Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen, Reclaiming Vision (still), 2018 © Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen
Spoiled Waters Spilled is an exhibition, performance and discussion program exploring rivers, contamination and cross-border circulation. The environmental reality it addresses contrasts with the ‘postcard-dream’ image used by nations to promote themselves. Taking place at the Ballet National de Marseille within Manifesta 13 Les Parallèles du Sud, the program runs from September 10 until October 25, 2020. The opening event on September 10 begins at 19.00 and includes a curators’ tour, an artist talk by Elvia Teotski, and a performance by Jessika Khazrik for The Society of False Witnesses.
Spoiled Waters Spilled takes as its starting point the organic circulation of flowing substances such as water and air, which exceed states’ borders while being affected at the local level by human activity. Bringing together artists addressing issues related to water and toxicity in Marseilles and beyond, some of whom also draw on activism and protest, the project considers how industrial, agricultural and domestic pollutants disrupt the ‘postcard-dream’ image used by cities, revealing degraded rivers, soils, sediments and waters, where bodies of all kinds are contaminated. It also aims to explore the growing tension between the need for transnational responses to anthropogenic climate change and the enforcement by some nation states of ever stricter border policies, which serve to exclude ‘others’ and often further externalize ecological problems.
Marseilles, with its particular geography, port infrastructure and crowded beaches, has long had difficulties with water pollution. Its coastline was recently named among the most plasticpolluted in the Mediterranean. Sources of contamination include the port, the excess of cruise ships transiting through the city’s waters, and the presence of heavy industry. There are oil refineries and petrochemical plants, particularly at the Étang de Berre, as well the Gardanne alumina production plant, which discards toxic red sludge into the sea within the boundaries of the Calanques National Park. The river of Marseilles, l’Huveaune, which flows through the park of the Ballet National de Marseille, has also been severely polluted in recent decades.
Elvia Teotski addresses ecological vulnerability and toxic imprints in the region of Marseilles. Collecting and sampling substrates, deposits, particulate water, she examines invisible yet hazardous pollution and the impossibility of upcycling it. Minia Biabiany brings another localized scandal to the fore, focusing on chlordecone, an insecticide with severe polluting effects on land, phreatic tables, the food chain and bodies that was widely applied in banana fields in Guadeloupe and Martinique between the 1970s and 1993. This case, as well as the pollution of Marseilles, are scrutinized in posters printed from the book Atlas de la France Toxique, a compilation of maps of different types of pollution in France made by the environmental association Robin des Bois. As early as 1946, the poet René Char raised his voice against the contamination of waterways in Provence with his theatre play Le Soleil des eaux. Spectacle pour une toile de pêcheurs. As for Lisa Robertson’s poem Rivers, it connects the many bodies that share riverine environments, exposing their collective vulnerability to toxins, hormones and desire.
In reaction to the release of sewage into waterways by factories such as those involved in the textile industry, Valentina Karga works with natural dyes, emphasizing the importance of alternatives to toxic production processes that in their current form infect the environment. Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen make us further aware of the effects of climate change by filming microorganisms, through a microscope, in samples of brackish water taken from the inner Oslo Fjord, where traces of human activity can be seen in altered saline and sea levels, among other phenomena. Rikke Luther also explores the complexities of the environmental crisis but does so by tying multiple layers together at a larger scale, connecting language, politics, financialization, law, biology and the economy. The complex relationship between contamination and politics is crucial to Jessika Khazrik for The Society of False Witnesses as she questions in detail the role of ecology in the formation of nation states, both historically and in the present. Inspired by the diaries of an Egyptian oceanographer who in the 1930s was part of a British scientific exhibition to the Red Sea, which is now battling heavy pollution, Marianne Fahmy brings to the fore the complex interrelationships between scientific research and exploration, nationalism and political identity.
Diving into the fragile ecosystem within which we live and seeing the pernicious contamination of those substances that we depend upon for life (such as water, food and air), we are pressed to consider if it is possible to decontaminate and practice degrowth – and if so, how. Could healing follow the same routes that contamination has travelled? There is not a parcel of land or group of living organisms that seems to escape toxicity, or at least this is what Anouk Kruithof’s aerial photographs of oil spills and chemical waste dumps seem to suggest. Her soft, prosthesis-like sculptures play with the idea of protection versus contamination. Daisy Lafarge also ponders the possibility of immunity to noxious environments. Can we reasonably ‘wait quietly for the rains’ to wash away the poison or for some miracle to cure us?
The exhibition first takes place in Marseilles in September 2020 as part of Manifesta 13 Les Parallèles du Sud, before travelling to the MMAG Foundation in Amman, Jordan in 2021.