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Vienna Biennale Video Intervention

Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs - Video Intervention by students of the Vienna Biennale exhibition Ecologies & Politics of the Living.

TOPIC CONTENT:

Atmospheres on the Periphery

Multiscalar Fluidity

O bi gi dede (it is not decided)

My Plantain is Our Property

Second to Third Natures

Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs Lab

Teaching and curating:
Baerbel Mueller
Juergen Strohmayer

Video editing assistance:
Oliver Rene Alunovic

In collaboration with:
Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA) and the University of Development Studies (UDS) in Tamale, Ghana

The rapid and sprawling growth of the metropolitan area of Tamale in northern Ghana has led to the merging of the built environment with the coexistent tree savannah and agricultural landscapes. Tamale is the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region and one of the fastest-growing cities in West Africa. Tamale can be characterized by its horizontality and the presence of peripheral urban conditions embedded in the fabric of the city. In this sense, it can seem both vacant and dense. However, when looking at these open territories more carefully, one can find that the ‘vacant’ is in fact not at all vacant. Rather, this anthropocentric definition deserves questioning. Investigating Ghana’s third-largest urban center through an ecological, multi-species, non-anthropocentric lens allows for new ways of understanding urban ecologies and urban change in the predominantly agricultural setting of northern Ghana.

[applied] Foreign Affairs selected the large forest reserve adjoining the historic Tamale waterworks as an example of an inner-urban periphery in the city. In February 2021, the 160-hectare terrain was investigated in a collaborative workshop with the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Arts (SCCA), Tamale, and supported by a series of lectures by UDS, to begin researching the diverse urban ecologies of the terrain. The team of five students from Angewandte, together with five young artistic researchers from SCCA, focused on non-anthropocentric systems and ecologies through artistic and phenomenological research. This also initiated conversations with the wide range of human stakeholders present, including farmers, water vendors and drivers, marginalized groups such as drug dealers and consumers, and diverse commercial vendors present at the perimeter of the terrain. The research was guided by the topics of TERRITORIES, PERIPHERIES, ECOLOGIES, SCALES, and CRISIS. The team traced agricultural practices through interviews and drone flights; collected archival material of the colonial-era waterworks infrastructure and the dam’s catastrophic collapse; mapped the liminal spaces between the forest reserve and the surrounding neighborhoods; and observed diverse types of indigenous and cultivated vegetation and cross-species processes that shaped the landscapes of the terrain.

The research was exhibited in an on-site work-in-progress exhibition in the abandoned waterworks building. Mixed media installations were hung from the existing roof structure with minimal other interventions in the space. The intervention was easily accessible to people from the project terrain and passersby from the adjacent main road, and visited by invited guests from SCCA and UDS. From March 2021 onward, the research has been collected in five video pieces that focus on one topic each and will be set in dialogue as site-specific interventions in the exhibition Ecologies & Politics of the Living as part of the Vienna Biennale for Change 2021, end of September 2021 in Vienna.

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Atmospheres on the Periphery

Ana-Maria Chiriac Video, 13 min 38 sec

This collage-in-motion sets off on an exploration of the internal periphery within the centre of the city Tamale, Ghana

Videostills and text from the Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs on the exhibiton Ecologies and Politics of the Living

Image by ©

This collage-in-motion sets off on an exploration of the internal periphery within the centre of the city Tamale, Ghana. Following ‚the edge‘ of the forest or of the city, the viewer stumbles upon peculiar and contrasting attributes in direct vicinities: public and private, commercial and communal, recreational and educational, productive and residential, intensive and extensive, cultivated and desolate. Invisible connections and relationships overlay the perceived materiality, they surpass locality. They tell a story about how supplies and skills are cobbled together in largely provisional and frequently revised arrangements, about how materials and places are put to use for functions they were not intended for, and how unrelated spaces are stitched together. The periphery is not an external boundary, it facilitates connections, it contains elements of integration and segregation, which plays a defining role in generating urban atmospheres.

Image by ©
Image by ©
Colllage fotos | Image by © All images Videostills

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Multiscalar Fluidity

Daniil Zhiltsov Video Piece, 04 min 43 sec

This research aims to expand our comprehension of the role of water as an important driver for activities within the Tamale Forest Reserve.

Videostills and text from the Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs on the exhibiton Ecologies and Politics of the Living

Woman carries something on her head | Image by ©

Based on archival investigations, and on-site documentation through long-exposure photography and digital simulations, this research aims to expand our comprehension of the role of water as an important driver for activities within the Tamale Forest Reserve and its surroundings. By evaluating the importance of the area in terms of water regulation and distribution in Tamale, tracing its irreversible and seasonal changes, the notion of a multidimensional relational system, influenced by both natural phenomena and anthropogenic actions, appears. Simultaneously, close-up depictions implying the presence of water through long-exposure photography help to evaluate the demand for, social influence of, and attitudes towards this precious fluid. All the elements are essentially an imprint of and formulate one complex entity, related within itself through the multitude of spatial and temporal scales.

Image by ©
Field Machine, Man waiting  | Image by ©
Humans in a river, filling up water | Image by © All images videostills.

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O bi gi dede (it is not decided)

Georgios Albanis Video, 08 min 23 sec

How did the human species achieve that power? And, why is it not used to alter the crisis we have been creating for so long? I don’t know. All I can do is look further into it, collect and document details, trying to understand it little by little for myself.

Videostills and text from the Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs on the exhibiton Ecologies and Politics of the Living

blauer Fläche, weisse Schrift, Videostill | Image by ©

This story, documentation of elements, and research are the result of trying to frame the word: crisis.

Today, this word is mostly used to signal an abnormality of a specific field: political, financial, climate, gender, food, health crises, ...the list is endless.

