researcher Ravi Agarwal has been working on the nexus of environmental loss and modes of survival and worlding in a toxically compromised world. A member of the environmental NGO Toxics Link, Agarwal is dedicated to bringing toxics-related information into the public domain. Toxics Link engages in work on the ground, especially in areas of municipal, hazardous (e-waste), and medical waste management and food safety, among others.

Historian Debjani Bhattacharyya researches themes of ecology and empire from a South Asian perspective, especially by focusing on the Bay of Bengal Delta, one of the active deltas connecting India and Bangladesh. She is particularly interested in how the specific geography of the colony—its rivers, seas, swamps, deltas, and seasons, which were different from the temperate climate of Europe—shaped the legal and economic technologies during the period of European expansion, which came to occupy the position of universal knowledge and science. Another research project focuses on shipwrecks in the Bay of Bengal, investigating how climactic and environmental changes from the eighteenth-century shaped ideas about risk and instruments of insurance in imperial trade.

Architect Marina Tabassum explores the Lower Meghna region of Bangladesh, where the Ganges Delta is still very active. The continuous interplay of erosion and accretion shapes the lives of Bengalis dwelling in this fragile region. Tabassum’s research is directed at understanding the inheritance of a dynamic land and the rights of future generations. “It is about the people, their uncertainties, movements. And the quest, why do people still choose to live on the edge; if there is an edge,” she writes.

[1] Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 7.


6–8 pm CET
Messy Studio: Frozen reserves, brown clouds, and dissolving wet deltas–Ecosystems in transformation along the Indian Ocean Gyre

Presentations by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (artists and filmmakers); Himali Singh Soin (artist); Ravi Agarwal (artist researcher and activist); Debjani Bhattacharyya (historian); and Marina Tabassum (architect). With Territorial Agency, Markus Reymann, Daniela Zyman, and the participants of the Ocean Fellowship Program.

The event will be live-streamed on Ocean-Archive.org and TBA21–Academy and Ocean Space Facebook pages.

More about the event: www.ocean-archive.org