The Current I: The Kula Ring
Expedition #1 led by Ute Meta Bauer
October 2015
Papua New Guinea

Artists Armin Linke and Newell Harry with Expedition Leader Ute Meta Bauer interviewing in an elementary school in Samarai, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

The first annual expedition led by Ute Meta Bauer in her three-year cycle as Expedition Leader of The Current, took five artists on board the vessel Dardanella to the eastern archipelago of Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea.

Inspired by the tribal exchange tradition of the The Kula Ring that takes place since centuries in the Trobriand Islands and Milne Bay area, expedition leader Ute Meta Bauer (Germany/Singapore) invited artists Laura Anderson Barbata (Mexico/US), Tue Greenfort (Denmark/Germany), Newell Harry (Australia), Armin Linke (Germany/Italy) and PhD candidate Jegan Vincent de Paul (Canada/Singapore) to join her on the inaugural exploration of TBA21–Academy's The Current programme. Sailing through partially unchartered waters anchoring at rarely visited islands the group has been collecting local crafts items, documented their unique experience through photographs, video documentation and interviews with expedition participants and locals met on the various stops.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and until today more than 800 languages are spoken. Mining and increasingly fracking contributes strongly to the current economy of PNG, but is endangering the environment, its flora and fauna, and challenges the complex social hierarchies of the many local tribes. Global warming and the rise of sea levels already create a devastating impact on the Pacific Islands.

The beginning of this multi-phase research project involved three layers of enquiry that used a set of questions as a way to find a method of engagement with the complex challenges on the ocean and all who inhabit it:
  1. What is a collective body?
  2. What do we mean by exchange?
  3. What do we consider knowledge?
Collective Body
What is the surplus of sharing and experiencing a new place/time as a group - rather than as an individual - and what space is produced through such collectivity?

The expedition considers a collective dérive, to drift from island to island as a method of dislocated Situationist practice. Instead of our urban known we move through the unknown of the Papua New Guinea littoral. Joining our intellects and senses will we be able to understand a new territory as one extended body? Is it possible to form an expanded sensorium to see and sense together?

What constitutes contemporary modes of exchange between communities and cultures as well as between cultures and the environment?

We consider the Kula, a ceremonial exchange system of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, as a point of departure. First described by Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in 1922, the Kula is a network of exchanges (consisting of valuables such as necklaces and armbands) among the people of the Trobriand Islands. The act of exchanging allows for certain acknowledgment, agreement or peace amongst groups of people. What kind of gift economies do we have today and what kind of exchanges do we practice?

What constitutes knowledge, where is it embedded, how is it transmitted and what determines its ownership?

Knowledge throughout history has constituted power and determined social, economic and political hierarchies. One the one side Papua New Guinea has one of the lowest per capita income in the world, however it is one of the richest in terms of biodiversity, communities and languages. If knowledge is power and biodiversity and languages are considered knowledge, should we not revise our cultural understanding of the PNG and the Pacific Islands?
The Kula Ring – A Gifting Economy 
Jamaica, March 2016
The first Convening of three curated by Ute Meta Bauer took place in March 2016 in Jamaica. Bringing together members of the public with Expedition #1 participants, environmentalists, oceanographers, law experts, philosophers and activists, the event unfolded and explored themes emerging out of the first expedition to Papua New Guinea.

Read more here.

Ute Meta Bauer
Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore Professor, Nanyang Technological University, School of Art, Design and Media 

For over 25 years Ute Meta Bauer has worked as a curator of exhibitions and presentations on contemporary art, film, video, and sound, with a focus on transdisciplinary formats. Her career began with studies in stage design and since then she has aligned herself with artists exploring the borderless region of the theatrical where ideas move seamlessly and temporally between gesture, object, storytelling, video, and sound. It is this approach to art as a holistic and transdisciplinary practise that she brings to TBA21–Academy's The Current programme.

Originally from Germany and educated at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg, Ute Meta Bauer currently resides in Singapore where she is the founding director of the recently opened and highly renowned Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA). Affiliated with the Nanyang Technological University, the CCA comprises three platforms: exhibitions, residencies, and research. As Founding Director of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (2002-05) she was also Commissioner for the Nordic Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003) and the Norwegian contribution for the 26th São Paulo Biennale (2004).