Zeitungspapier, Schrift darüber gelegt, Videostill | Image by ©

Crisis as a word per se does not exist in the Ghanian language of the north, but the depiction of it nails it down better than anything else: “O bi gi dede” – “It is not decided!” - which quickly made it the title of this work.

weisse Formen, schwarzer HIntergrund, Zeitungsausschnitt | Image by ©

The etymological history in the West, starts with the Greek word “krino” (1)meaning “to separate”, has already been used in Homer’s famous work, The Iliad (2). The definition of a moment in time of either-or, in other words, to live or to die (3), without any power over the outcome, has been kept for very long.

Today, the definition has significantly shifted from a moment in time and its divine decision-making, to a period over which suddenly there seems to be power, or at least has its outcome altered(4).

What has been changed?

How did the human species achieve that power?

And, why is it not used to alter the crisis we have been creating for so long?

I don’t know. All I can do is look further into it, collect and document details, trying to understand it little by little for myself. The points I have collected are little notations in the narrative.

Have a look for yourself: from a distance, many points seem to form a unity, but if you get close, you are just a point in a vast field of points trying to make sense of it.

Videostill | Image by © All images Video stills.

(1) Homer, Iliad, v. 501 (So Homer, of Ceres separating the grain from the chaff) 2 Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, 2919 - krínō,

(2) www.biblehub.com/greek/2919.htmCrisesdistinguishseperatetrialno

(3) Pandemics That Changed History, As human civilizations rose, these diseases struck them down, History.com Editors, www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/pandemics-timeline

(4) www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/crisis_1?q=crisispower

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My Plantain is Our Property

Abdul-Haqq Mahama & Carmen Egger Video, 07 min 41 sec

Reflection on territorial claims on the inner-urban Forest Reserve in the growing city of Tamale in northern Ghana.

Videostills and text from the Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs on the exhibiton Ecologies and Politics of the Living.

Übersicht Plantage, Opening Videostill | Image by ©

The film “My Plantain is Our Property” reflects territorial claims on the inner-urban Forest Reserve in the growing city of Tamale in northern Ghana. In urban agricultural zones, hundreds of farmers temporarily and permanently occupy fields in order to sustain their own lives and those of the local population by cultivating crops, vegetables and fruits.

In the area of the Forest Reserve, natural and artificial markers describe ownership of the land, which is largely unregistered and exposed to informal claims. Boundaries demarcated by a row of plantain palms, for example, clarify ownership and use, but the structures of users and inhabitants with their demands on the fields overlap. The question of who is allowed to harvest the fruits of these trees leads to the discovery of the story of a single plant: the banana.

Domestic, agricultural and infrastructural notions throughout the territory of the Tamale Forest Reserve represent biodiversity and coexistence that demonstrate the relationships between species in different environments within the urban-rural area and in particular, with the plantain tree. Its leaves, its cleanliness, irrigation systems, and the fruit itself are dependent on handling and contact with the environment, climate, human treatment, and the occupation of animals.

Plan Agriculture, Videostill | Image by ©

In the work, the viewer is guided through the narrative in chapters – Territories, Cohabitation, Fruit and Claims – that tell different stories from a larger to a smaller scale. Overlapping roles and moments in the Tamale Forest Reserve are translated into various, changing media, including video, image and audio material, as well as the maker’s voiceover, which summarizes the farmers’ statements about the circumstances and problems they must deal with on the site.

As the farmers in Tamale Forest Reserve describe it, everyone is a brother there and, as culture pretends, everything is shared among brothers, like the plantain fruit, being deformed from an individual possession into common property.

Harvest; Videostill | Image by ©
Bananas, Videostill | Image by © All images video stills. My Plantain is Our Porperty, Abdul-Haqq Mahama & Carmen Egger, Video, 07 min 41 sec

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Second to Third Natures

Agata Chomicz Video, 03 min 33 sec

This project explores the unique ecologies that have emerged on the site of the decommissioned dam in the central area of Tamale

Videostills and text from the Tamale Territories Interventions by [applied] Foreign Affairs on the exhibiton Ecologies and Politics of the Living

Filmstill Illustration Landkarte | Image by ©

This project explores the unique ecologies that have emerged on the site of the decommissioned dam in the central area of Tamale, through an investigation of the relationships between Second Nature [environments created by humans for exploitation] and Third Nature [the organisms that emerge in a habitat that was transformed/destroyed by the humans]

Set in the broader context of a tree savanna, characterized by the seasonal fluctuations of vegetation and rapid growth cycles, this controlled agricultural landscape intertwines with spontaneously growing vegetation and hosts a myriad of animals and insects. The controlled and uncontrolled layers intersect and merge into each other along multiple temporal rhythms, resulting a variety of symbiotic and parasitic relationships between the organisms themselves, as well as with the people inhabiting the site.

Videostill, Bäume, Landschaft | Image by ©

Surrounded by an encroaching urban environment, the site becomes the last biodiversity reservoir in the centre of Tamale – a city in which the urbanisation processes have nearly erased vegetation, except for a few small pockets used for cultivation that are now themselves also under the constant threat of being redeveloped. The applied research zooms in on two specific parts of the territory: the teak forest planted by the Ghanaian government for lodging, and the mosaic of tiny farming fields created in place of the dam. Due to the rapid fertility of the local flora and fauna, both monocultures are constantly being interlaced with spontaneously appearing native species – a second, more volatile, layer of the natural environment, which disrupts the steady temporal rhythm of the cultivated plants. Despite the advancing processes that try to erase them or control them, the local forms of First, Second and Third Nature remain in constant flux, creating a rich tapestry of living organisms, of which humans are only one part.

Videostill Second to Third Natures | Image by ©
Illustratiion Bäume, Videstill Agata Chomicz | Image by © All Images Videostills.