Through its annual Call for Fellows, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Department acknowledges and gives visibility to projects engaged in developing other modes of thinking, knowledge production, and research practice. For this iteration of the Call for Fellows, the Research Department has selected the theme of BURN-OUT. Exhaustion on a Planetary Scale. Building upon last year’s Call, the 2019 research trajectory aims to instigate forms of coexistence, sensibility, and care for multispecies collective bodies in times of planetary burn-out. The jury recognised and awarded a Research Fellowship to three projects, each of which demonstrated critical rigour and a depth of understanding of the broader issues that are at stake in their proposal.
BURN-OUT. Exhaustion on a Planetary Scale
The theme addresses the unrelenting pressure and divisive, even exploitative, climates under which bodies are exhausted. To 'burn out' means to stall, break, or become otherwise unusable. In other words, processes, procedures and participation simply stop working. Yet, burn-out could also be a generative point of departure - an opportunity to break open, promote action and catalyse change towards new structures and relations.
Fostering open-ended and undetermined modes of practice, and refusing universal claims, the initiative called for imaginaries, epistemologies, spatial relations, and forms of action that enhance and sustain care for collective, more-than-human bodies, and to consider how design, architecture and digital culture could support multi-species cohabitation.
The Call also encouraged applicants to propose projects that challenge the ongoing activities of Het Nieuwe Instituut — and in particular its Research Department, which is committed to embracing and putting into practice these ideas and paradigms in its daily activities. This could involve a different labour ethos, new forms of engagement, and strategies for internal and external collaboration that are not dependent on exploitative, extractive, and discriminatory technologies and economies.
Applicants did not need a degree in the discipline they chose to investigate, but were expected to display deep engagement with the subject matter. Neither a curriculum vitae nor letters of recommendation were requested. The Fellowship is not contingent upon the completion of a specific outcome or end product, there is no age limit, and applicants of all citizenships and places of residence are welcome.
Between the announcement of the Open Call for Fellows on 18 March and the deadline on 22 April, Het Nieuwe Instituut received 197 entries in response to the theme BURN-OUT. Exhaustion on a Planetary Scale. Proposals came from Australia, Austria, Barbados, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, India, Italy, Peru, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and many other countries. Topics varied from the commercial extinction and economies of sea plantations, cultural techniques of environmental mourning, interspecies exploitation in architecture and the fringes of feminist utopias, to urban heat distribution and forms of inequality, novel alliances in toxic landscapes, and the politics of name-giving practices.
All the entries were read by the Research Department (Ludo Groen, Anastasia Kubrak, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Katía Truijen) who made a pre-selection of 26 projects that best exemplified the criteria announced in the Call.
The pre-selected proposals along with the entire submission set were made available to a jury comprised of Guus Beumer (General and Artistic Director, Het Nieuwe Instituut), Revital Cohen (artist, Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen), Cooking Sections (spatial practitioners, Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe), Elaine Gan (artist and scholar, Assistant Professor / Faculty Fellow, Center for Experimental Humanities, NYU), and Christina Sharpe (Professor of Humanities, York University and Distinguished Visiting Professor, Ryerson University). The jury was chaired by Marina Otero Verzier (Director of Research, Het Nieuwe Instituut) and Katía Truijen (Senior Researcher, Het Nieuwe Instituut). The jurors were asked to read all 26 pre-selected proposals and invited to nominate any other projects for inclusion.
The jury meeting was held on 17 May 2019 at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. Proposals were evaluated on the basis of their engagement with the Fellowship theme, depth of investigation, urgency of the project, idiosyncrasy, connection to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s mission, and potential for exchange between Fellows and across disciplinary boundaries.
During the pre-selection and selection process, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s team members and jurors abstained from voting on proposals by individuals or groups with which they are affiliated or have a conflict of interest. The jury’s decision and the report were published and presented on 30 May 2019.
