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Translated by Anna Knight

Cosmology of Living Things and Mutants

by Pedro Morais

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While many of today’s researchers are not reflecting “on” elements of the living world, but through the lens of their agency – the mushroom for Anna Tsing or lichen for Vincent Zonca – philosopher Dénètem Touam Bona has latched onto the creeper, as curator of the exhibition La sagesse des lianes (The Wisdom of Creepers) at the Centre international d’art et du paysage de Vassivière, not only to rehabilitate the complexity of a world decentring humans, but also to confront certain colonial blind spots in environmental thought. This task is currently being activated by thinkers like Malcom Ferdinand and his book Decolonial Ecology: Thinking from the Caribbean World, but Dénètem Touam Bona instead seeks more to introduce a poetic, extra-Western cosmogony, capable of resisting the framework of hegemonic academic language. Alongside the exhibition, he published an essay with the same title, based on the theme of the creeper, lyannaj, the trunkless plant formations that emerge from and combine with other species to grow, forming an inextricable entanglement, which once constituted an obstacle to colonial penetration and the regime of the plantations. “Lyannaj thus refers to the first practices of counter-plantation and the self-defence of sylvan powers... In Creole, lyann refers to that which is able to form a circle, to form a corpus together, but also to encircle the dominant via a subtle gridwork of constant conspiracies, from flight and sabotage to general insurrection, via the practices of counter-plantation of the ‘negro garden’.”1 Evoking The Undercommons by Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey, he associates the principle of shelter here to reconstruct a disavowed humanity, producing a clandestine version of reality through furtive gestures. Although he calls certain environmental notions into question, he prefers “cosmocide” to ecocide, because the latter does not take into account the destruction of a world “populated by ancestors, animal spirits, dreamlike creatures, elemental forces” – he also questions the notion of identity through the image of a plant fugue, recalling that the creeper is not a species, since it belongs to various different plant families. It is not so surprising to find an exhibition based on Afro-diasporic thought on an ‘island’ in the Limousin, given its long history of resistance, accommodation of refugees, and invention of radical political forms. This connection is put into perspective in a video installation by Camille Varenne and Galadio Gaboré that interrelates the struggles of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso and figures from the plateau de Millevaches, such as the activist and author of detective novels, Serge Quadruppani. In the same way, Nicolas Pirus brings the history of the old uranium mines of the region into resonance with their transfer to Niger, by reviving the ghosts of exploited bodies in the tower of the art centre, for a critique of extractivism and Euro-centric environmentalism. Several artworks call on a performative or ritual dimension, or are inseparable from it, such as the tree trunks wrapped in the language of Reunion island artist Jack Beng-Thi; poems by the Madagascan Raharimanan; or offerings made to the dead, slaves, and escaped slaves of Réunion Island by Migline Parounamou. The video by artists Nicola Lo Calzo and Hugo Rousselin presents a counter-history of subordinates, bringing together street theatre in São Tomé (mixing Bantu culture and references to Charlemagne), or voodoo ceremonies in Haiti integrating non-binary individuals. Reflecting the important tradition of portraiture in the photography of Afro-diasporic identities, Véronique Kanor suggest that everyone reappropriates their own image with a roving Afromaton – a photo booth made of carboard and fabric. However, the most proactive projects integrate a collective or community dimension, sometimes in contradiction with the exhibition principle. The artist Florans Féliks from Réunion came to bring the space to life with materials, transitional objects, videos and documents on the Kazkabar community of women, to which she belongs, an open-air brainstorming session, in which services and knowledge are exchanged in relation to the transmission of Creole culture, based on singing and braiding. Meanwhile, the École des Mutants, initiated in Dakar by Hamedine Kane and Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro (joined by Valérie Osouf, Boris Raux, and Nathalie Muchamad) establishes the possibility of a university without walls, fundaments, or organisation, inspired by the Batoutos, Édouard Glissant’s future people in his novel Sartorius. The name of this school directly refers to the Université des Mutants, the experimental space founded by Léopold Sédar Senghor on Gorée Island and, more broadly, to the educational utopia of post-colonial independencies. The tenacious fragility of their micro-architecture – brimming with objects, collaborations, and a manifesto – is what is best convoked by the Esprits de la Relation intended by La Sagesse des lianes. Mutants already evoked by Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik in Micropolitiques: “I believe that there is a multiple people, a people of mutants, a people of potentialities that appears and disappears, that is embodied in social, literary, and musical events... That's molecular revolution: it isn’t a slogan or a program, it's something that I feel, that I live in meetings, in institutions, in affects.”2




La sagesse des lianes
With Carlos Adaoudé, Jack Beng-Thi, Carole Chausset, Florans Féliks, Hawad, Véronique Kanor, Nicola Lo Calzo & Hugo Rousselin, Myriam Mihindou, Migline Parounamou, Nicolas Pirus, Raharimanana, Sylvie Séma, Shivay La Multiple & Eddy Ekete, The School of Mutants (Hamedine Kane, Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, Valérie Osouf, Boris Raux, Nathalie Muchamad), Camille Varenne & Galadio Kaboré. Performance by Florence Boyer/Cie Artmayage.
Curator: Dénètem Touam Bona
Centre international d’art et du paysage, Île de Vassivière
18 September – 9 January 2022




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