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Enar de Dios Rodríguez

"Liquid ground"

12.11.2021 - 16.01.2022

Curated by Malou Solfjeld.

“Liquid ground” is a video essay by Enar de Dios Rodríguez that talks about colonialism, ecology and representation, through found material of historical and contemporary deep-sea explorations: from illustrations of the first worldwide oceanographic expedition with HMS Challenger (1858) to current technologies and visions related to mapping the ocean floors. The artist’s own footage of the many beautiful marine species captured, hosted and displayed by the aqua terra zoo in Vienna adds yet another layer of wondering about the spectatorship between human and other animals, the interwoven nature-culture web and not least, it nods to the twisted experience-economy, that among other liquid assets sustains the choked sea. 

 

”Said the Moon to the Sun,

’Is the daylight begun?’

Said the Sun to the Moon,

’Not a minute too soon’”

 

Thus begins a puzzle from wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll back in 1870. Another poem by the same author goes:

 

”He had brought a large map,

Representing the sea,

Without the least vestige of land:

And the crew were much pleased,

When they found it to be,

A map they could all understand”

 

Despite its admirable age, these riddle-like illustrations will perhaps make more sense than ever if we read them in a contemporary context. Up until recently, we believed in daylight and photosynthesis to be the sole creator of life on Earth. Today, however, we know that even in the darkest parts of the planet, miles below the surface of the sea, life does exist thanks to hydrothermal vents. Deep, deep down in the seemingly eternal abyss, marine scientists have discovered a seabed full of species gathering around the underwater hot springs producing not only their own colorful lights, but also generating an entire ecosystem with sea plants capable of growing without sunlight.

 

Although oceans make up more than 70% of the Earth, only a very small part of the seabed has been charted. However, in recent years, the mapping of these spaces has accelerated due to different economic, geopolitical, and scientific interests. Like the imperialists in previous centuries, world leaders today are determined to build a “new continent” to be explored and exploited under the sea. 

 

Engaged with this deep-sea adventure are nonetheless than the so-called Elon Musk of the mining business, Gerard Barron, the shipping giant Maersk, the architect Bjarke Ingels, and the UK Seabed Resources owned by the world’s largest weapon company Lockheed Martin (just to name a few of the responsible). What they all have in common (besides being stereotypical “new world explorers”: white men from the wild, wild west) is a shared interest in the small potato-sized nodules containing metals such as silver, gold, nickel, manganese, copper, cobalt, and zinc. Found on the ocean floor in proximity of underwater volcanoes, dwelling inside little rocks, these metals can be used for high-tech batteries to charge electrical vehicles, smartphones, and other technological devices. The value of such resources is comparable to oil, and the market-demand is rising at the speed of light. The only problem is that nobody knows yet exactly what impact the mining of the seabed will have on the biodiversity existing in the perhaps last place on Earth where capitalism has not yet completely taken over the ecosystem. (This is only half true, since we do know of plastic-eating corals, which is one of the most clear and devastating traces of human waste to be found in the deep sea, more than hundreds of kilometres away from civilization.) 

 

As with Marianne Morild's interest in natural resources and cartography from the 16th and 17th century, the Spanish artist Enar de Dios Rodríiguez is concerned with mapping as a timeless tool of control. She examines how human actions change and radically alter land- and seascapes, often leading to invasive operations that destroy biodiversity. The English writer Lewis Carroll's map of the sea without land can be read as a utopian world in which borders, nations, and everything that comes with such occupation of space is out of the question. In a watery world where everything breathes, flows, undulates, and melts together, separation is impossible and the idea of conquering territory becomes superfluous. The liquidity of water is nevertheless common ground for speculation in both financial and fictional directions. The quantum-physics, feminist scholar Karen Barad is one of the many sources of inspiration for the artist and so is Astrida Neimanis, the Associate Professor at the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, who coined the term "hydro-feminism". Barad and Neimanis have within the past few years massively influenced the way we understand ourselves as becoming in relation to each other and to our surrounding bodies of water; this entanglement exhaled from and absorbed by our skin connects us to our wet ancestors, cousins, and non-animal beings, all co-habiting the same water across time and space:

 

”Even while in constant motion, water is also a planetary archive of meaning and matter. To drink a glass of water is to ingest the ghosts of bodies that haunt that water. When “nature calls” some time later, we return to the cistern and the sea not only our antidepressants, our chemical estrogens, or our more commonplace excretions, but also the meanings that permeate those materialities: disposable culture, medicalized problem-solving, ecological disconnect. Just as the deep oceans harbor particulate records of former geological eras, water retains our more anthropomorphic secrets, even when we would rather forget. Our distant and more immediate pasts are returned to us in both trickles and floods. And that same glass of water will facilitate our movement, growth, thinking, loving. […] it ensures that our being is always a becoming”

 

The alchemist identity of water soaks through Liquid ground, functioning as a reminder of the liquid grounds that compose and sustain us. With the artwork’s own words: “It’s not a vision, it’s an event.”

 

The video essay is constructed as a set of riddles, reminiscing in an uncanny manner of children’s games from childhood: knock, knock, who’s there… Even more frightening are the answers:

 

It’s a subaquatic field of nacre buttons, handcuffs, and hunger that will never be found [...]

