May 22, 2015 - Human Activities - Summer 2015 exhibitions
May 22, 2015

Summer 2015 exhibitions

The New Settlement, undisclosed location, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: the Institute of Human Activities, 2015.

Current exhibitions

In 2012, the Institute for Human Activities (IHA) started A Gentrification Program on a former Unilever plantation in Congo, 800 kilometers from Kinshasa, on a tributary of the Congo River.  

For the first time since the IHA established its initial settlement three years ago, it is presenting three exhibitions entirely dedicated to its activities and the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantations Congolaises (CATPC):

The Matter of Critique
May 1–June 7
KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin

A Lucky Day
May 1–July 26
KOW, Berlin

A New Settlement
May 2–June 6
Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam

Unilever, well known for sponsoring Tate Modern’s Unilever Series, founded its first palm oil plantation in 1911, after which Congolese inhabitants were coerced into forced labor. Today, few of the workers have access to clean water, electricity, or sanitation, and still produce the ingredients for Unilever’s Blue Band.

In the summer of 2013, Canadian palm oil operator Feronia forced the IHA to leave its settlement and the communities with whom it had been working. From its New Settlement in exile, plantation workers continue the Critical Curriculum and are developing a critical apparatus to think through their fears, dreams, complicity and resistance, and the role of art. A new series of sculptures, made out of river clay, reflect upon the mystery of money—some people appear to create money seemingly out of thin air, even as the workers themselves do not have enough to feed their children.   

The original clay sculptures of Mathieu Kasiama, Mbuku Kimpala, Emery Mohamba, Daniel Manenga, Cedrick Tamasala, Dionga Bismar, Jeremie Mabiala and Thomas Leba could not be exported, but have been scanned and transported digitally to Amsterdam, the world’s biggest cocoa port. There, the sculptures are reproduced in the very cocoa that Congolese plantation workers have been generating for the global market for over a century. 

By adding content, emotions, and critical thinking to the chocolate, the profits of the plantation workers increase by several thousand percent per gram of chocolate. In this way plantation workers, who cannot provide sustenance with plantation labor, are now able to live from their critical engagement with plantation labor.   

During The Matter of Critique at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the IHA and CATPC are  meeting with artists, collectors, cappuccino bar operators, activists and scientists, including Charles EscheEllen Blumenstein and Stefan Heidenreich, channeling the necessary capital, ideas, and critique to the Settlement in the Congolese rainforest. The IHA aims to learn from KW’s experience as the anchor for Berlin-Mitte’s redevelopment, thus providing lessons to make criticality productive in the Congolese rainforest.

In KOW, A Lucky Day, referring to a sculpture by Thomas Leba and Daniel Manenga, presents seven large chocolate sculptures. A New Settlement in Galerie Fons Welters shows the same large sculptures, in conjunction with video and photographic works documenting this journey.

The Institute for Human Activities asserts that even when art critically engages with global inequalities, it ultimately brings beauty, jobs, and opportunity to places like the Lower East Side in New York and Berlin-Mitte. To counteract this situation, the IHA has built a settlement in the Congolese rainforest where art can fully deal with its dependencies on these very inequalities, turn gentrification into a tool for economic justice, and recalibrate art’s critical mandate.

IHA’s recent exhibitions include Confessions of the Imperfect, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, and Artes Mundi 6, Cardiff. Presentations were held at Tate Modern, London, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and other venues. 

The IHA is a research project at KASK – University College Ghent. The IHA is generously supported by Barry Callebaut, Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Prins Claus Fund, Outset Netherlands, BesteBuren, Akademie der Künste der Welt, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Van Abbemuseum, De Hallen Haarlem, V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media, KOW Berlin, and Galerie Fons Welters.

Institute for Human Activities: summer 2015 exhibitions
Human Activities
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