Spoiled Waters Spilled – opening 10.09.20

Curated by Clelia Coussonet and Inga Lace

The group exhibition Spoiled Waters Spilled observes the organic circulation of flowing substances such as water and air, which exceed states’ borders while being slowly and often spectacularly poisoned at the local level by human activity. It premieres at the Ballet National de Marseilles during Manifesta 13 Les Parallèles du Sud in September 2020 before travelling to the MMAG Foundation in Amman, Jordan in 2021. Bringing together artists addressing issues related to toxicity, circulation and water (and rivers in particular) in Marseilles and beyond, some of whom also engage with activism and protest, the project considers how industrial, agricultural and domestic pollutants disrupt the ‘postcard-dream’ image used by cities to promote themselves. The environmental reality of such cities is often quite the reverse: one of degraded rivers, soils, sediments and waters where bodies of all kinds are contaminated.

The multiplication of landfill sites continues – some open-air, many unauthorized, in both urban zones and nature reserves – and a lack of hazardous waste management persists at local, national and global levels. Whether the poisoning is obvious to us or not, the planet’s biodiversity is being strongly adversely affected, and the need for environmental rehabilitation has become pressing. When they are not actively camouflaging the persistent effects of contaminants on health and the environment, national governments, so often characterized by their collusion with corporations, tend to simply turn a blind eye to the situation. Yet residues of the pollution embedded in the current capitalist system continue to percolate, travelling with air particles, in river currents, and through our own veins. As we consider how to decontaminate bodies and ecosystems, the specters of ecological collapse, viral infection and – as we have seen recently – pandemic are more present than ever. Can we be inured to toxicity as an unavoidable fact? Or must we unite in an effort to fight back against it?

The exhibition 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. Rather than opting for environmental protection measures, governments often insist on demarcation, obliquely fomenting fear while denying the reality of the circulation of harmful substances, as if toxicity could be forced to recognize state borders.

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 plastic polluted in the Mediterranean. There are also 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. Upon travelling to Amman, the project will explore these topics further, touching upon water scarcity, desertification, infrastructures and resource management.

Spoiled Waters Spilled navigates between Marseilles, Amman, brackish waters, rivers, oceans and the virtual space of the Ocean Archive where we are sharing insights into the work and research of some of the exhibition artists, a podcast of conversations with the artists and a sonic composition that delves into riverine pollution.

Participants in the exhibition in Marseilles are Minia Biabiany, Marjolijn Dijkman & Toril Johannessen, Marianne Fahmy, Valentina Karga, Jessika Khazrik for The Society of False Witnesses, Anouk Kruithof, Rikke Luther and Elvia Teotski; with poems and excerpts from Atlas de la France Toxique, René Char, Daisy Lafarge and Lisa Robertson.

From September 10 until October 25, 2020. In the framework of Manifesta 13 Les Parallèles du Sud.

Listen to a podcast here.