The major thematic exhibition this summer, After Babel, is about language and translation in a broader sense, and about how meaning is formulated and conveyed in time and space. After Babel presents artists who share the experience of having built bridges between languages and continents. In these times of change, re-evaluation and transit, Moderna Museet
opens its doors to include all the poetic possibilities that can be embraced by art. With the exhibition After Babel the Museum expands its horizons even further, in a conscious effort to broaden the standard Western perspectives on art history. The exhibition is intertwined with Hans Ulrich Obrists and Simon Castets Poetry will be made by all! and their platform 89plus.
To once again erect a Tower of Babel can be seen as an act of resistance proclaiming the importance of all languages in a world of diversity, against the contemporary striving for homogeneity. There really is a tower at the heart of the exhibition After Babel. The tower by Simon Denny (New Zealand /Germany) and Alessandro Bava (Italy/UK) refers to the legendary exhibition Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! (Moderna Museet, 1969), which featured elements of political and linguistic utopias that are now resurrected in this collective tower. The curators Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist, together with Kenneth Goldsmith, Luna Miguel and Giovanna Olmos, also allude to Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! with their project 89plus, which seeks to expand the search for the utopian moments that formed the basis for the legendary exhibition. 89plus strives to understand the world that opened up after the revolutionary year 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and World Wide Web was invented. What happened to poetry and art in the globalised culture that was born after that year?
The tower is surrounded by works by the artists George Adéagbo (Benin/Germany), Kader Attia (Algeria/France), Yael Bartana (Israel/Netherlands), Paul Chan (Hong Kong/USA), Rivane Neuenschwander (Brazil/UK), Michelangelo Pistoletto (Italy) and Haegue Yang (Korea/Germany), and lastly, by Etel Adnan (Lebanon/France), who has poetry and the written word as her main media. Since the 1960s, when she made her debut in English, she has alternated between languages as easily as between different art media, maintaining them simultaneously, so that the languages enrich one another mutually.
All the featured artists explore linguistic short-circuits, the impact of chance, what happens when control ceases to apply to various forms of communication systems, the gap between what we write and what we mean, how given facts take on new significance in the encounter with the unanticipated, interpretations that implode, how a sense of belonging is created without banishing the Other, historical mistakes, and mankinds longing for knowledge and something to believe in. A few of the artists works are shown in other places within the museum, as parts of a larger context. In layer upon layer of meanings, like Chinese boxes, Russian nesting dolls, visitors can study parallel exhibitions and presentations of the collection that are interrelated in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes more subversive.
We have long been striving to move beyond Eurocentrism and have worked strategically to present artists who convey other perspectives and stories relating experiences of working with art on all continents. In connection with After Babel, the museum rooms will therefore be dominated by a variety of presentations that emphasise art with a wider geographical spread, including artists from Japan, Thailand, South Africa, Lebanon and Turkey, says Ann-Sofi Noring.
After Babel is an exhibition involving other artistic disciplines, such as dance and poetry. Catrin Lundqvist, curator at Moderna Museet, has compiled the programme of events. Poetry will be made by all! / 89plus started on 9 June and continued through opening day on 13 June and features intermittently throughout the summer. Among the participants are Adriano Pedrosa, Zdenka Badovinac, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Peter Osborne, Akram Zaatari, Simon Denny and Georges Adéagbo.
In connection with After Babel, a richly illustrated catalogue with facsimiles from the legendary exhibition Poetry must be made by all! Transform the world! (Moderna Museet, 1969) and essays by Daniel Birnbaum, Ann-Sofi Noring, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets, Édouard Glissant, a conversation between Etel Adnan and Hans Ulrich Obrist, and poets from 89plus, has been published jointly by Moderna Museet and Koenig Books, London.
The tower by Simon Denny and Alessandro Bava is co-produced by the LUMA Foundation.
Thankfully, we are living after Babel, in a world of many languages that we can all move between. Our deepest identity is created from an infinite number of things, and every language is the door to a whole world. Etel Adnan