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S3 – Aquaphobia and Beyond: The Water Politics of Representation

The growing contemporary debate over Anthropocene – over its cultural, economic, social and political implications – has motivated forms of interdisciplinary research and cooperation, which, in the field of literature and the (visual, performative, media) arts have focused, on the one hand on the representation, on the other on the re-presentation of ecological imaginaries and environments.

In the first case, narratives oscillate between the urgency to document and the desire to falsify, between reality and fiction – where fiction can be understood both as a literary category and as a multitude of fake stories and images, i.e. lies, that pervade climate change and environmental or water politics.

In the second case, especially through virtual or augmented reality and pre-/re-enactment and re-embodiment practices, possible future scenarios can be simulated and experienced in advance in order to raise awareness – but also to identify appropriate behaviours and prepare for alternative, that is, sustainable and resilient lifestyles. Or instead, disappeared ecosystems can be artificially re-created for study reasons, as places of knowledge and understanding, of scientific and cultural dissemination.

In all these cases, it is a question of producing plural and inclusive counter-narratives to set against the neoliberal and neocolonial rhetoric as to encourage forms of activism, which can be personal and collective, local and global; produce awareness and affect; denounce responsibilities; induce change (agency). The change should be in perspective too.

Humans should no longer be the only ones at the centre of the discourse and traditional methodological canons should be challenged. The Harawayan imperatives of “making kin” and adopting “tentacular thinking” have taught us that it is no longer possible to think in a unidirectional and anthropocentric way, but that an expansion of views is needed, which includes diversity and change both in biological and social systems. Haraway argues that “our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places”.

We propose that we first need to ‘trouble settled waters’ by looking at the multiple resonances of the representation of waters starting from Aquaphobia (2017), a VR temporary immersive environment by Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen, which will be presented as a virtual exhibition and thinking space (Aquaphobia: Fear of Water). This central artwork, inspired by psychological studies of the treatment of the ‘fear of water’ – as an entry point to transform perceptions of our relationship to future water levels and climates – and also by ecology- oriented science fiction and conversations with biologists and ethnographers, will be complemented both by a research workshop and talk with the artist.


Aquaphobia and Beyond: The Water Politics of Representation

And also by counter-narratives stimulated by other water-related artworks offered by Ocean Space and Science Gallery, two important Venice centres that combine interdisciplinary research with multiple engagement with contemporary art. We will also use as a literary reference point Amitav Ghosh’s recent works, and the various figurations of water that he has provided in his essays and novels.

Accompanied by rich program of events throughout the entire week of the ACV, the seminar investigates artistic and literary interventions that engage water politics and re-present the conditions of water in various contexts, at the intersections of activism, pedagogy, and aesthetics.

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