Leuven, Belgium

Martin Le Chevallier, Münster, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 48 minutes. From “Tracing the Future.” KADOC.

Martin Le Chevallier, Münster, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 48 minutes. From “Tracing the Future.” KADOC.

“Tracing the Future”/Yto Barrada

Various venues/M–Museum Leuven

Martin Le Chevallier, Münster, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 48 minutes. From “Tracing the Future.” KADOC.

Starting from the premise that any potential future will find its lineaments etched in the past—in contrast to mere futurist fantasies without material grounding—“Tracing the Future” drew together works with strong research or archival proclivities, though none lacking in aesthetic power. Incisively curated by Stéphane Symons, Hilde Van Gelder, and Eva Wittocx, the exhibition of five distinct presentations stretched over five locations, mining historically diverse relations to this university town. The archaeological sensibility mirrored Yto Barrada’s excavation of Morocco’s artisanal fossil industry, presented at M–Museum Leuven, which runs through January 17 and served as an overture to the group exhibition. Offering kitschy sculptural reproductions of prehistoric scorpion and trilobite fossils found in the dry region between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara—the kind sold to authenticity-hungry geology aficionados—Lying Stone Hearts (Fake Fossil Series, Two Scorpions and Trilobite), 2015, suggests that such forgery holds the promise of a postcolonial creativity no longer beholden to the West’s ethnographic gaze. Barrada’s knowing inventiveness, overcoming clear distinctions between truth and fiction, also marks her Faux départ (False Start), 2015, a video that documents the counterfeit fossil industry while showing the agency of Moroccan self-production as a means of escaping oppressive binary categories.

A similar connection between past and future was powerfully developed in geological terms by both the Otolith Group’s video Medium Earth, 2013, at the University Library KU Leuven, and Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares’s Forest Law, 2014, at KADOC, the university’s Documentation and Research Center for Religion, Culture, and Society. Showing dramatic footage of Southern California’s desert in large-scale projection, Medium Earth is meditative and captivating, its sumptuous visuality interrupted only late in the video by audio commentary that reproduces the voices of people who claim to be able to predict seismic activity. Shots of ancient faults dividing desert rock indicate deep gulfs of geological time, as well as a terrestrial mode of writing that survivors of an ecologically precarious future will need to learn to read.

A multimedia video installation that includes surveyors’ maps, photographic documentation, and texts, Forest Law locates that same Earth sensitivity in the philosophy of indigenous micro-minorities including the Kichwa and Shuar peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Their forest home has been devastated by decades of oil drilling, and is currently threatened by energy exploration and open-pit gold and copper extraction. But after decades of political mobilization aligning Amerindians and environmentalist groups such as Acción Ecológica, Ecuador’s government enshrined the rights of nature in the country’s constitution in 2008. The result has given rise to a postanthropocentric legality that, though often contradicted by President Rafael Correa’s continued support for petrocapitalist development, extends indigenous views of nature as a subject within the web of life by granting nonhuman entities such as forests, animals, and rivers legal standing within courts of law. The project’s central two-channel video shows Sarayaku’s José Gualinga explaining this juridico-political philosophy and its basis in the struggle for indigenous rights, whereas the installation’s perceptual doubleness brilliantly realizes multiple perspectives beyond the human, including those of flora and fauna.

With displays of Münster, 2016, a docufictional video by Martin Le Chevallier that traces the European revolutionary spirit back to the communalist history of the eponymous northern German city, and Boven de muur (Above the Wall), 2016, Adrien Tirtiaux’s architectural-sculptural project in the city’s park, which spatially transgresses public and private space, the show made a final archival push in the posthumous installation of Allan Sekula’s Mining Section (Bureau des mines), 2016, from his Ship of Fools/The Dockers’ Museum (2010–2013) project. With a nod to Marcel Broodthaers’s fictional museum, Sekula drew inspiration from nineteenth-century Belgian artist Constantin Meunier, who created commemorative bronzes of industrial laborers. Sekula’s massive archive—a small section of which was selectively and elegantly curated here by Anja Isabel Schneider—draws together images and sculptures of and relating to longshoremen and miners, thereby implicitly connecting the exhibition’s geological and extractivist themes to human work and exploitation. Sekula never lived to complete his monument to labor, but it provided a hopeful ending note for this engaging show: a glimpse of a future of equality and justice founded in collective struggle.

T. J. Demos