The jury was impressed by the wide range of proposals, the excellence they demonstrated and the critical as well as generative engagement with the theme of burnout and exhaustion on a planetary scale. The jury recognised and awarded a Research Fellowship to three projects, each of which demonstrated critical rigour and a depth of understanding of the broader issues that are at stake in their proposal. The three selected proposals depart from locally embedded stories and contexts, yet also connect to the quest for developing new modes of thinking and practice in relation to this year’s theme. All projects are sharply positioned within current political discourses and ecological thinking, and demonstrate urgency, ambition and precision.
- Dele Adeyemo with Alien Possession
- Paolo Patelli with Is it Biology or Geology? Life and Death as Multispecies Formations
- Claudia Rot with Beyond Polderen: Exposing the Voids of Environmental Justice in the Netherlands
As in previous years, a more extensive report on current research topics, references, languages, geographies and methodologies based on the received proposals will be published by Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Department this autumn.
Alien Possession by Dele Adeyemo
Even as we exhaust ourselves in battles to save the planet, the circulations foundational to modernity, established in transatlantic slavery, live on in the contemporary production of space. Planetary circulations are leading to planetary burnout; the world as we know it is ending. But what if we shifted to a philosophy that could sustain an alternate world view beyond opposition and resistance? Among the Africans shipped during transatlantic slavery and their descendants, existed a set of spiritual practices that fuelled revolt and sustained their communities even after the world as they knew it had ended. Syncretising with other beliefs, these systems took on many names in the diaspora, but at their root was the Yorùbá philosophy of Ifá.
The encroachment of European modernity created a division within the human. Animistic spiritual possession and collective ways of being such as in Yorùbá society and mysticism were displaced and the new self-possessed property owning individual emerged colonised with ideas of autonomy and rationality. The encroachment of this colonial division is what I am calling Alien Possession.
I will interrogate architecture as a production of this Alien Possession, and working with Ifá philosophy I will explore animistic beliefs, geological time and more-than-human existence to ask how the production of space might be reorganised according to this world view. What frequencies and movements inspired by Ifá might help us channel designs for remaking the world?
Alien Possession aims to rethink the world of contemporary logistics from a position of the black body in the afterlife of the transatlantic slave trade. By looking at the so-called alien flows and departing from a specific historical case study, the proposal examines continuities between modern logistical processes and slavery, architecture of flows and the movement of bodies, and the philosophy of animism. The project draws on spiritual practices from the Yorùbá that supported collective resistance among Africans. It asks how their philosophy of being at the end of the world, based on a cyclical understanding of death and rebirth and refusing a human-animal split, may allow for non-modern forms of collectivity and resistance in the systems subjugated to the instrumental logic of private property and financialisation. The jury acknowledges the nuanced and multilayered attempt to design from an alternate world view, making the project outstanding in the entire set of applications.
Furthermore, the jury recognises the deeply decolonial intent of the proposal, bringing different cosmologies and epistemologies together, and aiming to activate various forms of knowledge. While the project is closely tied to the local context of the port city of Rotterdam, Dele addresses the issue on multiple scales, tracing continuities in logistical circulations from the slave ship to the megaport, demonstrating a strong connection to the theme of burnout on a planetary scale. The proposed methodology is idiosyncratic and opens up different fields of practice, including film-making, performance and dance improvisation, field research in Nigeria and Yorùbá, as well as archival research in Ghana and in the State Archive for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning in Rotterdam.
