4th Dojima River Biennale, 25 July – 30 August 2015, Osaka
Take Me To The River
– currents of the contemporary
Artists: Aki Sasamoto, Angus Fairhurst, Hito Steyerl, Melanie Gilligan, Melanie Jackson, Michael Stevenson, Peter Fend, Ryoji Ikeda, Shimabuku, Shitamichi Motoyuki, Simon Fujiwara, Superflex, The Play, Vermeir & Heiremans, Yuken Teruya
Artistic Director: Tom Trevor
The opening sentence of Hōjōki, written in 1212 by Kamo no Chōmei, is celebrated in Japanese literature as an expression of mujō (the transience of things): “The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before.” In the Western tradition, a strikingly similar saying is ascribed to Heraclitus, circa 500 BC: “You cannot step into the same river twice”, along with the famous declaration: “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” More recently, Manuel Castells defined a new “space of flows” in his book, The Rise of the Network Society (1996), arising from the rapid technological developments of the Information Age. Essentially this emerging global condition of flux shifts the emphasis of social relations to people’s place in time rather than in space, defined by dynamic movement rather than by static location. As a result, Castells says: “Our societies are increasingly structured around the bipolar opposition of the Net and the Self.”
Take Me To The River is a project about change and exchange in the contemporary space of flows. Exploring the notion of ‘the current’ within contemporary art, and the confluence of multiple temporalities within globalised culture today, it employs the metaphor of the river to examine the experience of being immersed in a world marked by an unprecedented diversity and depth of difference, by the coexistence of incommensurable viewpoints, and by the absence of an all-encompassing narrative (including those of modernity or post-modernity) that will enlist the participation of all. Within this convergence of different worlds that makes up the historical present, many different ‘currents’ compete for ascendency, but with no clear vision of the future. At the same time, traditional notions of the self, as grounded in a communal sense of place, are being washed away, replaced by a ‘network culture’ of emergent meanings and practices. The question is, how will the singularity of the artist function and change in relation to these new conditions? What happens when the subjective self is set adrift in the ‘space of flows’ – when you ‘take me to the river’?
The title Take Me To The River references the classic R’n’B song, written by soul singer, Al Green and guitarist, Mabon ‘Teenie’ Hodges, in 1973. At once a steamy love song, full of romantic yearning, and at the same time a plea for absolution, surrendering himself up to the will of God, Green’s lyrics maintain an unresolved contradiction throughout. Whilst the singer had achieved mass popular appeal in the early 1970s, crossing over to the mainstream pop charts with a string of soul hits, his roots were in gospel, and this tension between sex and religion is perhaps best embodied in the ambivalent lyrics of Take Me To The River. It was precisely this unresolved tension that drew David Byrne, of the band Talking Heads, to cover the song in 1978, as he said, because it “combines teenage lust with baptism. Not equates, you understand, but throws them in the same stew, at least. A potent blend.” Meanwhile, by 1976, Al Green had been ordained a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle, and Take Me To The River had been dropped from his repertoire.
The 4th Dojima River Biennale, Take Me To The River, is curated by Tom Trevor, taking place at the Dojima River Forum, in the centre of Osaka, Japan. It follows on from the three previous editions – Reflection: The World Through Art curated by Fumio Nanjo in 2009, Ecosophia (ecology + philosophy): Art and Architecture curated by Takayo Iida in 2011, and Little Water curated by Rudy Tseng in 2013.
Tom Trevor is an independent curator and writer, based in England. In addition to the Dojima River Biennale, he is currently Guest Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and Curator of a new biennial in Denmark for Aarhus 2017, European Capital of Culture, working with ARoS Kunstmuseum. Other projects in 2015 include a large-scale commission by Do Ho Suh for Bristol Museum, and a video commission by John Akomfrah for the Venice Biennale. Recent exhibitions include Black Sun, co-curated with Shezad Dawood, at the Devi Art Foundation, in Delhi, and Joelle Tuerlinckx’ Wo(r)(l)d in Progress?, co-curated with Axel Wieder, at Arnolfini, in Bristol (in collaboration with Wiels, Brussels, and Haus der Kunst, Munich). In 2014, he was a member of the jury for the Korean Artists Prize, at MMCA, Seoul, and a member of the Advisory Committee for the Gwangju Biennale. He was formerly Director of Arnolfini (2005-13), the centre for contemporary arts in Bristol, as well as Associate Curator of the Art Fund International collection (2007-12) and Director of Spacex (1999-2005), in the UK. Over the past 20 years he has curated more than 100 exhibitions and produced more than 30 publications, with a particular emphasis upon experimental, interdisciplinary practice and context-led projects
Image: The Play, IE: The Play Have a House, 1972