Ahali Conversations with Can Altay podcast

Episode 30: Urbonas Studio

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We are hosting Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas (artists and educators, born in Lithuania). They work together as Urbonas Studio, with an artistic practice that combines new media, urbanism, social science, ecology, and pedagogy to transform civic spaces and collective imaginaries. We’ll start off the conversation focusing on their work on Swamps, that disregarded wealth of organic complexity; and together unpack questions around ecology, technology, and artistic practice. You’ll also get to hear about their mode of operation within often contested social and political realities.

This Episode includes sound samples that act as interludes from the work:

The Swamp Observatory. Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas

Sound mixing by Mouse on Mars based on sampling by pupils at the Innovitaskolan Visby, Sweden. 2022

Ecotones are transitional spaces between two biological communities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecotone

Riparian Territories are zones that tie and lie in-between land and rivers or streams.

“Drain the swamp” refers to the removal of water from marsh areas which causes the removal of creatures dependent on the water. The phrase is adopted by politicians from Mussolini to Donald Trump who used it as a metaphor for ‘cleansing’ of various sorts.

Bruno Latour is a philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist. http://www.bruno-latour.fr/

Established in 1895, La Biennale di Venezia is a cultural institution that organizes events and exhibitions in Art (1895), Architecture (1980), Cinema (1932), Dance (1999), Music (1930), and Theatre (1934) departments. https://www.labiennale.org/en

Swamp School took place in Swamp Pavillion curated by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, the first individual pavilion Lithuania presents as a part of the 16th Venice International Architecture Biennale, Freespace, in 2018. Throughout the biennale, Swamp School functioned as a changing, flexible, open-ended infrastructure that supports experiments in design, pedagogy and artistic intelligence. https://www.swamp.lt/

George Washington was one of the investors of the Dismal Swamp Company, a land speculation venture founded in 1763 to drain, tame and make profit from the Great Dismal Swamp, a wetland that stretches between Norfolk, Virginia, and Edeltan, North Carolina.

The Baltic Pavillion was the joint contribution of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to the 15th Venice International Architecture Biennale in 2016. https://balticpavilion.eu/

Located in the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice, Ocean Space is a global center for exhibitions, research, and public programs harboring contributions to ocean literacy and advocacy through the arts. https://www.ocean-space.org/

Barrenas refers to emerged lands and sandbanks of Venetian geography.

Giardini della Biennale is the traditional site of La Biennale Art Exhibitions since the first edition in 1895.

Swamp Radio is the independent chapter of Swamp School, featuring a number of contributors to explore spatial qualities of sonic experiments.

Jana Winderen is a sound artist based in Norway. https://www.janawinderen.com/

Sam Auinger is a sound artist based in Austria. http://www.samauinger.de/

Petteri Nisunen is a sound artist based in Finland. https://g-n.fi/

Tommi Gronlund is a sound artist based in Finland. https://g-n.fi/

Nicole L’Huillier is an architect based in Chile and USA. https://nicolelhuillier.com/

The Marsh Labrador Tea (Rhododendron tomentosum) is an evergreen shrub that preferably grows in moors and peat soils. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhododendron_tomentosum

Pirate radio refers to a radio station that broadcasts without a valid license. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_radio

Sant'Erasmo is an island in the Venetian Lagoon lying north-east of the Lido island and east of Venice, famous for its blue artichokes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sant%27Erasmo

Sundews are one of the largest groups of carnivorous plants. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drosera

Maroons were people who inhabited in the Great Dismal Swamp after escaping enslavement. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Dismal_Swamp_maroons

Swamp Thing is a fictional humanoid/plant elemental character, created by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson. In the mid-1980s a storyline by Alan Moore elevated this character and comics series by reworking the whole origin story building a new world around it. This new Swamp Thing was timely, philosophical and ahead of its time in many ways. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swamp_Thing

Alan Moore (b. 1953) is an English author known primarily for his work in comic books. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Moore

Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene is a 2016 book by Donna Haraway, published by Duke University Press. https://www.dukeupress.edu/staying-with-the-trouble

Walden is a book by American transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau.

Swamp Observatory (2020) is an installation by Urbonas Studio, commissioned for the exhibition, Critical Zones – Observatories for Earthly Politics, curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel at ZKM Center for Arts and Media. The installation proposes to approach to the swamp as an interface to Gaia and continues to regenerate itself at different locations and through different mediums.

Swamp Game is the extension of Swamp Observatory installation and stands as an invitation to experience the relations between organisms and their environments.

Jutempus is a non-profit, artist-run initiative that was founded in 1993 and re-organized in 1997 on the initiative of Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas in collaboration with other artists and creative people at the former Cultural Palace of the Railway Workers in Vilnius, the capital and largest city of Lithuania. http://www.vilma.cc/jutempus/

Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986) was a French existentialist philosopher, writer, social theorist, and feminist activist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_de_Beauvoir

Ground Control: Technology and Utopia is a collection of essays that expand upon an exhibition programme of the same name. The contributors of the collection reflect on the broad divisions and links in culture and history between Eastern and Western Europe.

Baltic Art Center is a residency for contemporary art on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. https://www.balticartcenter.com/home/

Curated by Marco Scotini, Disobedience Archive, is an ongoing, multi-phase video archive and platform of discussion that deals with the relationship between artistic practices and political actions. The latest edition of the archive was presented as a part of the 17th İstanbul Biennial through a display setting designed by Can Altay. http://www.disobediencearchive.othe rg/

Mel King (b. 1928) is an American politician, community organizer, and educator. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_King

The Tent City Protests in Boston was a public revolt demanding the right to affordable housing, led by Mel King in 1968.

Naomi A. Klein (b. 1970) is a Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Klein

The Occupy movement is an internationally localized socio-political movement in search of “real democracy”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement

The Black Panthers, also known as the Black Panther Party, was a political organization founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to challenge police brutality against the African American community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Panther_Party

Sylvère Lotringer (1938 – 2021) was a French-born literary critic and cultural theorist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylv%C3%A8re_Lotringers.

This season of Ahali Conversations is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. The Graham provides project-based grants to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society.

This episode was also supported by a Moon & Stars Project Grant from the American Turkish Society.

This episode was recorded on Zoom on November 23rd, 2022.

Interview by Can Altay. Produced by Aslı Altay & Sarp Renk Özer. Music by Grup Ses.

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