Is it Biology or Geology? Life and Death as Multispecies Formations by Paolo Patelli
The project weaves together a suite of differential, multiple, visual ethnographies, and three sites in the Netherlands in which life and death intertwine with multispecies formations, soil and landscape forms. Material transformations, novel colonisations and changing migration patterns are engaged as signals that fold in pasts and futures into a present of haunted landscapes. In the Dutch peatlands – landscapes consisting of partly decomposed matter deposited on swampy ground, earthly archives extending downward and through time – global warming is playing a major role in accelerated subsidence. In Flevoland, rodent hunters armed with carrots, traps, bow and arrows provide a vital – if controversial – service in an elaborate Dutch defensive system that includes flood-control techniques developed in the Middle Ages and futuristic remotely-controlled structures. Across the Netherlands, duck decoys – tightly orchestrated spaces consisting of a large pond ending in several funnel traps, surrounded by reed screens and trees, and catching mechanisms deployed from the fifteenth century onwards to trap wild ducks through a multi-species process – have become naturalised ruins, as mallard ducks seem to have moved to urban areas.
Is it biology or geology? is a highly contextual and intriguing proposal in which three specific scenes of multispecies formations in the Netherlands — peatlands, hunters of dike-destroying muskrats, and duck decoy ruins — are brought together for further examination. Both historically and speculatively, it addresses how more-than-human bodies are intertwined with the Dutch landscape through sensory ethnography. The contribution exhibits a relevance and urgency for a country confronted with sea level rise and high pressure on water and land bodies. The proposal stands out by being both practice-based and engaged in artistic research and fieldwork through interviews and film.
The jury encourages Paolo to question how burnout and the death of multispecies can be considered regenerative in protecting bodies of water and landforms in the Dutch landscape. In this context, the jury wonders how the project can engage in a conversation with protective environmental organisations, and how unconventional research approaches can contribute to overcome institutional impasses.
Beyond Polderen: Exposing the Voids of Environmental Justice in the Netherlands by Claudia Rot
Within the discourse of environmental justice, burnout manifests itself as the burden of externalities of environmental problems and climate change on marginalised communities. Environmental justice advocates for the equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits. Since its theoretical conception in the United States, environmental justice has been adopted in many countries, predominantly in the Global South. Shockingly, there is no term for environmental justice in the Dutch language. The notion of sustainability in the Netherlands is limited to finding technocratic solutions, ignoring the intersectionality of environmental problems, and the societal aspect of sustainability. This notion has resulted in a paradox in which on one side there exists the international reputation of the Netherlands as an environmentally friendly country, while on the other side, the country continues to exacerbate fossil fuel capitalism.
During my Fellowship I will start to dismantle this paradox by exploring and exposing the historical, societal, and spatial contexts of this linguistic void of environmental justice. I will do this by using a radically participatory and intersectional approach to alternative epistemologies, focusing on the building and expanding of a Dutch framework for environmental justice and a network of environmental justice ‘accomplices’.
Beyond Polderen aims to unpack and challenge the Dutch notion of sustainability by addressing the absence of a term for environmental justice in the Dutch language. The proposal points out that the Dutch understanding of sustainability is limited to finding technocratic solutions, thereby ignoring the intersectionality of environmental problems and their societal aspects. The jury acknowledges Claudia’s precise, participatory and intersectional approach to dismantle the paradox that lies in the fact that, on the one hand, the Netherlands holds an international reputation for being an environmentally friendly country, while on the other hand the country continues to perpetuate fossil fuel capitalism. Interestingly, Claudia draws a parallel between this paradox and the way in which the Netherlands hides forms of structural racism behind a veil of supposed tolerance and progressiveness.
The jury recognises the ambition and urgency of the project, the need to expose the dichotomies between environmentally privileged and marginalised communities, and to connect the Netherlands’ colonial histories of land reclamation to contemporary practices of climate adaptation. The project has a strong potential for making interventions in the Dutch context, by combining theoretical analysis with a participatory environmental mapping project, at the intersection of social justice and environmentalism.
The jury supports the proposal’s critical engagement with the Dutch notion of ‘polderen’ and the ‘poldermodel’ in order to look into the fragmentation of social and environmental organisations, and to contribute to the re-politicisation of sustainability practices in the Netherlands. Finally, the jury invites Claudia to develop further the proposed methodologies, and specify possible levels of intervention that are at stake in the proposal, with the aim to foster strategic and sustainable alliances.