UTE META BAUER: The Force behind the Scenes
by Annie Paul / Jamaica
UTE META BAUER is not a household name and likely never will be. Although the stage is a passion for her you will never see her on a red carpet in the glare of a zillion flashlights or hotfooting it from an army of fans; no paparazzi will ever hunt her through the tunnels of Paris or anywhere else.
Why should we be interested in her then you ask? Simple. Alongside the celebrity culture and money-driven economies we occupy in this neoliberal epoch, there are social economies at work, trying to imagine and realize more creative and equitable systems of co-existence. Can art have social functions beyond being storehouses of monetized value tailor-made for buying and selling? What role can/should artists play in the design of more humane, less number-driven societies? How can we institute the ability to explore, to experiment and to improvise, to work and think in unconventional ways? How can we engineer an automatically innovative, self-reinventing social system? Such questions have animated the work of Ute Meta Bauer over the arc of her career inciting her to operate at the frontiers of research into new thinking about art, art education and performance.
Thus subjects like cultural, social and media theory, gender, cultural and critical postcolonial studies, curatorial studies and methods of presentation, cultural policy, the study of transcultural and, popular-cultural issues have all been grist for Ute’s mill. Her unconventional but productive approach to knowledge and knowledge-building has attracted the attention of institutions at the forefront of education in art and technology and her curatorial practice has encompassed a wide range from contemporary art, film, video to sound installations.
After trying to shake things up at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, as a Professor of Theory and Practice of Contemporary Art (1996–2006) Ute went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she was director of the Visual Arts Program for several years and Founding Director of the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). In both places Bauer tried to revolutionize the curricula, arguing for more interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary research, and occasionally even an anti-disciplinary program of studies.
“Why not regard students as competent partners capable of cooperating and being actively involved in the design of their learning environment?” she asks. In her own student days in Hamburg, Germany, Ute, along with other students, had formed a group devoted to extracting and molding the kind of educational structures they wanted and needed from the programs of study they were offered.
“We developed projects — exhibitions, events, performances — and made videos. We set our own context. We saw professors as resources, more as coaches, not people we waited on for instruction. When I became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1996, I was stunned by the antiquated notion of the Master Schools, and that the “professor as master” model was still in place. I was then the only female professor, since Erika Billeter, a predecessor, had left. The last female professor before her led the textiles class during World War II. To enter into a context is to understand its mechanisms and the inherent power relations it operates under. Changing structures requires changing politics, which has been critical to my approach.”
Inevitably Ute’s determination to change the politics of art and the structures within which it operates, has brought her into the ambit of art professionals such as the highly acclaimed Okwui Enwezor, another curator with similar ambitions. In 2002 she became part of Enwezor’s Documenta11 curatorial team, widely acknowledged to be the most paradigm-shifting of any Documenta in the weighty exhibition’s 60 year old history. Curating the 3rd Berlin Biennale for contemporary art in 2004 and several other ground-breaking exhibitions since 2013 Bauer has been the Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, a national research center of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Her mandate is to merge various streams of programs into a cross-disciplinary platform. Just a little after two years into the operation they are well on their way.
The Kula Ring Expedition: Collective Body, Exchange and Knowledge
This unique enterprise of a three-year cycle of inquiry and exchange unfolds in various formats across the globe. While the annual TBA21 Triennium ﬁeld expeditions on the research vessel Dardanella have their focus on the urgencies posed to the archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean these issues will also be addressed at various occasions in different parts of the world to draw attention to the specific conditions of these archipelagos caused by human interference in oceanographic (and other) environments.
Although the visited archipelagos contribute only 1% of the global carbon footprint, they will be fatally affected by the rise of sea levels caused by global warming. Nuclear testing, mining and fracking as well as tourism pose a massive threat to these areas.
Three expedition leaders of the TBA21 Triennium will be joined on the research vessel Dardanella by five researchers s/he specifically selects for each journey. A following Convening will expand the experience of the field trip with a larger group of thinkers. Though participants on the three ﬁeld trips with the research vessel Dardanella will rotate, the various participants will stay engaged and form an expanded network throughout the duration of this three year project sharing their experience and inquiry in the annual Convening.
Field trip No1
TBA21 The Current’s first expedition was guided by Ute Meta Bauer (Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore), who took a team of artists and researchers to Papua New Guinea in the autumn of 2015. This first expedition in a series of three departed alongside the TBA21 Triennium initiators and directors, a film crew, with a curator and ﬁve artists on its ﬁrst ﬁeld trip in October 2015 on board of the vessel Dardanella to the eastern archipelago of Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. PNG has one of the world’s highest biodiversity and until today more than 800 languages are spoken. Mining and increasingly fracking contributes strongly to the current economy of PNG, but is endangering the environment, its flora and fauna, and challenges the complex social hierarchies of the many local tribes. Global warming and the rise of sea levels already create a devastating impact on the Pacific Islands.
Inspired by the tribal exchange tradition of the Kula Ring that takes place since centuries in the Trobriand Islands and Milne Bay area, expedition leader Ute Meta Bauer (Germany/Singapore) invited artists Laura Anderson Barbata (Mexico/US), Tue Greenfort (Denmark/Germany), Newell Harry (Australia), Armin Linke (Germany/Italy) and PhD candidate Jegan Vincent de Paul (Canada/Singapore) to join her on the inaugural exploration. Sailing through partially unchartered waters anchoring at rarely visited islands the group has been collecting local crafts items, documented their unique experience through photographs, video documentation and interviews with expedition participants and locals met on the various stops.
The second expedition is scheduled for July 2016 to the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. Mururoa and Fangataufa are situated south west of the archipelago. the two atolls were active nuclear test sites from 1966 until 1996. Although the islands were declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1977, the nuclear tests were continued for another 19 years.
At the beginning, Ute Meta Bauer’s research project will involve three layers that will raise a set of questions as a way to find a method to engage with the complex challenges on site:
What is a collective body?
What do we mean by exchange?
What do we consider knowledge?
The beginning of this research project will involve three layers that will raise a set of questions as a way to find a method to engage with the complex challenges on site:
What is a collective body?
What do we mean by exchange?
What do we consider knowledge?
What is the surplus of sharing and experiencing a new place/time as a group - rather than as an individual - and what space is produced through such collectivity?
The expedition considers a collective dérive, to drift from island to island as a method of dislocated Situationist practice. Instead of our urban known we move through the unknown of the Papua New Guinea littoral. Joining our intellects and senses will we be able to understand a new territory as one extended body? Is it possible to form an expanded sensorium to see and sense together?
What constitutes contemporary modes of exchange between communities and cultures as well as between cultures and the environment?
We consider the Kula, a ceremonial exchange system of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, as a point of departure. First described by Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in 1922, the Kula is a network of exchanges (consisting of valuables such as necklaces and armbands) among the people of the Trobriand Islands. The act of exchanging allows for certain acknowledgment, agreement or peace amongst groups of people. What kind of gift economies do we have today and what kind of exchanges do we practice?
What constitutes knowledge, where is it embedded, how is it transmitted and what determines its ownership?
Knowledge throughout history has constituted power and determined social, economic and political hierarchies. One the one side Papua New Guinea has one of the lowest per capita income in the world, however it is one of the richest in terms of biodiversity, communities and languages. If knowledge is power and biodiversity and languages are considered knowledge, should we not revise our cultural understanding of the Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands?
Ute Meta Bauer Singapore, December 2015