It’s a marine hieroglyph from long-dead organisms that accelerates dispossession [...]

It’s the ancient zooplankton and algae once sleeping in the seabed, now burning in the engine [...]
It’s an extended family of copepods, absorbing 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.

 

The excuse of deep-sea mining companies is that the world needs these metals for a green transition away from fossil fuels towards a more sustainable future. But marine biologists and environment activists warn against an invasion of these areas in the Pacific Ocean, which we have much less knowledge of by now, than we have about outer space. Perhaps the yet unknown organisms and species living down here, are the only chance we got, if we were to try and stop the Sixth Mass Extinction in time. But this, we will never find out once we let the mining companies vacuum the ocean floors with no attention to the damaging powers of their robots designed to look like harmless insects. 

 

As a final wakeup call; not desperate, but rather poetic; Enar de Dios Rodríguez tells us; that the deep sea is full of life, but because of its transience, none of its forms is considered native or permanent residents by prospectors. In a magical tale inspired by a Scandinavian story of De Tre Bukke Bruse, an open letter to one of the main prospectors, Bjarke Ingels, begins like this: 

 

“You don’t know us yet, but we write to you on behalf of past, present and future lives in the Pacific on your project for deep sea mining in our home.” Perhaps you feel that saltwater resembles the water in your body, that humans cry saltwater. Perhaps you are reminded, like us, that we sweat and cry salt water because the sea flows in our blood.

 

The tale goes as follows:

 

Once a upon a time, three bucks tried to cross a bridge where a troll lived under it.

The first buck saw an exotic faraway untouched paradise. Green with greed, he wished to colonise it all for himself. Bought passage across with pretty, shiny trinkets. With him, came uninvited friends, quickly ravaged locals, wiping out three out of four.

Once across the bridge? First buck got so fat; slowly rotting from inside out.

The second buck quickly saw how fat the first buck was! Eyes lit up. He saw empty ocean so endless it could swallow up all lands of the world! He bought passage across the bridge promising world peace, testing 315 nuclear bombs. A noble sacrifice for good of all mankind.

Once across the bridge he still felt afraid in his militarized fort for bombs can’t stop the sea rising.

Your company? BIG + sponsor The Metals Company the third big buck trying to cross our bridge. Under that bridge is a troll.

We, the people of Oceania, represent the troll - a Blue line, one that you should not cross.

The troll is a character of your traditions made up to frighten little children, yet in our part of the sea, trolls take on a different meaning - magical shapeshifters, avatars, the last guardians of this ocean. They issue early warning signs, caution humans and when needed prohibit crossing - which is the message we have for you now.

 

[…]

 

Mining will interfere with carbon storage systems that keep our planet living - as mining releases carbon dioxide, and methane gases, a green gas more potent than carbon dioxide, that will cause a ‘doomsday’ climate scenario.

[…]

Do not be fooled into believing that the might of a BIG buck today will topple the troll tomorrow. For we, the Pacific are ancient currents and living systems built through millennia that flow through our veins. Only fools do not know the true value of these ancient living systems until too late.

But the story does not have to end this way.  You don’t have to be a Deep Sea Miner. We invite you instead to join us as a Deep Sea Minder.

 

While becoming a deep-sea minder by signing the petition here, we welcome you to enjoy the 30 min Liquid ground, the second video essay by Enar de Dios Rodríguez. In the first of its kind from 2020, the narrative follows mass movements of sand done by humans—acts related to the extraction, shipping, import, and disappearance of this mineral. After water, sand is the most extracted material by humans; in 2014, humans consumed 40 billion tons of sand, which makes one wonder whether we might run out of sand before we run out of time. The title of this earlier video essay, Vestiges (an archipelago), is inspired by the above-mentioned Lewis Caroll quote. Elements from both interdisciplinary research-based projects (Liquid ground and Vestiges) were included in the exhibition Memoirs of the Abyss: 3 ecologies and more at SixtyEight Art Institute during Spring and Summer 2021. On November 27, Liquid ground will be the highlight of a one-day event full of performances, screenings and talks in the Concert Church at Blågårds Plads, Copenhagen. With an entrance ticket from Kunsthall 3,14, you are invited to join this event for free. The concept is a conversation kitchen (Samtalekøkken in Danish) where we share a meal with the artist and encourage an open discussion about the work. Read the full program here: https://billetto.dk/e/memoirs-of-the-abyss-liquid-ground-at-koncertkirken-billetter-577110 and don’t forget to sign up in advance by contacting the curator directly: malousolfjeld@msn.com


 
- Text by Curator Malou Solfjeld

Enar de Dios Rodríguez  (Born in 1986) is currently living and working between Austria and Spain. Enar is a visual artist who advocates for a free and open circulation of culture. In her artistic practice the selective process of existing visual and textual material serves as a starting point for an exploration of the poetic and its political applicability. Her last research-based projects reflect upon the production of space and its socio-political and environmental consequences. She is the founder of the Bay Area Online Exhibitions Archive, founding collaborator of the science-art project SEEC Photography and member of The Golden Pixel Cooperative.