In 2002 Bauer co-curated Documenta 11 as part of the Okwui Enwezor team. In 2004 she was the Artistic Director of the 3rd Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, which presented 50 contemporary artists at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Bauer came to Singapore from the Massachussets Institute of Technology, where she was the founder of the MIT Program for Art, Technology and Culture and director of the MIT Visual Arts Programme. In 2015, her embrace of performance and her long-term association with the American artist Joan Jonas led her to co-curate the United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
Armin Linke
Photographer & Filmmaker (Germany/Italy)

As a photographer and filmmaker, Armin combines a range of contemporary image-processing technologies in order to blur the borders between fiction and reality. His artistic practice is concerned with different possibilities of dealing with photographic archives and their respective manifestations, as well as with the interrelations and transformative powers between urban, architectural or spatial functions and the human being’s interacting with these environments. Through work with his own archive, as well as with other historical archives, Linke challenges the conventions of photographic practice, whereby the questions of how photography is installed and displayed become increasingly important. When the artist takes over the role of an exhibition maker in a collective approach, together with artists, designers, architects, historians and curators, narratives are procured on the level of multiple discourses. He was Research Affiliate at MIT Visual Arts Program Cambridge, guest professor at the IUAV Arts and Design University in Venice and is currently professor at the HfG Karlsruhe.

Tue Greenfort
Mixed-media Artist (Denmark/Germany)

Tue's interdisciplinary practice deals with issues such as the public and private realm, nature and culture. Interweaving these subjects with the language of contemporary art the artist formulates an often direct critique of current economical and scientific production practices. Fascinated by the dynamics in the natural world, Greenfort’s work often evolves around ecology and its history, including the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity.
Tue Greenfort lives and works in Berlin where he is represented by Johann König. As a participant in dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Greefort was co-curator of an archive on multi-species co-evolution, The Worldly House. He has had extensive solo presentations at Berlinische Galerie (2012), South London Gallery (2011), Kunstverein Braunschweig (2008) and Secession, Vienna (2007). He has participated in numerous international exhibitions at institutions including Kunstverein Hannover (2011), Royal Academy of Arts, London (2009), Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2009), the Fondazione Morra Greco, Naples (2008), Skulptur Projekte Münster (2007) and Witte de With, Rotterdam (2006). Among his publications the most comprehensive, Linear Deflection, was published by Walther König in 2009.

Jegan Vincent de Paul
Architect & Master of Visual Studies (Canada/Singapore)

Jegan was born in Tamil Eelam in 1978. His family migrated to India in 1986, during the civil war in Sri Lanka, and then settled in Canada a year later. He currently lives and works in the United States. Studying western art and architecture at the University of Toronto, Jegan received a B.A. in 2003. He is trained as an architect at the University of Toronto, where he received an MArch in 2007. From 2007-2009 Jegan studied at MIT?s Visual Arts Program, receiving a Master of Science in Visual Studies. Jegan has worked as researcher, designer and artist in various
capacities around the world: including for internationally known artist Ai Weiwei in
Bejing and the prominent architecture firm LOT-EK in New York City. In 2009, Jegan co-founded Counter, an agency to frame, amplify and transmit culture. As part of Counter, Jegan produced projects for a number of artists and organizations such as Voices Beyond Walls, Nakba Archive, the MIT Museum, and the MIT School of Engineering. Jegan was a research fellow at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) from 2010-2011 where he conducted research on energy viewing not as a commodity, but as a socio-economic network. Jegan writes for, a blog he co-founded on art, media and politics; and he is currently a lecturer at ACT.

Laura Anderson Barbata
Artist (Mexico/US)
Laura is Professor at the Escuela Nacional de Escultura, Pintura y Grabado La Esmeralda of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, México. Her transdisciplinary work has received grants and awards from Bellas Artes and FONCA. Since 1992 has worked primarily in the social realm, and has initiated projects in the Amazon of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Norway, the USA, and Mexico. Her work is included in various private and public collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, the Museo de Arte Moderno Mexico City, and Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart, Germany. Since 2012, she has worked on the ongoing project Transcomunalidad, a lasting collaboration with stilt dancers from Brooklyn, NY, the Caribbean and Mexico. So far, the project has had public presentations, including performances and solo exhibitions at Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Mexico; Museo de la Ciudad de México; BRIC Art House, Brooklyn, New York; Helen Louise Textile Collection Gallery, University of Wisconsin, Madison as well as an upcoming solo exhibition in 2016 at The Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Orlando, Florida.

Newell Harry
Artist (Australia)

Newell's work draws on his interest in notions of currency, value and exchange in relation to alternate economic modes. He has carried out extensive field research in the South Pacific and on the island of Vanuatu in particular where he experienced traditional forms of tribal legal tender. Exchange of goods is practised there, combining a utilitarian quality and aesthetic, while still acting as a form of hard currency.